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dtools22

Debating Desires

Being a professional for over 2 years has definitely changed my perspective on some things.

Wow, has it really been four months since I’ve done one of these? I swear that the layoff didn’t feel anywhere near that extensive. During my apparently lengthy time away from my keyboard I’ve done a great deal of reflecting on my own ambitions. My attitude regarding the poker industry has changed since I first started this journey 27 months ago. Simply put this is not what I thought it would be. I had the naïve ideas about this game that run rampant in the minds of casual dreamers who see poker in ESPN and think that’s their ticket to greatness. This game is more complex, more difficult, more tiring, and more emotionally challenging than I ever thought possible, to say nothing of the fact that progress can come painfully slowly when it comes at all. All this noise has lead me to an interesting point of self-observation and awareness. My trek has made me wonder what specifically it is that I’m after. What exactly do I want out of this industry?

Ask any casual poker player what his or her goals are and that person will likely rattle off some commonly held benchmarks. Win a bunch of money, play in a big tournament on TV, travel the circuit and become famous, these are all worthy pursuits yet the best method of execution to attain these standards is incredibly vague. Should you just start playing tournaments at your local casino? Well you can, but there’s a decent chance you’ll never have any real success because of poor structures and too few tournaments available to play in to counteract the variance of the game. Do you just jump in and travel the circuit after you’ve built up a bunch of spare cash from your job? Tournaments get expensive very quickly, particularly when it’s going to cost you a couple thousand just in hotel, food, and travel expenses to be around for a tournament series. Plus it’s going to take you quite a while to build up the kind of money you’d need working almost any regular job. So should you just forget the whole idea? I’ll never be the one to suggest that, but I think it’s important to understand the limitations of setting goals for yourself in poker before you try and take the plunge on any level.

The reality of this industry is that goals aren’t achieved in a set fashion. You can’t just say something like, “I want to make X amount of money by the end of the month.” Poker doesn’t happen in a set pattern, it’s a game with profound stretches of statistical noise. Live poker in particular is like this because you get to play such a dramatically smaller number of hands than is possible online. People who want this to be their job start treating it like it’s any other industry. They start thinking about how much money they will make and then start planning outwardly from there, just like you would with any other job. The difference is when you’re working a traditional career, you know how much money you are going to make. The terms of your pay are agreed upon prior to you taking the job so you can plan your life around your salary or hourly rate. You know how much money you’ll be pulling in on a week to week basis and you can build your life around that number. Poker happens in the exact opposite order. There are no guarantees about what you’ll make. The planning has to start with how much money you’re going to need on a monthly basis and putting yourself in a game where you have a chance to earn what you need and more so you can eventually “give yourself a raise” by moving up in stakes. There is not set amount of time that any one task is going to take.

Poker goals can be achieved in a logical fashion, the problem is that it’s a form of logic we aren’t as familiar with. Your ability to achieve anything in the poker world is most reliant on your bankroll. If you don’t have the proper budget then no amount of skill is going to get you to where you need to be. You need to have enough money to give your skills an opportunity to grow and to allow your situation to be governed by those skills rather than just a good run of cards. Poker goals operate under the same kind of logic as basic computer programing. When your bankroll is at a certain level, you need to be playing in games that correspond to it. When your bankroll grows to a point where you can move up in stakes, then you should. It’s like a basic “if…then…” statement in computer programing. If my bankroll is only big enough for 1/2NL then that’s what I’ll play. If my bankroll gets big enough to play 2/5NL then I’ll move up. The amount of time it takes to get from one goal to the next has no bearing on the equation. However long it takes someone to play themselves up in stakes, the goals themselves don’t change.

This little analogy brings me to an interesting crossroads. Taking my logic one step further, what are the variables I want to focus on for my “ifs” and my “thens?” When I started my career I had the casual player’s mentality when it came to goals for this business. Now that my innocence has been stripped from me (which I think is definitively for the best) what comes in to replace the void? What is it that I want to do? I don’t have as long term of a plan as I once did. I more just have a list of things that I enjoy doing. I enjoy playing poker, even though right now it’s for low dollar amounts that aren’t going to put me on the cover of any magazine. I enjoy writing. This blog is fun for me to do and I’d like to be able to continue along with it even though it isn’t leading anywhere in particular. I love my schedule. I like being able to go to the gym 4 days a week, I like being able to fly out to California and stay with my friends up in the bay area as well as my friends down around LA. I feel like I get more value out of my time now than I ever have at any other point in my life, whether we’re talking about high school, college, or my brief stint as a traditional working man. What I’ve gotten out of these first few years is more than just money (which is a good thing because I’m not exactly breaking the bank with my hourly win rates from the past two years). I don’t really have any idea what I’m doing long term, and to be frank I just couldn’t give a damn less. No one’s life is perfect, and certainly mine is far from ideal, but happiness and peace of mind are hard to come by in this world. I’ve got some, and that’s enough for now.

dtools22

Shut Up and Give Thanks

I think the title is fairly self-explanatory this week.

It’s that time of year again. It’s the time for the holiday season to officially begin. It’s time for us to be inundated by calls and conversations from close friends and family. It’s time for us to start going mad with plots to achieve the most picturesque displays of holiday delight. During this particular season it’s easy to get lost in the craziness of establishing ideal days of cheer that will imbue the perfect memory in the minds of all those in attendance. I’m not going to type up some cliché riddled excuse for a season’s greeting. I’m not interested in forcing anyone to subscribe to my own ideas about what the holidays should mean. What I’d like to do is share just a bit of comfort that I’ve found over the past two years of chasing after some wacky dreams.

I’m going to keep this short and to the point. No one, not a soul on this planet is completely satisfied with their lives. I’ve mentioned before how easy I feel it can be to remind ourselves off all the greatness we lack without ever really acknowledging the triumphs we’ve earned. This season is fantastic for me, because I can just unwind. There will be no stress, no worries about creating the perfect images in anyone’s head. I’m going to sit around, watch my high school’s Thanksgiving Day game, eat lots of food, drink, and enjoy the company of anyone who wants to stop by the house in a pleasant mood. If you’re going to try and rain on my parade, even for only a moment, I will just show your ass the door.

I promised pith so here’s the punch line. Wherever you are this holiday season, whoever you’re going to spend it with, just take some time to enjoy what’s around you for what it’s worth. Nothing lasts forever, good or bad, and it’s good to just slow things down and enjoy what you’ve got.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/dtools22

Email: steve@brokenwallfilms.com

dtools22

Less Than Perfect

Kissing your own ass in moderation can be an exceptionally healthy thing.

I was reading an article by Mike Caro in Poker Player Newspaper a few months ago. Mr. Caro writes a regular column for this publication in which he asks himself a series of questions regarding a particular “word of the day.” Each word chosen is intended to be thought provoking regarding different topics in the poker world. While his writings deal mainly with poker centric themes and philosophies, he does extrapolate some of his ideas out into more commonplace situations. One such column that caught my eye was dealing with making a mistake at the table. Caro talked about how once one mistake is made, it’s natural for us to write off the entire session as imperfect because of that one miscalculation. The analogy he used was that we are very protective of our new pieces of property. Cars, computers, cell phones and so on are all coveted possessions for various reasons and we take painstaking care of them when we first begin to integrate these new tools in our lives. Once those new items become damaged with some form of imperfection, we loosen our protective hold. We allow the world to have at it and do its worst to our once beloved treasures. Since there is already one imperfection on this widget, we feel far less compelled to prevent the second one. When something is less than perfect, we as human beings tend to regard it with far less enthusiasm.

Our society has fostered this notion that things can be easily replaced. Once broken, tarnished, or warn out from overuse, we can simply buy the next iteration of that device. We are constantly striving to make things better than they were before. That push for excellence is fantastic in moderation, but there are some areas of our lives where ultimate perfection doesn’t come from the changing out of individual parts. Replacing material possessions is one thing, but what happens when the item that is “less than perfect” isn’t a simple product to be bought or sold? What if instead of being fixated on material goods, we turn the pursuit of perfection onto ourselves and our daily lives.

I will never suggest to anyone not to continuously strive to get better. Whatever you’re doing, whatever you are passionate about there is no flaw in the desire to get better at it. I’m a huge proponent of personal responsibility. If you want to be great at something then go do it. Work at it. Come up goals to reach and paths to tread to get what you desire. That drive does have a downside. That same push to achieve great things can blind you to what you already have. When you’re constantly looking at the horizon, constantly pushing yourself to reach the next goal it’s very easy to simply forget about what you’ve already achieved. This happens to everybody and working in the poker industry is no different. This is the ultimate what have you done for me lately kind of business. You can be on fire, put together a stretch of fantastic sessions, and then have everything go up in smoke all in the matter of a few hands. It messes with your sanity to have put in two great months of work only to hit a bad one week stretch where all that progress you made goes up in smoke. It’s very easy when your plans don’t work to let your goals fade away into obscurity. They have been tainted by your failures, and now even if you succeed it will be far from a perfect transition. That same lack of perfection that makes you less protective of your iPad can also push you towards letting go of what once drove you. You swung and missed, so now it’s just time to move on.

My own sanity has benefited greatly from the occasional masturbatory day where I kick back and marvel at my good traits for a little while. I highly recommend it. Take a day, any day off you’d like and just regale yourself with tale of your triumphs. Sit in fantastic wonder over the positive attributes you have. Don’t skimp on the ego here either. This should be about how you’re the greatest example of these positive traits the world has ever seen. Kiss up to yourself for a little while. I find it makes it easier to then go back to that pursuit of almost perfection.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/dtools22

I got a few comments from people over the past few weeks asking for my email so I’m going to start putting that in the signature rather than my Facebook page.

Email: steve@brokenwallfilms.com

dtools22

Sometimes, even the most well intentioned guidance can lead to crippling indecision.

About a year and a half ago I met one of the regulars in the Foxwoods poker room. He took note of my own regular attendance at the tables and he started asking me questions. After some back and forth discourse he took the stance that I was wasting my time and potential sitting in the poker room all the time and that I should go out and get a real job. His tone was never harsh or malicious. He never came down on me with cruelty nor did he pick on me after I took a bad beat or two at the table. This gentleman just thought he was witnessing a train wreck in progress and he wanted to do his part to help. He wasn’t by any means a hater. The impression I got was that he felt what I was trying to do was way more of headache than it was worth. The conversation always seemed to get back to the fact that I was someone he found to be very capable and he couldn’t understand why I would want to struggle the way I was playing cards for a living when I could make a killing somewhere less stressful. People like this are not uncommon in my day to day life. I’ve had regular grinders, casino employees, friends, family, and anyone else you could think of come up to me and try to “talk me down off the ledge” before it was too late. Everybody, no matter what your life path is, has to deal with the questions from those who don’t see things the way we do.

