Monday, August 29, 2011

The Leak

You know what’s funny about my last rant? I wrote it in a fury, as though I’m some kind of online poker pro who’s been stripped of the ability to make a living and now my family and I are starving. I'm so far from being a pro, it’s laughable.

I say that because if you look at my poker stats, I’m not a winning player.  In fact, before 2010, my typical online pokering consisted of me regularly depositing a recreational amount I could afford to lose and either re-depositing once I went broke or hitting a small score and playing off that until I went broke again. 

It's only been in the past year and a half that I was able to withdraw from an online site. The amount was never a lot, but I did it because that’s what I was learning to do from my study on bankroll management. Before learning about BR management, I’d go crazy replenishing the account. So while my game has improved, the truth is, I’ve spent more money on this game than I’ve earned.

I started playing online poker in 2004, and I played off and on through 2007. In 2009, I started playing a lot. Like, every night to the wee hours of the morning a lot. In 2010, I finally started seeing a profit. We’re talking a 6% profit at the micro level. That’s five years of being a losing recreational player.

That’s hard for me to admit. Because – five years. That’s a long time. In four years, people finish college. In three years, I completed law school. F-i-v-e l-o-n-g y-e-a-r-s.  

Dwelling on that realization is uncomfortable because it causes me to face a fear I struggle with a lot - the fear that I'm not a good player.

When people find out I like to play poker, they often ask about the game. I generally respond with, “it’s an easy game to play but a hard game to master and I love it.” When I think about it, the adage tells them nothing about the game unless they play and experience the truth of it for themselves. My 5 years of playing without profit is evidence of that.

During those years, I didn’t watch videos. I didn’t read books. I didn’t scour poker forums. I didn’t follow pros on Twitter. Instead, I played when I felt like it. Often while watching TV. It was fun - a way to pass some down time in the evening and compete.

In late 2009, that changed. I suppose there are plenty who might read this and think, “wth? What took you so long?!” I agree, but for better or worse, it’s my history with this game and I can’t change it. 

Once I realized there were tools and I started using them, I started seeing improvement. And that changed everything.

After Saturday night, though, I realize I’ve just not come as far as I thought.

If I could define the leak in my game in one word, it would have to be: discipline (or lack thereof). I wanted to write something funny, catchy, but the truth is that my lack of discipline is pitiful. If I can’t tame myself, I really need to just admit I'm a recreational player and either stop playing altogether or accept my faults and play the game armed with that self-knowledge.

Here’s how Saturday night went down:

I hadn’t played with my boys in three months. I hadn’t played poker in nearly two months (save one $35 freeze out tourney with the girls at @txcardslingers place). I showed up, got and gave my hellos and welcome hugs, and sat down to play with my $200 buy-in. And for two hours, I folded every hand but two. At the end of two hours, I had a ~$45 profit.

Then, I went on a bit of a run. With 5s and position, I got Qs to fold a large pot. After another hour or two, I was sitting in front of a $575 stack and it was about that time that two of my favorites, having a poor night, got up to leave. Instead of leaving, I started playing around on Twitter and had a shot with a new face at the table, in honor of the birthday boy on my left.

I was laughing and talking more, and began calling behind in family pots where before I'd fold. Gradually, my stack was shrinking.

By 3:00 a.m., we're down to two tables and one of the guys from the other room, whom I just don't like, sat immediately to my right. He played a few hands and then moved three seats to my left. The birthday boy and shooter were on their fifth shot and I was laughing with them. I wasn't drinking, but I was still calling behind and playing hands I knew I shouldn’t play.

After a few more orbits, I found myself sitting in front of a $375 stack and I was fuming. It wasn't the was the self-loathing rising up, I’d stayed too long and I knew it.

I look around and we're 7-handed. There were no more familiar faces, save the prick three seats to my left. I don't tangle with him in pots, but I wrestle with him internally because his very being…well, it gets under my skin. The hands he plays and wins with, the comments he makes after taking down a pot, the way he talks when he’s NOT in a hand: calling for a K when two other players are heads up (KJo v JJs) and saying, “this is the winning hand!” before the cards are dealt and, sure enough, the K flops. He tilts me (more specifically, I tilt myself thinking on it because he’s just being himself and playing his game).

Before you know it, I'm chasing a flush draw on the flop and losing it all to Ks. And I'm going home at 5 o’clock in the morning, empty handed, four hours after the time I should’ve stood up and gone home, with a profit.


I was so mad at myself I could hardly speak. I was so mad at myself I was shaking. I was so mad myself I nearly threw my phone through the back windshield of my car walking up to it. I was so mad at myself I probably damaged my transmission when I started the car, put my foot on the brake, and pulled the lever back and forth and back and forth and back and forth from park to drive three times as hard as I could. I was so mad at myself.

I know better. But if I can’t take knowledge and translate it into disciplined action, I will never be a winning player.

That’s the sad truth about the state of my game and my ability. And that’s why my rant from this weekend is funny…in the bitter, “ha, ha, oh I get it! The joke’s on me!” kind of way.

So funny, I can’t stop laughing…because if I do, I’ll cry.

