Monday, October 19, 2009

PANIC!

I try to have a good attitude and a positive outlook on the future. Objectively I can look back on the last 9 years that I've been playing poker and say that I've made steady improvement and that without a doubt I am a winner in every sense of the word. But in the back of my mind part of me still feels like I'm on summer vacation. I worry that this won't last forever and that someday I'm going to have to go try to finish school or get a job. With the exception of someone close to me dying, or my health failing, that is my greatest fear.

I've had a few runs where I've dropped a ton of money. Gobs of money. Shit loads of money. Not new TV money, new car money. Game show money. After these massive downswings it's impossible not to doubt yourself.

I like to keep at least $10,000 in online accounts to work with. That feels like the minimum I need. I've been fortunate to get that number up over $30,000 a few times, but there was once about 2 years ago that I was down to $500.

At that point I was mentally exploring every option at my disposal. I don't just have plan B. I always have plans C, D, E, F, and G in the works. Who can I borrow money from? How much do I need? What about going back to playing in person? Maybe I should try another site. I could start playing a different game or format. Maybe I should go back to dealing cards. Maybe we should move to southern California and live with my wife's parents for 6 months while I play at the Commerce. My wife could get a job and I could stay home and write a book and become and excellent cook.

It's hard to think about anything else. I bounced back from that $500 and again turned it into enough to make a strong living (that was shortly before my successful quest to become Supernova Elite).

Another time earlier in my career I had 8 losing days in a row. I'm not sure how much I lost, but I sure as hell wasn't going into day 9 thinking "No problem, I'm sure I'll be able to turn this around."

My worst month ever was March 2006. In January I'd started playing no limit cash games after struggling in the sit-n-go's that had been my focus for most of my career. I won $11,000 in January, and $17,000 in February playing $3/$6 blinds games and was feeling like the sky was the limit. Then I lost $11,000 in March which is still my worst month ever. The month started well so you can imagine the downswing it took for me to lose $11,000 for the month.

I mention all of this because I've been having some major trouble this month. At the start, I lost $6,000 over the course of 4 straight losing days. I didn't play any higher than $15/$30 and it was over a weekend which is supposed to be the best time to play!

After that I started exploring the other websites in earnest and was doing well for the most part. I wasn't killing it, but I was winning steadily. Then I dropped $4,000last Monday.

I'd been playing all day and was about to call it quits around 6, about an hour before dinner. Then I made it to the top of the waiting list for a great $15/$30 game and decided to sit down. I was losing $1,500 or so at that point and I was tired, but it was a game I knew I could beat no matter how I was feeling. Also I noticed two of the worst players in the universe had joined the waiting list behind me.

This $15/$30 game was the only one going at those stakes, but there was one player whose name I didn't recognize sitting waiting to start a new game. I was thinking that if I started playing him heads up, then maybe the goofs on the waiting list for the other game would join too. They never did.

I ended up playing this guy for 30-40 minutes and I got my doors blown off. I lost $1,000 to him in the first 5 minutes and another $1,000+ over the next half hour.

What gave me so much trouble was my opponent saw 100% of the flops regardless of preflop action so I had a lot of trouble putting him on a specific hand or even a range. In a 6 handed game or even a 3 handed game you can't get away with that. You'd get decimated. But playing heads up, especially in a format where the small blind is 2/3 of the big blind, you're always getting pretty good odds to call. Of course I think you could do better if you folded the bottom 20% of hands, but clearly this guy had committed.

Normally when you have someone who plays every hand preflop they are not a good player and make plenty of mistakes after the flop. But this guy played well after the flop.

Of course he got really lucky in the first 5 minutes winning the vast majority of the pots and all of the big ones. There was one hand where I had AK of clubs in the small blind (which is also the button in heads up) and raised. He three bet and I capped it. The flop came with 2 clubs and he bet into me. I raised and he three bet it. The turn was a brick and he check raised me. The river was a 6 and with both checked. He turned over 67 of clubs and took the pot with a pair of sixes. That was a $330 pot and not an isolated incident.

