Thursday, May 18, 2006

Detach Me, Baby

Last night was pretty much a wash on the poker front, despite getting up fairly big early on when I flopped nut flushes in back to back hands and no one seemed to believe me. Proceeded to bleed most of it back, though, before finally shutting down the pokering machine to hang out with ScurvyWife and watch Lost and other silly tv.

It's been interesting of late, as far as stepping back a bit from poker more than a few times over the last few months, and then easing back into playing. I can't say that it has produced any grand epiphanies, or even lesser epiphanies, but I do seem to be approaching it with a slightly different flavor of detachment, which seems to be helping.

Detachment and poker is an odd thing. You can't shake a stick at poker literature without smacking the advice of "View the chips as chips, not money, and play with no fear." Which is very good advice, indeed, and I have absolutely no quibbles with that.

You'll also encounter the advice of not being results-oriented around every corner, too, as far as detaching yourself from the outcome of any single hand, focusing instead on the bigger picture and of making the correct decision, each and every time you have to make a decision, and letting the results sort themselves out over time. Repeat to yourself, over and over, that you'll be a winner in the long run if you consistently make +EV decisions. Again, great advice, no quibbles with that.

Both of the above are pretty obvious conclusions and easy enough to absorb because they don't really conflict with other things we'd like to believe about the great game of poker. They jive perfectly with other goals such as improving our game, learning, readying, studying, and striving to make +EV decisions and avoid -EV decisions.

Lately, though, I seem to be trending towards an even broader sense of detachment. And I can't necessarily recommend it, as it's sort of fatalistic, but I'm beginning to wonder if it's a natural (perhaps necessary) evolution of the idea of detachment.

And, really, it's a pretty simple state of detachment, capable of being summed up in a single, solitary word: whatever.

Crack my set of aces with J8o when you hang in there to catch a runner runner straight? Whatever.

Cap with 25o because you think it's funny, only to crack my kings when you river two pair? Whatever.

Call off all your tournament chips with third pair, when facing two all-ins in front of you, only to spike a third 5 on the river? Whatever.

And yes, indeed, that's a close cousin to not being results oriented. But it's a bit different, as it doesn't involve repeating the mantra that "skillful play will win over time, skillful play will win over time, skillful play will win over time." It's a bit more nihilistic.

Whatever. Poker involves skill, but it also involves a large mesaure of complete and utter randomness. I'll focus hard on each and every hand, and make the best decision I can possibly make, and strive to only play when I can do so optimally, but to a certain extent I'm deluding myself by pretending that study and experience will dilute the random nature of the cards. It will, to a certain extent, but we eventually hit a wall where the best response might very well be "Whatthefuckever", moving on to the next hand without even a millisecond of cogitating on something that's ultimately uncogitatable, due to the nature of the game.

And that's true when you win a hand, as well as when you lose. Rake a huge pot when the lemur with an overpair insists on ignoring the possible flush that you obviously have? Whatever. Bend over the donkey, yet again, that constantly overvalues top pair? Whatever. Constantly steal from the BB who folds way too many hands? Whatever.

In some ways, it's a depressing state to reach. It takes some of the joy from playing poker, if you view it as an exercise in mashing buttons, that you can steer in the direction of personal profit, more often than not, but also one that's largely dictated by randomly generated pixels in the end. It's much more exciting and envigorating to imagine that all of our skillful plays, our stop n' gos, our expertly timed bluff check-raises are what will truly separate us from the masses, that all of our thought and study is what defines us as winning players.

I'm just not sure that is a reality, though. More and more it seems that I make the most money when I find the best tables and absolutely bash on weak players when the opportunity arises. That requires the least amount of skill and thought yet produces the best results. Target, isolate, and bash, over and over and over. And then do it some more.

Or, you know, whatever.


Pokerwolf said...

You've found Occam's Razor, Scurvy.

Do I beat, beat, beat on weaker players and make a huge profit all the time or do I "take shots", play against players with more skill and try to figure out how to improve my game?

My thought on that issue is that both need to be done. Anyone who continually plays against weak players , and never plays at higher limits, is crippling his/her own game.

It sounds like you're not just being nihilistic. You're getting bored. "Whatever" isn't a response a player wants to find when they're playing poker. At least not from my perspective.

ScurvyDog said...


It's a tough one. I hear you, and think there's much truth in your perspective, but I'm also pretty sure it's more than just boredom or avoiding tougher games or taking the path of least resistance.

The last thing I'd want to do is argue or try to convince people that poker isn't a game of skill, of incremental improvement over time through study and thought that results in long-term profitable play. That belief keeps many people playing, and engaged, and adds a lot of enjoyment to an endeavor that can be painfully frustrating at times.

I'm just not sure what the results would be, if you took a poll of players who had been profitably playing for five years and asked them to answer the following question:

Is being a long-term winner at poker due to:

#1) Constantly tweaking and improving your game, with each year of experience cumulatively increasing your potential net hourly earn.


#2) Routinely exploiting common situations, over and over, many of which you recognized after a few years of play.

Struggling with poker is easier for all of us if the answer is #1, as it adds a sense of fairness to the inexplicable randomness of poker at times.

Lately, though, I'm feeling the more common answer is likely #2, if people are honest. Poker is a complicated game, but it's not rocket science. Viewing it as a nuanced chess match may make us feel better in many ways, but it doesn't really reflect the reality that success in poker is usually determined by routinely exploiting a fairly small number of situations that arise.

(And yeah, I realize that I'm unfairly polarizing things, and that it's a combination of the two, not an either/or situation, but I think it's more slanted in the direction of #2 than #1.)

Bullajami said...

I really enjoyed this post of yours, not so much for the philosophical question, but for your description of "whatever" detachment. I need to progress to that Zen-like state. I've been on a helluva losing streak lately and I've been anything but "whatever" about it. I think I'll be chanting "whatever" to myself at the tables tonight. Thanks for a great post!

Pokerwolf said...

(And yeah, I realize that I'm unfairly polarizing things, and that it's a combination of the two, not an either/or situation, but I think it's more slanted in the direction of #2 than #1.)

You'd be right.

That's how it works for anything that requires skill. NBA players feel this way about free throws, for example.

The difference is how the player approaches those situations. Do they just look at the situation and say, "Oh, this again" or do they look at it differently (such as, "If I do this right, I'm going to be winning a nice pot"). I stated that you were getting "bored" because you sound like you're not being challenged. You're dealing with the "Is this it? That's all?" feelings that invariably skilled players always run into.

Personally, my focus of interest is less on "earning lots of money". I meet new people, try new games, or whatever. Whenever I feel "blah" about things, I go play a different game, go hang out with some bloggers online or simply stop playing and go do something else.

Not sure if that helps you at all, but I hope it does.

Mark said...

Whatever, whatever, whatever. I hear what you're saying, but I worry that it may encourage a bad attitude that could lead careless play.

Rene said...

bad beats don't tend to affect me so much. I still greatly enjoy draggin large pots, though.

what really irks me is when I have to repeatedly fold hands with weak showdown value to big street raises.

Folding the best hand is one of the worst mistakes in limit poker, and I hate the times I feel like I'm making that mistake over and over and over and over and over and over.