Saturday, February 11, 2006

Soaring to New Heights or Sinking to New Lows? Hopefully neither

"Icarus, my son, I charge you to keep at a moderate height, for if you fly too low the damp will clog your wings, and if too high the heat will melt them."
-Daedalus

Playing in a 10-handed game this afternoon on Full Tilt, I found less money on the entire table than contained in a single pot in the games I'd been playing regularly just 10 days ago. Like Icarus, I flew far too high for my own good, and came crashing down as a result. The results, while damaging, offer me a different fate than the young Greek who drowned at sea. I stopped playing before the damage was too severe, and have taken time off to re-evaluate my circumstances and priorities. That said, things are definitely very different for me following my run-in with 10/20 6-max on Party, and there is no question that the loss I took will limit my options at least for a short while.

Yeah, I know it's fruity, but it's the only decent pic of Icarus in action I could find.

After reaching a new all-time high in bankroll just two weeks before, I managed to take a bad run at Borgata and lose a few hundred, make most of it back at Party, and then blow through just about 1/3 of my bankroll in a gut-wrenching three and a half day streak online. I don't even want to think of what that will look like if I graph it. Again and again, I found myself throwing my tattered PartyPoker hat across the room in disgust after a three- or four-outer at the river against a guy calling the whole way with no hand against my monster. I felt like I'd been singled out by the poker gods, the site administrators, or some higher power and subjected to an unfathomably awful beating. The pain from these suckouts went right down to my DNA, as Iggy put it in his own horror tale recently. The opposition was horrible throughout, but my patience, luck, and financing was worse. Playing above your 'roll when running extremely badly is not a good plan. Learn from me folks, just don't do it.

I've always prided myself on being more conservative, thoughtful, and prepared than my opposition. That's the edge for me in limit hold'em. Always has been. I got to where I am (or was in late January) by constantly playing the odds and targeting weak opponents in an evnironment where the swings caused by extreme short-term luck didn't matter much. I stayed with my core game of playing tight and aggressive poker, against opponents known to be clowns (data-mining, buddy-listing, etc.), but I failed to maintain that last part in late 2005 and early 2006. I stepped into bigger games because I saw rampant bad play and plenty of money to be won, and while I stand by my ability to tear these games wide open for consistent winnings, I now know that I had better be better bankrolled and more focused mentally in order to truly capitalize. I got into a spot where the swings caused by extreme short-term luck (and there is PLENTY of it in limit hold'em, particularly 6-max) did matter, and matter a great deal.

I was numb immediately following the final moments of my run in the 10/20 games. I reacted the best way I think I could -- I cashed every remaining dime I had out, and took a week off. I came back slowly, playing with the $110 or so I still had sitting around on Full Tilt. Despite feeling like the "doomswitch" had followed me over to FT from Party (my initial session was atrocious), I've regained my footing, and more importantly, I believe I'm beginning to arrive at a new sense of purpose in terms of my poker play. Poker had, in some ways, become an end in and of itself by late January of this year, as I'd focused on growing my bankroll in order to play larger games -- meaning no cashouts even when I was winning. I've always wanted to play higher, but never at the expense of losing some nice side income or my sanity. I crossed that line without even really noticing it, and in so doing risked both.

I say I believe this turn of events and small amount of time off has helped me begin to arrive at a new sense of purpose because I'm not sure that I've really nailed it all down or put as much thought into the matter as necessary. What I do know is that I am absolutely committed to playing smaller games, fewer tables, and ensuring that I do two things regularly: have fun while playing, and try to cash out a portion of whatever money I'm fortunate enough to win from time to time. Earning a dividend of sorts from this poker hobby has always helped me carry an air of confidence about my play, and equally importantly, this side income has helped me do all kinds of things to make my life better.

Playing at the highest level I could afford, or maybe sometimes higher, is not fun -- at least not when things aren't breaking your way, and *particularly* when opponents playing very poorly are reaping fantastic results right in front of your eyes (here's looking at YOU, vpt9654 on Party). Playing at limits well below the level I can afford, on the other hand, leads to aimless, boring play and unimportant results financially.

Just as Daedalus said to Icarus, the key is to fly somewhere in the middle, away from the the hot sun above and the wretched muck below. That's really the point of this post: play in games where you can use all your skills and advantages and not worry too much about the effects of luck.

As for me, well I've still got a solid poker bankroll, and I've been having a lot of fun playing the one-of-a-kind HORSE Sit & Go tourneys (heads-up and 8-handed), as well as small NLHE games on Full Tilt.

The games are really soft, I'm keeping the stakes extremely low while I sort out what my game plan is going forward, and most importantly I'm feeling confident again about the direction of my game. I highly recommend taking a trip over to Full Tilt for any of you looking to recharge your game and try some new games, or just find softer versions of the ones you're already playing. Heck, shoot me a comment and we can arrange to play heads HORSE some time. I'll play anyone for $10.

I don't know if I'll decide to head back into the 2/4, 3/6, and 5/10 limit hold'em games on Party, or whether I'll move off in a new direction (Drizz's account of PLO8 on Stars has me salivating, and I sort of have the NLHE bug right now too. Heck, I may "start over" and play 1-2 5max and 6max staritng with a small bankroll (maybe $1K) and try to build from there. Time will tell.