Whether you’re starting your own business or trying to seek out fame and fortune as an A-list entertainer you are going to deal with people questioning your decisions. As soon as you veer off the familiar path, your audience starts to react as though you are the main character in a horror movie and you’re about to walk into the serial killer’s hideout. The cliché is that these people are just haters who don’t want you to succeed because then it makes their own lives seem insignificant. There certainly are people out in the world like that, but they are simple enough to just dismiss out of hand. The group that is harder to account for is the one that reacts not with hate, but with doubt. Someone telling you that you can’t do something can be remarkably motivating. It’s much harder when the people you talk to respond with not with vitriol, but with fear. These people don’t doubt your skills. They fixate on the negative outcomes and they never cease to remind you about them. “What happens if that doesn’t work” will be a question you hear over and over in one form or another from people simply trying to better understand you. You can’t just tune them out. If you do you’ll become a recluse and have no one to confide in the moments when you aren’t as stalwart. My own experience with the gentleman I reference before lead to him asking me one question in particular that stuck with me, “How do you like your life as a professional gambler?”

I wasn’t even on a first name basis with this gentleman when he dropped that particular mortar onto me. It’s tough to be happy when you’re building something from the ground up. All your friends are enjoying the fruits of their labors. They have basic benefit plans, nice apartments, newer video game systems, nicer TVs and computers, nicer cars, and hours upon hours more free time than you do. When you try to build something significant of yourself you’re going to work longer hours and receive way fewer results when you’re just starting out. You won’t have as much time to go out to eat, go on vacations, or start a new gaming campaign with your buddies. You have to find your happiness from places that are less recreational. You can’t be shortsighted and put your own happiness squarely on your immediate success. You’ll drive yourself into clinical depression in no time. You need to constantly have a forward vision. You need to look beyond the immediate and off to the horizon where you can loosen your financial and recreational belts. When someone asks, “How happy are you with…” you need to be ready to face your incomplete present while exuding confidence to that person, more for your own benefit than his or hers. If you can’t convince yourself of a brighter future in the face of doubts, then it’s time to reconsider your course of action.

Questioning your decisions isn’t a bad thing. The trick is not to let your questions stop you from moving forward. People are going to come up to you and challenge your convictions. You should be able to answer those questions honestly and fully. You don’t need to convince the doubters, you need to prove to yourself that the doubters aren’t right.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/dtools22

dtools22

The Tale of Two Trips Part 2

It’s very tough trying to live up to the hype.

I’ve referenced this before, poker players are never happy about their casino experience. Go into any poker room in the country. Sit down at whatever table you feel comfortable at and just listen to the table talk. If you play for any longer than thirty minutes then conversation will shift from whatever people were talking about to all of the “much better” poker rooms that are in the area compared to the “dump” you all happen to be sitting in. Foxwoods is notorious for this type of conversation. I’ve heard time and time again from the player pool that Foxwoods is the “hardest room in the country to make money in.” The regulars then share their fantastic list of poker rooms that put it to shame. For six years, two playing seriously and another four playing while in college, I’ve heard about big poker rooms in Las Vegas, Southern California, the bay area in California, and Atlantic City just to name a few. Over this past year I’ve started seriously looking around at some of these other locations to see for myself if they are as superb as the grinders in Connecticut suggest. One such local was the Borgata Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City.

Let me state up front that the poker room at the Borgata is very nice. It’s very spacious and the tables are laid out in such a way that you can clearly see most if not all of the active games. If you are of the sexual orientation that finds the female figure attractive then you will absolutely LOVE the wait staff. The drinks are complimentary and full sized. For example when you order a bottled beer, you are actually presented with the actual bottle rather than a small cup. When the room was being built, it’s clear that the comfort level of the players in the casino was a very high priority. Unfortunately I believe it’s the phenomenal esthetics that helped create some massive overstatements about the quality of the room. As a place to stop in while you’re seeing the sights in Atlantic City, I would absolutely say go check out the Borgata poker room. However when the conversation shifts to spending forty or more hours a week playing at the tables it takes more than attractive waitresses and full sized drinks to build a career around.

There are a few things I’m looking for when trying to find a poker room to spend significant time at. How many tables are running? How many different people play there? How easy is it to get to? How expensive is it to eat there? What do they give away for comps? I need to plan around certain things when I’m going to a poker room as often as I do. The room has to be friendly to my bottom line or else I can’t be spending my time there. The Borgata does pretty well across the board. It’s just not the second coming of the golden age of poker that people made it out to be.

Table Selection: While there I saw 8-12 1/2NL tables running, each with the $60 minimum buy in and $300 cap I was familiar with. On Friday night the room was definitely more packed with players than the earlier weeknights, but it wasn’t packed to the gills by any stretch. Coupled with the 2/5NL games it seemed like the Borgata and Foxwoods were very comparable in terms of game selection, which is impressive considering the Borgata has three other casinos within a ten minute walk from their door while Foxwoods is surrounded by nothing but foliage. The bigger games seemed more numerous at the Borgata. There were three or more 5/10NL tables running most of the time while I was there, plus a 2/5NL deep stack table got going a few times ($500 minimum, $2500 cap), and there was more PLO going of all stakes than I was used to seeing. All in all, the Borgata’s got plenty of games running regularly to frequent.

Player Pool: Both the quality of the players in the games as well as how many fresh face you see factor into whether or not a poker room is a good room or not. There were a handful of regular players that I bumped into during the six days I was playing in the Borgata poker room, which you’re going to see anywhere you play. For the most part each table I played at was mainly new faces, and I didn’t see too many regulars at the other tables when I got up to look for other games to play in. As far as skill level, I will go to my grave preaching the notion that no one is any good if they are playing in the small stakes games, and yes I do lump my own humble ass into that pile. I don’t think the players were drastically more active than other smaller stakes games I’ve played in, but I couldn’t really say for sure given that I was only there for about a week. I am confident however that you aren’t going to be running into too many “superstars” in these games.

Traveling: I drove with a buddy from Rhode Island to Atlantic City. It’s a simple drive with one major sticking point. There are a ton of tolls. Round trip the two of us paid upwards of $45 in toll fees. Add that in with needing to pay for a couple of tanks of gas and the four to five hours it will take depending on traffic and it’s not the cheapest road trip. If you’re planning on heading to Atlantic City, I would consider either flying in or bringing a group of three or more friends to help split the cost up better. Also, parking at the Borgata costs $5, and there was no way I discovered while there to avoid paying that fee. As a daily grinder, you’re talking about another $25-$35 you need to spend getting to and from.

Food: I spent about $12 on every meal while at the Borgata. You could do it cheaper if you wanted, but you’ll be eating nothing but pizza the entire time you’re there. I did get comp points from the Borgata to pay for food, just as I do at Foxwoods. The catch is that at all the casual dining options required two points for every dollar you spent, and you only get around one and a half points per hour. It takes about two days of grinding to get enough points for one meal. The nicer restaurants I believe are one point for every dollar spent, but the meals are also more expensive. Compare that to Foxwoods where you’ll get 1.5 points per hour, there are more casual dining options, and all the points are one for every dollar spent. That is a huge detractor from the luster of the Borgata for me.

Free Stuff: The Borgata lived up to every bit of its hype in one capacity. They give away hotel stays very liberally. My friend and I stayed in a different hotel and commuted to the poker room for the first four days of our stay in Atlantic City. We played 30-35 hours over those four days and before we packed up and left my buddy wanted to try and get a room for Thursday and Friday night. All we did was play poker. Neither of us played table games of any kind. My buddy called the hotel and got not only Thursday, but Friday night for free. I never even factored into the equation. Free rooms are getting harder to come by at Foxwoods, and free weekends for poker players are unheard of, so this was a very welcome surprise to get a Friday night room at the Borgata.

Odds and Ends: The chips are difficult to handle. If you’ve ever played poker in California then you’ll be familiar with the chip texture. They are very smooth and a little heavier than they look so grabbing bet amounts out of your stack is a bit more of a challenge than I would like it to be. The cashiers at the poker room cage can’t sell you chips unless they fit in the rack. So for example, say you wanted to buy white chips. You would have to buy $20 worth of white chips so the people in the cage can just put the chips in a rack and hand them to you. They can’t sell you $15 worth of whites because that isn’t an amount that fits exactly into a row in a rack. The poker room was very easy to find and has a pretty cool location. It’s right next to the cafeteria and is right down the hall from a few of the night clubs and nicer restaurants so foot traffic can easily find its way into a poker game.

All in all, the Borgata is a cool place to play poker. If you get a chance to spend a few days there I would highly recommend it. If you are thinking about moving to the area based on the hype you’ve heard about how awesome the room is for regular players, I would suggest getting a firsthand look at the place before you make that kind of commitment. It’s a nice place to play, but I’m not chomping at the bit to head back.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/dtools22

dtools22

Negative Reinforcement

It’s just as important to discover what types of people you don’t want to be as it is to find role models to emulate.

I’ll talk more about the Borgata another time. Right now there is a hair across my ass and I’d rather spend this time acknowledging it.

Inspiration is everywhere. We live in an age where we have access to information wherever we go. Almost all of us have smart phones, tablets, laptops, and other mobile devices to help us research any topic that might tickle our fancy in that particular moment. We also have the ability to share the bits and pieces of information we really enjoy to others using any one of the several social media platforms available to us. This is an age where it is easier to find people who inspire us than it has ever been before. We can seek out men and women whose work strikes us as grand or admirable, and do our best to showcase that work in an effort to support their causes. We can follow alongside our heroes more intimately than ever before, and we can also see the negatives just a brightly. Our modern world allows us to see not only the good in greater detail, but also prevents us from evading the ugliness of humanity. This too can be inspiring and can enlighten us to see not only those who we wish to become, but also enable us to avoid following those who are of a lesser substance than we seek to be.

