Tuesday, March 28, 2006

My Name is ScurvyDog and I'm a Poker Hobbyist

As has happened many times, Otis posts a seemingly simple reflection on poker and I spiral down into an endless draft of a post of epic length that I end up finally trashing, re-writing, trashing, re-writing, and so forth.

Here's the short version. I'm a poker hobbyist. I just am. And I always will be. I'd like to entertain notions of grinding my way up to the biggest games, where I make many grandusands every day, almost as an afterthought, but it ain't gonna happen.

I don't have what it takes. I don't have the gamble in me necessary to make it happen. The losses affect me too much, make me too cautious. When I run bad and dump $10K in a month all I see is what that would be in 30 years, invested wisely, compounding interest. If you offer me a 90% chance of making $1,000 or a 10% chance of making $20,000 I will always take the $1,000. Every damn time.

Being married and having a mortgage isn't what's holding me back. I'm what's holding me back. Me. It's pointless to play the oh-if-I-were-20-and-single-and-had-no-obligations-and-could-move-to-Vegas-and-really-roll-the-damn-bones-and-see-what-I-can-make-from-poke game. I'm not. What's holding me back aren't a laundry list of expectations and obligations. I'm holding myself back. I cringe from the uncertainty and likely always will.

Going broke holds absolutely no romanticism for me, despite the fact that nearly every pro has gone broke at some point. The idea of going broke makes me throw up in my mouth a little. And that's not even considering the potential effect it might have on my marriage.

Just because I have the bankroll to play 30/60 doesn't mean I should be playing 30/60. Forcing myself down the rabbit hole of escalating limits isn't making me happy, despite all the logical reasons to do so. I've been holding myself accountable to some sort of strange form of swinging dickism for awhile now, defining myself poker-wise by the limits I play, with the general notion being the bigger, the better.

The honest truth is that if I drop $5K over a weekend I feel like a failure. Like I'm failing myself, my wife, and even the damn rat. The fact that I logically know that it's variance, that I'm likely to get it back on Monday doesn't help. I still feel like a failure, each and every time it happens. It doesn't matter that it's a small percentage of my overall bankroll, a mere drop in the bucket. I beat myself up just the same and I'm not able to contain it all, letting it affect my general mood and interactions with people as well.

At the same time, winning $5K in a weekend doesn't make me feel like a success. It doesn't make me happy. It only makes me less nervous as I have more padding to cushion a downswing, if and when it happens. A feeling of less nervousness does not equate to happiness or enjoyment. Not at all.

It's a nice problem to have (and I'm not complaining) but part of my recent malaise and general unsettledness is that my bankroll grew to the point where the normal variance and everyday losses were uncomfortable, when compared to my day job salary. I was playing 30/60 at times, doing the poker hobby thing, because I had the bankroll to play 30/60. Normal variance over a weekend (in both directions) of play at 30/60 would dwarf what I might take home in 3-6 months at the day job. I'd regularly win and lose more in a single long session than I'd make all month.

That puts the self-confessed hobbyist with small cojones and an aversion to risk in an odd spot. You want to play and you want to make money, but even when you view losses in relation to your bankroll, with a knowing nod and wink at lady variance, it still hurts more than it should, when you get kicked in the junk, as it's pretty eash and natural to view the losses in relation to what your primary occupation is. You can always drop back to lower limits but it's pretty hard, once you get used to the action at higher limits. It's also much less interesting and enjoyable, aside from the money involved, as you're treading old ground and not stretching your poker brain at all.

The tipping point was last week when I was in the office, late at night, watching the tail end of a NCAA tournament game after ScurvyWife had gone to bed. To kill time, I fired up some 10/20 6 max on Stars. I just wanted to play some poker, more than anything. Pretty simple motivation. I immediately get sucked out on twice, get a few second best hands, and am stuck $400 or so within 15 or 20 minutes. I battle back, pick up a few big hands, and am about $50 in the hole when I just stop.

It wasn't fun. I wasn't having any fun. All I wanted was to just play a little poker, and my default action was to play 10/20 6 max. A game I know that regularly swings all over the place, that I could easily drop $500 in while watching the basketball game finish up. It'd been a good day in general (completely aside from poker, as I hadn't played at all until I sat down) then, I'd gotten lots of work done, and the last thing I wanted was to muck that up by losing hundreds of dollars playing poker, and injecting a sour note into the day.

Yet there I sat, absent-mindedly playing 10/20. For no reason other than because I could, because I have the bankroll for it. Because I felt like I should at least be playing 10/20, as anything else would be pointless. Ignoring the fact that I was completely and utterly not having fun or enjoying it, at all, and had no desire to win or lose hundreds of dollars.

I ended up closing the table and picking a random micro-limit Stud/8 table. I bought in for $10 and had more fun over the next half hour than I have in months playing poker. Aside from the pleasure of actually thinking and being forced to engage with the game, a large part of it, too, was the generally amusing table chat.

It was fun. I enjoyed playing and had absolutely no expectations for myself. It was interesting and fun. I had fun playing poker.

I'm a poker hobbyist. This thing is supposed to be fun. It shouldn't ever define me or exert undue influence on my life or my general mood. If it's not fun, then I need to make it fun. If I can't make it fun, I need to find a new hobby.

