Fighting through the grind

“Iron rusts from disuse; stagnant water loses its purity and in cold weather becomes frozen; even so does inaction sap the vigor of the mind.”
–Leonardo da Vinci
Well I don’t have any coherent ideas for a centrally-themed post, so I guess I’ll just ramble. Lots of stuff on my mind, mostly thoughts inspired by Jesse May’s “Shut up and Deal”, which I finished reading this morning.
Shut up and Deal
Jesse May’s cynical, rambling, and inspirational story of his years playing poker for a living is arguably the best poker book out there, although Anthony Holden’s “Big Deal” remains my favorite. Jesse takes us through the ups and downs of playing $50-100 and up all over the world, and shows how tough the life of a pro poker player can be. May quotes Dylan several times in the book, and his words ramble on without a central theme, but somehow convey some central “truth” in Dylan-like fashion.
The central “truth” that Jesse ends up at is that the key to long term success in poker is not mastering poker strategy and tactics, but accepting the slings and arrows of fate. It’s easy to talk about standard deviation and variance and big bets per hour, but what are you gonna do when your Aces get cracked three times in a row at $50-100, and you’re stuck five grand? You’ve got more skill than the guy who rivered his inside straight, you know all the outs, the odds, but you just lost five grand. Figuring out how to accept that is the hard part of poker.
“Poker is a combination of luck and skill. People think mastering the skill part is hard, but they’re wrong. The trick of poker is mastering the luck. That’s philosophy. Understanding luck is philosophy, and there are some people who aren’t ever going to fade it. That’s what sets poker apart. And that’s what keeps everyone coming back for more.”
Limit vs. No Limit
I’ve been thinking about the No Limit game and the WSOP and WPT and the poker explosion, and have found myself at the low-limit NL games at the B&M a few times over the past weeks. No doubt about it, these games are great. So great that I ended up dropping $600 at the $100 buy in NL game at Hollywood Park, after playing perfectly for 6 hours. The game was so fishy that Nemo sat down at my table and took my money, after I managed to get all-in preflop for $200 with AA. Of course, Nemo had KK and flopped a King. I was playing my middle pairs aggressively, making tough bets and calls where I was always a big favorite, but too many times the river would give somebody their flush or straight or whatever hand they didn’t have odds to draw to. I remember betting my pocket 6s hard with two overcards on board, and checking the river when a King hit. “Show me AK!” I said to the fish as he bet out, and he happily did. “Would you have called if I went all in on the flop?” I asked, knowing the answer: “With AK? Of course!” said the fish, and I’m pretty sure he would have.
But that’s poker. There was a lot of money to be made at that table, and it wasn’t too hard to get somebody all in when you were a 70% favorite. But the poker gods were unkind, and I began to think the optimal strategy in that game was to just wait for the nuts and double up. You could do that probably once or twice an hour if you were lucky, and the variance would be a lot less. But that’s coward poker, leaving money on the table like that. If I’m there, I’m gonna push my edges, push them so hard that I end up drowning in the fish tank if the cards aren’t kind.
In limit poker, you have to make radical adjustments to your play when you’re playing against a school of fish. The same goes for NL. I don’t have the experience yet to know what these adjustments are, but I think I’m starting to get the idea. I’m not quite sure where I stand on NL– the highest limit NL game at HP is $200, so Limit is where the real money’s at. I’m not sure where I stand on NL, but I want to learn the game.
You get better or worse, you never stay the same
Part of the reason for this NL excursion was because I’ve been feeling a little stagnant grinding away at $3-6. I briefly considered learning Omaha as a way to improve my limit game, but Hold ‘Em is the game for now and the future (tv rules), and a wise sage helped me see the poker scene more clearly. My results at $3-6 have been consistently good, but I’ve been itching to move up in limits or just try SOMETHING to challenge my dormant brain. I’ve dabbled in $15-30 (the games are so good but the variance is through the roof) and played in a few multis (my tourney game is slowly improving) to get a break from the grind. I cashed in 16th out of 164 in a $10 turbo pacific multi when my TT went down to A9… I thought it was a great call, but the poker gods mocked me by giving my opponent a wheel on the river. Hopefully I can wait out the higher-limit itches until I have a sufficient bankroll, or maybe I’ll start taking shots at the super loose $15-30 live game at Hollywood Park. But I’m not prepared to lose a grand on a few suckouts, so hopefully my patience holds up.
My protege, Monk, on the other hand, finally has been learning at a superhuman pace. I took great pride in watching him destroy two $1-2 tables the other night, and his bankroll has been growing steadily. It was great to see that my “teaching” had finally paid off, and he made a lot of plays that I considered questionable, but he usually ended up being correct– he explained that the 1-2 tables have a different breed of fish, and some of the plays he was making used his knowledge of his opponents. At this point I don’t think I have much left to teach him, although every time you jump in limits the learning process starts over.
I’ve also taken up some of the blackjack bonuses offered on Grubby’s site (it just shows you how much I want to move up to $15-30). Although I somehow felt like my dignity had gone out the window, I have to admit it was mesmerizing watching the computer fly through 5000 hands on autoplay. Someday I’ll have a big enough bankroll that I won’t have to stoop to such bonus whoring, but for now the free money is too good to pass up.
And I felt a bit silly buying my first pair of poker sunglasses, but I’m tired of getting caught staring at someone’s eyes when they are checking their hole cards. We’ll see if I can actually bring myself to put them on at the table.
I’m too tired to do a full poker blog patrol, but I did want to point to long time RGP poster Dave L’s RGP posts about going pro. I know I miss the weekly DavidRoss updates, so check out Dave L’s conservative approach to playing poker for a living.
Have a good weekend everybody– don’t leave chips on the table.

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