Sunday, July 25, 2004

Turning It Around

Frankly, I have been very disappointed with my poker performance this year.

2004 started very promisingly. I made a final table at Luton (I should have won the tournament really) plus I made the final of both tournaments I played at the Vic in March, narrowly missing out on a big score.

Since then, it has gone horribly wrong. Apart from a couple of minor placings at the Bellagio and the WSOP. Absolutely nothing. If I hadn't been so lucky with the %'s I have swapped in Vegas and at the Vic, I would be losing money even before expenses can be covered.

When work gave me up and I decided to play poker for a living noone ever warned me I would go on a run like this.

I am determined not to just wallow in my own sorrow and moan about my lack of form. I need to work out what is going wrong and how to recify it.

I have long believed that luck is a major factor as to who wins a poker tournament. Obviously in the long run the best players will win the money, but over 1, 5 or 10 events luck has a major influence.

I certainly haven't been lucky. I was chip leader 2 tables out in a $2,500 event at the Bellagio and lost an enormous pot with QQ v AK. At the WSOP in the $3,000 pot limit holdem I couldn't beat 22 with KK on a flop of KJ2 which would have made me massive chip leader.

It got even worse at the Vic I lost with T9 v T7 on a T92 flop in the £750 and when having good chips in the £2,000 I lost with AA v 88 and 3 hands later I get KK only to find the loveable George Geary with AA.

Hopefully, these won't go on forever. But, I *know* there's something wrong with my game too, I played very poorly in Barcelona and my performance in the last 2 events I played at the WSOP was pitiful. I've already recounted the mistakes I made in Paris. Perhaps the outdraws have made me a little gunshy. I am a firm believer of the importance of having a positive mental attitude going into a tournament. Believing you are the best player going in helps you in so many ways. Peter Costa, Simon Trumper and Mike Magee are all very talented poker players. But I don't think they are the *best*. Yet, when they were having their respective golden runs, when they took a beat, they just regrouped and came back stronger either in that tournament or in the next one. They felt like they could walk all over their opponents and to a certain extent that confidence relayed itself to their opponents, who would be wary about tangling with them and hence they stole ALOT of pots. And one thing I am lacking at the moment is that positive mental attitude.

Another factor I am sure in my lack of success recently is Pokerstars. I am playing there far too regularly. I do very well in the heads up matches at $1000 and $500 levels. I win nearly 2 from 3 and have made very good money for the last few months. But, heads up matches are instant gratification. You are involved constantly and patience is not a quality you need to be successful. But, I feel like I've begun to transfer my heads up play into tournament play. I have always played alot of pots, but maybe I am now playing too many. I have been finding myself in massive pots against tight players with shit hands too often for my liking recently.

A related point is the info tab on 'Stars. I have become obsessed with chip averages, how many players left and whatnot. This has definitely crept into my live tournament play. If I am below chip average I get twitchy, looking for an excuse to get involved and boost my stack. And in these big tournaments with a slow structure there really is no need to do this. You have plenty of time to make a comeback and all you have to do is concentrate on playing your table and slowly accumulating chips.

The solution to this? After WCOOP I am going to severely curtail my online play. I am going to stop, for a while at least, playing heads up matches and I am only going play a very few tournaments. Probably the big Sunday night event and maybe 2 or 3 others a week.

Playing less often will also have the effect of making me hungrier when I do get to play offline. And I might actually live up to my pro tip of getting a life outside poker!

The final problem is how the other players percieve me. A year ago, I was getting away with alot. Stealing pots, semi bluffing, check raising were all working. But, now I'm not getting the benefit of the doubt, good players are more inclined to think I'm at it and are prepared to call me down with little.

I think I've devised a strategy to combat this. Obviously, I'm not going to reveal it here, but hopefully I can reap the benefits eventually.

Playing against the best tournament poker players is a hard business. They exploit weaknesses ruthlessly and relentlessly. My aim is to tighten up my game to return to the level I was at 12 months ago. Time will tell if I can do it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can I get something straight here? You win almost two out of three heads-up matches at the $500 and $1000 level and you want to quit them? That's a per comp win rate of $166 and $333 respectively (minus a few per cent for the house).

Have you lost your mind?

David Y.

7:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blimey! Beaten to it by DY...

Keith, it seems like you are chasing the tourny trail because that's what you want to do rather than doing what you should to maximise your earn. If that's the case then that's all very admirable and good luck - but if not then maybe the next paragraph comes into play...

With a strike rate like that on h/u $1000, surely you should play one game 3 times a day and make c$1000 a day? Assuming the games are fairly swift, this should mean only a few hours' play each day. WIth an earn like that, you can still choose to chase your pot of gold on the tourny trail, but cherry-picking events and playing offline VERY fresh....rather than getting ground down by the continuous demands of the full time circuit?

Whatever, good luck with it, and keep the blog going.

Simon Galloway.

5:41 AM  
Blogger The Camel said...

I gave up work over 2 years ago for a number of reasons. One of the main reasons was I was sick of sitting in front of a computer screen 8 hours a day.

