Thursday, November 20, 2014

Experience Is What You Get When You Don’t Get What You Want

Well, the WPBT is coming up soon and I guess it's time for a blog entry, or at least some grammatically challenged stream of consciousness. I also received a very random and flattering email recently that has got me thinking about blogging some more again.

Mostly I think I need to blog, not for you but for me. I often tell my patients to seek out a therapist and that it doesn't matter if they are good or bad. If you reserve an hour a week to just talk to the wall and let out the volumes of experiences during the week that is locked up in your brain it would likely be helpful. There is no question that when I am blogging about poker and taking the time to think about it more analytically my performance improves. Right now my performance is in dire need of improvement.

 Let's face it. Poker basically has looked like and felt like this.

I am not sure what came first, the feeling or the result. Likely they are enmeshed.  Life has been stressful and without a doubt has substantially decreased both how well I have played and how often I have played. Couple this with an ebbing new player pool and a more educated/stronger field of players than ever before and viola, we are skiing downhill.  My results have been poor and poker has not been much fun. Many times I have felt like I was forcing myself to play just to keep sharp. We all know how well it works to force things in poker.

Not long ago I sent this message to the Poker Grump, being that he is a former professional poker player that moved from Vegas and gave up the lifestyle.

"Poker feels like a relationship that is taking way more work than reward. There was a time early on where I was intoxicated with the relationship. Now every time I force myself to go out on a date I keep trying to rekindle old flames. I'm curious if you relate."

It's been quite a while now that I have been seriously thinking about tanking this game as a regular hobby. Financially I was struggling, I was losing every time I played, and it was becoming something that was not going to be an option for me unless I started to win. Of course I would get angry that I have worked so hard throughout my life and my poker budget was getting slimmer and slimmer. Even my wife, who always supported poker, because it was profitable, was reminding me that this was becoming an expensive hobby. None of this makes for a clear poker mind.

My wife and I decided on February 17th, 2014 that we would close our joint healthcare practice. The practice was growing and grossing more and more each year. I was working more each year also, but I was not making anywhere close to what I expected. It would take a 500 page blog post full of rants and criticisms of our healthcare system mixed with personal mistakes to discuss the situation and the decision process to fold. Much like my poker game.

When we decided to close our private practice, I transitioned to practicing full time wound care and  hyperbaric medicine. Things were feeling great at first. I was working 30 hours a week, and making more money than I ever had. The decision from both a time and financial perspective was a successful one. Like many times in my poker life, when my personal life was in a flow the cards seemed to be less brutal. That graph up above turned around significantly when I won a Venetian Deepstack event during the end of June. That was just 3 weeks after I closed my practice.

Playing this tournament was a last minute decision. Tommy LaRosa (@VenetianTD),  expressed that the tournament numbers were picking up, I had the day off, and the rest is history. Although I am not in any way a fan of Sheldon Adelson, this poker room is hands down the best run operation in Las Vegas. I won't say I played flawlessly but there was certainly no significant string of unlikely events that led to my winning. I played aggressively, patiently, with reasonable pot control, and without tilt when I was unlucky. I can not remember getting my money in bad and getting lucky the entire time. It was a nice win, and  it felt good but I admittedly was not in the throws of any poker passion at the time. When my brain is focused on poker I am studying it, watching it, reading about it and I am blogging about it. Like now.

Life is good. Finances are better. I have more free time. My marriage is strong, my children are fun and thriving. I love my work. I truly am blessed to have stumbled upon a career in medicine that offers an excellent lifestyle and is incredibly rewarding.  People do not care much when you fix their blood pressure, but when you fix a hole in their body it's a party!

Unfortunately working less hours than I ever have in my life did not jive well with my brain and lent to some convoluted feelings of self doubt. I was not playing poker in my spare time nor was I productive in any sense. I began to think more of the demise of my practice and my emotions began to get mixed. What I once believed was a strategical fold was now being reframed in my mind as a failure. I was not exercising, I was eating poorly and I began to gain weight. I then had my first episode of sigmoid diverticulitis (like appendicitis but on the left side of your stomach) that landed me in the emergency room. I survived, luckily without needing surgery, but the $15,000 ER bill was denied by my health insurance (that costs me $800/month for my family), Sierra Health and Life, under the premise that it was not a true emergency.  I could write an entire blog on that as well. Currently the decision is being appealed.

