I had hoped to be writing a very different post than this one. Back in the days when I was obsessed with thin value betting, thinking that was the pinnacle of poker excellence, I was, naturally enough, equally in thrall with playing perfect sessions. Getting all the value. This goal is not as unreasonable as it sounds.
First off, live poker sessions do not feature that many hands. If you are not a maniac you may not even play thirty hands over a whole shift – doing your very best isn’t just pie in the sky, it’s a necessity if you are going to pull money out of the games on a regular basis.
Second, mistakes and runbad are correlated. I learned, during this time, that there was another, less known stop loss that would keep me out of trouble (I’ve never lost more than a few buy ins in a session): mistake maximums. I learned to allow myself up to three mistakes. Hit the fourth, I will always call it a night, if not before. The games are forever, after all, and spew is controllable. Therefore the perfect was not the enemy of the good in this case, but encouraged maximum focus and effort.
So, when I was about halfway through last night’s session, I found myself amazed: I had not made a single mistake in four hours. I wasn’t winning much, unfortunately, as I had not run well, but I had saved several buy ins with great folds of two seemingly unmuckable hands; played a tough deepstack spot how I wanted it done; and called down a pot plus sized river bluff with second pair correctly after doing a thorough analysis, unflustered and accurately. I was thinking about just how razor thin the margins are for the professional poker player, having eked out a profit in very trying circumstance , and how getting these spots exactly right are the kinds that not only make the difference, but are the difference. This got me thinking about that wonderful film, based on the legendary Somerset Maugham novel, that Bill Murray cared more about than anything else he had ever done. Could I pull it all together in one snazzy post?
If I had left then, you’d be hearing about those hands. And The Razor’s Edge.
Instead, for the first time since late December, I went on tilt, paid off several value bets in utter incompliance with my strategy, and wasted an important night to earn.
It started with a bad read that I used to give myself me permission to make exactly the kind of gamble I had lamented not making as a part of my regular. After opening up a suited connector with a stellar image, three action players flatted me at 5/5 and about $700 effective (the game was not that good). I flopped a gutter and a back door flush draw and was ready to win this pot.
A friendly new player to the game surprised me by leading out for one quarter pot. He was one of those guys who seems like they should be wide but never is: he uses his youthful, confident appearance well to cover his general nittiness, which I had learned about at my first session with him last week. (A very tough and disappointing fold, having already check raised for value and protection, which turned out to be right as he accidentally flashed his cards.) With two players behind me, I did not foresee a bluff raise getting through very often, so I took the good price and called for all the backdoor equity and playability. The Banker in the cutoff called indifferently, a little too easily, but because he often thinks in prices, and calls pre with a ridiculously wide range, he could have an even worse draw than mine. The button folded. I had been planning on pulling the trigger on any diamond or other cards good for my range, but the Banker was very sticky on the whole, so his presence made me uneasy despite the unlikelihood that he held anything beyond a weak pair: this was the moment my night “turned.” Fourth street was an 8, giving me up and down, and now the SB again led, this time for 100 into 220, a strange bet into two people that I felt had to be for value. I was in the middle and took the temperature of the Banker. He seemed uninterested and was fussing with his chips, as if he were an ox grazing slowly and hoofing at a stone. I was not getting direct odds but if he called it would be closer and the SB had paid off several players already. I felt that folding was too weak, but I abandoned my plan to raise, incorrectly, based on my optimistic evaluation of the CO.
However, I was completely wrong about his action if not his hand, and he came alive, moving all in. The SB folded, and now I was priced off my draw, having used false assumptions to justify my passive play.
I proceeded to melt off my profit and get into the red, splurging on a bluffcatching spree after a questionable check raise attempt failed. If everyone has a B game, that’s mine: not letting go. Industry grade Persuadeo, unbottled, unpalatable, and left to oxygenate for about thirty crucial minutes of donkey poker.
What happened to me and my perfect session? In one down, I had gone from impressed with myself to looking like the table mark.
While I steamed, D’Artagnan made the most of a surprise appearance, having broken out of shortstack hell when a seat opened, and joined us at the slightly bigger if not better game. He was rewarded. First he sent the Sommelier home by correctly calling off a four bet shove with AQ versus the super aggro winer, who will have 66+, A10+ in that spot. Soon after, D’Artagnan wasn’t scared by the button clicking Banker who went crazy in a three bet pot, unable to resolve how to play his range, with an underpair. (The Banker beats these games but it’s more what they do, than him, if you follow me. His overplay is sometimes pretty brutal to watch.) In one spot, D’Artagnan raised a bad turn card for no real reason and gave a little back to a sticky opponent; that one stank and I didn’t even have to see the cards. Overall, however, thanks to a little discipline, bravery, and good reasoning, D’Artagnan killed the game and made my point from earlier this week: the reward for even modest skill in deeper games is disproportionately large when measured against smaller ones.
I took a break. Three mistakes. Up against the wall. Late night. Getting tired. Now, I could just leave. I had no more errors to give, and I was actually upset. Every dollar counts, every screw up hurts. Worse, bluff catching a player who is scared of me and has mostly just rolled over for a year is just bad strategy and psychology.
I found a way forward. I decided to return to the game on one condition, a homework assignment: I instructed myself to write out a strategy document, in exchange for returning to the game. I can’t be slipping into B Team mode like this, ever. You bring what you prepare to the games, and I think I just haven’t got the Hard Strategy I envision, the unifying theory of everything I know about poker, in my bones yet. The edges in my life are razor thin, and that 100 bbs I dusted off with passive play has real meaning.
Oddly, as much as I like to write, I’ve never tried to spell out a coherent “mission statement,” but that’s what’s one the table. (Can’t make it public, of course!)
Postscript: It’s not that important, but I got most of the money back, bearing down on myself, before giving up from fatigue. I ran poorly shorthanded, where I usually shine, by not even picking up hands at the bottom of my bluffing range. Maddening. However, that’s just the cleanup details, and no one cares, not even me. What I don’t want do is just fade away like that again, midsession.
Time to do my homework.