In poker this is pretty easy to spot. There are a number of players who have achieved notoriety in this industry that is more infamy than it is fame. I’m not looking to name names here so people can decide for themselves who the “rotten apples” are in the poker community’s orchard. I’m talking about more general problems that surround us. Whether you label yourself as a Professional or not, being a poker player carries a bit of a stigma with it. You are either playing in casinos where, “nothing good will ever happen” or your finding “underground games” where the small possibility of foul play gets hyper exaggerated to turn a friendly game of cards with your friends into an event a kin to a meeting of drug kingpins in the social eye. For better or worse, the public at large knows very little about the poker industry and fills in the blanks with some overtly grotesque overstatements of the game and the people associated with it.

What drives me nuts is when people who seek out serious reputations in this industry live up to those stereotypes. The same people who want us as the lower stakes grinders and more casual players to look at them with reverence use the airtime and publicity they do get to talk about their last baller vacation. It’s those same people that then forget the public eye is on them now, albeit not terribly brightly, and go on making poor personal decisions that reflect negatively on the game itself and those who play it. Those decisions lead to more sensationalism from society and make playing the game in piece that much harder. I’m not for an instant trying to be judge and jury here. Live your own life and don’t let anyone try to lead you down a path you don’t want to tread. My problem is when people don’t understand the context of their decisions. If you want to be famous, whether that’s within your line of work, as a part of a social organization of some kind, or you’re looking to be the next Dwayne Johnson you need to understand that it’s the whole you that’s being judged. You need to grasp that it’s not just about how well you perform.

Any judgment we make today is about more than the substance of someone’s work. The decision is also about the type of character that person has. If you want to be respected, understand the every goofy photo you taken at a party when you were black out drunk and tried licking the salt off your buddy’s hairy stomach gets immortalized on someone’s Facebook page and then sent to everyone they know. It’s the moments when you are at your weakest that will determine the level of respect you’ll get. How good you are at what you do is only part of the equation. This stems well beyond the poker world. Whether you’re running for political office or just sitting around with a group of friends we all want to be respected. The level of respect you get is directly related to how much self-respect you give away when making choices in your life. This goes back to a very old and overused cliché, every decision you make has consequences. If you get caught in a drug bust, you have no one else to blame.

My point here is that I have found out in my years around the poker world what I don’t want to be. I don’t want people to see me as some kid in his mid-20s that didn’t have the skills to amount to anything more dignified than a professional gambler. I don’t want to be the guy berating a terrible player for his poor play on national television. I don’t want to be the guy everyone looks at and says he was a one hit wonder. I want to be credible, above all else. This is a greater pursuit than just seeking out the positive judgment of others. This career gives you the flexibility of schedule to do things other people can’t do. I can make it a priority to exercise, eat healthy, and continue my personal education not just in poker but in general human knowledge. I can always get better, speak better, look better, act more appropriately, and should I attain the success I desire in this industry I will look, sounds, and act like I’m more than just some stereotype.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dtools22

Twitter: https://twitter.com/dtools22

dtools22

You get what you pay for when it comes to hotels.

Sometime in early September I was playing cards in the Foxwoods Poker Room as I typically do when a conversation about other poker rooms sprang up. This conversation has happened in every poker room I have ever played cards in. People at the tables start talking about all the other fantastic poker rooms in the United States and how each of them does a certain thing better than the room they chose to go to that day. What that one thing is varies from person to person but the theme remains consistent, no matter what room you’re talking about it’s better than the one you’re in. This paradox holds true of the player pools at Foxwoods as well and during my session in early September there was a lot of talk surrounding the Borgata Hotel and Casino.

I thought nothing of the day’s conversation until later that evening. A friend of mine sent me a message saying he was thinking about a trip to Atlantic City in October. The Borgata was holding a tournament for $150 buy in with a $100,000 guarantee during the first full week of the month. He wanted to head down to check it out and was looking for someone to tag along. Since my schedule is pretty open-ended I jumped at the chance to check out the Borgata first hand. I had never been to Atlantic City prior to this trip. My only experience with the “gambling capital of the east coast” was from hearsay stories not unlike the ones I had hear earlier that day. The prevailing thoughts were that the city as a whole was a pretty desolate place and that the Borgata was a diamond in this particular rough. So, I decided to take the trip and see this place for myself.

We arrived in Atlantic City on October 6 and from here the trip diverges. There were two distinct portions of experience to the trip. There were our accommodations, which were a comedy of errors in their own right, and then there was our time spent in the poker room where we saw characters that came straight out of a manuscript of stereotypes. For purposes of storytelling I’m going to separate the two experiences. I’ll deal with our hotel lodging first and then get into the highlights from the poker room.

NOTE: I have been wavering back and forth on revealing the name of the hotel we stayed at. I’ve decided not to mention it for this reason, none of the major issues were related to the staff and I don’t feel like it’s fair to them to dump on their hotel specifically.

The plan was to stay in a cheap hotel for the first few days in West Atlantic City, play at the Borgata as much as we could until October 10 when we needed to check out of our hotel, and try to get a free night in the Borgata’s hotel for an extra few days. Cheap doesn’t do this hotel justice, the place was a hell hole. The quality of our living arrangement wasn’t up to snuff, but when you stay in a cheap hotel you expect that. Our windows didn’t open. The toilet didn’t always flush properly. The walls had quite a few recently repaired cracks in them. Yet none of those things impeded us. We generally expected a crappy room but these were nothing more than aesthetic concerns. This room needs to provide two functions, a place to sleep and a place to use the internet. So long as we have both of those we’re fine.

The Wifi was our first major issue. The in room Wifi didn’t work. When we asked the front desk they said the only free internet in the hotel was in the lobby and that the rooms were not set up with internet access (side note, my buddy checked the hotel listing when we returned from Atlantic City to find that the hotel DOES offer in-room wifi in its listing). Only needing the web for long enough to check my messages I didn’t mind wandering down to the lobby to get connected, except the wifi didn’t work there either. I could connect to the network, but there was no connection to the internet. I don’t know if they just didn’t pay the bill but for the entire 4 days we were there I never got it working nor did I ever see someone else in the lobby successfully access the world wide web. Now this is what I like to call a “first world problem.” Is it life or death that I get onto the internet, no, it’s just irritating. But that irritation level rises when you can’t leave the hotel due to flooding.

The hotel was built right next to the coast. All the land behind the hotel was marshland and the water was about 400 feet from the back patio. Every morning while we were there the street our hotel was on flooded, as well as one side of the parking lot. The water level got so high on a few days that we couldn’t leave the property to head into the city. We had to wait it out for the water to drain, which it did every afternoon. The police actually closed a few lanes of the main road next to the hotel due to the overflow from the hotel parking lot. It was an utter mess and was compounded with the fact that we had nothing to do at the hotel but wait for conditions to improve. All I wanted to do was have a place to sleep in between sessions of poker and now I couldn’t even go play cards when I wanted to because this hotel was in such a poor location. There were a few days where the roads were closed down and my friend and I had to try and navigate around all the road blocks to get back to our hotel room. Not exactly the best conditions, but at least the staff found time to play Dungeons and Dragons during the slow hours.

Since this was a poker trip, it goes without saying that my friend and I were keeping odd hours. Wake up was sometime between 10:30AM and 12:30PM and we would be wandering into the hotel sometime around 2:00AM. On our second to last night there we wandered back to our hotel to find the staff playing a table top game, specifically Dungeons and Dragons, in the dining room just off the lobby. I actually found this somewhat endearing, that these guys were just looking to spend some time enjoying themselves and it’s not like there were a ton of tenants anyway so it seemed perfectly fine for them to be relaxing a bit. The only reason that story is relevant is because the person running the game (known as the Dungeon Master or DM for all you out there that don’t know the jargon) was the man who had been behind the front desk the first few nights. On our last night in this hotel we returned from the poker room earlier than normal, around 12:30AM and found that the front door was locked. This was a first, and there was no place to put your room key to try and open the door. We were locked out and the previous night’s DM was standing behind the desk staring at us as though we were trying to assault his castle. He then directed us to a phone on the wall where we had to inform him that we were in fact guests at this hotel before he would open the door. We mentioned to him that the door wasn’t locked on any of the other nights we were here and his response was simply, “Yeah, but it was supposed to be.” We checked out an hour early just to get the hell out of there.

Thankfully our hours of play got us two free nights at the Borgata so we were able to salvage the trip. More on that in the next post.

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Generation Y Not

If you get up off your ass and do something, the haters will have far less to say.

Over the past few weeks there were a few articles that made their way around Facebook and Twitter. The first was an article found on the Huffington Post website describing the faults of Generation Y, namely that we as a group are incessant dreamers that lack any real justification for our ambitions. The vast complexity of our dreams is juxtaposed by a dearth of work ethic endemic of those who fall under our generational label. The second article was a response piece that got considerable traction on social media platforms. The author, being a member of this “Dreamer Generation” wrote a scathing blog post regarding previous generations as aloof at best when it comes to the issues Generation Y faces today. He argues the modern workforce has become more productive and received no financial recognition for it while expenses have continued to pile up. I’ve posted links to both articles below if you’d care to read the source material.

Huffington Post Piece:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/wait-but-why/generation-y-unhappy_b_3930620.html

Response Article:

http://aweinstein.kinja.com/fuck-you-im-gen-y-and-i-dont-feel-special-or-entitl-1333588443

I read these articles with a great deal of care. Most of my friends are card carrying members of Generation Y, as am I, so I was exposed to extreme outbursts of emotion regarding these two pieces of prose. I think both works have pointed out a much greater problem. It’s not their existence or any specific points they made that disturb me. It’s the reaction they instilled within my generational ranks as well as the ranks my ancestors that seems most troubling.

Both of these articles are absolute garbage, in no uncertain terms. The Huffington Post’s point is laughable at best. The suggestion that we are all bright eyed and bushy tailed dreamers that will never find true happiness until we learn to temper our own expectations is ignorant beyond words. And the response article, which most of my friends were clinging to shouting “DAMN STRAIGHT” in support of, is a laundry list of excuses from a broken down dreamer who apparently did a poor job of planning out his own life. I am a huge believer in personal responsibility. If your life sucks and you’re unhappy about the choices you’ve made and where they have lead you, then make new choices. You can change what you don’t like and there are no excuses to the contrary. There is a motivational speaker named Larry Winget who boils this thought down perfectly, “If your life sucks, it’s because you suck.”

