I’m back in the ring, my game uneven, my life emptied out. I feel, contradictorily, both dead to much of the world while pathetically in need of good news. I overcheck my emails, listen for texts, and even wonder if the postal box might have something of interest. As life works, it does (or seems to): A handwritten envelope and letter fills me with dread and interest. It turns out to be an unusually attentive Seventh Day Adventist looking for converts in such a strange way I’m not sure it’s even old fashioned. A replacement for knocking on the door, from perhaps a very committed, polite but shy missionary.
On the felt, I take my initial losses and wins emotionally. A big win at 5/10 seems to make months of profound troubles evaporate, ridiculously. Immediate runbad the next day in the short stack retardo game and I am thinking about my resume. This is no way to play or perform, but so it goes: we have to start from somewhere. Wins (and certainly not losses) are no substitute for a balanced, smart life. What I need from myself for poker, if not everything else, is to be is in Game Shape. A lot to ask of myself right now, admittedly.
To accomplish this at a similar, if less dramatic juncture, I once created the Mental Game Quiz. I can't even tell myself to take a look at it I'm so unenthused and unwilling. At time, however, I couldn't have been more excited. Because the members of the Coven (like every human being an every poker player) were so prone to suffering from the swings, I designed (in faux scientific fashion but with real enough work, review, and duplication) a series of questions that score one’s state of mind, provide the red or green light for a session, predict results and reinforce good behaviors. I hit pay dirt too quickly, however, and because of this, the project got forgotten: I discovered my major game prep leaks by working with it before I ever finalized it into a product, ran with the results, and never fully passed it on to anyone. My mental game became asteroid, rare earth metals solid.
Among the realizations the Quiz gave me, one has relevance not only to my game right now, but for a distant relation I am currently lending a hand to. Since the quiz is about the physical and mental shape we want to be in for the performance that is poker, it’s perfect for someone who does not take the game very seriously but is beginning to wonder why she can’t string together two wins in a row. During the trial runs of the Quiz, I learned that it was not enough to simply be feeling good the day of the session or to just hit the games because it’s on the calendar. Poker is not a nine to five job. Preparation and clear thinking today, it turns out, have a great deal to do with healthy behavior the day before. For this reason, while I was peeling the creamy top off the games at an absurd clip, I did not allow myself to play even the day after having one drink. The correlation was that clear… yet I can’t remember being that scrupulous in six, oh wait, maybe even ten months. Yikes.
There are no coincidences, and despite my injunction, two 1776 rye Manhattans found their way onto my bill (didn't sub for the well bourbon but you get what you pay for) last night with a friend last night. Just materialized in front of me while we we laughed. Poof. As the two of us close out La Fete d'Insignifiance, a theme emerges, a provoking thought which I've never had: we never asked for what we are. Seems so juvenile, but if Kundera can take it seriously, maybe there is some light in this odd crack for me, something that isn't intoxication and is not a replacement.
My cousin suffers from her need for drink in many ways; naturally she is not alone in this. As Baudelaire so correctly stated, we all should go through life intoxicated, the question is by what. To get into her own Game Shape, she must give up alcohol, just as I must give up cigarettes. Her addiction, strong in our family and too common to be noticed in our dank corner of God’s Green Earth, crawling with an unusually high number of effective troublemakers and ineffective dogooders, is obviously bad and needs no explanation from a poker point of view; cigarettes, however, in case you don’t know, while relieving, tire you out and may keep you from long sessions, among other complications. We’ll both have to find substitutes or our results will suffer for the worse.
In my weakened state, all the beats they give me wear me out just as much as the tobacco, however. Last week, the repulsive Sommelier helped complete an interesting pattern that used to depress me quite a bit: I have now lost all ten of the largest pots I have ever played. What’s great and not unhappy at all is that I played the hand against the Sommelier as well as I am capable of. (My time off was not wasted, poker wise, as I thought, read the forums and articles dutifully, watched the videos, and played online. I’m a different player in some ways, already.)
It was a three bet pot, but because of the straddle making it 5/10/20 and my standard but perhaps comparatively large 3 bet sizing, it was as big as a standard four bet pot in the Village's 5/10 game. I size large for several reasons. The main one is that with players very sticky, I need to avoid multiway action, especially with the button behind. I have a wide three bet range and don’t want calls about sixty percent of the time. I also like to disguise the strength of my hands and be able to make large raises with premiums that can get committed and paid in a loose game, aggressive game where you are going to get outplayed if you bring a knife to the gunfight. That the Sommelier cold flatted me out the blinds just shows how stationy some players are. Also, the original raiser had made his sizing a tad bigger as well - I wanted to annoy him, unfairly, for this. He’s an expert, and played it well- but no good deed should go unpunished.