On top of taking every flop he took it to the turn 85% of the time as well. But the son of a bitch had great timing for letting his hand go. He literally called me down with king high no pair (which was the best hand) when I'd raised the turn and bet the river on one hand and then folded on the flop the very next hand when I had AA. I'd flop the nut straight and he'd fold. I'd have ace high and he'd fire into me relentlessly with 63 and hit the three on the river. He'd three bet semibluff me on the turn and get there while I was missing every draw. I wanted to scream!

Most of the time I just could not make a God damn pair and like I said I was up against a guy who was seeing every flop and calling me down with king high (and sometimes queen high) so I felt totally hand cuffed.

Towards the end of the match I looked up my opponent to see if he was playing any other games. He was sitting by himself waiting to play anyone who came along at two $30/$60 games and a $50/$100. That's not the kind of guy you want to play.

In the end I lost a little over $2,000 to him. If you think about it, we played maybe 125 hands (we were playing very fast so it could have been more like 150 or 175) and our average pot was at least $150 so that means he won something like 70 pots and I won 57. Without a doubt, short term luck fluctuations could be the reason I lost. No matter how good he was, losing that much in such a short time means I ran bad. Maybe he wasn't any good at all, and just ran hot. But it sure didn't feel that way. It felt like I'd been totally dismantled. Embarrassed. Eviscerated. Emasculated. Destroyed.

There was now doubt that I'd been beaten and I felt horrible. All the tension and anger that I was feeling while I was playing, turned into sadness and despair when I was done. I went for a walk down by the water, sat on a log and cried.

Like I said, I ended up losing about $4,000 on Monday. I took Tuesday off and on Thursday I lost another $2,000+. ACK! The problem with these losses isn't just the money. We have plenty of money in our long term savings to get us through and I've lost $2,000 in a day fifty times if not more. The problem with repeated losses is what they say about future prospects.

Online poker games and the state of the poker world is in a constant state of flux. Players come and go. Laws and regulations change. Fads pop up and fade away. New tactics are conceived, written down, taught and implemented. Just because you can beat a game today doesn't mean you'll be able to beat it in 6 months or a year.

I used to dominate $100 SNGs on Party Poker and then on Pokerstars. My ROI was over 10% for thousands and thousands of tournaments (I made over $10 a tournament). Then it was 5%. Then it was 2%. Over the course of a year I went from being able to make $500 a day playing 50 SNGs, to needing to play 80 a day to just make $160. I had to shift gears and start playing cash games to continue making a living and I'm always worried that I'll have to shift again. And I don't want to!

With these losses in the front on my mind, I sat back down to play on Thursday. I started off losing maybe $500 or so. I had about $3,500 left in my pokerstars account and $1,000 on Absolute when I took my lunch break. That looked like two more bad days or one really bad day. By the end of the day I was back to $4,000 in pokerstars and had $1,100 in AP. $100 isn't anything in the grand scheme, but it was good to not have a losing day.

The next day I broke even, but I had a killer weekend. I felt focused, I played well and I got some decent cards. By Sunday night I was up to $6,300 in pokerstars and $3,500 in AP, which is just about the $10,000 I feel like I need.

The money for November's bills has already been set aside, so I'm looking ahead to December 1st when we'll need to pay rent and December 7th when our credit card will need to be paid (we put all of out bills and do almost all of our spending with one credit card and pay it off all the way every month).

So a few days after being in full on PANIC mode, I once again feel fine and hopeful about the future. All of the rakeback that I've earned on AP in October will be paid in one big chunk on November 15th along with whatever I earn in the AP rake race. That should be something like $3,000 total. I'm about to clear a $1,500 FPP block on poker stars, and I'm 80,000 VPPs away from hitting the 600,000 VPP milestone which means another $6,000 before the end of the year. I had all of those things going for me Thursday afternoon too, but they didn't feel like much of a boon then.

I'm going to put in a few light work days today and tomorrow and then my wife and I are leaving our son with his Nana and Papi and going on a 4 day Mexican Cruise leaving San Diego on Thursday. I am ready for the vacation!

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