At any rate I have not been in a good mental or physical frame lately. I looked at my fortieth birthday as being the final kick in the balls. I am clearly in a pit of a mid-life crisis. Yes I fell in it, but I do not plan on staying stuck in it. I am exercising again, eating much healthier,  and finding a passion again for life in general. Although my results have not shown it I am in somewhat of a poker zone.Recently I have picked up my tournament play and I have been looking forward to playing. My biggest leak has been my emotionally fragility in the face of variance.

My emotional fragility parallel's the size of my buy-in. A few days ago I played in a $100k guarantee WSOP-Circuit event at Planet Hollywood. I made a lot of schedule arrangements to play this tournament. It was exciting since there were a lot of pro players there and the event did not make the guarantee and had an overlay.

The first 8 levels were going great. For the most part I played an aggressive, position focused and pot controlled game. At one point I was moved to a new table and inherited Alex Outhred to my right. Within a few orbits I flopped a set 5s against his pocket 10s and took his stack. I ran my stack up to 37k and slowed down when I called a 12k shove with AQ from a villain I felt was on tilt. He had AK and the odds held. I have been overly passive ever since.  I entered the second break with 45bb.


Notable Hand #1- My stack is 28k, Blinds-Antes are 300/600-75

I am in the small blind with KsQs. I have been relatively inactive for the last 2 orbits and I do not have much of a reputation at this table as I was moved immediately before break.

Everyone folds to the button who has 30k+ and limps in. Again.

I have been watching this guy to my direct right and noticed on more than one occasion he is very loose calling with marginal hands and has been getting lucky.

The BB is short stacked at about 3.5k. I should be raising here but I don't. I am in passive mode at the time.

The BB shoves his 3.5k and the villain on the button called.

I feel good about my hand but don't want to over commit until I see a flop. I can handle a 3-4k loss if I miss. I'm still passive but maybe now I'm justified.

Flop: Kh7h2c

I am happy with this flop. The range of the bb is absolutely huge and I feel certain that I have the button beat and maybe if he got some strange piece of it or has Ace high, or is coordinated in any way I might get some value. Usually in this scenario I would check it down.

Trying to pot control into a 10k pot I bet 4,000 and the button calls.

I imagine he has a small pair or heart draw but I do not give him credit for anything bigger.

The turn is a 5s and once again I fire a pot controlled 6k in to the pot. The button calls.

When the Ace of diamonds peels off on the river I know things have turned for the worse, but I can handle the short stack hitting their Ace. I meekishly check to the button. When he shoves in response I know I just got rivered. The thought of having a solid 20bb apparently disgusts me enough to call hoping that he missed a draw.

He shows A2, bb shows A10 and I walk home.

It's a scary thing when you make a stupid call like that. You know its stupid but you do it anyway. It's unnerving when you feel you can not trust yourself to make clearly correct decisions. My brain try's to push the gross call away and get hung up on the fact that I am a huge favorite on the turn. It hurts, but I have to  force myself to focus on the painfully horrific call I made on the river. I also need to evaluate the lack of pre flop aggression that I feel was clearly appropriate at the time. At the end of the day, most of my bad decisions come down to poor emotional regulation.

I took this loss particularly hard and threatened retirement. I went into this tournament emotionally keyed up from a tourney I played just three days prior.  I perceived to have taken a more serious kick in the nuts from Jeff Madsen when I entered a Venetian Deepstack event. I was struggling somewhat with getting any decent hands but I was playing strong and holding my own. Sometime in level 4  Jeff Madsen was seated to my immediate right. Among many other things, playing with strong well known players is one of the joys of poker for me. Maybe its my competitive edge, but I think it's more of what I call the Disney effect. You grow up watching cartoons of Mickey and Donald hoping one day to go to Disneyland. When you arrive and hit the breakfast table its not unusual for Donald, Mickey or Goofy to visit you and steal the bacon off your plate. Just like a child with that same Disney excitement, when you are seated with a Sklanksy, Jerry Yang, Amarillo Slim, or a Minh the Master it makes the experience that much more fun. That is, of course, until they take your bacon.

As usual I did not follow the rule of "staying out of pots with strong players." There may not be much immediate equity but I believe that mixing it up with strong players helps improve your game in the long run.

Madsen was attentive on several occasions where he saw me fold to three bets. There was one hand in particular that I got involved in that set the stage on how I played my final hand.

