Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Letting go of a Poker Dream?

Over the last week or so, I’ve come to realize that poker is not really something that I’m ever going to excel in. I’ve never thought of myself as an elite poker player. I’ve always enjoyed the game itself, and I’ve enjoyed the camaraderie with the players that I’ve fellowshipped with throughout my 3 plus years of playing the game.

But lately, I’ve been taking poker too seriously I guess. It’s ceased becoming a fun game, and become more of a business venture of sorts, and a losing one at that. I’ve started to look a the statistics of how my play fares from a financial standpoint, and it’s losing it’s fun qualities for me.

I started tracking my progress on Full Tilt, and began with a $71 bankroll. I was happy after my cash in the TPT and had some success at the $.05/.10 tables on Tilt. But the cash games just weren’t as fun for me. I played in a little under 2000 hands of poker only to be down, and now, I’ve charted 3200 hands of poker to a losing total of more than $46. I’d say it’s a rut, and there would be some truth in that, but really I’m just getting beat a lot. In looking at my 24 sessions of cash game play, I’ve had 10 losing sessions, and 14 winning sessions. Yet, I tend to lose a lot more than I win. Not sure exactly why, but I think it’s because I chase my cash when I’m losing instead of walking away. I’ve had 4 double digit dollar losses, and only 1 double digit gain. Meh.

I guess in all this ranting what I’m feeling is that cash games are just less fun than playing in tournaments. So I stepped away from the cash scene and played in some of the 90 person Knockout Sit and Go’s. It’s a $3.30 buy in, and $.50 goes for your knockout, and the other $2.50 into the tourney pot. The final table gets paid, and your collect $.50 each time you knock someone out of the tournament. And lo and behold, I’ve found myself having fun again. I cashed in 9th place in one of the tourney’s and felt happy about it. And in the tourney’s where I lost, I didn’t walk away carrying that sinking feeling of donking off chips on some ridiculous hand.

Over on the Stars side of things, I’ve played in more of the lower buy in tourney’s and enjoyed those a great deal too. But the cash games always tend to leave me frustrated with my losing as well. And while pleased with the small wins that I do get, it leaves me with a thirst for something more.

I’m a big time competitor. I love sports, and I love conclusions. It’s probably why I’d like to see a playoff instead of the BCS mess that they currently have. And I think that it’s this belief that lends me to have more fun at the tourney’s than at the cash games. I like that there is an end goal. I want an eventual winner, rather than an open ended financial goal which seems to be virtually unattainable, and also completely unknown to the other players. How am I supposed to know what the other player’s financial goals are at a cash game? I see so many people come in for one hand, play it, win/lose, and leave again. Was that for fun? It bothers me. At least at a tournament, everyone’s goal is to at least finish in the money, if not to win the whole enchilada.

I’d love some feedback as to whether anyone feels the same way. But I’m thinking about giving up on the cash games all together. What do you think? Can you play poker in a setting where you have no real motivation?


Steve Brogan said...

Paul, this is interesting in that your post today sort of parallels my own in that I prefer cash games to tourneys and I totally respect and understand what you are saying. I too have lost a lot in cash games over the past three years but this is the year I have given myself to see if I have what it takes. And now I find myself liking selective tourneys. I know that in the cash games people drop in, hit their draws, and then drop out. But I have also met some people at the tables and have tried to keep track of them while I was active. I don't think there is a right or wrong answer here. Some people do better at tourneys, some do better at cash. There are the rare ones that excel at both. I am not even sure where I am at currently. Best wishes.

J. P. Young said...

I'm with you on the cash games. I can't seem to fold a hand even when I know I'm beaten. In a tourney, I can lay it down easily. I absolutely HATE losing to a bluff in cash, but I can say something like "nice bet" in a tourney if somebody shows me a bluff. I think I play with "scared money" in cash but have a fixed limit I can lose in a tourney. I play a lot of Negreanu's "Small Ball" style in tourneys whereas I try to be a homerun hitter in cash. It makes no sense why I'm so Jekyll and Hyde with my poker, but I've come to accept that and stick almost exclusively to tourneys. In tourneys, I prefer not to play Turbo if possible, and I like it when it is either deep stack and/or 180 players or more. I don't have that looming feeling that I have to make something happen and make an early move to start accumulating chips.

Keep your head up. From what I've seen, you are a good tourney player and just may have to tighten up quite a bit to work on your cash game. I have found that playing the Pot Limit Omaha cash games on PokerStars is a LOT of fun and very profitable for me. I don't know if it is because there are a lot more fish at the PLO tables or if it is the fact that I can easily lay down a hand if I don't have the nuts.

I will tell you this for sure, live poker for me is so much better than online poker. In live poker, I can play the player and not my cards a whole lot easier. I'm hoping to play in one of the $1k or $1,500 WSOP events in Vegas this year. I think that will let me know if my poker skills are up to par with the big boys.

Jack said...

Hey Paul what's up man.

Truth is, variance is really hard to handle. I can't tell you how many time's I've had top pair better kicker against someone who makes 2 pair on the turn or river. At low stakes even WORSE stuff happens.


