Slow down, you move too fast, you've got to make the morning last
Just kickin' down the cobble-stones, lookin' for fun and feelin' groovy
-Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel
I've been on vacation for the past week and a half, and I've played at least one poker session on each of those 10 days. Some sessions have been up, some down, and a large majority of them just barely break-even. Two key factors have contributed the most to the break-even and downward trending periods: variance and lack of attention. The former is just the name of the poker game; there's gonna be periods when you can't flop a set to save your life, or when you do, the other guy has a bigger one. Coolers happen. Bad beats happen. Hell, shit happens. That's called poker. The trick is ignoring the results and just making good decisions...
...ah, but there's the rub-- and reason number two. If you're not making good decisions, you're not going to make money long-term at this silly game. And making good decisions starts with paying attention.
I've played about 7000 hands of poker in the past 10 days. Looking through my database and replaying lots of both winning and losing hands, I see that I've made plenty of good decisions, but I've made plenty of poor ones, too. In hindsight, I can easily see what I did wrong in those poorly played hands, and I think I can basically tease out the reason why I screwed up so badly: I wasn't paying attention.
Time of day matters; I'm fresher in the morning than in the evening. Length of sessions matter; I tend to start out strong and then peter out after 45 minutes or so. I win bigger pots on average when I'm playing 2-4 tables, but I can win more per hour when I'm playing 6-8 tables and on my game.
Tonight I opened a trio of tables of $10NL 6max and tried an experiment where I would consciously think about every single decision before I made it. I did this by literally talking aloud to myself, as if I had to justify every single thing I was doing. This included even obvious actions, like folding 72o UTG. I would say to myself, "7-2 offsuit is very weak. I'll be out of position for the rest of the hand. The guy on the button likes to three-bet. Folding here is the best play." So I'd fold, and then I would say, "It folded to the button, and he's raising. His steal percentage is over 80%, but he folds to 3bets more than 70%. If I were in the blinds, I'd RR with my 72o here. Maybe something like 2.25x his raise. Nope, everyone folded. Don't they have a HUD operating? They certainly don't seem to care that he's stealing their blinds constantly. What does that say about them?" And so on.
When I did get involved in a hand, I tried like crazy to range the opp and then evaluate board texture before deciding to continue or not. A typical hand would go like: "Okay I'm raising ATs here on the button. I'm happy if I get called by the big blind or small, but I don't want both, as AT doesn't play well MW. Okay, the SB folded and the BB called. He's a 35/5 player, so his calling range is wide. I've seen him 3bet with AK, so I'm probably way ahead of his range. I'm going to be cbetting everything except super wet flops if he checks. Okay, the flop is K-7-4 rainbow. Wow, he donked. Hmmm. What does this mean? I think he hit a part of it. I can't put him on a strong King here. He probably hit middle pair and is probing. If I reraise here, will he give up? Or am I better off floating one street? I think I'll call and try to take him on the turn. Okay, turn is a Queen. I've got a gutshot and just picked up a backdoor flush draw. He's betting super small here. I don't think he's trappy; this feels weak. I've got twelve outs one time, that's 24%. I think I've also got a lot of fold equity if I raise here. If I pot it, I"m committed. But if I min-RR I'm not committed. But that won't be enough to shake him loose. How about 3/4 pot? Fire away. Okay, he used his time bank to fold. Maybe he actually had a weak king. I'll make a note on this hand for review later." And so on.
Sounds like a lot of work, doesn't it? Well, it is. Winning at poker on a consistent basis is hard work. It's about slowing down and not moving too fast. It's about getting into a thinking groove, where you question everything and justify every single action. It's about decisions, not results. And decisions take time and attention and patience and hard work.
I made a little over $20 in tonight's hour of play. I didn't go to showdown once, and in fact I had very few "playable" hands in the three hundred hands dealt to me. I made all of my money in small, little hard-fought skirmishes and take downs, finding tiny cracks and fissures in the opp that I could exploit. I was definitely in a groove. But it was hard, tiring work.
And now I'm I'm dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep.
All-in for now...