Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Turn the Camera

I'm on the plane from Vegas. The ride in was hell. I wouldn't say I'm a white knuckle flyer, but even a little turbulence gets me antsy. So far, the ride home is smooth.

I have to admit, this was the first Vegas trip I embarked on that I wasn't fully gung-ho to start. I was missing my family before I'd even left. While I always miss them when we're apart, this time the ache was deeper and, honestly, it was such that I didn't want to go. A friend said, "Oh, that just means you're going to win big!" I hoped she was on to something and, since the tickets were already purchased and everything already planned, I carried on. I did finally admit to @txcardslinger how I was feeling, but not until we'd already taken off. Strangely enough, she said she'd been feeling the same way! And with that mindset we set out on our poker adventure.

Our mutual malaise about this trip got me thinking...neither of us have played much poker since Black Friday so we came in pretty rusty. Like so many recreational online poker junkies (fish?), we went from splashing around online with regularity (a generalization, really, because we were quite serious in our scheduling, tracking, studying, and endless discussing of teh online pokers), to twiddling our thumbs and jonesing for something to fill the void. To be honest, that scene of Ballz in The Micros bashing her head on her desk hits a little too close to home for the both of us.

Where there was once a time that we spent hours going over hands and spots, losses or scores, now there is just the aching void left from a daily habit that cannot be filled absent high-tech shenanigans. And what's the point of that? I'm no Tom Dwan. Why try to back door a way online if I'm only going to be playing regulars and pros anyway, you know? Seems really -ev to me, but...what do I know.

And I mean really...what do I know? The reality is that I missed the online poker boom of the Chris Moneymaker era. At dinner one night during this recent Vegas trip, I had the opportunity to visit with some people who did not miss out on that wave, but who also helped me see that, really, I have.

Poker isn't "over" by any stretch of the imagination and I agree with @PokerScar that Black Friday has served the industry with a much needed reset button, from which (over the next 3-5 years) a whole new landscape will emerge. But, if 3-5 years turns out to be how long it ultimately takes before the industry reboots, well, that "reset" has stolen years of really valuable training time from me that's very hard to offset with sporadic home games and tournament treks to Vegas (or Oklahoma or Louisiana, both of which are closer, but still require travel).

And let's face it, all those trips mean time away from home, away from my daughter and the belle. It's one thing to be doing that and be a Jason Mercier or a Vanessa Selbst. It's an altogether different picture when you're a middle-aged mom/partner with an actual job and responsibilities trying to do the same. Feels kind of grim, addictive-y, degenish. And, yes, quite pie-in-the-sky. But, hey, I'll own that...because sometimes I am grim, addictive-y, degenish. And I do love me some pie.

Thinking on these things on the ride home, I pull out the January 2012 Bluff magazine that I picked up in the airport and begin to read. Three articles really stood out.

One is a contemplative piece from Jennifer Tilly.  Assessing her poker playing, she was reminded of some advice she gave a friend going through a bad relationship: 
"...if you are unhappy more than 50% of the time you should consider [getting a divorce]." Lately for Tilly, it seems she's finding poker like that bad relationship. "Right now poker only makes me happy 30% of the time. So...maybe I should get out?"
In the same issue, her partner Phil Laak shares another viewpoint.  In eschewing "the man" (ie, poker "turnys"), Laak has found revitalized joy in his cash game pursuits.

But even while sharing this newfound zeal for "cash games galore," Laak describes what I think is at the crux of things for the vast majority of those of us toiling in poker tourney grindage (and it's subsequent obscurity): 
Binking a turny or two ruins you for life....What happens is that you get trapped by the memories of how sweet it was. That moment where you were the last man standing and made the maximum cheese. These memories overwhelm me and I break down time after time. I walk up to the cage, buy my ticket, and wonder why I am wasting my time.
Can you relate?

Sure you can. Every poker player I know can recount, sometimes hand for hand, the final table war he or she endured to take down the top spot. And as Laak points out, the memory of that glory is what keeps you going, buy in after buy in, bust out after bust out, time and time again.

Doesn't matter whether it was a $65 Nugget event or the home game in your neighbor's garage or the World Series Main event. That feeling of poker victory after hours (or days) of grinding is the holy grail for each of us. It's not about the money. It's about the blood and the guts and the sweat and the tears of the slog. At the end of it all, you just want to win.

Says Laak, 
So why is it I torture myself? Because kids, I am also a sick man. I am a sadist, I am a masochist and I am all that lies in between. I play the next turny in the hopes that it will be the next big kill, the one where everything will just fall into place and I will dominate...I will win it.
I can relate. It's exactly why I play. Isn't it the same for you?