Now are there factors in this world beyond our control? Absolutely there are. The economy sucks, jobs are hard to get, and student loan debt is out of control, all of that is true. The problem I have is when people just keep hiding behind those facts and several dozen others. They believe the factors surrounding them are why they can’t find success for themselves. One problem that my generation does have is a lack of independent action. We live in a climate today that requires new solutions to old problems. If you’re one of those recent college grads who just started following in your parents’ footsteps, got a decent job, settled down, bought a car, bought a house, had kids, and so forth, then yeah your life is probably in ugly shape right now and you only have yourself to blame. Our generation exists in a different world than the ones that preceded us, every generation does. We need to focus on ourselves, on shaping our lives, on reacting to the world around us rather than trying to fit a dated and stereotypical existence into a modern box. It doesn’t work like that. I believe there is a solution to every problem but that problems evolve overtime. The solutions of yesteryear won’t always apply given the variables of the modern world.

I did what I was told to do and followed along the path set before me by my parents and others of their generation. Get into a good college, take out loans to pay for it, and when you find a job you can just pay those loans off while your life gets going. That’s a nice sentiment, but the element of time associated with that to do list has changed since the days of our forefathers. It’s going to take a while before my life can really begin. I don’t say that as an excuse or with any lamentations attached. I say it because it’s the truth. I need to be able to take care of myself before I can start involving other people or adding larger financial burdens to an already thinly spread budget. That’s not a sign of failure, that’s a show of maturity.

I have a friend working in a tech start up out in San Francisco, CA. He is involved in hiring new personnel and one of the things he told me they look for in a new hire is how many jobs that person has worked over the past few years. It’s considered a negative if that person has only worked in one other job, because he or she hasn’t been exposed to different office cultures nor has that person seen as many different ways of thinking as someone who worked in multiple locations. I broke away from the general corporate mold to pursue a dreamer’s career. Sure my choice is unconventional but there was a logical reasoning behind it as well. I didn’t see how taking a typical job just like my parents did before me was going to solve my problems. It worked great for them, and might work great for some of my generation today but on balance I think new solutions are what we need.

The members of Generation Y have been challenged. Challenged by misconceptions publicized by the Huffington Post and exemplified by content creators who felt the need to bloviate about how little the world understands their plight. Action is what is called for, not words. If all you do to support a cause you believe in is post about it on your Facebook page then you’re not being active. If you spend your time looking at the Twitter feeds of your favorite entertainers trying to glean inspiration from their 140 character philosophies then you’re not being active. If you’re upset about the job market and all you do is share articles about it on your social media timelines then you’re not being active. You need to take charge and act. Change what you don’t like, it’s not that complicated.

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Criminal Negligence

Apparently a lack of activity makes you more likely to commit a crime.

Last week I was just goofing around on my computer, my most common ploy for avoiding the dreaded TO-DO list. The litany of tasks never shrinks down to a more palatable size, even when the majority of the items that need accomplishing are self-levied. Normally I do what any average American does these days, find something interesting to watch on Netflix. This time however, when I was stuck with yet another case of loafing about, I decided to fire up my online poker account. Currently the only site I have money on that I can actually use is Carbon Poker, and since it had been nearly one full year since I last graced the virtual felt I decided to see how much had changed. What I found was a most curious practice.

Let me set the scene for you. I put a couple hundred dollars onto the Carbon Poker client late last year after a few very profitable live poker sessions. My motivation was to get back into the online grind at a low risk dollar amount. I’m sure somewhere in my head I was thinking I’d be able to start grinding the micro stakes games and supplementing my monthly income with checks from the web. As I’m sure many of my fellow Americans are aware, the poker world just doesn’t really work like that for us. Even still, this was my learning curve on the subject. After a few months of mixing in online with live I decided the general practice of playing poker on the web was hurting my live poker production. I needed to focus on building up my live poker bankroll markedly more before I could afford to play each session as part of a larger time share between the virtual and flesh and blood worlds. So in November last year I stopped playing. I spent a very brief time looking over tournament schedules to see if there were any daily or weekly events I would be interested in playing on the Carbon schedule. Nothing ever really came of that effort other than a list of events that seemed interesting but that I never actually played in.

Flash forward to this past week. I stumbled upon my old list of Carbon poker tournaments that I thought would be interesting to mix into a regular schedule. I had information on them from range of field sizes, buy-ins, the guarantees and what times they ran, and so on. So I fired up the Carbon Poker client to see if these events had changed at all. After an update I noticed that my account balance was showing a $0.00. I didn’t have a ton of money attached to this account and I was prepared for another mini Black Friday type of an event where the money I had on the account would be lost. Still, I hadn’t heard anything about Carbon Poker crashing and I did want to at least have the option of using my $200+ that I still had invested on this site. I got in touch with the folks at Carbon support, who are always VERY fast to reply any time I have any kind of issue, to let them know that I had a problem. The following is a piece of the email I got back a few hours later.

Dear Steve,

Thank you for contacting us.

I am glad to inform you that your account has been credited back with the balance removed for security reasons due to inactivity…

It’s been almost a week now and I still have no idea what to make of that sentence. The money was returned to my account and the Carbon support team took care of everything within 3 hours of my initial request. I have no issues with the site nor is my account barren any longer. But I just don’t quite get what “security reasons” there could have been to remove the money from my account in the first place. I’ve seen a few people complaining about their account balances on forums and heard rumblings of discontented customers at the casino. Here’s just a heads up regarding my issues and how quickly Carbon addressed them.

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Back to Battle

Lots of people go broke in this business, so far I’ve proven to be smarter than them.

I’ve rewritten this particular post several times already. I wrote one version while I was still in California on the eve of my return to the eastern seaboard. I compiled another during my first few nights back at my parent’s house waiting for my car to be Frankensteined back to life. Each time my writing was varied, a different part of me got poured into the mix and the results were starkly different. Now I try once more to gather my thoughts down with keyboard and a blank digital slate. A thought occurs to me that I’ve gotten away from who I really am in these posts. I’m not completely sure why. On some level it’s just basic fear, a nervousness that I may not be capable of the great things I seek. Another part of me would suggest it is elitism run amok, that my desire to be better than the competition leads me to write in the vaguest prose I can possibly muster. Whatever the case may be I’m feeling a bit more like myself today so that’s the man writing today’s entry, a cocky and self-centered egotist who brazenly thinks he can carve out a place at the zenith of the poker industry.

There’s a reason why I feel as peppy as I do. I’ve been back grinding at Foxwoods for the past few weeks and I’ve noticed something. The familiar faces I once knew to be the stalwart regulars have resigned their titles. Specifically the ones who are at or around my age have seemingly died out and a new crop has taken up the mantle. After doing a little digging amid the older grinders and some of the employees of the poker room I’ve found a litany of stories depicting some very desperate sessions. Those players found themselves dropping down in stakes after only a handful of tries playing in the 5/10NL and 2/5NL games. Before long they were amongst the fallen. These players have now been forsaken to exist in the poker world with those who forgot to heed the cardinal rule, if you run out of money you can’t play anymore. I was only gone for about 7 weeks, and in that span the herd has been culled and the landscape of the grinders at Foxwoods has shifted pretty dramatically.

To be frank, I was happy to hear about the misfortunes of these players. Not because of any personal reasons or out of any simple emotion such as jealousy. Some of these players are actually friends of mine and I’ve since said this to them, they mismanaged their funds. These are skilled players in most cases, players that know how to play the game, when to execute bluffs, when to back off and cut your losses. The problems are ubiquitously the same for all of them; they don’t play their A-game when emotions start to run high and they continue to play in the biggest game they can until too much of their bankroll has been eviscerated. By the time they come to the conclusion it’s time to move down, it’s simply too late. I’m not happy that these players have hit a rough patch, I’m happy because I can see why they did and I have avoided their predicament to this point in my career.

One thing you’ll never read me post or hear me say is that I’ve played and lived mistake free as a poker player. Hell this past week I logged two sessions where I missed out on some very serious value in spots where I simply choked. My opponents did something in each hand that I found strange and I couldn’t quite figure out, so I took the prudent course of action and lost out on significant value with big hands. I’ve screwed up plenty as a player and as a business man in the poker industry. The difference is I know those were mistakes and not just flukes of probability. I screwed those things up, no one else. Learning from those mistakes is why I still have a bankroll at all. It’s the reason I smile when I look at myself in the mirror. I fix the problems before they develop into qualms. I don’t allow myself to crash and burn like those other players have.

Those tales from the bankroll crypt just reaffirmed for me that I must be doing something right. I’m nearly 2 years in and while I’m nowhere near comfortable, I get to go to work tomorrow. That’s enough to keep me moving for now.

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So…it’s been a while in between posts. So long in fact that I’m not even sure where to start. Over past few months I’ve been put in a bit of a funk. Nothing serious, I still live in the first world with a roof over my head and get to play a card game for a living. Life can never be that bad so long as those factors remain true, but things can get just a tad on the stressful side. After having a bad month in May professionally, and a stressful month in June personally, I found myself traveling back out west for a much needed change of scenery in July. Like I said, life just ain’t that bad.

There were two main sources for my frustrations boiling over to the point of flight. The first were my career stresses. At the time of this blog post I’ve been a professional grinder for 19 months. The number one goal on the to-do list has been to get my bankroll built up enough to start grinding the 2/5NL games. I’ve had a handful of opportunities to move up, all of which were me “taking a shot.†I needed to catch a break or two during those first sessions in order to keep playing in the bigger games. The first few tries fell flat and then fizzled out. Nothing momentous, nothing devastating to my bankroll, no massive drop in confidence about my game, things just didn’t work out in my favor those first few sessions. I was on the verge of having a much more solid opportunity in May, one that had the potential to be more than just a simple shot take. Unfortunately May was my worst month as a pro and once again an opportunity for advancement eluded me.

The other issue that cracked the veneer was my living arrangement. My apartment flooded in early June, just a few weeks after I had stopped the bleeding from a big downswing in May. I was displaced for about a week waiting for my place to dry out. My landlord during this time was leaving the doors open to the rest of the building in the hopes of keeping the air moving. What he forgot to realize is that also allowed the house cat to wander downstairs. He locked up one night and the cat got himself stuck in my apartment. Not being too thrilled with his situation, the cat decided to make his displeasure known to the world by crapping on the top end of my bed and urinating on the opposite end. I came back from the casino at about 3AM that morning to find said mess, and with that my plans for a retreat came to fruition.

I had already planned on taking some time off in the summer to visit my friends out in California. There were some theater festivals going on that I wanted to come and check out to support the people I knew working on them, and I felt like a change of scenery was well earned. When you combine those factors with the fact that my apartment had fallen into some rather unpleasant disrepair, it seemed like a good time for an extended trip to the west. So here I sit, having spent the end of June and all of July in the Los Angeles area.