EDIT 9/6 - Might find some things in this post to help with discipline/leakage: DISCIPLINE IS HARD….



  1. Mastery is a process and improvement is not linear. Do what you enjoy and given that you are intelligent you will inevitably improve a lot over time.

    I think you are focused too much on results and not process.

    Another way to look at it is, if I decide to sit down with some of the best players in the world and then lose money is it reasonable to conclude that I am not a good player? If I win in this short sample size does that make me a great player?

    Breaking things down to small chunks and seeking improvement in that fashion will lead to better results in the long run I think, although I can not prove that. As an aside I do know that when eating became contingent on improvement, I got a lot better pretty quickly.

  2. Just a question. Why did you not get up and leave when you were up at $575? Were you really enjoying yourself because of not having played for quite a while, and you just couldn't pull away? I've done that many times.

    I think you were doing great, seeing that you hadn't played but one small trny in 3 months...and I know for a fact that when you were playing day in and day out, you were getting the tilt and aggression under control. You were becoming a positive roi machine in the works...

    What if you were a professional golfer, and hadn't picked up the golf clubs but once in 3 months? Do ya think you might be a little rusty??? How can you expect to pick up where you left off, and see the same results...

    Muscles get weak with no use, and right now your poker brain muscle is weak. Don't beat yourself up, you can strengthen it again.

    So once again we come to the question, where are we gonna play?

  3. I had to laugh at the image of you maniacally throwing your car's gearshift from park to drive over and over! I've been there...any dedicated poker player has been there. I say this not to dismiss it but to assure you that if you weren't a serious poker competitor you wouldn't have done that. And that means that you are focused and will realize your leak and probably plug it the next time you play! (well written by the way!)

  4. Thank you again for a candid post! I find your honesty very refreshing. I've had the same experience of playing for years, and can't seem to get out of the micro-stakes. Hearing from you made me feel better. I also like reading Mike Caro on this topic, try this one:

    About the guy you don't like: I've been there, it happens to everyone. Someone gets under your skin and you want to kick the s*** out of them...for a good reason or for no reason. But don't let that make you play differently. I think simply being aware of the problem will allow you to fix it. Just decide once you notice your feelings that you'll play against him the way you would against anyone.

    Keep up the good poker and the good blogging!

  5. Can certainly see connections between the frustrations expressed in the previous post & the way the game went that night. I suppose a side effect of the online games going away -- besides dulling our edge, generally speaking -- is that the number of chances to play have gone down suddenly, thus making each time we do play seem more momentous. Thus (perhaps) more pressure, more meaning attached to the sessions, etc.

    Thanks for the posts!

  6. Jared Tendler's new book comes to mind.....

  7. Got a big smile on my face reading this, as it makes me feel sooooo much better about doing the same damn thing! If I had a nickel for every time I ended up busting out, wishing I'd left three hours earlier, when I had been doubled up and in a great mood, I'd have... well, I'd have probably already lost all those nickels, too, because I CAN'T SEEM TO GET UP FROM THE TABLE!

    Hang in there, girl. We all do it, and then we all tell ourselves we'll never do it again, and then we all forget and do it again.

  8. what a great post, powerful, candid and well written, thank you! I share both your pain; there's nothing worse than making an avoidable mistake, especially one you've made before, and your leak.

    If you caught yourself fuming at the $375 point, that was the right time to get up. Tough to make yourself do it though when you feel your strong vs the table and the ahole pouring salt in the wound. Stay when your playing well and leave when you've lost control.

    Best of luck going forward,


  9. Laoch, those are great points and I appreciate you bringing them up. One definite weakness I have is being results oriented. Being able to play infrequently these days certainly adds to that. I think I'll be well-served to remember your comments and I particularly liked "...when eating became contingent on improving, I got a lot better pretty quickly." Ha!

    Terry - I didn't get up and leave because I was having fun, I was winning, and I love playing (I know you understand this). Thanks for reminding me that when I was playing I was getting better. I think that's what makes it so frustrating, and I know we've talked about this - the feeling that we both were on the cusp of making some good breakthroughs in our games. I really believe we were (and still are, dammit). That's why I hope we'll keep playing and doing our HH review. You make the game and I will be there.

    CriticalMass, I know, right? I sound like an insane loon! It's really what I did, though. I looked at my steering column yesterday and realized I was pulling it back and forth from park to the L position (as opposed to D), whatever L stands for. =)

    Eric, I appreciate you reading it and commenting! I agree there's comfort in knowing we're not alone in our poker suffering. Thank you for the link to Mike Caro.

    Martin, I did a little office desk dance seeing your comment. Thanks for reading the blog! You're right, not being able to play as often does make each opportunity more drama filled. I want to try to remember the game is long-term and never ending. Tommy Angelo does a great job getting that point across. Wish I did a better job accepting it!

    Karri - Jared Tendler's book is awesome. Thanks for the reminder.

    (aside - how sad is it that I've read all these books and still act a fool re: poker???)

    MYOP! I miss you, chica! Glad to see you're still around and thanks for commiserating with me here =)

    Manik, thanks for reading and commenting. Yeah, I wish I'd been able to get up at the $375 mark. These lessons really need to start sinking in.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...