The third interesting piece is by Alec Torelli. Why this one stuck with me is because of a comment Jen Newell (@WriterJen) shared with me when I was whining about my lack of success one morning over breakfast.

It has to do with Stacey Nutini (@lasvegaspokers).  If you're not following Stacey, go do it now and then go read her blog post about "nice guys (not) finishing last" and you'll get a sense of who she is and why Jen's comment is so spot on (and also why it all also relates to Torelli's Bluff article).

Stacey is "living the dream," which is to say she is attacking poker like she's a first year associate for Wachtell or an investment banker on Wall Street or a first year medical resident. Forget any negative connotations about the professions I'm using here; my point is, Stacey is busting her ass. Poker is not just her j.o.b., it's her profession. And she is doing everything in her power to become the best of the best, working just as hard - if not harder - than those white shoe traders, lawyers, doctors, and banker types (and those people work 24/7).

In her arsenal are sound bankroll management, game selection, continual poker education ("CPE"? Lawyers call it CLE), a monster work ethic, discipline, passion, and attitude. And to be the best, you've got to have all those things.

The reason I bring up Stacey is because Jen reminded me, in the face of my whinage, about Stacey's efforts and how she grinds these tourneys.  And if she busts, she grinds cash, but mainly - she stays positive. It's hard, but she does.

From experience, I know she does - Exhibit "A", she busted a circuit event this past weekend and was able to come out and share a drink and some laughs and engage in conversation without body chopping any of us or sharing even one single bad beat story. Girl's got her head on straight and it's an admirable trait.

I'm glad Jen reminded me of that when I took to whining. Whining's easy. Moving on (next!) is where it's at.

And that brings me back to Torelli's Bluff article. In it, he discusses decision making and opines that making money isn't the only choice we should be considering when we go about our pokering.

While taking a picture for some tourists on holiday in Vegas, Torelli had an a-ha moment, 
"Turn the camera," I repeated to myself. Brilliant. In taking a holiday photo, I realized my problem. I'm looking at the picture from the wrong point of view. What I should be considering when I make my decision isn't money, but happiness.
Such a simple switch in perspective, but one that can really mean all the difference...not just in your game, but also in your life.

Reading these pieces on the tail end of a short, and tough, poker trip helped me have my own a-ha moment. The bottom line is that playing poker makes me happy. I don't enjoy losing or the fact that luck (and/or one poor decision) can derail hours of solid play. But, that is the reality of tournament poker.

I may never bink the WSOP Main Event, but here's the thing - every tourney I get the opportunity to play *is* my Main Event. And moneying in any one of them is gravy on this bonanza I get to call my life. 

Maybe my circumstances right now are such that I am just a serious recreational player.  An on-going student of the game. More than a hobbyist, but not quite a professional.

And that's ok.

This trip has helped me see that my perspective on this whole endeavor is entirely up to me. Every chance I get to play, and spend time with people I've met as a result of my passion, is a bonus for which I'm thankful.

"Turn the camera." Brilliant, indeed.


  1. bravo, bravo, bravo.... you knocked another one out if the park. Great job. Love your bloggs

  2. so much of this resonates with my experience, thanks for sharing

  3. You kept me going this trip...When I was ready to shut it down each day, you pushed me. I needed the push, and because of it, I'm happy with my results. Thanks PL...


  4. Great blog.....hit the nail on the head! Thanks.

  5. Well, you did have some really nice new comfortable shoes for this trip and I'm sure that being comfortable couldn't help but make you play better, right? Love you xoxo

  6. It's interesting that you mention the time commitment that it takes to be a professional in our chosen profession. The folks that I know who are true poker professionals have that dedication to the game of poker as well. I think I'll always be a recreational poker player, although on the very serious end of the recreational spectrum. There are still plenty of opportunities for joy in the game of poker, and I hope that you were able to find some on your most recent trip. I know that I definitely shared some with you!

  7. @GIJoe - you're a sweetheart. Thanks, amigo.

    @bobbygarf - thanks for reading! I'm glad you took something from it.

    @Terry - think we kind of buoyed each other equally, my friend. I love our Vegas trips fo sho.

    @Carolyn - thanks for checking it out!

    @Mom - yes, I think those shoes did the trick for sure. =) xoxoxo

    @BWoP - what a lovely way to put things. Can't wait to see you next trip, my friend!

    @Anon - I spell it tourney, Laak wants a new spelling - "turny". Comme ci, comme ca.

  8. Great blog and right on the mark. Getting to play each day and now being able to deal the game has been fun. Sometimes I get to feeling like it is a job but then again I am playing a game. Not everyone gets to do that. Keep up the great thoughts.

  9. Those buses still run from San Diego to Vegas but they are not free.Great blog rihgt on the mark.hit nail on the head. thanks


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