Just wanted to get a long overdue update posted, I’ll have more for you guys in the next couple of posts.

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I revamped my game in March of this year. I plugged quite a few leaks and took a new found confidence into the poker room with me. Over the following 8 weeks I played a total of 44 sessions and only found myself on the wrong end of profitable 9 times. I had the two most profitable months of my career in March and April. That was a pretty solid run without too much negative variance. Sadly, that run is now over. May has been thoroughly kicking my ass and I find myself going through the first real downswing in the past 12 weeks.

How bad has it been you ask? Over 102 hours of poker I have swung down an impressive $1,907, cutting my bankroll nearly in half. Overall in May so far I’m stuck about $750, by far the worst month since I started grinding again full time last year. I’ve only finished in the red twice in the previous 16 months, and each time it was for less than one buy in. This has been a bit of a setback to say the least. Most of the progress I’ve made over March and April has evaporated under the heat of this month’s down trending. Looking back at some of the hands I’ve played there might have been a few spots where some money could have been saved. There were a few hands I just straight up misplayed. Some of those were because I was trying to get more value out of the hand and got caught, a few were simply misreads on hands I was getting right a month ago, in either case the results were the same.

I hate losing. Not that I expect anyone to enjoy that part of the game but I do take swings like these more personally than I probably I should. I pour a lot of myself into my career and each time I have a losing session it stings a little bit. Not badly enough to make me lose my cool, but it does hurt and there is only so much I can really take. I went on a downswing that spanned over 2 weeks where every session was trending downward. I may be a professional but I’m only human and there is only so much crap I can take. The real cause of my ire is that I was once again very close to mixing the 2/5NL game into my weekly rotation. After the first few days of May I was only one reasonably profitable week away from finally crossing that threshold, and I got knocked back down a few pegs. Moving up in stakes has been the big goal on the list since I started so it really sucked to watch that benchmark drift further out of my grasp once again.

My solution, I took two days off and logged about 16 hours of video game play to get my mind off of things. It’s rare that I really get angry about hands or beats, but my situation was becoming tirelessly frustrating. Phil Ivey said in his ESPN E:60 special, “When I feel the burn I know it’s time to stop.†That quote rang pretty true to me. By the final day of that 102 hour gauntlet run I was fuming. I took beats over a two hour stretch that made me really angry. Not the annoyance we all feel when a fish wins a hand off of us, I wanted to get up and throw a trash can across the room. At that point, heading home and taking some time off seemed like a prudent strategy. So I did some PC and Xbox gaming, beat a few games I had been meaning to spend some time on, and just forgot about work for a day and a half. It certainly wasn’t the most productive use of time, but man did it feel good to just immerse myself in a virtual world and just ignore everything else. My break is now over though, the stress has been lifted a bit, and now it’s time to get back to work.

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As I mentioned in my results blog from March, the third month of 2013 was to date my most profitable month. With overall results more than triple my average monthly income in 2012 things started to look a little brighter. One month does not make a trend though, making April exceedingly important to keep the upward trend rolling. Sadly I wasn’t able to just copy and paste my March results into April and March remains my most profitable month by a wide margin. I’ll have to settle for this past April being the second most profitable month of my 15 month career.

I fell a little short of 200 hours in April so the results below also include the first two sessions of May.

Days played: 25

Total hours played: 201

Average session length: Approximately 8 hours 3 minutes

Number of winning sessions: 19

Number of losing sessions: 6

Longest winning streak: 6

Longest losing streak: 2

Biggest winning session: $507 playing 1/2NL at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Ledyard, CT

Biggest losing session: -$200 playing 1/2NL at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Ledyard, CT

Overall results: +$3,398

Hourly win rate: $16.91

Let’s get the good news out of the way first. My upward trend has continued for another month. I managed to cross the first item off of the to-do list as well by setting aside a month of bills and building my bankroll up to $4,000. My hourly rate dropped down a little bit but not enough to be concerned with. I played exclusively at Foxwoods for this 200 hour stretch, which has a smaller blind structure than the NL games over at the Bicycle Casino. Rule of thumb logic would be that the game in Foxwoods has a lower potential hourly rate (assuming hourly rate is between 5x and 10x the bb, Foxwoods has a range between $10 and $20 while The Bike has a range between $15 and $30). So far the games seem very comparable.

There really isn’t a whole lot of bad from the past 200 hours to talk about. The one sticking point to me right now is that it took 4 more sessions to log approximately the same number of hours. I had a lot of sessions during April that fell short of 8 hours, mostly just from me leaving at the 6 or 7 hour mark rather than plugging away for the final handful of orbits. I did still get to 200 hours relatively easily, and I think that might be the sweet spot for monthly hours. I don’t really mind spreading the hours across a few more trips to the casino, just another way of doing things.

These next 200 hours are big. If the success continues, I’m going to start mixing in the 2/5NL games at Foxwoods. Since I started playing for a living again that has been the Holy Grail to chase after, moving up in stakes makes everything just a little bit easier (obviously assuming the same statistical success after jumping up). Money starts coming in faster and lets me build a solid foundation to build off of in 2014. The sooner I get to the 2/5NL game, the sooner I can actually start doing something in this business. I’m slumming in the small stakes stuff now, but hopefully not for much longer.

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I’ve been looking hard at my non-poker money of late. I’ve spent a great deal of time focusing on building a bankroll to play cards with, the number of buy ins I have, how deep each buy in is, pushing to move up in stakes, driving to increase my hourly win rate and so on. All that planning and effort has gone into my operating budget without any real strategy for my personal finances. I don’t feel that a single minute of my bankroll planning has been wasted. Every new plan has produced results and adjustments that have improved my overall approach and led to the next iteration of tactics. Now that some secure footing has been reached, it’s time to take the same approach with my personal finances.

There is a lot more to think about when you’re self-employed. There is no 401K plan and there are no health care benefits included. There is no safety net. Your future is entirely in your own hands. So far, my future has been put on the back burner. I’ve been entirely focused on my career numbers first. Being a 25 year old single male, my personal finances are less of an issue than they are for most. If I need to eat Ramen noodles for a few weeks because I don’t have enough money for food then so be it. What would be a major problem for some people is a minor annoyance for me. I can easily and readily make personal sacrifices to keep my dreams alive, and I’m very fortunate for that to be the case. I’m not interested in living this starving artist’s life forever. I’d rather retire from this game and go get a real job than live my entire life as bare bones as I can.

Taking a good look at my personal finances and spending habits, I’ve come up with a breakdown for what I need each month.

Student Loans: $420

Rent: $250

Gas: $250

Credit Cards: $155

Groceries: $100

Some of these expenses will vary month to month so I’m just going to round up and say everything costs a total of $1200. That’s a pretty bare bones existence, but for a low stakes grinder it’s a life that can be easily supported. This is the minimum I can spend without significantly compromising my quality of life.

There is one big piece missing from this equation, savings. I do have a savings account and I regularly put money away. It has been dipped into a few times to keep me afloat during the lean months of my career. I’ve been using it as more of a rainy day fund than a real savings account. That will hopefully change moving forward. I have a system in place to put away money each week. Every Monday I do my banking. After a positive week of grinding I need to get my books in order, pay rent, that sort of thing. I put cash in the bank for bill money if needed, put bankroll money I don’t immediately need into my poker checking account, and lately I’ve been putting money away in savings. That money is coming from “extra†money in my bankroll. Usually when I cash out after a session I end up with small bills, $1s and $5s. Those smaller bills are kind of a pain to walk around with in the casino, particularly when you’re using them for buy ins. So when I head to the bank I take all the small bills and put them into my savings account. Each week so far it’s been between $25 and $45. That’s not retirement money, but it’s a start and it builds the habit of putting money away.

Since this is already getting long I’m going to stop here for now. The next post is going to be about increases in expenses coming soon as well as why my goal for 6 months of living expenses is so high and how I intend to get there ($3000 per month). Ideally, I’m trying to create a blueprint with these next few blogs for life bankrolls much like there is countless literature out there for poker bankrolls. Here’s hoping.

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Tweaking the System

The following blog post all stems from one simple act of carelessness and or douchebaggery. This past Saturday night I was grinding as always. After grabbing dinner I went to put my name back on the list for a 1/2NL game. Since it was Saturday night the poker room was pretty packed and there was a sizable list, so I put my name on it and sat down on a nearby bench to read a magazine. As I shifted on the bench I felt my pants stick to its surface, someone in their infinite wisdom left a wad of gum on the bench and I now had a 5 inch long smear of it on my pants. I tried my best to get the gum off at the casino but sadly my efforts yielded little more than frustration. I was so furious about the scenario that I just left the casino entirely. Given how outrageously furious this minor nuisance caused me, I decided to take Sunday off from the grind and do some review work.

March and April are the first two months after having tweaked my game out in California. Those minor changes so far have led to very solid results. March was the most profitable month I have had in my 16 month career. I’ll do a full report in a couple of weeks for April but signs now are pointing to another month of significant improvement from the dregs I was pulling in a year ago. I’ve mentioned a few times before, the biggest priority on my list is to get to the 2/5NL game and start beating it at a solid win rate (between 5 and 10 bb per hour). With the financial success of March and April, it looks like I’ll be able to start mixing in 2/5NL by the end of May. It’s a small step in a much longer journey, but it’s a huge weight off my shoulders to finally after nearly a year and a half to finally cross that one off the list. Even if I get delayed a bit in May, the bankroll is getting 2/5NL worthy. It’s just a matter of time.

With my career trending upward, I’ve started looking into significant upgrades into my personal life. For about a year I’ve been living off of $1000 a month. At the beginning of each month I would take $1000 as bill money. That’s just barely enough to pay off my debt each month (credit cards and student loans), pay my rent, and buy food. Gas money for my car has come out of the poker money as needed and is not included in that $1000 a month. I’ve been living a Spartan life, and I’ve been enjoying it. It is part of the sacrifice of trying to build something up from nothing, whether you’re starting your own business or you’re spending 50+ hours a week in a casino, you need to pour much more of yourself into it than you would dump into any regular job. With that said, I’ve reached some limits and I’d like to improve my overall quality of life a bit. After these past couple of months it seems like the sweet spot number is $1500 a month. That takes care of gas and allows me to go out to dinner with friends, go to a movie, I can have leisure money. That also would let me pay off bigger chunks of my credit card debt each month each month and help me get that expense of my books.