Mission mostly accomplished: the tourney pro in the straddle lets it go, and the dangerous original raiser, who is not afraid to flat and play poker from any spot, gives up as well. (in truth this LAG is probably dead afraid of the Sommelier’s ridiculous cold call and is not as attuned to that whiner’s spewage as I am.) I study the Sommelier’s repulsive, bulbous, alcoholic’s nose and reptilian Irish eyes, buried in toxic folds of delicate, aging, red-blue skin while the dealer arranges the pot and prepares for the fateful three cards. Poker for the Sommelier is the sadism and masochism he needs away from his slippery career: he is much like a politician who deals out punishment all day and then needs it in return from his mistress in a dark act of sexual conscience and rebalancing. (He has dealt me more S than M, running hot in all recent pots of note.) Here, he shows contempt and defiance. He swirls his giant glass (even more bulbous) of prize red (whatever it is, he knows his drinks and spares no expense, I feel respect for this unwillingness to substitute, in between the waves of my simultaneous loathing and appreciation of him): the Sommelier is giving me mixed signals. I have no clear idea as to his hand strength for the moment.
In fact, the ferocity of his cold call and his willingness to brawl for any pot make him who he is. His frequencies are not nitty in the least and slowplay is in his (mostly four letter) vocabulary. Traditionally, cold calls like this are either very strong, very stupid, or indicative of a meekly played middle pair with stacks to play for. When the board comes down 987cc, it's a great flop for his position in theory- but not exactly in practice. While AK is not in his range, as he would four bet it, and yes, his hand looks like a connection with this board, either as an overpair or as a deadly set, from a traditional point of view. However, the truth is that Sommelier is not a folder, period, and could be as weak as Ax suited. He will hold on to TPNK for three streets and own your bluffing ass… or hand over his own. Pain, he likes and needs to receive and give. Whatever you think of him, he’s got the heart and commitment to the game in his own lugubrious way.
Nevertheless, this situation is not a cbet. Because I hold the Ace of clubs, he won't be check raising me on a draw as often, and will be check raising me sometimes with hands I could still suck out against. Because I am not a monkey cbettor, my range is protected, as I can and will check AA and friends here. So I want to realize equity or pick up a club, or if I somehow have him in trouble - say KQ - I want to get to showdown if possible. I check behind; it’s the right play.
The red queen on the turn is a miracle to see. If he has tens or jacks, I will both win and be paid. If he has AK, he will lead at it quite often: perfect. I can maybe avoid paying off his sets, depending on his behavior. When he donks into the queen for an overly large bet, looking for maximum pressure, I decide to go with it. He doesn't give off any set or nut energy or any tell that he is strong. In fact, I get the distinct idea he is betting for something other than value. He gives me his usual mangy lone wolf staredown.
I rip in the AQ, expecting to get tank called or see a fold without showdown. This session might finally be going somewhere. The table is changing as the daylight shift departs. This is timely.
The Sommelier takes a count. We're not that deep compared to the rest of the table, as both of us have been struggling and have not topped past 150 bbs. With some regret, he sticks in a call. (Demons don't fold much, for the record.) I’m a little confused as to what would be have exactly this way.
The turn is a strange card, a ten, but I still hope to be good, and fast roll TPTK. I don’t know where I stand.
It takes the Sommelier a few seconds of moving his head from left to right to left while reading the board. He ends his hesitation by announcing “Straight!” flipping up KJ. His entire mood brightens. The table is a little uneasy: poker players may enjoy a little schadenfreude but here at 5/10 they are more congenial and somewhat orbit the golden rule. The Sommelier laughs and talks, but I can’t hear a word he says. I watch him stacks up his chips rapidly but one at a time, his claws alternating like an insect feeding itself and masticating on high speed time lapse videography.
I leave. I don’t need the Quiz, I decide. I’ll send it to Cuz, and she can do what she will with it. I don’t have the energy to help her or really anyone, beyond basic courtesies, because, for the first time in my life, I absolutely need to take care of myself. Lists and goals may sound good, but I think I know what I need, something even simpler: health. I fell off the train of potential happiness one year ago, and need to go back to bone basics. I can’t go back in time, but I can switch in some new life for the old, vanished one. I can swap in a slightly new model for this broken body and tired mind. I can’t make the Sommelier fold a gutter, but I can find the energy to duel again.
If hell is other people, choosing poker is loving punishment a little too much. I'm stuck with this nine-handed jury and the heavy eyes of my demon judges for now. I can't change this. I have no other useful (hmm) talents or abilities or leads or job opportunities. What I can do, is trade in some bad habits for good ones and ease my time here. I realize I don’t want to be out of position anymore, and that is what my error was, underneath it all and all the stupid changes and tradeoffs I've made.
Substitutions are never The Answer, but they are a start.