LOOK AT THAT HAND! lol. I was literally in shock that such a calling stations could possibly get SO lucky and be so bad to call all my raises before the river with absolutely nothing. You can argue he had a flush draw on the turn, but he called a flop bet AND a river bet with horrible odds. When he bet the river I couldn't BELIEVE that someone could possibly be chasing the flush and was disgusted to know I would HAVE to call even though I was pretty sure he hit it.

Cash games are really hard to play! You get people who play 60% of their hands preflop and raise 4% of them. People who call flop bets 80% of the time out of 15 flop bet situations, but who have 0.2 aggression factor (making them calling stations.) When you bet out at someone who called 80% of the time, you can never know if they are on a flush draw, straight draw, set, no pair, pocket pair etc. They can have trash or the nuts but you never know because they never re-raise... they only call. And sometimes you HAVE to raise them if the flop is 2 to a flush or something and you only have top pair. It sucks because alot of the time I don't want to raise (because I expect a call) but I know I SHOULD because its the correct EV move to make.

You also get people who play 60% of their hands, raise 20% and bet the flop 80% of time. Hugely aggressive! You have AKs and raise them 11c to go on a 1/2c table and they call flop comes QQ2 and they bet out the pot and you're stuck with the choice of reraising (a reraise they'll probably call) or folding because they can be playing ANYTHING! I prefer these people to calling stations, but it's still irritating to see them win big pots without even being selective about their hands. They lose huge hands also (because of their over aggression) but you have to play it sooooo safe.

I've also played against people who play like 10% of their hands preflop, and raise with 9% of their overall hands. When I have a small pocket pair 9's and lower, and this guy moves in, I fold without question, and some guy who plays 60% of his hands always calls and I see AA, KK, QQ, JJ, AK, AQs and I always go "well I knew that was coming because they only play those kinds of hands"

It's all about figuring out what player habits are. If I see someone folds to a flop bet the last 18/22 (81%) times they've seen a flop, I bet the flop no matter WHAT I have. If they call, then I know they have something, but I then I know. And I don't worry about it most of the time because 80% of the time they fold. If I see that someone bets the flop 70% of the time, I'll reraise with marginal holdings and most of the time the player folds because he ALWAYS bets the flop hoping to see someone fold.

I got a 50$ freebank roll and find that if I play 9 man sit and gos 5$ buy in and lower, I 90% of the time make the money. But that's not where the money's at you know?

In the past month or so I've lost about 40 of those 50 dollars playing ring. There have been times where I literally reel back in disgust at the bad beats I received and other times where I just want to quit ring games all together.

So I think it's funny that you were having the same thoughts I was having regarding ring. "Maybe I just enjoy/preform better at tournaments/sit and gos?" But for me, 1 table sit and go strategy at lower limits is so boring. Fold every hand but AA, KK, QQ, AKs until the first two levels end, play drawing hands when the odds permit, etc. At lower levels, this will almost always get you into the top 3 (paid) slots of a 9 man SnG.

So about a week ago I made the conscious choice that if I couldn't force myself to beat the .01/.02 ring games, I would never consider myself a good player in my mind. So I decided to download the trial of pokertracker3, set it up so I could figure out how people play, force myself to play slower and see how it worked. I've also been reraising alot more to see where I'm at. I'm getting better at being able to tell when I'm beat on the flop and losing my 6c reraise instead of not reraising and then wondering if my top pair is worth a 40c call at the river when in reality I've been beat the whole time. These things are tough man!

I wish I could say I am consistently winning now, but I can't even say that yet. What I can say is that I'm not bleeding money out. I used to be in the same boat as you. I would win 4-5 small pots, and then lose that and more in a big pot. Now I'm getting better at making the correct EV choices I find that I'm either a slight winner, or a very slight loser. With only 10 dollars left in my bankroll, I'm pretty sure I'm not going to be able to come back (not enough bankroll to cover variance, bankroll management basics you know.)

I came to the conclusion that I either needed to figure out the .01/.02 stakes and beat it consistently so I could move up and repeat, or stop pretending I'm a decent poker player in general. Everyone in poker forums say that each stake level is consistently more difficult, and there's consistent winners in all stakes levels. What did that say about me not being able to beat the lowest stake?

My advice is to either do what you've already probably decided, quit cash games all together, or download the 55 day trial of Poker Tracker 3, set it up to give you useful stats like fold to flop bet %, VPIP%, etc and figure out your opponents and actually grind out one table slowly while being choosy about your starting hands. It's boring, and you'll get frustrated, but if you ever want to "beat the game" I think that's the harsh reality. You have to start and really work hard at it. :(.

Just my two cents

Jack said...

Oh and to answer your question, "Can you play poker in a setting where you have no real motivation?"

I don't think so. Right now I'm motivated to learn how people do what they do (because there really is consistent online poker winners.) But if you're not motivated to sit at a table and taking small bad beats while learning (probably playing 10,000 hands before you know if you're a consistent winnner or not) then I would say no. The game should be about fun first, and money later. I have fun with the game, otherwise I wouldn't play. If I thought I was playing too seriously, I would let it go

Paul Ellis said...

Hey guys, great feedback. From the chatter that I've got, it seems that the best strategy is to really pick a game, and stick with it. I do love the tourney's so I'll probably stay in those areas.