This little vacation has led me to really think more about my financial standing in life and how to best improve it. My career has started trending up so now my life can do the same. I’m going to spend some time this week planning out my monthly expenses and finances more in detail. Once I finish that I’ll post my list here. Open the question up to some feedback; see if you guys find something I missed in my plans.

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Taking a Break

So here’s a fun fact for you, if you log tons of hours playing poker you may experience a fatigue specifically geared towards the game itself. You won’t physically be tired, but you’ll want to punch a hole in the wall if you see another K-rag hand. Having experienced this over the past few days I did what I think is the responsible course of action, and took an impromptu night off. I sat in my hotel room with a Subway sub and some snacks watching TV in bed. Felt great to just piss an evening away, something I very, very rarely do anymore. I felt my batteries recharge a bit and so I pulled out a pen and paper and started making some plans for the future.

As evidenced by this post, I have a very flexible schedule. I have built my life in such a way that my responsibilities are minimal, and the ones I still have (student loans, credit card payments, etc) are not dependent on me being in a certain place at a certain time. Lately I’ve been trying to take that notion to the next level, since I don’t need to be anywhere in particular, where is the best place for me to be? That question was a big part of the reason I went out to California earlier this year. Let’s find out firsthand about these places I keep hearing about, the casinos, the sites, the city life. Let’s find out if this is somewhere I’d like to spend serious amounts of time. One lesson I learned during my trip across the country is that to go anywhere I need to build up my bankroll well beyond its current limits So on my mini holiday, I started planning out what I think I can build my bankroll to over the next few months.

I will be going back to California at some point this year for another 8-10 week stay. I’ve already committed to that with my friends out on the west coast, so now the question sits in the details. Loosely, my plan is to return out there around early September. Using that as my deadline for bankroll results, that gives me about 5 months to build myself up. Here’s the timetable I came up with.

1) Build up a roll for 100bb buy ins ($4,000) at 1/2NL with another month of bills set aside.

2) Continue to build up the bankroll to the point where I can mix in some 2/5NL (buying in short) in with my 1/2NL grinding. Initial thought is they would break down at a 50/50 ratio. I would do this to start at a $6,000 bankroll. Obviously if the 2/5NL goes poorly, put in more hours of 1/2NL until results improve at 2/5NL.

3) Build the bankroll up to 20 buy ins at 2/5NL ($10,000).

4) Hold the bankroll at the $10,000 level and set aside $12,000 in total bill money, to be allocated for 6 months of expenses at $2,000 per month. I don’t spend $2,000 a month right now, but it would be good to have some extra padding

Being optimistic given my current bankroll and bill money numbers, I think the list above is doable before I bring myself back to the west coast. I realize that making plans like this is a silly exercise to some extent. I can’t guarantee an income from month to month in this business so trying to project outward is going to be a lot of guess work. I do think these types of goal setting sessions are important to your overall development as a player. It gives you something to shoot for. It makes those bad beats you take sting a little less knowing that one hand isn’t going to get you where you need to be or prevent you from reaching your goals. You need to stay on the path for the long haul.

There are two numbers that stick out in my head as the final hurdles for this chapter of my career, $20,000 and $12,000. The $20,000 is for my poker bankroll and should be more than enough of an operating budget for me to comfortably play for a living. The $12,000 is for 6 months of living expenses as I specified earlier. The reason those two numbers are so important is because they provide me with something I haven’t had much of over the first 15 months of my career, leverage. I have options on the table for what my next step could be and the journey becomes foggy after that. I don’t know what to do for sure when I reach those thresholds, but that’s a problem for my future self. Right now, I need to focus on getting there.

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The month of March finally comes to a close for me with a much needed 36 hour vacation. I wrapped up on Saturday what has been to date the most profitable month of my career. Sadly my run good had its limits as I failed to cash in the $365 WSOP Circuit event on March 30. Despite a bad beat in the later rounds of the tournament, my spirits are high and things seem to be moving in the right direction.

The first ever WSOP Circuit event at Foxwoods brought in a larger crowd than the other tournament series on the calendar. The first event with its two day 1 flights managed 800 entries, a number that I haven’t seen since 2009 when the WPT prelims were pulling in the high 700s regularly. I opted to play in the first Saturday event, a $365 NLHE 2 day event. With only 388 runners I was a little disappointed at the turnout. The early explosion of entries gave me some hope that a regional poker boom was sparking for this series but it proved not to be the case. Still, $25,668 for first place is not an amount I was turning my nose up at.

Sadly, I wasn’t able to get enough momentum to build towards any first place ambitions. My stack stayed relatively stagnant for most of the tournament. I was hovering around the starting stack of 10K for the first 10 levels. I found a double up just before dinner break to pull myself up above the 20K mark for the first time all tournament. Our UTG villain was opening light since we reached level 3 and put in a 2500 open at the 500/1000 level with a 100 ante. I woke up with AK in the CO and jammed for 9125 total which was then tank-called by UTG with QJs. The board ran XJAAX and I finally made some progress in the right direction. My glory was short lived as we came back from dinner break. One pre-flop raise that missed the board coupled with a few orbits of no cards I found myself back down to 11K at the 600/1200 level with a 200 ante. My swan song hand came with only a few minutes left in the level. UTG opens for 3K and gets called by a new to the table big stack that had somewhere around 120K in chips. I looked down at AA on the button and did my best fist pump jam for 11.2K. Our UTG villain calls leaving himself only about 14K more behind and the big stack shoves all in. UTG calls with 99, big stack villain tables TT, and the board runs out T8XXT. I walked over to a buddy a few tables down to fork over my $50 for a now lost last longer bet. I did my part, the hand just didn’t hold, and I certainly wasn’t about to let that misfortune dampen what had already been a terrific month.

My March went very well, which makes my very first 200 hour report quite enjoyable. All of the numbers listed below are for cash game results only.

Days played: 21

Total hours played: 200

Average session length: Approximately 9 hours 30 minutes

Number of winning sessions: 18

Number of losing sessions: 3

Longest winning streak: 14

Longest losing streak: 1

Biggest winning session: $701 playing 2/3NL at the Bicycle Casino in Bell Gardens, CA

Biggest losing session: -$346 playing 2/3NL at the Bicycle Casino in Bell Gardens, CA

Overall results: +$3,772

Hourly win rate: $18.91

Having made some modifications to my approach to better suit a live low stakes no limit holdem game I’m very happy with the early returns. The month started off rough with only $107 in profit over the first 67 hours of play for a $1.60 hourly rate. It ended on a 14 session winning streak where I ran at a $27.18 win rate over 133 hours. With that said there is still a lot of work to do before I can put my feet up and relax. I’m still severely under bank rolled, only having 1 month of bills set aside and a bankroll not quite big enough yet to meet the 20 buy in rule (20 buy ins at 100BBs for whatever stakes game you are playing). Throughout the now 15 months I have been grinding again for a living I have never had more than 2 months of bill money set aside so having only 1 month prepared for isn’t a cause of much concern. I also realize that it’s too early to say for certain that these results will be the new standard. March’s results are nice but 200 hours is a tiny sample size. I need to put a few of these kinds of months together.

I do think there is room for improvement. I played fewer hours than I was planning on initially due to my travel arrangements from LA to Boston plus a stomach bug kept me out of action on a few days before my flight. With a clear calendar in April I think an extra couple of days can easily be tacked on. Plus there were a few spots where I did get myself into some trouble, nothing serious and I was able to correct the mistake in later hands on the session but I did not play as solidly as I could have. I’m looking forward to putting together a solid April. I’m working on a list of goals for the month for the next blog post. I should be done with those before next weekend. Once I have them down, I’ll post them.

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Coming Up for Air

It’s been a busy month of March for me. Between traveling and settling back into my life on the east coast I’ve been running at a break neck pace. March is nearly over and I’m fast approaching my first full report of the year (which I will do at the 200 hour mark). Now that I have a few moments to relax it seems like a good time to do a quick update and get my bearings.

March has been a very hot month for me but not without its difficulties. Due to a few sick days I didn’t get quite the number of visits I wanted to at the Bicycle Casino before I hopped a plane back to the east coast. I only managed 12 sessions between March 1 and March 17. Those 12 sessions were still good for 114 hours of grinding and a nice $580 cash bonus from the Bike’s rakeback promotion this month. Total for the month I have logged 18 sessions with 3 more planned before the April showers begin quenching the thirst for a new month. I’ve had 15 winning sessions and only 3 losing days over a 168 hour stretch. During this time I’m up just under $3,000.

There is still a lot on my plate before the closing bell tolls for March. I’m hoping to put in the final 32 hours in those three cash game sessions and cap off a 200 hour month. This becomes especially important because today marks the start of the first ever WSOP Circuit event at Foxwoods. I’ve got my sights set on some very lucrative cash games, not to mention a chance for a Circuit Title. Saturday March 30, is my chance. I will be playing in the $365 ring event that day. I’m feeling very good about this event. My game has been sharp these past few weeks, I’ve got a renewed focus, I think I can really do some damage in this event. Win lose or draw, I’m just going to go out there and perform, may the cards fall where they will.

Next blog will be a full report on the previous 200 hours of play. Maybe I’ll toss in a brag post about winning the WSOP ring over the weekend.

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Setting the Standard

I’ve been toying around with some adjustments to my grinding schedule the past two weeks. My data analysis from last year showed me I wasn’t putting in enough days or hours when compared to a full time 9-5 job. In response, I’ve been working on a list of weekly to-dos. This will act as a minimum requirements list. There is no more gray area, I’ll know on each day exactly how long I need to stay for and can plan the rest of my life around those numbers. I always have something concrete to pivot back to.

One of the greatest strengths of this industry is also one of the most troublesome burdens, flexibility. I can go to the casino anytime in a 24 hour period and put in a session. So the eternal question becomes, when? When is the best time to play and for how long should I play for? I’ve done some research on other live grinders. They shared their schedules and what they felt were good minimum requirements, particularly when you’re still in the capital of variance nation, live low stakes no limit. Using this as a platform I’ve come up with the following set of guidelines for myself.

1) Play for 55-60 hours a week each week. Simply put there’s no excuse to play less than a full time job, which I’m defining at 40 hours a week. That needs to be the absolute minimum number of hours on a week to week basis. Research seems to show that 50+ is recommended in the smaller stakes games to help deal with the more vicious swings you’re going to see.

