Caution: Raw Emotional Writing - To be honest I write this more for myself than for anyone else. I don't really understand why I share this publicly. I can only guess I share this because I know others go through similar emotions and it might help to know they are not alone.
As you know I have not been blogging at all lately. There are a number of reasons I have not blogged. Mainly I am going through some personal struggle. Since the Detox poker event I have been working a bit more on myself, my medical practice and spending more time with my family. That leaves little free time, in which I would rather play poker than blog. I have not played any major tournaments until yesterday and basically was even money in the last 8 small tourneys I played since the detox events. Since I have not been running well, and have been emotionaly sensitive to my losses I have been wondering if tournament poker is a bad idea for my psyche. Profit and results were more consistent and I had alot more positive reinforcement in cash games than in tournaments. In tournaments I go through long dry periods before I see a positive result. In tournaments one error is all it takes to end the day. Cash games are far more forgiving. Clearly tournament poker is a much more challenging emotional endeavor and clearly I am a glutton for punishment as I choose a more psychologically exhausting form of poker during the most emotionally trying time of my life.
When I moved to Las Vegas to start my own private practice I was incredibly naive and made a number of poor financial decisions. Coupled with the economic down swing things were looking bleak for me and 2 years ago I almost closed my practice down as I could not even afford my rent (let alone a pay check). When I started my practice I was very passionate, motivated, worked long hours in the clinic, worked hard on my website (which is now a mess), and on public relations. Although my true passion was weight management it was primary care medicine (the general doctor stuff) that was easiest to grow as weight management is not covered by insurance. After the first insurance check of a $1.47 the naivete' quickly bursted and my worries began to grow. My dire situation was incredibly depressing. I had no business training, no real mentor to teach me how to make this work and quickly I fell into a self deprecating pit. For months I did not take home a pay check, my wife had to seek employment elsewhere and my ego was crushed. I was fighting with my wife, and stopped taking care of myself, including eating healthy and exercising. I was stuck in an emotional pit. The only thing that brought me much joy (and money for that) was cash game poker. I'm sure some people might think its because it was an escape from my reality, and to some degree it is; like most outlets people have (healthy or not).....after all poker is gambling right? Not to me. It is a game containing elements of chance and variability that are oversahdowed by skill, which takes presidence over time. My poker results validated the efforts I made to improve my game. As I studied it and played it with an anayltical eye I learned more and yielded better results. My medcial practice, atleast at the time, did not offer me a similar validation. Sure I helped people. Yes, medicine is much more noble endeavor than poker...but when you can't pay rent its hard to find pleasure in your job.
Fast forward 2 years later and I have accomplished an enormous amount. I am now double board ceritfied in internal medicine and now bariatric medicine (weight management medicine), I am chief of staff of the hospital I work at, I am the medical director of a wound care center, was the medical director of an eating and weight disorder clinic, a national trainer for a weight loss surgery company, my gross business income has grown incredibly (I am able to afford 3 full time staff and pay them benefits), I have a patient waiting list that goes beyond a month, and for the first time I am bringing in a stable income independant and greater than that I was bringing in from poker. Furthermore I have been reasonably successful at my new endeavor of tournament poker...profting,over time, more than in my cash games. With things looking up one would think I would be out of this emotional pit...but I am not. I am getting better and am working on myself but I am still having a hard time getting out of my funky head for some reason.
Today I placed 10th in a field of 223 at the WPT Bellagio event #5 (the Bellagio website has me bsuting out #11 but shortly before me someone else busted....not that I care...lol, sure whatever). Even though I would rather do other things, I felt compelled to write about it since this blog is intended to document my evolution as a tournament poker player (that I began in April 2010). I also feel the compulsory need to therapeutically journal since I am highly dissapointed I did not place higher than 10th. The fact that I cannot be proud of placing this well in an event that matters(ie player of the year points) is an issue in itself. I believe that part of me holds on to self deprecation (in all aspects of my life) as deep down inside I must feel it serves me some purpose in terms of motivating myself to perform better.
