My “Maximizing” challenge is up in one month. It has been a disaster. Instead of finding myself in a desired place of fiscal strength after six months of poker, I am back where I started nearly two years ago, and looking at some tough choices. I had placed something of a marker on last’s night session, needing to put rent in the bank with my check still out and not wanting my balance to dip below a certain mental water level. Deep within, I felt my poker career and life were coming to this day and this post, so I am mentally prepared for my decision to change my lifestyle and poker workload, here at the beginning of the year.
I like to refer to Variance, that very beautiful word, the title of my screenplay, the theoretical source of all profit, a concept we casually misapply to poker, as the Goddess. It’s a little silly, I know, but I like it and will not abandon it; and, as Gargamel has correctly noted, it’s how we run – her gift – that is the greatest variable in our results, that is to say, not skill. We will win over the long term as quality players – that's Her Achilles' heel, enhanced but enchained by her vicious and youthful feminine bloom – but the short term is the problem. My problem, because She has had it in for me since I audaciously announced the challenge.
No one likes bad beat stories, but consider these salient facts about Maximizing:
I have not won a single all-in preflop hand at 5/10 since I announced it. Not one. (I remember well the last winner, an odd spot with my AK vs. a surprise A6hh in April, in one of the few limp raises I’ve ever done at that level.) Imagine what that will do for your win rate.
Item two. Last night I again was destroyed in a $3800 4 bet pot by a dominated hand. I have now lost my last five (it may be six but I've lost the notes) 4 bet pots at this stake to these monsters: A10, 74, 107, and 95 and now KQ joins the list. That’s a total swing of just under $25,000 in spots I should be printing money, or if merely running badly, breaking even.
Lastly, from July until November, I lost more with sets than won. I broke this string with Gargamel at the table by getting paid twice at a decent 5/5 game at the Village. That night gave me hope. (After all, it was G. himself who once declared that flopping sets was "better than sex.")
However, there is no hope for this challenge. The writing is on the wall for my post Vegas trip, Maximizing life plan. There is no corner bar with my name in blue neon coming. The move to LA or Philadelphia is going to be accomplished gingerly, not with a splash and another comfy pad with a view. And there will certainly be no more five ten- I can play it, but I simply can’t seem to shake Her and Her wishes.
At least for now. Here's the breakdown, for the stats curious:
From September of ‘14, when I transferred my tracking to the new app, until the end of June ‘15, I was making an average of $74.43 per hour across the board, with my best game being 3/5, at $95.43 per hour. My 5/10 win rate stood at $104.91.
The same figures for the Maximizing Challenge: -$1.92 overall, 3/5 shrunken to $3.07, and my 5/10 a mind numbing -$16.98. A true, immediate downswing. More of clifffaller. A faceplant through the floor and into the Styx.
Bankroll threads are always stupid because the people who ask about them never need a bankroll. They just think they are going to fade swings by segregating money with an imaginary Mason-Dixon line, not understanding that one side bleeds into the other until the issue is resolved. Here’s what most players have: Cash Flow, or Income. That is what determines the games they play in, and that is just and right.
Now, when I was crushing the tables and making five figures each month, I had Cash Flow, and I could play in any game I wanted. However, now, I have essentially nothing coming, and am paying myself from savings. I have real bankroll issues because there is nothing else on the other side of the line. A real grinder does not have some job he’s escaping from. I’m not a journalist on a lark. I’m not an accountant escaping for a few years. I'm not a coder writing a book. This is fucking it. If anything, I’m aiming for a career that is even more risky.
So I’m going back to the $5 dollar games as my bread and butter, a level I am very good at. Hurray, as they say on Archer. I have only put in 109 3/5 hours, spread over a wide variety of locales, since June. (Since I knew this might be coming, I've been sneaking in more concentrations of 3/5, reacquainting myself with the player pool, which is the key to consistent exploitative winning. Since November, my win rate has been a more normal $64.44.)
All that said, it’s not the complete downer it sounds like. I have real purpose in life – to complete several writing projects which I am more hopeful about than at any point in my life – but I also have major leaks I can fix to get me through the storm.
First, I have to bring it back the results under control by playing better. I have to get back to that spring mindset of being great and winning as a necessity. Runbad is always accompanied by playbad, and my recent $1700 punt to an opponent I wouldn’t take seriously in a Yahtzee game was an embarrassment and a wish to be sedated after months of frustration. This sort of thing, I think, is close to behind me. I have to want it, and during the good times, I was always staring at my bank balances, anxious to grow them. I was husbanding my career, milking the cows, counting the carrots. These days I barely look at my accounts. No more of that. (I just took a peak and am ready to throw up.)
Second, I have to, at last, adapt to my true station in life. The sad fact is, I eat out for almost all my meals, despite knowing how to cook. I race through my winnings with several thousand dollars in food each month. I buy three hundred sunglasses and lose them. I travel at will and let the cards save me. I am a profligate, ridiculous spender, and the downswing has caught me with my wallet open and my pants down. This is no way for a low stakes grinder to live.
But aside from all this, poker is about work, and while I was living the grind, I was killing it. Over the Maximizing challenge, I’ve only put in 378 hours of poker, a shocking work rate of about 75 hours of work per month, right when I was supposed to up my game. During the prior string, I was working at least 85 hours per month, which I thought was too little.
In addition to running bad and playing less and sometimes worse, why did I grow so indifferent to my results? Why am I adjusting now, and not in November? With time, the answer has finally become clear. In spring, I had an important woman in my life, one who had real expectations and dreams. I worried over this and had planned for the future. I had to succeed. So I when I ultimately, at an important moment before a lifetime of commitment, had a profound emotional reaction and could not continue the relationship, a reaction as inexplicable to me as to her, the edifice tottered. I came back from Vegas cool and confident, and despite the chilly artic front the Goddess blew down upon me, with this woman gone… I did not have to care.
It's time to care again. No more artificial challenges, but no laments or tears or bitterness, either. There is real Variance in poker, headed by a mysterious deity or not, but She is conquerable. It’s time to get back to work, not for a woman this time but to support my own personal legacy, one red chip at a time.