2) Play at least 5 days a week. It’s hard to put in the kind of hours I’m looking for without meeting this criteria but I’m going to put it up here anyway. I expect most weeks will be 6 day work weeks but I don’t think it’s realistic to set that as a minimum standard.

3) Do statistical analysis reports on my results after 200 hours of play. I will post these results in blogs along the way. Not sure just yet what numbers will be in these reports but for sure I’ll focus on hourly rate, days played, and total profits.

4) Post weekly results on twitter. This is specifically hours played and total earnings for the week. These numbers aren’t statistically all that significant, being very small sample sizes. The point is to get into the habit of working with the data I collect.

The breakdown of my hours is the next variable I’m playing with. I did manage to put in 60 hours of play last week, and I was feeling it on the tail end of my final session. My week played out where to get to 60 hour total I had to put in 11 hours on the final day. By then, I was absolutely spent. In time I’m sure the hours will come more naturally but until that happens I think the bulk of my hours need to take place earlier in the week. Right now my schedule is to take Mondays off and grind the other 6 days of the week. I think over the course of a week I’ll try to put in three 12 hour days and three 8 hour days. Not sure which days will be which other than the last day needing to be an 8 hour day.

I’m going to play around with the schedule some more and see what comes of it. Before anyone mentions it, I am aware this post doesn’t seem very friendly towards the work/life balance. I am aware of that, and I am trying to fix that and give myself days to decompress. For now, this will have to do.

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Focusing on the Details

First order of business, I’m changing the nature of this blog. I’m going to focus more on me and my mental state during my travels along this career path. I find far more value in publically analyzing my persona and tendencies than I do in writing results oriented posts. This is going to be a place where you’ll get a scouting report on my mindset. I’m going to use this platform to vent and bitch from time to time but also to analyze a better way to behave while playing the game as well as how to philosophically approach the grind of poker. If that’s not what you’re here for, I’m sorry but I’m making the selfish choice to get the most out of this platform I can. This blog from here on out is going to be about the mindset of a low stakes grinder working his way up. If that’s something you’re interested in then feel free to come along the journey with me.

It’s been 14 months since I through caution to the wind and began my life grinding once more. When I first started out I tried very hard not to focus on the statistics I was putting up. I kept very meticulous records, but I wasn’t concerned with figuring out my hourly rate or worrying about how many buy-ins I should be winning on a given week. I tried to focus solely on the task of playing poker to the best of my abilities. I learned while playing online I would focus far too much on the numbers. I made plays that focused on making my VPIP and PFR look right as opposed to what was the best EV decision going forward. Knowing that flaw in my game I tried to do very little statistical analysis of my game playing live. Just record the results and move on to the next day. After a year of playing for a living, I would focus more on the numbers. The time came this week to take a look at what I did last year.

The answer was a mixed bag that has a lot of great information in it. I’ll lead off with some of the good things that I saw:

1) There was only one month all year where I actually ran at a negative, and I was only down $21.

2) My longest winning streak was 11 straight sessions while my longest losing streak was 6. Overall I had 117 winning sessions, 86 losing sessions, and 7 break even sessions, not great but it’s on the good side of average.

3) My average session length was just over 8 hours.

Not all the information was good news though. People learn far more from mistakes that we do from successes so this list is far more interesting to me.

1) My win rate was $7.39 an hour, below minimum wage.

2) I only logged 210 total sessions last year. The average working person will put in 240 work days a year (not including sick days) so I’m a ways behind that. I also logged 220 hours less than the average working person.

3) I had 2 months all of last year where I met my minimum threshold for monthly earnings. I would consider a $15/hour win rate the minimum of acceptable and I only crossed that threshold twice all last year.

I took a lot away from these numbers. The main point is that I’m not playing at as high of a level as I need to be successful. In response to this I started looking at the sticky posts on the 2+2 forums. There were a couple dealing specifically with live low stakes NL that caught my attention. I thumbed through and saw more than a few players earning $20,000+ through their first 1000 hours of play. I started combing through the posts, learning what each of these players did and how their approach differed from mine. I noticed two major weaknesses of mine during this process. First off, I know how to play, I just don’t play as well as I know how when things get tough at the tables. A lot of the information I was taking in wasn’t new to me and that got me thinking. There have been a few spots lately that I’ve gotten myself into where in the moment I thought one thing and then looking back on the decisions made I’ve found a lot of second guessing to be done. That’s just a matter of focus and discipline. It’s humbling to admit that, but it’s a relatively easy fix. Second is my table demeanor could use some work. I’m not loud or obnoxious at the table by any means and I try my best to treat everyone with courtesy and respect. Some people do get under my skin though. For whatever reason, some because they are pricks at the table to other players, others because they are know it all types who can’t help but “teach†everyone how to play better, there are people that just bug me. I have to learn to let it go better.

The numbers I put together for my yearly report suggest to me that I’m not that far off. I need to make minor adjustments rather than whole sale changes in the fundamentals of my game. Being even a break even player is hard to do in poker and not many players get to that threshold. I’ve certainly put that feather in my cap and now the focus is on bringing my game to a better and more economically sustainable level. This year and every year after it could be as big as I choose it to be. I just need to keep my resolve and keep moving forward.

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So my journey through the card rooms of California has pointed me north. Through the mountains of central Cal and past a few odorous cow pastures I made my way to the Bay 101 Casino in San Jose, CA. This is yet another room that I’ve heard quite a bit about back east, but it’s not exactly a stone’s throw from where I’ve been staying in Santa Clarita. The trip took about 5 hours to get to my hotel down the street from Bay 101 and a $100 swipe of the credit card for the one night stay. Under normal situations I would never indulge the urge to travel such a distance for low stakes poker. Since I’m out in California though, and one of the purposes for this trip is to start getting out of my safe little bubble in Connecticut and see some of what the poker world has across the US I wrote it off as a business expense and made the trek, and so far so good.

I arrived at the Bay 101 around 4PM local time and began grinding shortly thereafter. The place itself is impressive looking, from a poker player’s eyes anyway. The room is impeccably cleaned, well-organized, it’s easy to understand the layout, and the dealers are animated and genuinely funny. So far on my trip, I’d say this is the nicest room I’ve played in and certainly made me feel the most at ease while playing. If you’re looking for something other than poker though, you’re probably not going to be thrilled. There is nary a slot machine in site and only a small area that has any table games at all. From what I saw at first glance, if it didn’t involve a deck of cards the Bay 101 didn’t have it. None of these observations deterred me in the slightest. I’m here for one purpose, to play poker, and Bay 101 is a great place to do that.

The no limit hold’em games are interestingly designed. There are 3 blinds each hand, a traditional small blind and big blind, and then the button puts in a small bit as well. The three blinds levels I saw being spread were a $1/$2/$2NL game with a $40 minimum buy in and a $200 max, a $2/$3/$5 game which went from $200 to $500 for buy ins, and a $2/$3/$5 deep stack game that spread the buy in limits starting at a $500 minimum and went up to a $1500 max. The first number in the blind structure is the button’s portion of the blinds, so for example in the $1/$2/$2NL game that I was playing in the button put up $1, the small blind was $2 and the big blind was $2. One final twist is that limping in the $1/$2/$2 game isn’t a $2 call. The first call into the pot is $4, so if you wanted to limp UTG for example, it’d be $4 to play. The game plays pretty comparably to a standard $1/$2NL game.

I do believe I’ve been playing well over the past week and a half worth of sessions, but my first session at Bay 101 sealed the deal for me, I’ve been running really hot as well. On more than one occasion I found myself winning a hand with second or third pair in a 4 way pot. I’ve been flopping sets and getting paid off. When my draws have been hitting, they’ve been holding up. With all that said, I’m getting paid off by some less than stellar holdings as well. A perfect example came last night, I made it $16 pre-flop with AA UTG+1 and the only other big stack at the table called two seats to my left, the SB also called.

We see a flop of A96r.

Action checks over to the caller on my left who leads out for $20, SB folds to me. At this point I’ve got about $650 left behind me and this villain has me covered. He’s been calling my raises with QXs type hands regardless of what position I’ve been raising from. He likes to play pots and his range is pretty outrageously wide here. I opt to flat the $20 and plan on leading out any turn card.

Turn brings a 7.

I lead for $45 as was my plan and get snap called by our villain. I wish I had made that bet a little bit bigger, but because of my position I really need a raise out of this guy to even think about getting stacks in. So I just tried to get value from as much of his range as I could.

River is an 8.

We both check down and he rolls over QQ having lead out in a 3-way pot on an Axx flop and then called a turn donk lead. Players like this have been rather numerous during this trip so far. I’m sure I’ll cool down and start running more like a normal human being again rather than the mighty Odin. Even when the cards do finally turn cold, guys like this are still going to be paying off really wide so I’m hopeful my pace of profit continues.

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The Promised Land

So the road trip eventually had to end, and thank the heavens for that chestnut. Upon leaving our restful stop in Illinois it took us another 30 hours of travel to make it into a warm embrace from the City of Santa Clarita in California. Putting 3000 miles of terrain behind us and nearly 60 hours spent in the car together, we all finally made it around 2:30AM local time and all just plopped down on whatever was comfortable and passed out. A few days of rest and relaxation later, I was ready to check out the fabled LA poker scene.

First stop was the Bicycle Casino in Bell Gardens, CA. Simply put, things are run very differently in the card rooms around here. Most of the alterations are just changes to the bells and whistles of the room, for example the chip colors are different from what I’m used to (they like yellow $5 chips out here for some reason) and the lists for the games running we’re on a standardized BRAVO system. These aren’t Earth shattering differences but they do require some adjustment and a little extra focus at the table to figure out what’s going on. The games were close to standard in terms of buy-ins and stakes being played. The game I spent most of my time in was a $2/$3NL game with buy-ins from $100-$300. A little different from my normal $1/$2 game with a $60 to $300 buy-in limit but not so different that I felt like I had to change much about my game. Play was soft, as you’d expect from a low stakes poker game and I had the hot hand that day. I flopped quads on a straddle bet and hit some bigger hands in modest pots (like KK v 88 for pots under $200 bucks). I wasn’t quite at my peak performance though. For some reason I wasn’t able to stay a laser sharp as I do when I’m on my A-game. I managed to give a little of my profits back and just booked the $170 profit on a 6 hour day. Wasn’t a terrible start to the trip.