Although I will try to balance my emotion in this blog, if you are not up for bad beat and bitch stories you should probably go read another blog.
Before I discuss this tournament let me review some of the smaller daily tournaments I have been in since detox.
In September my wife and I visited some family in California. I was interested in getting a glimpse of the Bicycle casino as I have never been there before. David and Ryan, my cousins, accompanied me in one of the smaller nightly tournaments. I think I bought in for about $150 in a 150 or so field. I'm not sure why I found this poker room so fascinating. Maybe it was because it took up most of this run-down casino. It was like a casino made just for poker.
It was atleast the size of the Venetian room, maybe bigger. The tournament went exceptionally well for me, infact better than any other tourney I could remember. The field was incredibly weak and I was getting good cards. My good hands were always called and always held and my bluffs were always folded to. I dominated the tournament almost the entire time and likely was in the top 3 for most of the tourney. Things took a bad turn when there were about 3 tables left and I had a short and medium stack jam before my turn to act with aces in the hole. Short had A5 and medium had KK. Board came J9455. Had my aces held I would have had >50% of the chips in play and would have been the overwhelming leader. Although I made a small profit off the medium stack it was an ominous sign of things to come. 13 places were paid and I was sitting comfortably in 4th place with two tables left. The deck hit me a number of times with big aces and medium pocket pairs, all which I played aggressively as the bubble was approaching and I expected everyone to tighten up. No one tightened. I was called and out flopped, I was re-raised...basically I was shafted every which way. I bubbled #14. The hand that sealed my fate went like this:
Notable Hand #1:
I am on the button with J10 suited. I have 120k. Small blind has about 40k and big blind has about 95k. Blinds are 5k/10k. Everyone folds to me and I raise to 25k. SB fold and BB calls.
Flop: J87 rainbow. BB checks and I'm feeling good about top pair and inside straight draw. I bet 35k. BB check raises all-in. To be honest I didn't think it through as long as I should have before I called his QJ and lost almost all my stack. It wasn't long before I was knocked out. This loss was particularly painful since I was dominating this tourney for so long. The higher you are the harder you fall. I didn't sleep well that night and I ruminated that hand. Weeks later, having that tourney continue to haunt me, I outlined the hand to one of my pro friends Peter Rho, who felt that it was not a bad play as over the long run it might have had +EV since some of the time I would have the BB beat and when I didn't I had a small margin of hitting my straight. I found some comfort in his take of the hand.
Since that tourney I have used my Thursday afternoons, and an occasional Sunday playing the Venetian 100+ field $150 buy-in daily deep stack tourneys.
Two of these tourneys while short stacked (and only 25% of the field left) I busted by making stupid moves jamming my entire stack in late position with garbage hands in hopes to pick up the blinds and antes. Once running into Aces and AK another time. In a different tourney I was in level 3 with a strong lead at about 3x the average chip stack. I limped (which is rare as I rarely open limp) with pocket 9's and was raised by someone who I perceived to be loose aggressive. When the flop came with all under cards I check-raised all in. I lost most of my stack to KK.
I have done well in correcting my errors, limiting my risk when I bluff and using bets and raises to get a better idea of where I stand. I have been playing much better but recently have been getting killed by the deck. 2 other tourneys I busted on the bubble losing with my AK to AQ and then again with my KK to AK.
One of these tourneys I placed 5th; making me pretty much even money for the last 6 weeks or so. I also did a couple of small garbagey super hyper turbo tourneys at the Mandalay Bay when my friends were in town for their fantasy football draft. I played three of them , placing 3rd in one, winning another and busting out another. Buy-ins and fields were small and so the profit was pretty negligible.
Although I have been planning on the Venetian deep stacks coming up soon, my friend Matt Klein got me thinking about playing at least one event at the WPT Bellagio Festa al Lago. I was itching for a POY ranked tourney and found an affordable $540 NLHE freeze out event.
