The Poker Novice Speaks

I guess for my first poker posting that I should talk a little bit about why I like playing poker and just exactly where I am in my game and where I want to go.

First off, I have what I refer to as “intellectual obsessive-compulsive disorder.” I tend to take on hobbies and become obsessive about them. Not unhealthy obsessive but I like to learn all there is to learn on a topic. I caught the scuba diving bug a few years ago while vacationing in Maui. Not just satisfied to become a scuba diver, I became an advanced diver and then a rescue diver. From there I ventured into the professional ranks and became a dive master then an instructor and eventually became a master scuba diver trainer. The more I learned the more I wanted to learn. In fact, I’m still active in studying the physics and physiology of diving and continue to teach.

Though I’ve only been playing poker “seriously” for about 6 months, I can already tell this is one of those hobbies I will not be able to participate in passively. It’s too intellectually stimulating. It seems as if every session reveals something new about the game that you can jump in and analyze. I constantly find myself making notes to myself as I think over a session or a particular hand and begin to realize what I missed while I was caught up in the moment.

Perhaps that’s what I find so appealing about the game. At first you learn to play the cards. Then you learn to play your opponents. But true mastery comes when you learn to play yourself. Not going on tilt. Not steaming after a bad beat. Not getting too greedy. Not underestimating the level of your competition. Not letting your ego cloud your judgment. In fact, I was watching a WPT tournament the other night and a very well known poker pro known for his massive ego (and who shall remain nameless though some may be able to guess who he is) just made dumb move after dumb move and lost his entire stack because he thought he was the best player at the table and refused to back down to players he felt were inferior to him. Each time he got spanked he would jump up from the table, mutter to himself, sit back down and start steaming. He was playing crap hands, staying in the hand too long, and refusing to lay down dominated cards. It was a classic example of someone who obviously had all of the skills necessary to be a pro player but he beat himself at that table.

Like I said, I only started playing fairly recently. I started out, as I think most, getting my butt handed to me. Not a lot of money but just getting mopped up so handily that you couldn’t help but notice that you were being totally outplayed. I played online poker like most people play blackjack in Vegas. I played as if it were a form of entertainment. I’m smart enough to know that you’re the underdog at nearly every game they have in Vegas. They don’t build multi-billion dollar casinos based on luck. Unless you can count cards at blackjack you’re straight up gambling. But poker is different because you don’t play against the house. If ten people sit down at a poker table, the advantage goes to the better player. If you happen to be that better player, you’re just like the house/dealer at a blackjack table. You’ll win some and you’ll lose some but given enough hands, you’re going to come out ahead.

I’m not sure when but at some point I discovered David Sklansky’s book “Hold ‘Em Poker” and my life changed. Well, maybe not my life, but certainly my outlook on the game. With each turn of the page I saw an example of something I had been doing incorrectly. I devoured the book. Then I started researching everything I could find on the Internet. I read articles, message boards, and anything else I could find. Once I had armed myself with enough knowledge to avoid making the basic mistakes I purchased Turbo Texas Hold ‘Em (TTHE) and started playing 1000 – 2000 games a week. That practice helped prove what I was learning made a difference. The more I played the more I could see what Sklansky was saying was true. Not that I doubted Sklansky but it always helps to see something confirmed to make the lesson set in.

I returned to the online tables with a tighter game and a lot more aggressiveness in my play. I was still making mistakes but I knew when I was making them. The second my mouse clicked on Fold, Bet or Raise I would cringe because I knew I made the wrong move. But, that was progress and my earnings were starting to turn positive. I’ve started making my way into the local Los Angeles casinos and playing 10 – 12 hour $2/$4 sessions and walking away with a nice little profit. I’ve even been hosting some “friendly” poker games once a month and my buddies and I even hosted a tournament where we had 28 people paying $50 to buy in.

Right now I’m still learning (as I will always be). As Mike Sexton on the WPT says, Hold ‘Em only takes a few minutes to learn but a lifetime to master. I’ve actually set up a study plan with objectives that has really proven effective in keeping me moving forward. I’ve acquired several more solid poker books (Sklansky, Malmuth, and Jones) and I try to read a few chapters every day and then work on what I’ve learned both on TTHE as well as on the micro-limit tables online. One thing I’ve noticed about my game is that I am winning with enough consistency that I feel confident that my studying is paying off. Even when I’m getting creamed with bad beats and busted draws, I can usually keep my losses minimal or even pull out a minor profit.

So where do I hope this is taking me? Well, I would like to get to the point where I can play the higher limit games pretty solidly. I’ve also been doing some of the online No Limit tournaments (I even placed 155th out of 10,500 players on a $30 buy-in). I’m totally winging it in the NL tournaments though. I have a book on tourney play but it’s about fifth or sixth on my list of poker books to get to. Even so, I think tournament play will become a regular part of my game at some point.

So, that’s it. I’ll probably be posting from time to time on particular games or my thoughts on a poker related topic so I thought it might be a good idea to get the backgrounder info out of the way.