shipitfish: (poker-strategy-books)

I mentioned recently that my lack of entries in January was caused in part by an experiment I was conducting. The experiment actually continues, as I decided to extend it, but I will give a brief report for the standings right now.

The crux of the experiment was to see if I could make enough money to keep my current lifestyle should I play poker professionally full-time rather than merely part-time. An analysis I did last year, showed that playing only 16 hours a week, I was earning at a rate of around $10-$14/hour. Obviously, in my non-poker life, I make more than that, so this part-time job couldn't replace my full-time one at this rate.

So, I began to think about how I could increase the earn rate substantially. One thought was to move up in stakes from my usual $1/$2 and $2/$5 NL/PL (or $5/$10 and $10/$20 limit) to something much bigger. This is a dangerous move, especially if I were to play full-time hours, because I have no history (other than a few short sessions) in bigger games, even if I am adequately bankrolled.

I decided to do some more poker reading and thinking about the game. I looked for a few leaks. But, as I started my month of full-time hours, I still found myself winning around $12/hour in the $1/$2 NL HE games I was playing. It's clear to me that against reasonably strong opponents (i.e., the type who don't often stack off with one pair, and can read situations reasonably well), that's about the best I'm going to get.

So, it leaves two basic choices: move up in stakes, or find better games. I'd eliminated the former, so I was left with the latter.

I had done the first 14 days of the month playing the usual online sites. But, Full Tilt had been inundated with the Party Poker refugee sharks, and the games that were awesome in December ($1/$2, $200 max NL HE 6-max) had become, by mid-January, a constant battle to take money from the occasional weak player. Even Ultimate Bet, the once tight-weak-but-overplay-one-pair paradise has increased in its occurrence of multi-tabling pros. Other than the heads up games there — an extremely high variance form of poker — there wasn't much dead money to collect.

This brought me to around the 14th of January. I thought about focusing to live play. But, the costs are heavy. I could rent a cars (I've vowed to never use Greyhound again) to visit AC regularly, but I couldn't get away from work that easily. (I have a lot going on at my other job right now, too.) The NYC clubs are profitable, but nowhere near as good at the AC games. They are also hyper-aggressive, which leads to more variance.

So, I decided I had to become a online poker game selection specialist. I bought into every site I ever heard of. I sweated games. I found out when and where the really horrible players show up. And, my results improved. From the 14th to the 31st, I earned $79/hour multi-tabling $1/$2 ($200 max), $.5/$1 ($100 max), and occasionally $2/$4 ($400 max) NL HE. Plus, I made an additional $1,850 in online bonuses and promotions. These are results one could live on.

Of course, I don't think these will be typical by any means. I don't seem to have gotten amazingly lucky, it's really that I have found fields with opponents whose knowledge of the game is so abysmal that they cannot help but lose large amounts of money. Such fields are a rare find, and online poker moves and changes so fast (especially given the financial unraveling occurring in the USA), that there is absolutely no certainty that any good games will be available in just a few months.

However, my live sessions in Atlantic City and other casinos show that it's likely that I could probably earn a reasonable living as a full-time pro. Let's assume my results are highly anomalous (one month can't really show you a long term thing), and that if my game selection skills stay excellent, I'll earn somewhere at the halfway point between my historical results and these recent ones. That's certainly being optimistic, but it gives a good “best case” scenario of full-time pro life. If this estimate is accurate, I'd make my hourly rate somewhere $35-$45/hour. That's $75,000 to $90,000 each year, assuming normal work weeks and two weeks of vacation. That's completely without other benefits, of course.

However, even in the best case, when online poker ends, I'd doubt I'll be able to make much more than $50,000 or so a year at it unless my skill improves substantially or the games stay as easy as they are. (I think the latter is highly unlikely, and the former would be a substantial investment on my part). Even if the games stay good, much of the great EV comes from the multi-tabling and fast dealing online. Even $50k/year might be optimistic for live play unless I get much better and move way up in stakes.

I suppose I'm not giving too much about my personal finances away when I say that $50,000/year without benefits and only two weeks of vacation/sick days is not really close to my current lifestyle.

That said, I'm thinking of continuing with the experiment a while longer. I'm curious to see how long I can keep up the win rate. While it leads to very little free time between the two full-time jobs, I'd like to have a go for one more month and see how it works out. I'll keep you all posted, but it'll be sporadic.

shipitfish: (partly-cloudy-patriot)

In his highly acclaimed comedy performance, Dress to Kill, Eddie Izzard points out that the Church of England has no fundamentalists, because they simply aren't that far into the religious aspects of life. He argues that the most radical of questions a C of E fundamentalist would ever come up with would be Tea and Cake, or Death, and Izzard comically points out how easy of a question Cake, or Death? would be to answer, should one of these C of E fundamentalists ever approach you.

