Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Taking it to the Next Level

Here is a comment that was left on my last post:

I have been reading your blog regularly since I learned about it from Sfgate. I am really passionate about the game but have had limited success so far despite reading a number of books and playing regularly. I am ~$5K up since starting to play in 04 primarily due to a few big multi table turny wins - otherwise I am pretty break even if not losing player. How do I take the game to the next level? Also, do you use any software or not of any software that is easy to use and is useful to categorize players or get guidance on your actions?

This is a great question and after a little thought I have a response. First of all let me say that while I don't regularly give poker lessons, I have in the past. If you want to do a few lessons for $50 an hour I'm sure I can help you to some extent. If you're interested you can e-mail me privately.

With that out of the way let me first of all say that there is no magic bullet. The top pros don't have secrets per se. To my knowledge there isn't any software that is so powerful that it will give you a massive edge. No one book has the answers.

The most important thing is experience. But I've seen the same mopes playing $3/$6 every day losing slowly at the Oaks club for the last 10 years. So clearly experience isn't everything.

Tactical knowledge that you get from books, articles, and discussion with other players is probably next on the list. But when you get to the higher levels most of the players have read a few books so that really just gets you to an even playing field with many of your opponents.

Emotional control is very important. One of my best friends is extremely smart. He is way smarter than I am and smarter than all of my friends (most of whom are Berkeley grads). He is extremely good at board games and has been playing poker seriously off and on for 20 years. He should be a great poker player. But he has no self control so he can't make any money playing poker. Losing makes him nuts so he starts playing too many hands, and moving up limits until he's lost so much that he has to quit. Last year he had 17 winning sessions in a row playing $5/$10 and won thousands of dollars. But then he had a session where he was losing badly so he jumped to $10/$20, and then to $30/$60 and lost $8,000 in a matter of hours. This same thing happened to him on 5 or 6 occasions over a year and a half where he'd win 80% of his sessions playing the smaller games, win $4,000 or $5,000 and then give it all back in one massive meltdown. He just couldn't stop himself.

I know it's stupid to chase your losses like that, but I still do the same thing sometimes! I've played in my share of marginal $50/$100 games and $100/$200 games hoping to get even. And we've all played hands in ways that aren't optimal because we're upset about losing. Self control is tough.

Fearlessness is very important too. You can't be afraid to lose. If conditions are right you have to be willing to risk more than you're really comfortable with.

On the other hand if conditions are poor you have to not play those stakes or games even if they are the most fun.

I could go on and on (I've actually gone on more than i planned to already) about what you need to be a great poker player. The point I wanted to get to is you have to put it all together.

Every time you play you have to take it seriously. Never screw around. Never play hands you shouldn't because you're bored or upset. Never give anything away or pass up an edge. Fight for every dollar, every time.

On top of that you need to specialize. Pick the game that is most profitable for your style of play and strengths and play that game almost all the time. Of course I do other things like play tournaments or mixed games, but 90% of my time is devoted to 6 handed limit cash games. When I was playing sit-n-goes for a living in 2004 and 2005 that's all I played. 9 handed, $114 SNGs, all day, every day. I played thousands and thousands of them. I've played millions of hands of 6 handed limit. So when someone who has read the books and played 50,000 hands sits down in my game thinking they are the shit, they have no chance against me.

On top of that, multitable tournaments are a real leak for most players. Even if you're playing with positive expectation that expectation is only realized when you finish in the top few spots. Most players can play well between hand one and the money or even well into the money. But when there are 20 players left in a 1,000 player tournament or they are at the final table, they lock up. Or they just don't have the experience or fearlessness is such a tough, stressful situation to seal the deal.

If you're playing against 1,000+ person fields it takes tens of thousands of tournaments for the luck factor to even out. Stick to tournaments that have smaller fields or play in special events (like the Sunday Million or WCOOP or whatever) that are loaded with satellite qualifiers.

Lastly, (this is very important) make sure you are getting rakeback (check out rakebacknation.com if you have no idea what I'm talking about) or making the most of other bonuses like FPPs, deposit and reload bonuses. I saw someone elses blog briefly who was playing SNGs for a living. He'd won $5,000 for the year in actual play and made $200,000 in bonuses and rakeback. More than half of my income is from FPPs and bonuses. It's a huge deal!

I'm not sure how helpful that was, but hopefully that at least made sense. I welcome any questions you might have or if anyone else wants to add their two cents feel free. Thanks for the comment!

1 comment:

Luis said...

Great post David! Your blog is a bless in the poker world.

I have been playing FL cash games on stars and made some FPP's. I am doing at part time so i do not put a huge volume but i am getting closer to get the cashbonus from the vip levels. I have been grinding more seriously this month to release the reload bonuses.

Best Regards!