World Poker Domination and Bankroll Considerations

“It’s important that someone celebrate our existence… People are the only mirror we have to see ourselves in.”
–Lois McMaster Bujold
Now that’s what I call a hiatus. It’s been two months since I last posted here, and it feels much longer than that. The main reason for the lack of updates is that I don’t have all that much to say about poker these days. Most likely that’s because I feel like I haven’t had the time to relax and let my mind bounce off all of the input and process it into something more interesting. Working too many hours leaves me with little time to even get a good night’s sleep, let alone play poker. Luckily, I have a group of great people who come to my house and force me to think about poker: the weekly Friday night home game has kept my game from deteriorating completely. It makes me somewhat sad that the intensity and regularity of my poker play is a far cry from what it once was, but I know I’ll get back to it when I get more time.
Hail to the Victors
Speaking of the homegame, one of “our own” hit it big… check out Ryan’s account of how he beat 1,148 players to win the opening LAPC event to win over $100,000. It made me giddy just typing that, but Ryan’s success is no accident. Consistently the toughest player in the homegame, I have always envied Ryan’s ability to take every hand seriously, and bring complete focus and awareness to every Friday game (no matter what absurdities were occurring around him). Where I will sometimes take a hand off or get caught up with a story or joke being told, Ryan seems to keep his concentration at all times.
To illustrate this, I quote from his blog from a home game long ago:
“Last week I got so dehydrated that I was verging on heat stroke and had to throw up in the main bathroom’s blissfully cool porcelain masterpiece of a toilet. Yeah, yeah. You can laugh all you want, motherfuckers, because I did not miss a hand.”
Not only did he not miss a hand, but he played the next hand just as well as he usually does.
Awareness, focus, and concentration. Congratulations Ryan, I couldn’t think of someone who deserves victory more.
(amusing side note: Ryan consistently outplays most people in the homegame, but somehow always manages to suffer horrible beats and many undeserved losing nights. For those of you who think short-term results matter, please take note.)
And that’s not all… Factgirl beat out 700 players in best online poker site‘s $16K guarantee to take down over $4K in prize money. And she took most of my chips in an appearance at Friday’s homegame and cruised to a victory chop. Congrats, Facty, without your careful study of the game, victory would not be yours.
Observations from outside the aquarium
Despite relatively little time actually playing poker, I have been spending a lot of time observing the online poker world from outside the fishbowl, and have gained some perspective on the types of people that play poker. We spend a lot of time thinking about what online poker players want, and how to give it to them… we put something out there, and then use the feedback data to determine if we were right or wrong. It helps to have co-workers are a group of the smartest people you’ve ever met, and happen to be serious poker players. My assumptions about online poker players are challenged daily, and are consistently being refined by the sharpest minds in poker.
The most important lesson I’ve learned in the past couple months is that the biggest difference between players at middle limits and above is the relationship between a poker player and his bankroll. While players often overvalue hands and have minor differences in skill, the biggest difference I see among players is their attitude about winning and losing money.
Personally, I feel like I grew into my bankroll– in Los Angeles, the $15-30 games aren’t all that much different than the $3-6 games online, so skill and bankroll have strange proportions in the city of angels. While my poker skills were ready for the $15-30 games in terms of skill, mentally it was very difficult to accept the variance that comes at that level, and downswings took their toll mentally. Luckily I come from a good statistical background, and my start as a card counter helped me understand and accept these downswings.
But these days my bankroll is pretty healthy, and variance is a good friend of mine… or at least I understand her pretty well. It is one thing to accept the idea that you are going to have 100 big bet downswings every once in a while, and another thing to have gone through it a few times. Believing in statistical theory requires supreme confidence that you are a better poker player than those you play against– not an easy thing during your first 100 bet downswing. But if you are a consistent winner night after night, it’s much easier to shake off a few losing sessions.
A simpler way to say this is:
Losing hurts more when it makes you question your poker skill.
Understanding your opponent’s relationship with his bankroll can sometimes help you determine the correct play against that opponent. For example, a recreational player who is happy to lose a few hundred bucks for a night of fun is more likely to call your value bet on the river with a weak hand “just to see what you have”.
Below is an attempt to categorize the most common player-bankroll relationships that I have come across. I’m sure these types apply to online players, but it’s probably impossible to figure out who’s who unless you can see what your opponents look like.
Guide to poker bankroll types
1. The recreational gambler
DESCRIPTION: This player has set aside a certain amount of cash that he is willing to lose in the cardroom that day. If he loses, then he chalks it up as the cost of a night out. If he wins, he will most likely buy something with his winnings, rather than put them towards a poker bankroll. This player often shows up after payday, with the goal of having fun and maybe getting lucky. The recreational gambler is here to gamble in the purest sense of the word.
PLAYING STYLE: Likely to call you down with weak holdings and gamble “on the come”. Plays fast and loose when losing or winning, but even faster and looser when winning. This type of player pays the wages of the professionals and is extremely common in LA.
2. The high roller
DESCRIPTION: This player has an unlimited bankroll and is usually retired and looking for a good time. The high roller is often a regular in the highest stakes game in the casino, and losing or winning money has minimal effect on his psyche.
PLAYING STYLE: Usually extremely aggressive, attempts to use unlimited bankroll to push players off of a hand. The high roller issues the unspoken challenge, “If you’re going to play a pot with me, it’s going to be expensive”. High rollers can also be calling stations who play every hand. Games are built around these players, as they are happy to donate to the game regularly.
3. The gentleman gambler
DESCRIPTION: This player is skilled, and has a great deal of experience at the table. Not a regular, but shows up at the cardroom every couple of weeks. Often older and retired, these players enjoy a night of competition and matching wits with his opponents. This player hates to lose, but not because of the money.
PLAYING STYLE: The gentleman gambler is a tough opponent, and usually plays only good starting hands. Tends to be overly tight, so you can usually put him on a relatively narrow range of hands. This player does not like to lose to “garbage” hands, and may begin overplaying hands when his opponents are beating him.
4. Scared money
DESCRIPTION: This player is a solid player at a limit below the limit he is playing, but is playing at a limit where a loss will put a serious dent in his bankroll. You can often find this player when a higher-limit game has one or two high rollers in the game.
PLAYING STYLE: Weak tight, this player will usually “pick a hand and go with it”. As a heads-up 6 big bet pot may represent a 12 big bet pot in his normal game, it is often difficult for him to get away from the hand.
5. The properly bankrolled player
DESCRIPTION: This player is unhampered by financial considerations, as a losing session will have minimum effect on him financially.
PLAYING STYLE: Solid, plays optimally to his skill level if not on tilt.
6. The overly bankrolled player
DESCRIPTION: Solid player, but playing at a level where his win rate is significantly less than his hourly wage. Much like the high roller, financial losses have absolutely no effect on this player. This player takes the game seriously, and believes that he should “work his way up” through the limits before playing at a level where losses might cause minor financial pain.
PLAYING STYLE: Since this player takes poker seriously, losses will often have a strong emotional affect on the player. If this type of player goes on tilt, they are likely to try to run over the table like the high roller.
Many poker players spend extensive amounts of time thinking about the game, but little time considering the way that their bankroll affects their play. I think that at the higher limits, bankroll considerations are often the biggest difference among players. Understanding how much money you are really willing to lose at the poker table without having serious financial consequences is an important and underrated part of serious poker.