Year in Review

“A mighty lesson we inherit:
Thou art a symbol and a sign
To Mortals of their fate and force;
Like thee, Man is in part divine,
A troubled stream from a pure source; “

“It’s a good idea to obey all the rules when you’re young just so you’ll have the strength to break them when you’re old.”
–Mark Twain
A year ago, I began this blog in the hope that it would help me develop my game and my writing style. 145 posts later, I think it’s done both of those things, and helped me to meet some amazing people along the way. I don’t think it’s coincidence that this past week has been one of my best ever, and the bankroll is at an all-time high. I’m still making plenty of mistakes and end up kicking myself for one bad play every session, but I’ve come a long way from the days of $3-6 and struggling to calculate pot odds of a year ago.
On a personal front, the year has been one of acceptance and adjustment. The words “football player” have always been tied to my identity, and this year represented the first real year I haven’t been putting on the gear 3 times a week. I posted about this in one of my first posts:
John Updike said that retirement for athletes is like a “little death.” An athlete feels the rush of adrenaline every day, feeling your muscles tense as your body obeys your brain’s almost subconscious commands. Then one day, you don’t feel this ever again. It’s tough to swallow. I’m hoping that I’m being reborn as a poker player.
I’ve reluctantly become much more of a poker player than a football player, and without an outlet for competition and concentration, I’m sure I’d be restlessly trying to figure out what to do with myself.
I’ve also had to accept the grind of the 9 to 5 workday, doing a job that often leaves me feeling I haven’t used the skills and talents that I spent my educational life developing. Hours of concentration at the poker tables have helped to soothe this frustration. Sitting down in front of the computer and devoting full concentration to playing each and every hand has a calming, meditative effect. Just as running a post route and knowing that the only thing to do at this moment is make the catch, being “in the moment” and playing the cards I’m dealt makes me feel alive, making the most of myself at that moment.
So what have I learned? I think the main goal of a beginning poker player should be the same as anyone trying to learn an extremely complicated task: learn the fundamental aspects of the task so well that you no longer have to think about them. Whether you are learning an instrument, a sport, or poker, there are a lot of basic procedures surrounding the task that can’t be learned without a great deal of experience. In poker, basics such as pot odds for common draws and starting hand requirements represent these procedures that a beginning player must know so well that they don’t need to waste precious thought while at the table during play. Only when these basic procedures become so ingrained in the player can he open himself up to true observation of the game, making room for creative improvisations that make the game so beautiful.
As an analogy, think of the lead guitarist who is learning to play many different scales. If he is forced to search his memory for the pattern of a scale he is playing, this takes away from his concentration and feel for the music. A year ago, I was too busy trying to calculate odds and remember the preflop betting to notice obscure signals my opponent was sending. These days, those things come automatically, and the slight twist of the wrist when my opponent throws in her chips is a signal that I receive and act upon. Freed from the mechanical fundamentals of the game, my mind is now free to open up my game with creativity and imagination. In other words, I feel like I’m starting to play real poker.
Of course, a big part of that is moving beyond the no-fold ’em games where you have to show down the best hand to win. There isn’t much room for creativity when your opponents will call you down no matter what you do. And although I find the middle-limit games much more enjoyable due to the increased reward for reading hands and players, I wouldn’t stand a chance in these games without the lessons I learned in the low limit games. You’ve heard it before, but if you can’t beat the no fold-em low limit games, you’re in for a big surprise if you think you can beat the next limit up.
I want to say a big thanks to all my readers and fellow bloggers for their support, advice, and comments. I’ve always tried hard to write quality posts, in the hope that I can communicate some of the lessons I’ve learned and help you to avoid learning the same lessons “the hard way.” I believe that your time is sacred, and I greatly appreciate the hours that my loyal readers have spent with me along my journey.
Ok, time to get back to the tables. I leave you with the top 10 things I’ve learned in the past year at the tables, in no particular order.

  • When moving up in limits, pretend that you’re starting over from scratch. The game changes so much from $3-6 to $5-10 and $5-10 to $10-20 that you really need to go back to the basics and be open to learning the new game. If you are an online player and were playing multiple tables at a lower limit, play a single table at the new limit for a while before trying to play 2.
  • Fight hard to be performance oriented. If you’re committed to the game, results are irrelevant. As long as you’re properly bankrolled to play, you shouldn’t worry about results. Good performance will get the money in the long run.
  • Have a stop loss limit. A lot of people argue against this, but I’ve seen very few players who can play their best game after losing more than 35 big bets. Of course, if you’ve truly gone beyond results-oriented thinking and can focus solely on performance, than you don’t need a stop loss. Like I said, this is extremely rare.
  • Do things to avoid the grind. Poker should be fun, and if you are playing the same game the same way for hours and hours every week, you need to do things to “shock your system” that force you to improve your game. Take an occasional shot at a bigger game if your bankroll can handle it. Drop down in limit and play looser than your normally do. Change your game temporarily and you’ll come back to your regular game rejuvenated with new tools to beat the game.
  • Review your play. If you’re an online player, use PokerTracker to review your sessions after you’ve left the table. It takes 15 minutes to review a 3 hour session, and will drastically improve your game.
  • Celebrate your good performance, and be critical of your bad plays. Personally, I tend to focus on my mistakes, and end up beating myself up for a single bad play even if the rest of the session I played perfect poker. Everybody makes mistakes, so lighten up on yourself.
  • Make the most of your time at the table. When you’re not in a hand, try to put other people on hands, or think about the last pot you played and what you did right or wrong. If you’re going to play poker, don’t read a book or watch tv.
  • Read. A few hours spent reading a poker book can give you a new perspective on the game, and is often worth much more than just a few hours at the table.
  • Create an environment conducing to winning. Time is precious, and it’s often difficult to set aside a block of time to play poker. In the past, I found myself logging on to play a few orbits while dinner was in the oven and my attention wasn’t fully on the game. If you don’t have a block of time where you aren’t going to be disturbed, don’t play.
  • Find some people who you can talk to about poker. When the cards go cold for weeks, and your bankroll is being depleted by bad beats, it can be tough to sit down at the tables and face the poker gods alone. It helps to have a perspective of the game other than your own.

Thanks for reading and good cards.

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