Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Love Affair

It's been a long time since I've been consumed by something. I've been captivated by a lot of things in my life - music, work, love, food. All, save love, have waxed and waned, intermittently. But this poker's something different.

I feel like, particularly this year, I've been working on my game at the same level I tackled law school and with almost the same ethic I used when starting my firm. Indeed, like law school, which is a three-year, $75k+ proposition*, this September will be two years since my first 4-figure score in poker. Thus, my education continues. Poker is that hard and that intense, but infinitely more satisfying. Since I am not yet able to support myself solely from poker, I'm scared to admit that I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing (the "infinitely more satisfying" part, I mean).

What I see when I watch a countdown to the November Nine table, such as I witnessed last night - pretty much pulling an all-nighter, which I've not done since my undergraduate days - are technicians of the highest order. In the law, attorneys who are seen as experts in their field and call their own shots are known as rainmakers. They are technical experts in their subject matter and know how to navigate the minefield that is soul crushing litigation or traverse the obstacle course that is Supreme Court oral argument/brief writing or influence the artifice that is politics. To be a technical expert, you have to be fundamentally sound in the law and in people (either by being able to read souls and manipulate accordingly or by surrounding yourself with people who can help you do that).

Unlike the law, poker is you and you alone. There is no judge that can make a technical ruling that saves your hand from disaster. There is no jury that can latch onto obscure pieces of evidence, disregarding others, to find in your favor. It's just you, and your own skill or lack thereof, face to face across the felt against your opponent(s). And cards be damned. Because if you're playing your cards? Well, good luck and God bless you. You're going to need both.

Like the law, poker is a jealous mistress. To be an expert you have to know it better than the back of your hand and that requires nothing less than absolute immersion. You can't be good at poker with anything less. I think that's why you see so many (and so many of the same) young, single males making final tables. As a result, someone like me - with a family and living in the middle of a barren poker landscape - will almost always be at a disadvantage.

Watching the ESPN coverage (not showing hole cards until showdown and utilizing true poker playing commentators makes for electrifying moments of poker television, thank you!), I understand how hard I have to work. I don't know how it will all turn out for me. But if poker's taught me anything, it is the significance of the sometimes agonizing beauty of living in the moment. Because of the long-term nature of the game, any run good or run bad occurring at any given point in time exists only in my mind. The truth is, there is only the hand you are playing.**

I suppose winning in poker can be likened to a drug because once you taste it, you only want more. I prefer, however, to think of it as a transcendent love affair, with all the exquisite pleasure and pain such passion brings.

My game? Well, I guess you could say I'm in the caboose car on the Cyclone as it tick-tick-ticks its way skyward...there's only one way to go, and that's up.

* no Mom and Dad, I've not spent anywhere near $75k on my pokers, don't worry
** this is a paraphrase of a concept from Tommy Angelo


  1. Everything in balance.

    If you are interested in getting better in tournament poker, might I suggest The Raiser's Edge: Tournament-Poker Strategies for Today's Aggressive Game by
    Bertrand Grospellier, Lee Nelson, Tysen Streib, and Tony Dunst
    in addition to "Secrets of Professional Tournament Poker, volume 1," by Jonathan Little

  2. +3 to the above mentioned books

    Dynamic Full Ring Poker by James Sweeney

  3. Well said! I love reading your blog. You are smart and articulate about poker and life! I'm a musician and playing poker on the side...toying with the idea of poker being part of my income, so I'm asking myself some of these same questions.

  4. Laoch, interesting book rec for Raiser's edge. I may order it from Amazon. Lee Nelson's Kill Everyone is fantastic. It's the follow up to Kill Phil, which is more of a beginner's book. Yes, PL's parents, these are all poker books. :) PL, I have no idea what your skill level is or whether we played on PS or not in the past. I made one step forward beginning with the Harrington books, though I read many others too. I'd say my second step forward was with Poker VT, which really brought all the book wisdom to life. There are plenty of good training sites out there, but that is the one I chose. Those are only 2 steps in what I imagine is a really long journey. Like you, I have a career which detracts from the hours that I can play, especially with the online poker situation.

  5. I am studying Jonathon Little's book. Volume 1. It's really helped with my post flop play, and how to play different stack sizes...Had no idea Elky had a book out. That should be an interesting read.

    I totally agree that we are at a disadvantage from those who have hours and hours to play, either living in an area where they have casinos to play live, or living in a country where they can still play online. I will say that because I have limited games to play online, the few that I am able to play each day I am focusing more on each player, making better decisions, etc., because I'm not playing several tournaments at once. I feel like I'm more able to manipulate other players at the table...isn't this really how we should be playing?

    Yes, poker is a love affair...but the great part is that the newness never seems to wear off, unlike a new relationship. Poker just gets more and more exciting as time goes on. Who can say that about love or sex with the same person years on end?

  6. Laoch, it's interesting you bring up the Elky book. When I was in Vegas, almost every young, hoodie clad grinder I saw was carrying it around. Looks like I need a copy, too. The "everything in balance comment," duly noted.

    Karri, and just when I thought my poker library was *set*! Thanks for the recommendation, sistah.

    ALbus,thank you, too, for the recs. What's your SN on Stars? I was Namdogger. I guess the only good thing about the DOJ shut down is that maybe I'll get to change my SN once online poker comes back. Ha! I had done some reviewing of poker training sites last year and looked at PokerVT, DeepStacks, CardRunners and Deuces Cracked. I really like the Deuces Cracked stuff. DS was good, too, b/c it was so interactive. Not sure why, but I didn't get into the PokerVT, but I've certainly heard good things about it. I am looking at John Kim (@NicolakPoker) and Joe Tehan's new site, too (StackEm Coaching) Looks really good. Terry and I have been working with an online guy here in town who is awesome - great at poker, but also just such a great guy. We love him, his name is Jeff Gray. Sheesh, I really hope all this is going to help.

    Terry - I think we just have to keep working at it, and that's never going to end. Fun to be able to work at with you, amiga. And, um, btw, you know how much I love poker, but I just gotta say that love/sex with the same person years on end can actually be a *really* good thing. Try it sometime!!! ;-) (Just playing, but I wanted to say it's interesting you bring that up. I was talking about relationships with another friend who's going through a rough patch and it made me think about how pretty much everything in life takes deliberate effort for it to be any good, particularly relationships. But as you know, it takes two, right? Sigh...)

    Last but not least, since we're on the subject of books, I really recommend Jared Tendler's book, The Mental Game of Poker.

    Really appreciate you guys reading ye olde blog.

  7. I was AlbusDumb on PS. Same handle and icon as twitter. Twitter came after PS for me as a way to track some of the PVT and 2+2 people. I played live for several years before playing online, but after I bought a house I started playing online. The most satisfying thing to me about online is that I never deposited money on PS. I started with their free $5 signup bonus about 3 years ago. By mid-2010 I could play in the Sunday Million on most Sundays without compromising my BR. I know there are a lot of kids half my age that never deposited money and made millions. That wasn't me by a longshot, but I feel like the DOJ pulled the rug out from under me just as I was making progress. Preaching to the choir, I know.

  8. I too enjoy the blog. I have now started reading Annie Dukes new book and like her presentation. I have basically given up on Tournament play right now to concentrate on my Live Game and try to get my bankroll to increase. It is a very long process for me since I live in an area where I don't have the games available when I can play them. I read and watch Live@thebike to try and get instruction on how to play live games. I too love the game. Keep up the great work.


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