Life Shouldn't Be A Fuckin' Grind

I will never be a poker pro, but my lifetime poker ledger is positive and I think that's something to be proud of.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Finding a level you can beat

Most poker players when they win (and even sometimes when they don't) attempt to continually move up in stakes. Obviously to a certain extent this is a good idea. If for instance .5/1 LHE and 2/4 play about the same there's no reason why you shouldn't play the higher level as soon as you have to bankroll for it. Obviously you can make 4 times as much at 2/4 as at .5/1. The problem however that most players run into is that they eventually reach a level they can't beat, then they tend to become donators. The smart ones realize they can't beat the level they're playing drop back down after they've lost a portion of their roll, lick their wounds, grind back up and attempt to take another shot. The not so smart ones usually go broke, and eventually (if said player is a winner at lower levels) they get some money together and work their way back up, and maybe someday take another shot at the level that broke them. All of the true greats worked their way up and took shots at higher levels. But, not everyone is capable of reaching the top level. In fact, very few are and that's where I believe the problem comes in for most players.

It's my belief that the one of the reasons that most players end up losing money at poker is that they don't find a level that they can comfortably beat and settle in at it. Now, I'm not preaching complacency and I think it's important to always take shots, however I think that many players would benefit from finding a comfort zone and settling in there for a while, instead of constantly trying to move up. If for instance you have the bankroll for and are beating 5/10 LHE, why not settle in there for a while and play the game, win money, maybe take a little out to use for this or that and enjoy the fruits of your labor. If you want to take shots at the next level fine, take half of your earnings each month and set them aside into a "taking shots" bankroll. When you reach a certain level (maybe 100 BB) in that "shot taking roll", then take a shot for a few thousand hands. If you win and get your bankroll up to a level that can sustain that limit, then maybe you can make that your new regular game. If you lose it, you still have an intact bankroll for the previous limit and can grind back up.

For me right now "comfort zone" is probably 2/4 6-max. I've only played about 6600 hands at that level, but I'm fairly confident that I can beat the game playing 2 tables at a time. That means I get in about 200 hands an hour or about $16/hr if I'm winning 2 BB/100. While, the bottom line is that I'd have to play a ton of hands to really make a lot of money at that game, I'm still making enough to make it worth my while. So, I plan to settle in and make that my regular game for a few months. I'll try set aside a portion of my earnings each month into a "taking shots" roll (at least in my records I will, I may not put it in a separate account). Then, in a few months I may use that to take a shot at 5/10. If I find that game beatable and can build my 100 BB and my old 2/4 roll into enough to give me the bankroll to make 5/10 my regular game, then I'll make it my regular game, if I instead lose my shot money, I'll still have my 400-500 BB bankroll for 2/4 and can grind my money back up to take another shot down the road.

The other key to all of this, I believe, is your comfort level with the money that you're putting on the line in any given poker game. Of course, most people will tell you that if a game is within your bankroll you'll never be playing scared. I'm pretty certain that that's simply not true, in fact, a lot of it is mental and psychological. Here's an example. A few months ago an FCPer told me about juicy 10/20 game on Friday nights at a local casino. At the time my bankroll wasn't much more than $3k, however I decided to go ahead and take a shot at the game. Up 'til then the highest I'd played was a 5/10 live game and my regular games were 3/6 live and 2/4 online. I had about $300 in cash that I kept aside to play live games and I pulled another $200 out of my bankroll and sat in the 10/20 game with 25BB. I went in focused and ready to play higher than I'd ever played before. I was a little nervous (which by they way I think is good, if losing doesn't hurt a little bit, chances are you won't play right), but I was focused and I was mentally ready for whatever happened. Losing my $500 would have hurt, but it wasn't going to devastate me, and I knew what I was in for and was ready. That night, the game was really juicy and I hit a few hands and doubled my buy-in early, I lost a few key hands later on, but still booked a win and cashed out up about $250 when the game broke a few hours after I started.

My other experience with 10/20 came just a few days ago. I'd just finished a monster session at 6/12 winning $500 and the game had broken. I wanted to keep playing so I decided to sit 10/20. I found myself feeling uncomfortable almost immediately. I wasn't really playing scared, but I felt scared. My live game cash bankroll had been on life support and this win was a huge shot in the arm. I found myself sitting there wondering if I was about to piss away the majority of my winnings. I realized in my state of mind at that point that I wasn't going to be able to play my best game or really enjoy myself, so after only an hour of play I stood up and cashed out stuck $27 in the game. The point is that I was simply not comfortable putting my money on the line in that game. The key fact that we have to face up to as poker players is that even though we may be a favorite in a given game, it's still gambling and on any given night the best of the best could lose every dollar he sat down with. If you're not comfortable I believe that it's best to simply get up, walk away and come back sometime when you are comfortable.

The final thing that I want to touch on that I believe plagues a huge number of poker players is something that I will call lack of focus. All of the high-stakes players (and I'd venture to guess the vast majority of pros) can play many different poker games well. However, even the pros have games that they are stronger at and games they're weaker at, and they didn't get to a point where they were playing every game well overnight; it took years of practice and play. I think that many relative beginners, like myself, may try to do too much too fast. Every person has his own pace and some may be able to learn (master to an extent) all the games within a short period time, but most players won't be able to do that and if they try to, they'll end up maybe playing several games passably, but none of them expertly or even all that well. I think that a better idea might be to pick your best game and try to become an expert at it (or at least very good) then start mixing in new games little by little. You'll probably always have a best game and it will likely be the one you concentrated the most time on first, but it can give you a winning foundation and something to fall back to if a new game is frustrating you.

For me, that game that I should be attempting to become an expert at is limit hold'em. It's already my best game and in fact I would say that I'm almost an expert in loose/passive small stakes games. However, I have a lot to learn about beating better players and short-handed games; which is why I should spend a ton of time working on it. I'm also already a tick above average in NL Tournaments and I see no reason for me to quit those, in fact I need to mix them in so that I don't lose my game and so that I keep a little variety in my life. After that though, I should probably spend very little time playing other games. Once I've logged 50k hands of shorthanded LHE and really feel comfortable playing for decent stakes, then maybe it'll be time to start branching out and adding in other games. Until then, it's probably detrimental to my development as a player to try to do too much too fast and play every game at once. I'd love to be an expert at every form of poker right now, but I think I'm best off taking things slow and trying to master one game at a time. I think many other players would be smart to do the same thing.


  • At 2:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    dude, you may nave turned the corner. i've been telling to focus on your best game and stick to it. you're the only one holding yourself back from whatever sucess you're capable of at poker.

    ask yourself this question: what are you going to due when the deck kicks you in the ass for 1000 hands? this will be your crossroads. in the past this would cause you to lose your focus. you would piss money away at forms of poker that you are not good at. you would take long breaks and get down on yourself. where did these actions get you?

    you know what you need to do, so stop theorizing and writing about it and do it.

  • At 3:54 PM, Blogger Whatever said…

    I couldn't agree more. Find a level you can beat and then play a million hands a year at it.


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