A Christmas Poker Amnesty

A Christmas Poker Amnesty

This isn’t a singular tweet; the particular player who wrote it doesn’t matter and there are a thousand tweets like his. In fact, he’s probably a great guy and you’d like him. However, he is what we would call a Poker Consumer, because he has swallowed all the myths management has told and sold him.

It’s sad, and I don’t mean that ironically. There is a great and greater world out there that needs this person and the people like him.

Instead, he is telling himself and you things which are, if not completely, almost completely wrong and so causing himself and others pain.

Pain to the people who miss him, pain to himself in the agony of a grind that will never return his love.

Have to play even when you don’t want to.

No, you certainly don’t. Not even if it is your living, because there are a thousand ways to live. Now he is likely referencing Matt Berkey’s poo-pooing of Alec Torelli’s idea that you should play when you want, but we are talking apples and oranges. At Matt and Alec’s level, you may well need to show up when the game runs. But for the low stakes grinder, the game never ends. It is a passion to play endlessly, not a necessity. Passion is from passio: torture.

Variance in this game is crazy.

Variance is a rather nifty measure of the dispersion of results. Your variance does not have to have any necessary relation to your long-term win rate. In fact, many players confuse short term positive results for their win rate! Moreover, many talk about variance, like my favorite podcaster, but even he doesn’t seem to be able to separate the result of deliberately losing strategy from the dispersion of results. Variance is tricky: talk to a real statistician about it and he’ll only smile at what we poker players say.

No matter, because what this player really means is luck. Luck is not variance. Luck is a fixed variable on one hand, especially since we measure it from the perspective of the hero: no one ever gets lucky from a mathematical point of view, as all outcomes are merely a probability. Luck in this sense is also subject to its own short-term runs. All of his means variance is anything but crazy. What she is, is the very waters we swim in and to look to her for succor is to be lost from the beginning. The drowning man does not scream for the water; the oarsman does not call the Siren to rescue him, for she is the trap itself.

All you can do is get better.

Getting better won’t overcome variance, by definition. A wide dispersion of results may happen even if you are the best; maybe all the more if you are pushing edges. Getting better will help you not go broke, it will help you win. It will never overcome the vulgar understanding of luck. It will stave off the worst risk of ruin, and your roll will comfort you through the downswing. But if you are out here complaining about variance without any understanding of it, exactly what good is getting better? What game do you feign competence in? You are simply mouthing what they tell you to mutter as you push and pull the oars, you the rake-producing unit. Like and subscribe, dummy!

And how do you get better? I see players running home to compare their play to GTOW or a solver output. It makes you want to tear your hair out – there is no necessary relation between what your opponents are doing and an equilibrium model.

Yet it even gets worse. Many mistake, even at higher levels, the model for the theory itself. “In theory,” they say, looking at the solver output, I have to bet Ax here.” “In theory, I should call 26% of the time here.” No, that is the data of a model. Theory is what explains the game and the model. Further, theory is enhanced by the model – thus the leaps of the last decade – yet it remains not the model. For instance, in theory, you may not want any of the bets GTOW has in that spot because your opponent is playing X strategy rather than Y.

To not understand theory is why the solver makes many players worse. And then what to do, complain about variance illiterately? Complain about luck? Row harder, longer, faster? How do they even know how to “get better” when they are utterly lost? Oh, I know: buy some training material, dummy!

The training industry gives and takes demonically. It gives you some information, usually long after better players know it, and when that information changes, they tell you something new all over again. Everybody and his brother can look at a solver or can look at a model and talk into a microphone, and the poker consumer listens intently, with not a word of applicable theory being passed on.

There are great coaches out there. Uri Peleg, Peter Clarke, Gary Blackwood spring to mind. But if your coach is not actually talking directly to you, you are just consuming content. If you are buying a marked down video package, you are buying tips and tricks and you will continue to do so until you quit or die. You’ll even be tempted to cheat the very people trying to help you by purchasing pirated material. Worse yet, the joke might just be even further on you if you do that, because I hate to say it, but even big-name packages from big name training sites are usually woefully underexplained. I’ve seen some embarrassingly poor material lately from a premier site and I will only not name it and its creators out of respect for previous, stronger efforts.

Don’t doubt yourself.

Only the insane do not doubt themselves. It is the mark of a mature man to doubt himself, to confront his doubts and questions, and then face the dragon. To not do so is to never actually learn, to never actually grow. But if you are busy not doubting yourself, you are a perfect consumer, a laborer bending and scraping to the face on the screen and to the beat of the drum. Here the worst mindset purveyors deeply betray their clients. Look to a savvier mental coach like Jason Su who actually knows poker if you must go down this path; however, most of you merely don’t know poker and simply need fundamental theory to make improvements.

It’s Christmas, and I come bearing gifts, however, not disdain. In fact, I want to release you from your torment.

Last night I played with a Chinese guy with wild dyed hair, crazy feudal flag spandex pants that were so billowy they could stretch across the room, and on top a wild Christmas sweater just to put a little more crash into the clash. He donked it up, laughed, babbled in his incomprehensible English and won a few bucks. I smiled and had a good time.

Every week, at my deepstack game I have a great time. I designed the game to be fun, because that’s how it should be. People like DGAF and his Princess do this at the Lucky Lady in LA far better than I do, and I’m sure there are others out there thinking like we do.

The point is, you don’t have to make poker miserable. Poker doesn’t have to be about impossible standards and hateful self-flagellation. If it reaches that point, you can do all sorts of other things in this world. If you feel you can’t, ask for help from a friend, a family member, a lover. They will point you in the right direction. They probably have been waiting for you to ask.

The poker complex feeds off your misery. The game sites and casinos and cardrooms are not on your side. You need to either rise above their extractions and recapture your love of the game, or else find a happier path.

This Christmas, I release you from the grind. I’ve seen a lot and know things, and if you think crazy thoughts like “never doubt yourself” and “play even when you hate it” and otherwise drive yourself to misery in poker, I release you. I give you permission to release yourself.

Poker will wait while you make yourself happy again.

All of us release you. Come back when you can have fun again, fun playing cards.

Merry Christmas.

7 thoughts on “A Christmas Poker Amnesty

  1. I’m not sure if anyone comments on these blogs, but I’d just like to say thanks for your words of wisdom (not to mention your justifiable cynicism re certain usages of “variance”).

  2. As a frequent live 1/3 player I’ve internalized the message in this post for quite a while now. In fact, I sometimes berate myself for following what I think is GTO without enough regard to table dynamics. Here’s a recent session review that as an example of things going off the rails in live play: https://youtu.be/_6_gw_rl2zg

  3. …But not to stray from the key point: “thought leaders”, coaches and training sites all try to sell us a bill of goods that if we follow their advice, we can overcome the negative-sum fundamentals of poker over the long run. Well, let’s say everyone consumes their content equally and all play the same theoretical game – there will still be more losers than winners. That’s just plain math. So, we all need the un-studied fish in our games and GTOW isn’t wired for fish (and yeah I know that GTO play wins against fish too, just not the most).

  4. …And actually that’s not even the key point :) It is, we need to bring the fun back into our games. Encourage the fish, not berate them. When “Gus” in my game opens every hand to 15X, I really want him to keep coming back. P and DGAF are spot on.

    1. Well, i support that, obviously, but you can’t make someone want to have fun. For these people, especially the ones spreading weird, compulsive ideas, I am suggesting a new path or at least a nice vacation, if not a better way of looking at the game.

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