Thursday, August 24, 2006

Treading Water in a Leaking Pool

I was looking back over my posts from the past couple of months and realized that I'd only written twice about my own play all summer. It doesn't mean I haven't been playing (though I did have a month in there at the WSOP when I didn't have the time to play online). I've played plenty of poker this summer. In fact, I played more live poker in July and August than I've probably played all year.

There just wasn't a ton I wanted to write about. Because I'm sick of writing about losing. I'm as sick of writing about losing as I am of reading about losing. But if anyone was curious about how I'm playing lately, that's what's been happening.

Here's what usually happens. I make a big cash in a tournament, repairing whatever bankroll losses I was suffering from at the time. I play more tournaments (since it's what i'm supposedly good at), going on a bad streak and losing maybe a third of my roll and decide to play some to cash games on the side to make it back. Then I lose about half to two thirds of the money I have left in my bankroll playing cash games and tournaments together. So I switch to SNGs to get a quick, low-variance cash infusion so I can grind the cash games again. Then I win a little in the cash games, restoring my confidence a little so I can afford to go back to tournaments again because it's where I've had the most monetary success. I play a few more, making marginal money finishes, getting incredibly frustrated at how all I do is tread water. So I play cash games on the side again and break even for a while, before losing a bunch more money on some horrifying series of suckouts. Then I lose my mind, realizing I've lost 75% of my bankroll and wonder how I'll ever get playing again. I proceed to waste a lot of time playing ridiculously low limits until making my next score. Lather and rinse, repeat.

It's a terrible pattern. It's busier than Pucci print on a leopard and more destructive than a night out with Lindsay Lohan's entourage. At every step of the way I'm chasing a loss. That's a pretty terrible way to approach poker.

Every time I come off a losing streak I feel like I've figured out what my problem is only to discover I have a new one. The first time I went broke back in November 2004, I realized that it happened because I moved up in limits too quickly. When I built a second roll up from virtually nothing and then lost almost all of it, I realized that tournaments were the leak in my game so I stopped playing them in favor of more limit cash games. Then my plans changed abruptly when I won a $1500 WSOP seat in 2005 and had to become a better MTT player in a hurry. And I came out of that summer and fall a pretty decent MTT player. But I was still dealing with an unstable bankroll. So I tried limit cash games again to build it up. And I went on a legitmate unlucky streak and lost almost everything again. At that point, I really thought about quitting the game altogether. That was right before the blogger trip last December.

Then, over Christmas I went on an unbelievable tournament run, winning over $2K inside of a couple of weeks. I had a bankroll again. I had somehow saved myself.

Then I lost my job.

It should have been a cue for me to take a long long break from poker, but I suddenly had all this time on my hands and a flush bankroll from my tournament wins. Lost and completely unsure of my future, I thought I could at least make some extra cash for myself when I really was in need of it. Of course I was going to drop half of that money within eight weeks. Had I taken this laptop, hurled it into the bathtub, and bought a new one two months later, I still would have saved money. I managed to replenish my roll by the end of April with a few final table scores on Full Tilt, and it was then that I decided to "play what I'm good at" and stick with MTTs for the time being.

As a result, I had a sick May, including my biggest tournament win ever. It should have been all I needed to not only recover, but to really be able to start growing my roll and moving up in limits instead of being perpetually worried about going broke. And if at that time I was a normal person with a normal life and a normal paycheck coming every two weeks, I might have been able to do it. But I'm not, and I wasn't.

Immediately I was faced with the snafu with the unemployment office that made me lose 4 checks, a $2000 emergency room bill after my slip n' slide at the drugstore, and suddenly I needed that money to live on. I hung on to maybe $2000 to play with, but I had no choice but to use the rest to bail me out of those unexpected situations.

One short but bad streak later, I barely have enough left to play $22 SNGs. And that's where I am today. I came back to L.A. from Vegas down several hundred. I played games out there I never should have been playing. It's not like I was suddenly kicking it up to $30-60 or anything, mind you. I just shouldn't have even sat $1-2 no-limit in my financial state, not to mention my mental state over my financial state. I wasn't even rolled for the $4-8 limit games and it both stung and embarrassed me. But I was in Vegas for a month and all I wanted to do was play with my friends.

With $120 in bonus and a week left to clear it on Full Tilt, I went back to girinding away playing $2-4 Omaha Hi-Lo and $3-6 LHE. Of course I lost. Not much at all, really but it was a lot compared to what I had left to work with. So once the bonus was cleared, I started doing nothing but grinding the $22 SNGs. 25 of them later, and I've almost recovered that loss. Always chasing a loss...

My leaks this year haven't been in my poker game. My leaks have been in my life. And that's just as bad as calling a reraise out of position with A7 offsuit. It's not that I'm a bad player. At this point, I think I'm actually a pretty good player. I'm just the worst money manager you'll ever meet and I'm almost always on some sort of tilt. I wake up in the morning and I'm already humming at about 20%. Though I've spent the last six months happier as a person than I've been in a long time, not a day has gone by where I didn't have at least a moment or two when I completely freaked out about money or my future.

