Monday, July 26, 2010

Who Moved My Cheese

I read this book quite some time ago...the concept of how humans would react compared to mice in a maze intrigued me. Imagine a maze experiment where we set out cheese consistently in the same place every day. The mice would always know where to find it. What if one day we moved that cheese to a different part of the maze? Well, naturally the mice would keep moving until they eventually found it. If the mice were human you could imagine them scurrying around for days in circles in the empty space where the cheese was...eventually starving to death. Scientists might even look for whatever the stupid gene was that squashed our survival instinct. Of course cheese is a metaphor for whatever it is in life we desire. When we lose our cheese, it is our overly complex emotions that stop us from getting up off our asses so we can find that cheese again. This book is a great little fable for many different life scenarios. In poker, the ultimate life metaphor, it is a critical lesson to learn.

Aside from being a real shitty bluffer, the biggest leak in my game is emotional tilt. I suffer from both the "poor me I can't win" syndrome and the "I'm by far the best player I can't lose" syndrome.

Poor Me...I can't win.

This past Thursday I entered a noon tourney and let a hand take me down emotionally, affecting the rest of my tournament and the cash game I should not have played later on. Things actually started well. I played a cash game 30 minutes before the tourney started and profited $175 quickly, making my $150 buy-in essentially a free-roll. You would think having that in mind I could remain more emotionally stable. Nope...I am way to competitive.

During the tourney I raised with AQoff and was called by one player in position. Flop came 10-7-2 rainbow. I bet 2/3 the pot and he calls. Although I didn't know enough about him I guess he could have been slow playing a set, but I felt confident he had a pair of tens (A10,K10,Q10,J10,109) or a lower pocket pair. After a 3 brick hit the turn I fired another shot, believing that any of the hands I had him on he would have to fold. Especially since this was the first time I came out swinging in the last 90 minutes. He called again. Jack hit the river and I checked as did he. I was horrified, sickened, and mega tilted to see that he had a 53off in the hole. I could not wrap my brain around this guys play and I let it f with me. He was an older un-Americanized Asian...maybe I should be stereotyping more...these guys are generally gamblers.

Although I kept it together for a while, I found my self 45 minutes later in another pot with him. I stupidly try to plow him down with a KhJh on a 5h9h2d flop. He calls me with 10c5c...I never hit a Jack or a King. I never hit a heart.

Poor me...I can't win.

After I hit the cash the worst possible way. Loose passive tilt. Yes, loose passive is death and for some reason it is my preferred method of tilt. Like a stomach ulcer, passively calling an inordinate amount of pre-flop and post-flop bets I slowly bled my chips away. Occasionally the ulcer hemorrhaged when I called marginal hands to the river losing to what should have clearly been seen as a better hand. Why did I do this? Because I couldn't still be that unlucky again...right? Wrong.

Poor me. I can't win.

I started thinking back to the week earlier where I was the bubble boy of the Friday night $120 Venetian evening NLHE tourney. AK suited knocked out my 1010. Can't I even win a race?

Poor me. I can't win.

Later on in the same cash game my psychopathology was reinforced with a bad beat. I found my self in a hand with AhKh and three others. Ac7h9d. I hit my A on the flop and bet out...dropping everyone but some new dude that I knew nothing about. He called me out of position. The flop was a bricky 3h that happened to give me a nut flush draw. He was sort of short stacked and pushed his last $50 or so in. I called. He turned Ad5c. The river is a 5s.

Poor me. I can't win.

I'm by far the best player I can't lose.

Last night I played the Venetian $120 NLHE. By level 7 I had 2.5x the average chip stack with over half the field gone. I was clearly the table captain, and felt like I had great control of my table. I was playing a great game.

I was feeling so comfortable that I did what I almost never do...I had the cocktail waitress bring me a Sam Adams. Twice. In a half hour. On an empty stomach. So now I am feeling good, getting social much more than usual. I actually start talking to a girl on my left who I have seen at this tournament and have spoken with several times before. She has a card protector with a picture of a police baton inside one of those circles with a slash running through it...some sort of anti-violence or anti-establishment statement I guessed. We got into talking about the WSOP and how she played the main event but did not last very long. She mentioned how she was called by ESPN for an interview because she had an interesting background. When I asked what made her so interesting she mentioned how she was married to Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller. Emily Jillette is someone I should have recognized, especially since I have been to her house for her son Z's birthday party. Her children, Moxie and Zoltan went to school with my son. We have actually talked before while at the school...Penn also was at the school quite a bit...they are a very grounded celebrity couple. Once we realized who we both were we got into chatting even more.

So here I am. Big chip leader. Clearly playing well. Running the table for the last 2 hours. Hobnobbing with the Jillette's. Feeling good with my beer buzz.

I am by far the best player at this table. I can't lose.

That's why I decided to bluff 2/3 of my chips away before I went down in flames.

I managed to stay emotionally even and made a profit for the evening when hitting the cash tables after.

I am making a deliberate effort to remind myself not to wallow in my mistakes or bad luck...and that the only way I will find the cheese again is by getting back to what makes me successful in the first place. Making the right decisions.

I also have to remember that my tournament play is improving dramatically. I feel confident that when I have plugged a couple of my bigger leaks my results will soar. Although I have not done so well live since my Venetian DSE cash, oddly, in the last 2-3 weeks I have been very profitable in online tourneys.