Notable Hand #2  My stack is ~16k, Blinds-Antes are 150/300-25

In the last orbit I folded AJ, AQ to a 3-bet pre flop and pocket 10s post flop. My stack was dropping and I was tilty and picked up pocket 6's under the gun and limped in.

I rarely open limp and there is probably an argument for all lines of action with small-medium pocket pairs in early position. Mike Caro suggests "let others bet your small pocket pairs for you." I was clamped down but hoping to hit a set or take advantage of a good spot.

UTG+1 calls, and everyone else folds to Madsen in the bb who raises to 1250. I believe Madsen has a huge range and sees this as a good spot to pick up a pot from passive players.

I send my passive self on a vacation and get cute when I re-pop to 3k. UTG+1 instantly shoves and Madsen folds.

I fold. Madsen scoffs. UTG+1 tables Aces.

Notable Hand #3 I have ~12k, Blinds-Antes are 150-300-25

I have Q7off in the sb.
Middle position limper,button (Madsen) and I call. BB checks.

Flop is Q92 rainbow.

Checks around to Madsen on the button who bets 900. I call, everyone else folds.

Turn is a 2.

I check the turn. Madsen checks as well.

River is a 10. Madsen bets 1400. I call and he shows air.

Madsen was actually very nice and cordial at the table but I'm guessing he doesn't like me right about now. He is compulsively playing games on his iPhone, which is pretty much what I do when I am bored and not in my poker zone. About 2 orbits later I find myself in one final hand with Madsen.

Notable Hand #4 My stack is ~ 16k, Blinds- Antes 300/600-50
                            Jeff Madsen ~19k

I am in BB with JJ. Everyone folds to Madsen who raises his small blind to 1500.

I raise to 3500.

He shoves. I insta call. He shows A5.

I have a nervous habit of standing during these situations.

The board comes KQ10 and the turn comes a 7.

Then I do something I rarely do before the river. I relax and sit back down.


Jack hammer on the river.

I did not take it well. I guess I had good public graces and overall maintained composure but inside I was 3 year old throwing a tantrum. The real horror, the true mistake was re-entering this event. I was warned by my friend and online poker pro Matt Vengrin (who cashed that event) to be wary of re-entering. Of course he was right. The very first hand I play K5 off  hyper aggressively, out of position, and against a 50k+ stack. I lose half of my stack. An orbit later I tilt-fully shove heads up into the big stack with A10 off. He calls with A9o, and even though I am rewarded with domination for my tilty shove the poker gods decide to teach me a lesson regardless and bring a 9 to the board.

I couldn't get the Madsen hand out of my mind and by the time I was leaving I sent him a message. I really had no purpose in communicating with him but there was some closure in his response.

This is where I fall short of being a professional player. I follow my friend Bob Lauria who is a professional tournament grinder, closely. I watch how time over time he builds his stack only to get side swiped by some unfortunate series of hands. He is able to take it in stride with minimal emotion and play his 6bb with rational strategy. I guess when you play often enough you have no choice but to game numb to these outcomes. I am not there and I know this is where I need to be if I am to bring my game to the next level. By the way if you're ever looking to invest in a poker player, Lauria has been +EV for me over the last several years.

Funny how my last post over a year ago is about the wise mind. My wise mind has been on vacation somewhere and I need to find it for both my life and poker game. I have successfully fixed/removed so many stressors in my life that it is a stark reminder for me that happiness is not externally based but comes from within. It reminds me of my frequent experiences with the 500lb patient who is miserable, has a gastric bypass surgery, loses 350lbs, and yet the misery remains. I wouldn't say I am miserable, but here I am at 40 years old, thinking more about my mortality and wondering what it is I want to do with the rest of my life. Since I was in kindergarten there has always been a next step, a defined next goal, all to culminate in my career as a physician. The destination is here and the universe is reminding me that it is not the destination, it is the journey. The fact hat I have no defined journey at the moment I believe is the source of my issue. Hopefully through eating well, exercising and reflection I will remedy the obscurity of my next adventure. I have been sitting on this post for a few days because I am somewhat hesitant to publicly display my issues but I feel it is a very positive step for me and possibly others in terms of understanding myself and this game of poker.

To be continued....


  1. Great read bro. I got excited when it this showed up on my feed and you didn't disappoint.

    Good luck with everything.

  2. Thanks Don! Hope you have a chance to make it to the WPBT!