I got a question today from a poker fundamentalist on an old blog entry. My first thought was of Izzard's comedic Cake or Death sketch. Someone sitting in a hotel, asked me, Do you suck [at poker], or lie [about your winnings]?.

So, should I take suck or lie? Izzard's point, of course, about these fundamentalists is that single-minded thinking, where the options are narrowed to two ludicrous paths, are exactly where single-minded religious focus falls into the absurd. I think this fellow has done the same.

Of course, there are many players out there, even playing at my stakes, making a hell of a lot more than I am (at least in the short term). Poker games are really juicy right now, and lots of new players have done well early, through a combination of luck and some basic skill. I believe that over time, the luck is going to even out for those players who are beating these games for more than the statically expected.

Regardless, I take every poker criticism, however ludicrous it seems on the surface, very seriously. I therefore don't want to dismiss the possibility that I suck or lie; someone has made the case, so I will attempt to figure out if he's right. Checking whether I am lying is pretty easy; I simply am not. I don't plan to prove that to Mr. Hotel with scanned images of my bank records. My readers will just have to assume that for sake of argument that I am not lying and my results are as I say they are. Why would I draw the IRS' attention by ranting about how I pay my taxes on poker winnings if I wasn't paying them in full?

So, let's dig deeper into those results to see if I suck. I generally can eek out about .7 big bets per hour (or per 100 hands) in limit (I'm frankly not that great of a limit player), and I can pull down 5-7 big binds per hour (or per 100 hands) in NL games. In the really soft games, I find that I can reach that 7 big blind level pretty frequently, and when the games are a bit tougher, I struggle to stay at the 5 level.

I have looked at years of results — online databases of hands and session records from live play — and I don't think I'm that far from the theoretical expected maximums. I do figure I could get myself to a 1.5 big bet winner in the limit games with serious work, but until NL and PL structures actually start to completely fizzle out, I'm going to hold off into putting serious work into my limit game. I probably do suck more than I should at limit, but that's been a known problem in my game for quite some time and don't think I'm likely to improve it. I had two choices: work on my limit game, or focus on NL/PL, and I've chosen the latter. I argue this isn't “sucking”, it's picking a specific area of focus and holding off improving another area that isn't all that popular at the moment, anyway. In other words, I've made a game selection decision that I'd be better off improving my NL and PL game for the moment.

Another idea I had to investigate the possible source of the comment was, instead of looking at my average results based on that session data, that I would take the numbers backwards instead. In other words, let's investigate if making around $10,000 a year fits with a reasonable amount of EV, given how often I play. Ok, so for sake of simplicity, let's figure I made exactly $10,000 and I played only $1/$2 NL and made that average of six big blinds per hour. That means that I would have played 833.33 hours in a year, or about 16 hours each week. On average, this is exactly how much I am playing. Some weeks I don't have time to play at all on the weekdays. Those days, I play about 8 hours a day each of Saturday and Sunday. On weeks when I've put in a few hours during the weekday evenings, I usually put in less on the weekends. Anyway, I have to note that I was truly amazed that the numbers, which I hadn't looked at in this “top down” way ever before, actually matched perfectly to the EV numbers I calculated using other data sets. It's not mere mathematical symmetry, because my banking records which I use to generate my tax data and that $10k number are completely separate records from the session data I used to generate the average win rate numbers.

Of course, if we do the numbers from a limit perspective (I did play some limit in 2004 and 2005), it comes out to about 18 hours a week of half $5/$10, half $10/$20 (i.e., the theoretical limit of $7.50/$15). Again, the numbers match my actual playing frequency.

Anyway, this troller has given me two options (suck or lie?), neither of which makes much sense given the data. Sure, I'm not the best player I could be. I suppose there must be players out there who have reached a pinnacle of 3 big bets per hour in limit and 12 big blinds per hour in NL. However, I may be well on my way, because my results show a steady climb (when I first started NL, I was lucky to stay even over time and I was certainly net loser in the early River Street days). Of course, my game needs work (everyone's really does), but wouldn't the first step in such work involve being honest about one's results? And if you are honest about your results, how can you suck? To really suck at poker, you have to be someone who is unwilling to be honest with yourself about your game.