I can make a very good living playing heads up matches on Pokerstars but it involves sitting in front of a computer screen for hours at a time.

Spot the similarity.

Money is not and never will be a major motivating factor in my life. If I've got enough to live on comfortably I am more than happy.

I love playing big no limit holdem tournaments. I am pretty sure I've got a big enough edge in them to make enough money to live on. However, the variances are huge and I am currently suffering a big downturn in my fortunes.

If giving up playing heads up matches online helps me to return to the form I was showing 12 months ago then I more than happy to sacrifice the potential earnings.

After all, one win in a big buyin tournament will be more than 10 years wages playing heads up matches. And Pokerstars aren't going anywhere. If I go totally lights out, I know I can return to the heads up game..

6:50 AM  
Blogger Andy_Ward said...

Funnily enough I have been also thinking that a bit less on-line play and a bit more of a positive attitude would go a long way.

And if people have been noticing you raising with 86s online, then you can bet you've been rumbled live ! That's one problem I don't have, people thinking I'm at it all the time. Yet :-)

Stick at it and I'm sure it will turn round.


11:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Keith,

Excellent post. Sorry I haven't got around to posting before - I've been a bit lazy lately.

I've been through bursts of playing the HU sit n go's (BTW thats some win rate). I noticed an awful lot of difference in my general game when I play it - most of it positive. If my confidence is low, I might go there to regroup - school of hard knocks - the one thing Ive noticied is that that HU is unforgiving, you can't make mistakes and so your discipline must improve, moreover you care about winning more - so you try harder, than in some cash ring game. When my burst ends, I find that I'm paying more attention to the game when I go back to playing cash (limit). But I've also noticed that, as a result of HU play, in tournaments that some of my attributes of my game suffer in the odd NL tournie I play (though others improve). The trouble is that one's mind sees a scenariothat's gone headsup in the tournament and uses your experience in headsup matches to play it - and of course your opponent is likely to be on a different hand and play it differently. In HU you're used to getting inside your opponents heads, setting him up, trying to gett him to call with with 4th pair when you've got 3rd.

I made a comment to Lawz or Bob a while ago about the merits of having all this tournament data to hand, and how it affects play. I don't think its positive. When your playing a live tournie, I think you are playing the table and not the field - you aren't bothered about being chip leader or not. But on-line you get worried about dropping a place, or a little resigned to defeat if you fall below chip average. It can't be constructive.

As for your bad run - things will change, your job now is to make sure that your are best equipped to deal with it when it does. Some people bounce more easily than others - they have a blinding belief in their ability, even if its unfounded. I've nearly written a lot of articles, one of them highlighted the lack of literature that addresses the gap of knowing what to and actually doing it.

I'd always thought it, but it struck me when I played in the WPT event and Tom McEvoy when out the first hand with AA. He played it bad, he knew how to play it and if you'd asked him he's have told you, but he still did it. When your are on a bad run, the things that you found easier to do become harder. The reason is I've started to conclude, is that our sense of probability is severly altered. Lets say there is a specific bluffing scenario that has cropped up over the year 20 times. You play it the same way - the first 15 times it wins, the last 5 times its lost. Now I don't believe our perception is that there is a 75% chance of it winning, it probably feels as though its the other way round.

By the same token, as you suggest, our opponents see it this way - when you are successful they believe you will carry on being so and back off, their judgement is clouded. But when you are losing they don't fear you and play better against you and so if you play the same way your EV drops. If your game changes then I guess you have less opportunites to win, but you get paid more when you do win.

Poker, decision making in general, is all about reference points, I believe, and finding the right one. I've seen myself make too many bad decisions because of choosing poor ones. Whe things go wrong we need to adjust it.

I prattle on about the utility of one thing over another - therefore I don't think you are wrong to pursue tournaments over cash just because it is less profitable. But it is a trade off. If I had a choice of winning 51k in cash or 50 k in some major tournament - I'd choose the tournie - and I'd bet my bottom bollock DY would too if actually confronted by such a proposition.

Keith, one thing that is for sure is that you will have a run as bad as this or worse in the future, don't let your future success allow you to push it aside. Whether you will feel as bad depends on how well you plot your way out of it now. The one thing that I have done, that helps to a degree, is to try and set myself some objectives other than winning. I know if I tried hard and stuck to it, it ould have helped me more during the difficult times. Try to focus on things that you feel you can improve on, and at the end of the night assess your performance. If you set yourself goals that you can control and don't depend on luck, then you will at least feel you are making progress. The trouble with poker as a benchmark of success, is that in the short term, doing the right things may appear to be wrong.

Good luck


9:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Keith , its Simon , love the blog , you will get through this and you are right about needing a PMA , it's something i used to pride myself on and has been lacking from my play for some time , well now it's back and whatever happens in the future i am not going to let it slip again , good players like you will always get results in the long term but occasionally you need reminding no matter how good you are there is an element of luck in poker and if yours is on a down slope you just have to ride it out , good luck Simon (ACES)

7:05 PM  

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