The next stop on this little tour was the Commerce Casino in Commerce, CA. As it turns out, I arrived just a day early for the start of the LA Poker Classic so traffic in the poker room was booming. The games though are out of left field for what I’d consider standard. The no limit games are called “restricted buy in games†at the Commerce and here are the rules. Whatever the buy in for the game is you must buy in for exactly that amount on your first buy in, no more no less. Once you get stacked or need a reload, you can buy in for 50% more. For example they spread a $200NL game, if you lose that first buy in you can put $300 on the table when you reload. You can also buy in “short†after the first buy in where a short buy in is anything less than the buy in limit of the game. The rake is also very different in these games. There is a guaranteed rake every hand. There will be $1 taken for the house and $1 taken for the bad beat jackpots pre-flop, which is taken from the small blind. Even if the blinds chop, the small blind will lose $2 on the hand. Once you hit the flop the rest of the rake for the hand is taken. In the $200NL games, the cap is $5 rake for the house plus the $1 for the jackpot. At first I was wondering if these games could even be profitable given so much gets taken out of the pots so quickly. Once I started playing the $200NL game, I realized the potential gold mine I stepped into.

I’ve only logged 4 sessions at the Commerce in total, all of them at the $200NL games, so I haven’t put in enough volume to be 100% sure of my opinions of the games but here’s what I’ve noticed so far. There are a lot of fundamental mistakes in these games and people are paying off hands much lighter than I would normally see. The blinds in the $200NL game are $3/$5 so you are capped at 40BBs to start your day. The money moves around quickly though and it doesn’t usually wait for big hands to be involved. People are raising and getting the money in on Kxx flops with KJ type hands. Granted being only 40BBs deep top pair hands are much higher in value than when you’re in the neighborhood of a 150BB stack but I’m not sure that logic really plays much of a role in the decision process. Playing far less than my A-game I’ve turned out some solid sessions and had myself a nice little first week of grinding. With the LAPC in full force until March, I feel like I have a great opportunity to make some big strides and build up my bankroll.

This week I’m actually going to head about 4 hours north to the Bay 101 casino in San Jose. I’ll be there grinding for a couple of days and then head back to the Commerce to round out my week. All in all, I’m finally comfortable grinding in this area. I hit more of my stride last week at the Commerce and I’m confident I can keep riding that train for the next few weeks.

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Road Trip

A belated welcome to 2013 all, since you’re reading this the world did not in fact reach extinction just yet and we get to back to our daily musings until the sun does in fact blow up and eat us. In the meantime, might as well go on a road trip. That’s been my mentality anyway. I’ve embarked on a journey across the country to play poker and to force myself out of my little bubble. Our plan was to head from Boston, MA on January 5 and reach Los Angeles, CA no later than January 12. SPOILER ALERT; we made it across in one piece and I’ve spent most of the down time of the trip playing poker, because really, what else is there for a grinder to do?

The first leg of the journey brought us to southern Illinois, about an hour’s drive from St. Louis, MO. After a 24 hour journey our trio of travelers and their faithful canine companion took a few days to rest and get back some semblance of humanity. A few days of showering and sleeping later, I mentioned that there was a solid casino in St. Louis that I wanted to check out. Thankfully my travel partners were all gung ho to head anywhere they could find a Wi-Fi connection so we hit the road and made our way to the Hollywood Casino in St. Louis.

I will say, thus far on my trip this was probably the nicest poker room I’ve seen. At time of writing I’ve spent some time at the Commerce Casino as well as the Bicycle Casino in California, but I’ll save those gems for a later post. Once my fellow travelers found a café with internet and power outlets abound, I made my way over to the poker room. It was smaller than most places I’ve been, but still looked like it comfortably had 40 tables. There wasn’t a ton of game selection but for a low stakes grinder like myself, I’m pretty easy to please. Sure enough they had my normal game, a 1/2NL Holdem table with a min buy of $60 and a max of $300, just like I play at Foxwoods. It felt good to get into some action, though not much happened in terms of financial success. I lost $7 after 4 hours of play, so more or less a break even day. What was more important about the stop was that I felt a little more comfortable. I’m very much in my element when I’m in a poker room. Every place you go has its own bells and whistles to it but in the end it’s all the same game and this place more than most made me feel right at home. It was classy looking having recently been remodeled. The felt was new, the chips felt similar to those that I have spent the better part of 15 months shipping into pots, and the décor made me feel like I was perfectly in my element. As I mentioned, not much happened on the felt that was worth noting, but I enjoyed the experience all the same.

We left Illinois the next day and found ourselves in Valencia California 30 hours and 1800 miles later. I was really excited to check out the casinos in the LA area, having heard plenty about them through legendary word of mouth stories and a little of my own personal recon through the magic of the internet. Sadly thus far it hasn’t lived up to the hype for me, but that’s another blog topic right there so I’m going to sign off and head back to the Commerce to grind some cash while the LAPC rumbles along.

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So as I mentioned before I’ve been focusing lately on building my live roll back up to respectability, or at the very least taking some of the overbearing stress off my Atlas like shoulders. Last week I had a few monster days, 7+ buy in up swings, coupled with a few other sessions that we’re nearly as Cerberus sized but were a nice compliment putting me up nearly 24 buy ins on the week. I’m still trying to focus in on a few end of the year numbers to better set myself up for the hopefully still coming 2013, assuming that whole world ending thingy really is just a crock. I’m also rethinking my blogging and twitter presence for the coming year and making some changes to how I present myself to the poker world. With the lack of overall success over the past few years I’m getting the feeling that I’ve turned a tad whiny with some of my posts and I want to change up the mood just a tad. On top of that, text is boring, and I think I can come up with some better ways to present this blog to the masses.

This year has certainly not gone exactly as planned for me. First things first though, I went on a bit of a hot streak and I want to take my victory lap. I played 5 sessions last week and ran up a nearly $2,400 profit, all in all one of my biggest single weeks to date this year. At the start of this week I had 7 work days left in the year planned out and I wanted to try and put together another $1400 run. That would set me up with 3 months of living expenses set aside for the start of 2013. Even as poorly as this year overall has gone for me, that would be a huge feather in my cap and set me up nicely for a big surge come the end of the holiday season. I would be remiss though if I didn’t mention that this year has not gone as planned. I’ve looked over my numbers for the year, they simply aren’t that efficient. I’ve had too few really good weeks. The majority of my profitable weeks have been far below expectation. Not only were my earnings not up to snuff but I was spending a lot of money on bills in the first 6 months of this year. All that combined to put me a few tax brackets lower than I expected to be in. Even having said all of that, regardless of how the end of the year goes I’m still going to have more bill money set aside at the start of the new year than I’ve had in quite some time so I’m looking forward to just letting my bankroll grow in those first few sessions of 2013.

As far as the blog is concerned I’ve got some thoughts. Quite frankly, I want to change this bad boy up a bit. It’s been nearly 4 years to typing away and I think some changes would do everyone involved some serious good. I just recently read my first blog post on PocketFives, to see what that kid was thinking back then. As it turns out, not a whole hell of a lot has really changed. I still think about what my grandfather said to me in those last weeks before he passed away. I still feel like I’d rather take my shots while I can rather than grind life away waiting for the perfect opportunity. I still have the same passion for the game I had back then. The only real difference, I’ve got a few more battle scars now and more experience for it. And hell, THAT KID four years ago went to the Foxwoods World Poker Finals and shipped a $50,000 tourney score. If he could do it back then, I think I could swing for that fence now.

In short, there’s been a bit more pep in my step lately and with this new found energy I’m looking to make some changes. I want to change how I present myself to the poker world. I want to try and reestablish my poker success and get myself back on the path to having a long term career as a poker player. Most importantly, I want this all to be more light hearted again. Despite all the struggles 2012 has brought, and regardless of the tone of these past several months of blogs, I’m having an absolute blast doing this for a living. I’m going to try and focus more on that and less on the number crunching life forces us into.

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Damage Control

So quite a bit has happened to me in between blog posts, I took some solid variance in the face both online and live and saw my live roll cut in half. Since that happened I’ve been dropping everything else as far as goals are concerned and trying to rebuild my live roll. I’m back to making 5+ trips to Foxwoods a week and grinding my face off. I also took a look at my books to see how successful I’ve been over this full year of grinding. The answer sadly is not nearly as well as I had hoped, and this fact has led me to really evaluate and refine my play during these grind-a-thon sessions I’ve been having. If I’m going to be spending this kind of time at the casino as 2012 draws to a close and 2013 fast approaches on the horizon, I should at the very least spend that time in the best way possible.

Probably the most noteworthy activity these past few weeks has been me going back and looking at how this year has shaped up. The short answer, not well. Point blank, I’m not as consistent of a performer on the felt as I thought I would be. I feel like the aptitude is there. I don’t have trouble grasping the concepts of the game and I can talk strategy with anyone. My problem is just having these occasional “brain fart†moments where I get too call happy and try to ring every last penny out of a particular villain by making the thinnest call downs possible, only to give back about 5 hours of work in a matter of and orbit or two. My conditioning isn’t what it needs to be, namely making sure I play my A-game for longer stretches of time than I have been in the past. There are certainly positives to be gleaned from my experiences this year but I did not think I would struggle this mightily to get out of 1/2NL. I’ve been humbled a tad this year. There’s really no better way to say it, but with that humility has come a strange comfort.

I feel like I’ve taken the worst of it for a good portion of this year both because of my own mistakes as well as some unfortunate bounces of luck. I took a few shots that blew up in my face. There were a few MTTs that I got to the cusp of a nice payday only to watch a cooler or lost coin flip end those dreams. There were several 9+ hour sessions of break even poker. And yet despite all of that, I still have a bankroll to play with and I’m still in action. I’ve met with a few players like me, mid 20s grinders trying to play full time. One thing that had set me apart is that at no point during this year did I lose my bankroll and need to start over. I’ve been in action for one full year, albeit with a smaller bankroll and financial net than I should have but never the less I can keep showing up and working. That’s more than I can say for some of the other grinders I’ve met with this year. I do find some comfort knowing that I’ve been able to manage the adversity better than my peers have (at least the ones I’ve met, I’m sure there are others already grinding 2/5NL having more than built up the roll for it while I’m still slumming it in the 1/2NL games).

My last post before this was titled, “Life Just Ain’t That Bad†and that’s sort of my mentality moving forward. Despite all the problems this year has brought, I’m still here, I’m still fighting on the felt to get better each time I’m there, and I’m still able to chase after my dream job. The sun will rise tomorrow regardless of how badly today goes. All you can do is keep fighting one day at a time.

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