Monday, February 28, 2005

Going Through the Motions

It's odd how it happens. You can't pinpoint a defining moment. It may be a culmination of things or it could be as cliche as a light bulb blinking on inside your head. For me it was a combination of both.

My trial by fire began several weeks ago when I documented a massive slide down the food chain in one night. With a sigh of resignation I dropped back to the 1/2 level and began to seek out the best in bonuses. I really felt I didn't belong there. Playing at a level I had beaten soundly in the past wasn't where I deserved to be. To further pummel my already bloodied ego I still couldn't win. Sure I would post a winning session but it was always followed by three or four losing ones. I was spiraling downward and was in danger of not even having a bankroll to support playing at 1/2 anymore.

Why was it happening? I hadn't changed my play, had I? I still had the same starting requirements that I had developed when I came up through the ranks. These weren't exactly by the book starting hands but they had worked for me in the past and damnit, they should be now as well. Was it my post flop play? Naw couldn't be that either. I was being dealt bad beat after bad beat, that had to be it.

We have a new employee at work that joined our regular work home game about two months ago. He had never played before but was eager to learn and after we corrupted him on that first night he had the poker bug in a bad way. He downloaded a version to his phone, a laptop, and watched it on TV at every opportunity. Now two weeks ago we had our last poker night. The new guy showed up and I was impressed by how fast he had progressed. He displayed some selective aggression and was capable of making some advanced plays that I thought were beyond the people I played with. When the night was coming to a close the new guy was up and I was down. I began to see something in him that I didn't have. I had it at one time, but the realization that I no longer possessed it was troubling to me. I'm not sure when it happened but my passion for the game was gone. I played every night and went through the motions but that's what all I was doing. Going through the motions. I desperately wanted to rekindle this missing part of me and I invited him to stay after the night had come to a close for some heads up play. He accepted my invitation and we continued to play for another two hours. Being able to concentrate on the action I began to enjoy myself. With experience on my side I was able to out maneuver him and managed to reclaim some of my earlier losses. My heads up game vastly improved due to this exercise but I was still losing the ring games.

A few days later while perusing the PSO forum I came across a post on the hands that win or lose you the most money. I knew I hadn't checked that data in quite some time so I fired up Poker Tracker and had a look. I was shocked at what I was finding. I keep separate databases for each level I play and wanting to get the most data possible I loaded a combined database for 2004. I lost money on hands that I believed were the staple of my game. My complete disregard for the study techniques and data tracking that had started my poker journey were no longer part of my regimen. This was the 2004 data which I was profitable at. I shuddered to look at the 2005 data since I had been losing all year. I wasn't playing bad starting hands. I just wasn't playing them correctly. Whether it was position, calling raises, or not raising myself, I was playing them all wrong and often to far after the flop. My game had truly disintegrated. In fact it wasn't that good before.

It wasn't the light bulb moment. It was a combination of realization and revitalization. I'm calling it an increase in strength of character. I'm winning again. Comparing my current win rate to the win rate I had in 2004 at the 1/2 level. They are close to identical. The big difference is I'm winning differently than before. I have strung together nine winning sessions as of last night. I've never done that before. In the past I've gone 4 or 5 and then had a loser thrown in. My variance is also down by a large margin.

The one thing about this that is cliche is that you never stop learning. I thought I was on top of my game yet it took a slap in the face from reality to push me to that next level. My hope is that it doesn't take the rest of you this kind of gut check. It really is a miserable experience but I'm a better player for it.