So if I come out of this latest streak having learned another new lesson, I suppose it's to never play poker when you're unemployed. But like any Hollywood movie, there's always some glimmer of hope at the end of the third act.

I'm so pleased to tell you that after a long, bloody, soul-searching struggle, I'm well on my way to being fully employed again. I'll be continuing my gig as a featured writer with that I began during the WSOP and will be covering the L.A. poker scene. I've also picked up some freelance writing assignments on top of that job that will almost push me back up to an income level I can live with. Thank fucking God. I was just about to start buying soup and ramen noodles in bulk.

At the moment, I have a sad little three-figure bankroll. It sucks, but I know I'll be able to rebuild. After all, I've done it several times before. It's what I'll do when I'm actually rolled again that will be the real challenge. So it's all $22 SNGs all the time for me until I can afford the $33s. I'm avoiding tournaments like a smack addict does needles because I need every drop of ROI possible to go toward rebuilding. Though I still think they're my strongest suit, I can't handle their variance right now.

When I think about my bankroll and its fluctuations, I feel like I've been treading water in a leaking pool for two years now. I can get into the groove for a while and stay afloat, even swim around for a bit, but the minute I notice how far the water level has dropped, I panic, flailing my arms, wasting energy, and only make myself more and more tired until I can no longer paddle. And eventually, I sink until I reach that cement floor and I'm able to spring up to the surface again off the balls of my feet, letting the water carry me like it's supposed to.

I know I shouldn't panic because I can swim. But it doesn't make me any less afraid of drowning.


SirFWALGMan said...

Good Luck Change! Glad to hear your employement is looking up. Plenty of good players have either lost or broken even in their first couple of years so your right on track to be stellar.

23skidoo said...

Good Post Change!

I found myself laughing throughout your description of the rollercoaster. I follow a very similar path where I will run goot for a few Tourneys or sessions together, inflate the old ego, then get battered back down.

Good luck to you. -Brian

Unknown said...

You are way ahead of many players with such a honest assessment of your game.

I wish you good luck of course.

BrainMc said...

Good luck with your future writing assignments, I enjoyed your posts during your stay in Vegas. I look forward to hearing more about your winning ways that I am sure are coming.

StB said...

Sounds like you signed up to be Pauly's sidekick. Hope things go well.

Probably just a matter of time before you make a nice score at the tables again.

KrazyBangs said...

Been playing some O8 on FT..... gl and hope we dont crush each other (I suck so you shouldnt worry)....

Mr Subliminal said...

"At the moment, I have a sad little three-figure bankroll."

I dream of a three-figure bankroll. I keep getting up to high 2 digits and, like clockwork, suffer the inevitable smackdown.

You'll be fine.

Iakaris aka I.A.K. said...

Personally I was blown away by your honesty. I am reading this while in the FT 20k, with about 400 left and I am no longer focused on the task at hand. If that is not proof of great writing I don't know what is.

FWIW, I am pulling for you.

Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

Change, congratufuckinglations on the new gig! No one deserves it more than you. That is awesome fucking news. I love knowing that we'll have you covering the LA poker scene for us New Yorkers who don't have the chance to get out there much. That is great.

And yeah, as far as your roll, I think it's fair to say that we've all gone through exactly what you're describing. We just don't all admit it, or tell the story as cleverly and smoothly as you do. Lord knows my online poker story sounds shockingly similar to yours. Sometimes I think I'm a holdem mtt player, other times I think it's sngs, and still other times I think I belong at the stud table or playing HORSE instead of holdem altogether. You just gotta find what's working for you now, and keep plugging.

That said, I still think tournaments are your strong suit. Just my two cents, I don't know if I've ever even seen you playing a cash game other than live in Vegas.

Great post as always.

Pauly said...

Congrats on the new gig.

Jestocost said...

Truer words are seldom spoken. If you find the magic path to bankroll serenity, however, can you let me (and it sounds like a few others) in on the secret?

Good luck!

Unknown said...

Nice to see a great writer finally landing some good gigs.
Good luck and you'll be great.

Tully Moxness said...

Congratulations on your new writing gig! We're following a similar path in terms of bankroll, and I've been grinding it out in the $22 S&Gs on Party for a bit as well. Stay away from my tables - they're mine, mine, mine. I look forward to reading your coverage of the LA Poker Scene; you should play in the drunken $2-4 games at the Commerce on Friday and Saturday nights for a quick bankroll infusion.

Wolverine Fan said...

Congrats on the new gig.

Good luck with script, too.
I'll be following you the whole way.

Jordan said...

Great post, Change. I feel your pain. It seems like it has been a tough summer of poker for a bunch of us. We should start a support group, or at least all sit at the same table so one of our treading/losing streaks will end. Hopefully, I'll see you at the tables. Good luck with the new job(s) too.