I like playing poker. So let's try to find a way to make it fun again.

Part of the fun for me in poker is making money. I like to play, true, but I'd be lying if I claimed that winning money isn't a large part of the enjoyment. So while micro-limit Stud/8 is fun for a session, I've got to have a little more than that at stake to keep playing and to stay interested.

If I look back over the last year and a half, the most fun I had was building up a bankroll again after wedding expenses wiped it out, back in October 2004. I basically had $100 to work with and no easy way to immediately reload if I went bust-o. Within a year I'd worked it up to $30,000 or so. Petty boasting, but it's true. Granted, that number includes hitting many nice scores at casino bonuses, many of which are now long gone, as well as poker play, but that was the most fun I've had, and the most engaged I've been, as far as focusing on taking a fixed sum and building it up, moving up in limits when I could, taking shots, etc. Doing whatever it takes, whether it's grinding out hands for a bonus or taking a shot at a bigger limit, palms sweating, praying it goes well to save me from more weeks of grinding.

But I can't see myself doing the grind through LHE again, starting with a small stake and hitting up the poker bonus trail, moving up in limits, etc. Been there, done that. I like the challenge of taking a small take and running it up but it'd bore me to tears to play .50/1 LHE again. I just wouldn't take it seriously, having done it once.

So here's the game plan. I'm giving myself $1,000 and I'm only allowed to play non HE games. Both poker and casino bonuses are allowed and get included in results, as far as ways of building the roll. If I go bust with the $1,000, I'm done for the year. No, really. If nothing is at stake I won't take this seriously.

I'll give myself a year and see what happens, tracking the results along the way. I'm shooting for $30,000, one year from now. Not only is that a decent chunk of change but I'll also be a much better player at non-HE games. To get there, I'll have to take some shots. That's both allowed and necessary, to get to $30K in a year.

I'm still allowed to play the occasional HE game, especially as far as taking a few shots at WSOP satellites in the next few months. I'm also still definitely playing in one of the $1,500 WSOP LHE events. I'm not going to be a nazi aboutsuch things, as long as I adhere to the general notion of trying to build a roll largely from non-HE games.

All of which is kind of silly and arbitrary, and I'm the first to admit that. But I'm sort of liking the idea of the challenge, especially forcing myself to play more 7 Card Stud and Omaha and engaging the poker brain, thinking deeply about things again. And I like the idea of scaling back the limits I'm playing, trying to get this poker hobby back into its rightful place, as far as doing it to make some extra cash but not sweating the losses, whatsoever, when things don't break my way.

It's supposed to be fun, right? Not a grind or obsessive behavior that I keep engaging in, long after the point of enjoyment. Right?


Andres Silva said...

That totally makes sense. I keep myself limited to low stakes games right now because I'm being 'responsible' but as soon as "The Plan (tm)" is complete I plan to fund and work myself up to the big games for the challenge. Since I haven't gotten that far yet, I can't say how the swings at that level will affect me, but the thinking I'm having is that if I've got no external finacial obligations that aren't already covered I can play until I'm bored or bust without worry. :)

doubleas said...

great post. hits home.

Todd said...

Good post. Reading professional poker player blogs is a good way to lose perspective on what you're doing. To them, the cash flow is everything. Being able to beat that next level means the cash flow improves.

Focus on what you enjoy, the money is incidental. Just remember to put aside some money to lose in Fantasy Football and Baseball.

James said...

Absolutely, man. "They" say that you should be constantly working on moving up in limits, but "they" have motivations of their own. Know your own motivations and why you play. It sounds like you do, so keep at it and enjoy yourself!

d said...

It will be interesting to see how you balance the fun-learning aspect with the bankroll growth part of it. One obvious example is the issue of multitabling to reduce variance. Basically all of the stud based games severely tax your ability to multitable.
I'm looking forward to reading some new strategy posts in the upcoming months on those non hold'em game. Crank 'em out!
I hope you start with Stud8, Omaha8, or Razz as these are the games I am trying to pick up.

Best of luck...

CC said...

Some of my most enjoyable sessions have been just playing live at some random poker room in Indiana or off the beaten track in Vegas, playing 2/4 or 4/8, looking at folks try to figure this game out, feeling the excitement at the table. It's one of the great things about poker for me, the anonymity for me. There is no "right" thing for me to do; I can play at whatever stakes I like.

Nice hand, sir.

BadBlood said...

Really great post. Good luck with the plan, and remind me to never sit down at a limit hold 'em table with you. :)

Unknown said...

If you're looking for some O8 advice. Just let me know, I've played a hand or two and can at least get you started or out of a rut if you get in one.

Good luck playing non-"poker" games :)

Littleacornman said...

I'm having very similar feelings at a far lower level.
Great post.It may have taken a few re-writes but it was well worth it.

Josh said...

Excellent post! I've only been playing poker for about 8 months now. Mostly online, with a couple live $20 buy in freeze outs with co-workers. Online I start with a $50 bank roll, leaving me to play low limite cash games, and the occasional (twice a week) $5.50 SNG. I've always been a competitive person, from ODP level soccer, and now to cards. I have such a drive to make money, that it usually clouds my mind an my play is affected (especially online, different situation when it is live). This post is great, it's something I can relate to, although my BR isn't nearly as much. Well done