I think that newcomers to poker are far too optimistic about what is possible with regard to wins. I know a lot of young kids who have had amazing runs, and they have moved up in stakes quickly. I heard about one young boy who has put together a $30,000 bankroll in the matter of just about a year (having started at $1/$2 NL), and he frequently sits in $100/$200 NL games with his whole bankroll on the table. Sure, he's winning now and may win for a while, but the odds say that a crash and burn is coming unless he gets realistic.

Meanwhile, I have friends asking me why I'm still usually playing $1/$2 NL after all these years and only occasionally taking shots at bigger games. It's true that I keep very conservative bankroll requirements (having gone broke twice, once for having inadequate bankroll and once for raiding it for other expenses). I simply don't believe I have a reasonable bankroll for bigger games. Meanwhile, I've chosen this year to take some profit from poker, so my bankroll, for most of this year, has been at static size; my winnings each month leave it steadily for other expenses.

I'm a winning player who constantly tries to get better, and that's enough for me for the moment. Maybe I'm not improving as fast as others, nor making as much as people who are playing above their bankroll, but that's ok with me. I'm pretty sure I'd have to quit my hectic job if I wanted to focus even more on poker. So, my message to my hotel-posting friend is: money isn't as important as you think it is; making the correct decisions and playing well and within your bankroll is. The money will come as a side effect over time. For my part, I'm happy to wait, as long as I play my best game every time and learn something every time I play. Occasionally, I feel a twinge of worry that the games will dry up before I have a chance to cash in at higher limits, but I really believe I'd have to go to full-time professional now to do that, and I don't want to quit my job and take that life-risk at the moment. If I miss the best part of the boom, I'll miss it. I'm thinking long term here.

I'll end with this link to an excellent Barry Tanenbaum article that I (ironically) just read before going to bed last night. His point is that there is much luck in poker that is hidden, and you could be experiencing a lot of that kind of luck and not even realize it. I think so many players, probably Mr. Hotel included, have generally good basic poker skills but also have, on top of that, gotten really lucky in this way over the last year or two. It's not that they can't overcome it and get better; it's just that their hidden luck might lead them believe that amazing results are normal. In fact, I know from experience that those amazing results are simply a cushion that will later help you survive the times when your hidden luck suddenly transforms into someone else's overt luck — every time they are in a pot with you. Don't be a fundamentalist about it; Don't assume that your better-EV-than-thou faith in The Great Sklansky and your excellent recent results actually measure how good you are. We all suck a little bit and we all are God's proverbial gift to poker a little bit. Sure, read Sklansky religiously and be proud of your results, but remember that poker isn't as simple as Cake, or Death.

shipitfish: (partly-cloudy-patriot)

Work has kept me far away from poker for at least three weeks. I've certainly missed it. Catching up on everything back in the poker world reminds me so much of how crazy the people are about money.

In particular, I was quickly reminded upon reentry into the poker world of the strange group of recreational players I find in most of the online games, in many casinos, and sometimes even in the clubs of NYC. These are recreational players who usually take poker as this grand competition — the ultimate measuring stick of their manhood. They amaze me, these folks. The most intriguing aspect of their approach to the game is how they react to losses. When they lose, some of them often try hard to convince anyone who'll listen that they don't need to win. They flash their fancy watches; they say they are “rich already” and just want to “blow off some steam” playing some poker. This is often moments after saying how much they enjoy the competition and beating their fellow man in a competition of wits and psychological manipulation. They protest too much, methinks.

Of course, there's a part of me that's just another one of these recreational players. I don't want to dismiss that maybe I'm not all that different. How much of my poker play is a need for some competition? Do I discount that when I lose? How much am I like them?

I believe that these are central questions of success and self-improvement. Poker is a controlled universe that one can use to build character and reach for success. I watch these other recreational players oscillate between that desire for excellence and the pretension that they are “are gamblers who can afford it”.

I think W.D.'s attitude about this is the best. He said to me recently: I may have to come to terms with the fact I don't have the desire to make the time investment it would require to be a winning player. This was by far the healthiest recreational player attitude I've heard. So many people fight with themselves — trying to pick between admitting their game has limits (in the skill sense) and telling themselves that this is just for fun and doesn't matter. It's hard to find thinking that is clear, balanced, and honest. What I like about W.D.'s attitude is that he admits he has limitations and realizes that he may not have the time available, due to other more important commitments, to devote to the study.

