More terrible decision making

Recently, in some part through feedback I’ve gotten on this blog, I decided to pick up low-stakes pot-limit Omaha. I figured a different game would help me stay mentally engaged and that, since I wasn’t very good at PLO, I would have a lot to learn and it would be easier to derive satisfaction from learning and getting better while I played. Yesterday I played a short session and won a small amount, about $15, and thought I had a decent beginner’s grip on things. So tonight, I was a little tired and a little bored and decided to give it another whirl.

Four hours and five buyins later, I left and sat in at a game of NL 100 to try my hand at something I was actually good at. Then I lost a buyin when my opponent floated a preflop reraise and a flop bet on a Q44 board with T8, then made a straight and busted my aces.

Then I quit, despondent and down $500 for the night– or so I thought.

This is what I found myself thinking, and what I originally found myself writing:

I don’t know why I fucked myself over playing like this. Sure, I ran about as bad as I could possibly imagine. (I lost a large number of all-ins in the Omaha session in increasingly creative ways.) But it’s not like I was playing in a good frame of mind. Or for good reasons. Or like I got much out of the session. I was able to talk to my friend Leo throughout it and that helped, but that mostly reinforced two things: 1)How ignorant I was of the game I was playing and 2)How much trouble I was having thinking things through.

It seems like I can’t avoid sabotaging myself for stupid reasons. When I get serious and want to work, I quit after an hour because I’m scared to lose the winnings back. When I want to play for fun and I’m losing, I play for hours and a time and only dig myself deeper.

It’s entirely backwards. My thought process is so backwards at this point that I have to question if I will ever be successful again at this.

My confidence is so shattered that I quit winners early because I’m afraid something will go wrong and can’t psychologically handle losing. Once I’m already mired in a losing streak, well, I already feel like a loser, so it’s not like I can feel worse by continuing to play, and who knows, something good might happen and I could turn it around.

This not only violates a cardinal rule of successful gambling (all things being equal, you should be inclined to play more when you’re winning and quit when you’re losing, because it is more likely that you are playing well if you’re winning, even if you don’t realize it), but it gets to the heart of my problem: Emotional investment in decisions of logic and mathematics.

I don’t know how to extricate myself from this trap. I don’t know how to keep a clear head and focus on the logical part of my decision-making.

That was where I had to stop myself, because I realized that what I was writing wasn’t true.

I do know how to keep a clear head and keep focused on the game. I do it by getting exercise and staying sober and focusing on work when I work and putting in long sessions when things are going well and I am happy to be playing.  I do it by using yoga and meditation to put my body and mind at ease and provide me with more peace of mind regardless of what is happening at the tables. I don’t do it by playing to fart around and then getting upset and pressing further when I lose. I don’t do it by letting the fates of the game dictate my moods. Intellectually, I know this lesson. Realistically, I do not practice what I’ve learned very much.

There was some truth in what I wrote. I played because it was late and I was bored and I wasn’t even completely sober. And I played for three and a half hours when I was playing like shit and could have just gone to bed. There was no reason for any of it to happen. I said I wanted to learn PLO, and I do, but tonight it was a bullshit excuse because I was just bored and looking for stimuli and just can’t ever be content with reading a book and going to bed at a normal hour.

Just one of the thousand bricks of a solid foundation: Take the damn game seriously when you play. (But not so seriously that it upsets you.) Play to win. Have fun, but don’t play for fun, if that makes sense.

It remains to be seen whether or not I play tomorrow. To be sure, if I do, I plan to be well-rested, well-exercised, and actually give it my best. I can’t ever play “just because I feel like gambling” again. (Unless the stakes are significantly lower than my usual stakes, but right now, no such terrain exists.)

As far as the $500 goes? Turns out there was a mistake in the cashier window and it turns out I only lost $300. It’s still a loss, and I had a lot of valuable lessons to take from my poor performance, but it was no longer the kind of session that made me question if I’d forgotten how to play. It felt like winning back $200, at least.

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2 responses to “More terrible decision making

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