You might think it is silly since it was a $2.20 NLHE MTT that I bought in for last week, but it was the game that I consider my best poker accomplishment thus far. I Made a little over $10 an hour playing for more than 7 hours in a 2800+ field, placing 12th. I have never been in the top 0.4% of a field.

To stay on my quest for cheese I need to learn from my mistakes without emotional attachment and continue to look for ways to learn more and further hone my skills.

After doing some research on online training sites I decided Poker Pwnage had the best cost to quality ratio. There easily seemed to be better sites, but for the price and education (specifically on MTTs) I felt it would fit my needs. Their training videos consist of a host of young internet kiddies with nice resumes reviewing their play hand for hand. Although I definitely have found it helpful and have learned a few things on this site, in general, the quality of the player did not amount to their quality as a teacher. I am certain that they are not communicating all of their strategies fully, clearly and effectively. I also find my self getting disengaged after watching one of these for more than 20 or 30 minutes. Overall for the price I think the EV of some of the tricks I picked up will cover the cost of their product.

For a while now I have been interested in taking live classes from David "The Maven" Chicotsky and Ari "Bodog" Engel. They are two very successful online MTT players but more importantly they seem to know how to teach. Chicotsky, 2008 Bluff Magazine Online Player of the Year was amazingly the teacher of the 2009 Online Player of the Year, Jeremy "daisyxoxo" Fitzpatrick. Joseph "Subiime" Cheong, now one of the 2010 November 9, has also been known to spend an inordinate amount of time at their training center.

I first learned about them six months ago, when I had a patient who was a poker dealer tell me how he and his wife began crushing tourneys after they did a 3-Day training boot camp with Ari & The Maven...which by the way is not cheap at 3 grand. Rumor has it that they sell a good product, clearly teaching progressive ideas with all the trimmings. They go as far as getting Sam Chauhan, the life coach of Antonio Esfandiari, to teach the EV of confidence and attitude. You can cut your costs down to $2200 for 8 individual hours with the Maven.

I am planning on playing 2 or 3 events at the Hard Rock Detox series this month. If I make a nice score I will probably invest in these guys.

In the mean time I will practice Deepak Chopra's law of detachment to keep me out of my head and constantly on the look out for new cheese.


  1. After reading this I was thinking about what I would do if I wanted to get better at tournament poker. I guess you could use chess as a metaphor in that tournaments can be divided into the three stages and the one stage that is most mathematically straight forward but requires precision and some memorization is the end game. It is also the easiest area to improve in. While it is not as interesting tactically and strategically it is a great advantage to play the final stages of a tournament in a reasonably close to optimal fashion In that context I would probably spend some time with some of the ICM training programs like SNGwizard or a tool like ICM explorer. I also would, if you haven't already, spend some time with the push fold chart in Bill Chen's book which really was incredibly useful. I would then go online and play an absurd amount of low stake sit n gos until I felt I had integrated the material that I did not know before. I would choose sit n gos because the time commitment is much less vast than multi table tournaments and the lessons I was trying to fold into my brain would present themselves more often.

    The best book I have come across concerning tournaments was "Kill Everyone" by Lee Nelson et al, which while not well written is filled with interesting information. I liked some other books in that vein including "Winning Poker Tournaments One Hand at a Time (Book 1)" by Lynch, Turner and Van Fleet but I am not sure that they are as comprehensively helpful.

  2. I have Kill Everyone...sorry to say that although they have some useful info I really did not like the book. I also have Lynch/Turner/Van Fleet's books. I found them to be very helpful.

    I have never read Bill Chen's book, mainly becuase I have an aversion to math but I will take your suggestion and get it. I also like the idea of playing smaller SNGs since you are dead on about the time the bigger MTTs take.

    Thanks for the good advice. Tournaments are quite new for me as I have classically been cash only. I can use all the advice I can get my hands on!

  3. I am not sure the Chen book is very helpful to to most people as it mostly deals with toy games and their solutions. The chart I am talking about had been reprinted in other books like Phil Shaw's - Secrets of Sit 'n' Gos: Winning Strategies for Single-table Poker Tournaments.

    The Chen book has one chapter wherein they explain how they would incorporate some of the lessons they learned from the toy games which was good but the rest is pretty hard going and probably would not immediately help your game much. I wouldn't recommend that you buy the Chen book if are not a math lover so much as just reading that one chapter and making a copy of the push fold chart.

    An example of such a chart, and arguably a better one (without a description sadly of how to use it - the numbers refer to blind to stack ratios and when you can push profitably) can be found here:

  4. That is a handy little chart. I did my first 1 table SNG tonight. Starting out well! :)

    PokerStars Tournament #300474144, No Limit Hold'emBuy-In: $6.00/$0.50 USD9 playersTotal Prize Pool: $54.00 USD Tournament started 2010/08/11 21:12:32 PT [2010/08/12 0:12:32 ET]

    Dear sularo, You finished the tournament in 1st place. A USD 27.00 award has been credited to your Real Money account. You earned 45 Sit & Go Leader Board Points for the Venus Division in this tournament.

    For more information about our Sit & Go Leader Boards, see our website at Congratulations! Thank you for participating.

  5. Oh here also is a good article about the Sage system for head's up endgame situations -

  6. I like this alot...thank you... I will have to start practicing this technique on poker stars microstakes heads up games.