You see, anyone of above average intelligence can excel at poker. But, the time investment, study and patience are too much for some people. Excuses are easier. The key, however, is to be honest and self-aware about those excuses. If you don't want to invest the time, admit that you are gambling a little bit because you don't have the time. You don't have to oscillate; just settle somewhere in the middle and admit that's where you are.

When I'm faced with the question of “should I play now that I'm too busy with other things to focus on my game?” — as I was the past few weeks — I simply don't play. It's something I thought carefully about over the past few weeks when I would think about the fact that I'd chosen not to play. I saw that I had two choices, given the constraints on my ability to focus adequately: (a) don't play or (b) play for lower stakes, so the losses I would inevitably suffer would be minimal.

I didn't chose (b) because I don't actually believe there are any stakes in the world that are meaningless. As I've said before, I believe only somewhat in the relative value of wealth. $10 may not have much meaning to middle class people, but I know that there are people for whom $10 is a large amount of money. How arrogant would it be for me to throw that money away playing $.25/$.50 limit or $0.10/$0.20 NL/PL, when I could donate it to someone whom I knew really needed it?

I don't deny that I play some for the competition and for the fun (after all, I indeed love the game of poker). However, I can never afford to play anything less than my best game — no matter what the limit. If I play poker and am not playing my best game, I am throwing away money that has a better use, no matter what the stakes. If I must feed that competitive demon at such moments, then it must be done with a game that isn't played for money (even if it makes the game “less real” — more on that later).

shipitfish: (partly-cloudy-patriot)

My last post discussed a terribly played hand of NL HE at a local NYC club. As I've mentioned, “bad beats” just don't get to me anymore, and I feel fine as soon as I know my money went in correctly and as a favorite. However, I feel awful when I lose a big stack or pot due to my own terrible mistake (or series of them). That's how I felt all night after playing that pot, and even into the next morning as I commuted to work.

I tried to put it out of my mind. I carried out my normal commuting ritual of listening to recorded books on my portable audio player. And, what did I come upon somewhere in Midtown, but the following quote from the Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell:

My motto in any situation is “It could be worse!” “It could be worse!” is how I meet every setback. Though, nothing all that bad has ever happened to me, every time I've ever had my heart broken, or gotten fired or watched an audience member at one of my book signings have a seizure as I stand at the podium trying not to cry, I remind myself: “It could be worse!” In my self-help universe, when things go wrong, I whisper mantras to myself; mantras like “Andersonville”, or “Texas school book depository”.

Andersonville” is a code-word for “you could be one of the prisoners of war, dying of disease and malnutrition in the worst confederate prison, so just calm down about the movie you wanted to go to being sold out”.

“Texas school book depository” means that having the delivery guy forget the guacamole isn't nearly as bad as being assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald as the blood from your head stains your wife's pink suit.

Though, ever since I went to Salem, I'm keen on “Gallows Hill”. As in, “being stuck in the Boise airport for ten hours, while getting hit on by a divorced man with ‘major financial problems’, on his way to his to his twentieth high school reunion, is irksome but not as dire as swinging by the neck on Salem's Gallows Hill”.

So, if I have gleaned anything useful from reading and day-tripping through the tribulations of the long dead, it's to count my blessings — to try and quit bellyaching — to buck up. Can't you just hear the children's song?

I began to think a lot about how worse it could be. Yes, I know I played the hand that way because my recent legitimate poker losses have left me impatiently looking for a spot to have a big winning session. I probably overplayed my hand because I thought prematurely that this was my moment. I made the classic reading mistake of putting my opponent on the one hand I could beat of many possible hands that fit the betting pattern and tells.

My bankroll sits at near a half of what it was in December, but it is still a full $3,000 more than it was a year ago at this time. I still have enough that I don't need to drop down limits. As Sarah says, “It could be worse!”

As I pondered this, the next track after the quote above started. I was treated to a song by what is probably my favorite band, They Might Be Giants. This wasn't a shuffle accident; I was playing sequentially. TMBG did music for Sarah's audio book. This was They Might Be Giants' rendition of Sarah's “It Could Be Worse!” mantra; their interpretation of the “children's song” she mentioned. (Give a listen.)

So, I'm going to keep those mantras, and this song, in my head at the poker table. I even wrote another stanza of it of my own:

You flopped trips with ten-seven,
And paid off sixes-full.
But, your stack was less than those lost accounts,
in the 80's S&L scandal.

“Gallows Hill”, and “Andersonville”, it could be ...
It could be worse!

My new mantra for bad beats and bad plays: “80's S&L scandal!”!


shipitfish: (Default)

November 2016

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