Easing back into the game

Since I had my dental abscess last month (that’s finally taken care of, as the root canal was finished a few days ago) I was pretty laid up from the pain for a while. So I tried to spend more time playing poker, as my options for other ways to spend my time had been limited by my condition.

About midway through June, my winnings took a serious nosedive.

I tried to take breaks to clear my head, but then each time I came back to play I was worse than before. I realized that I was getting frustrated, forcing plays, and not thinking through hands on later streets because I was assuming the worst by default. Self-confirming negativity. I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to play poker, I decided, and then I decided to wait until I was feeling better. (And not on prescription painkillers, which I’m convinced are better for interrupting your ability to think than they are for killing pain.)

I struggle to be patient and make the right play, and not just try to win every single hand. ¬†Occasionally when I don’t have other outlets for my aggression or competitiveness I try to stop all over the table in service to my ego and it never works. It’s playing with the wrong goal in mind, playing to work out emotions and feelings from other areas in my life. (This is why I try to exercise before sessions– it gets out all the aggression and physical energy I have bounding around inside. Physical health leads to mental health.)

But I sat down and played a small bit of NL 50 heads-up and won a couple of buyins. One was luck– flopped straight vs. two pair– and the other was good opponent selection (flopped a flush in a 3-bet pot* and he potted twice and stacked off on the turn with AKo unimproved drawing dead).

(* – I mean, obviously that’s luck. Every hand has some component of luck. But I won the money because my opponent played very poorly.)

I don’t think I made any special plays, but I didn’t make any major mistakes, either. (Even the hands where I lost pots were fine plays just made at the wrong time, things like a 3-bet and c-bet that didn’t work out.) I didn’t play perfectly by any means, but a nice small win is good psychologically right now; I’ve been taking such a beating that a little reassurance was nice.

Speaking of “things that make reassurance nice”, I wasn’t able to sell my action to the WSOP main event for the second year in a row, which is a bummer, but not unsurprising. I was hoping my inability to get it done in 2011 was more due to Black Friday and the resultant cash flow problems many professional players were experiencing, but the bigger problem is clear, the one I’ve feared: through a combination of my own efforts at anonymity, my lack of ambition to be at the top of my profession, and a combination of re-establishing a life outside the poker world, poor money management, and a declining work ethic, I’ve become a nobody and I’ve lost touch with many of my friends in the poker world, which is a shame. I didn’t mean for it to be that way, but when I left the road, when I stopped spending the large majority of my time awake playing poker, I stopped immersing myself in the culture, and I stopped having regular conversations about the game, and I stopped having conversations with any of my poker-playing friends. And I stopped getting better.

I still struggle not having people to discuss hands and strategy with. I feel like it’s keeping me from making honest assessments of my leaks, and that makes it easier to use poker as a dumping ground for my ego, which is going to keep me from ever achieving my full potential. (And yes, I still believe I have more potential there; the road is not as easy as it was in 2006, but I still think I have room to improve and that I’m capable of playing on the big stage again. I think I can still play and win tournaments on the biggest stages, and even without that, I could get my bankroll to the point where I could make six figures or close to it just by playing online regularly.)

It’s been a long time since I blogged regularly about my poker play, but there’s no mistaking that I played better when I did. I need to be honest about my play, honest in my assessments, and honest about what I need to do to do better.

A win is encouraging and will keep me working at it. I am still optimistic, because I still have more money than I did when I started the year. I took $500 and turned it into a little bit of savings and a legit bankroll, so the long-term outlook is still good. I struggle with the patience to let it come in its own time.

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