The game started yesterday at 2pm and there is no question it was a higher quality field of players that I was up against.
I played a good game making few errors. I never went on a rush of cards and earned every chip I had. I probably was a bit tighter than I should have been as in the later stages I was struggling with a short stack, but I play the short stack well and was able to get my money in good a number of times. I made it to day #2 with 100k in 8th place with 12 remaining.
Reflecting on my game here is my honest assessment of why I do reasonably well. I am not a strong mathematical player, my shove range is probably tighter than it should, but what I excel at is table image. I am keenly aware of what I look like to others and I exploit this very well.
I played strong today. I was clearly the table captain and was able to bring my stack to 210k; knocking #12 out.
Notable Hand #2:
Blinds are 5k/10k with 1k antes. Everyone folds to the SB and I am in BB. He has me covered with at least 250-275k. I have been beating him up with re-raises and he has been folding; both today and yesterday. I know his range is loose and when he raises to 25k I almost snap call with QJ off. Flop is 7s8sQh. Sb checks. I bet 25k with my QJ and he check-raises to 60k; something I have never seen him do before (played several hours with him on Sunday). It was fishy, and I thought about it and put him on a flush draw. In retrospect I should have shoved all in if I was confident I was ahead...instead I called. After I called he shoved his stack in the dark before the turn came. The turn was a 10d. I thought about this for a while. Did he have 78? Did he have AQ or KQ? Did he have 77 or 88? I took a good 5 minutes to think about this and was right back where I started; he would only shove (esp in the dark) if he wanted me out; he must at best have a draw. I called. He was crushed. He showed 97 off. Shoved all in before he even knew he had a straight draw. The rest of the table was congratulating me on a good call before even the river came. I was an 80% favorite (in my mind he had 2 outs and I was a 95% fav as all I saw was him shoving a pair of 7s before the 10 came as I expected him to turn up 2 spades). I felt good. And then the river came. I don't think the 7 on the river registered, even after my opponent apologized.
When I lose, either by making a dumb move or by getting sucked out, I am always cool, calm and a good sport. I didn't really lose it, but I grumbled much more than I can ever remember. I remember bitching on my way to the cage (with a host to cash in) how I got spiked by a 2 outer(although it really was 9 outs, I was reeling internally with fury and so I was not thinking straight). I tipped the dealers $50, and although I felt it was a weak tip the host was so thrilled he went out of his way to get me a comp for dinner for 2 with 2 rounds of drinks at my choice of Bellagio restaurant. People must be real tight shit heads with tipping.
Although I cashed it was not a huge amount (~$1300) as the prize pool was very top heavy. I had to cancel all of my Monday medical appointments ( which is hard to plan for as the odds of making it this deep are slim) and I am sure I pissed off a number of people. The fact that I was not able to turn more of a profit to make the benefit worth the risk bothers me a lot. It makes it hard to justify playing more or even as much as I do.
Again my cousin David was my biggest fan who followed me on facebook...he is good at making me feel better about myself regardless of the fact that I have not really been able to seal any big tourneys. I am grateful to have him in my life.
Another friend of mine, who is also a pro poker player, texted me through much of the tourney and was a great inspiration and support. When I busted he put my loss in perspective and got me out of feeling bad for myself. He confided a story that really got me thinking. His father died when he was 19 years old, leaving him alone with his younger brother. He had a steady job and income but decided he was going to pursue his dream and moved to Vegas with his 16 year old brother to become a poker player. He was shunned by the people he loved most for his decision. He plays 60 hrs week, has netted over 100k this last year but has only cashed in about 7% of the events he was in. I stopped feeling bad for myself when he told me this (but I am still pissed i lost to some dude who spazzed with his bottom pair).
At the end of the day I am still making a good profit. I am going to keep my head up and remain confident in my game. I will continue to work on myself and balance my family, work and poker life. Things are looking good and the cup really is half full. I do have a semi-charmed kind of life...and if I can defeat my biggest enemy, myself, things are going to be okay.