Sunday, August 17, 2008

Psychology and Poker

Why do we play poker? A psychiatrist often has to deal with people who are experiencing loss. Sometimes that loss is career based. Like a kid who can't play football anymore. And it pains him so much, his mom takes him to a psychiatrist. Now, if that psychiatrist has never experienced this type off loss, he may not able to appreciate the situation. And if the psychiatrist has never played football, he might not appreciate how playing it is a way of life. And when that starts to slip away from you, it can be very hard to deal with. Take Dante Cullpepper (ouch). Ok, take Farve. He just can't bear to not play. Even though he hates training camp, practice, the toll on his body, and other pain he began to think was getting to much of a weight to bear, he found the pain of not playing greater. Only a few (Barry Sanders comes to mind) could walk away and never look back, but Barry was different in that ironically he never liked football. (he often compared it to a job with 12 hour days).

So why do we play poker? For some it may be a way of life. But removing that from the equation, why do we play poker? Its a competitive game. People like to find competitive activities. So that might explain the attraction to the game, but why do we PLAY? I think its because once we decide on an activity or hobby, the next part of the journey is the desire to be better than everyone else. I hate the cliche' "the desire to be the best" because it lacks context. We actually strive to be better than who is in our defined universe. in 2007, I became somewhat obsessed with the Monday night Hoy game. At the end of the year, I lead the money standings. Was I the best player? I doubt it. But at that goal, I worked harder and smarter and putting the hours. And I really loved my work.

I think the best advice I have received in 2008 is simply this. I was asked if I track my results on Official Poker Rankings. And I said no. So the question is, "then why am I playing poker?" Do I want to just play for the social aspect and because I have nothing else to do and I achieved a basic level of comfort? I think for the last few months, the answer is yes. I took a real hard look at my results. In 2007, I won a ton of money. Ironically, online I was break even. All my winnings were mostly home game and table based. In 2008, my results are downright dismal.

So now to complete this written journey. What is so different about playing at a table vs. online. For me, its patience. I have far more patience (and time to make decisions too) at a real table. Online, I play too many hands. Sure, I can get away like Houdini, but I still bleed chips in small pots. I railed some playings in the FTOPs yesterday and watched. I had not done that in a while. And guess what it was... Long stretches of boredom interrupted by brief moments of tough decisions for big pots. And mostly, the big hands won. (mostly, haha). Big Hands for Big Pots. Just that simple.

There is something I learned in stand-up that is relevant here. The better rehearsed you are, the more free you are to deviate from the script. Because you always can make a smooth transition out and back into the script. In poker, the better your base fundamental game is, the easier you can deviate for brief forays into tricky play. The basic issue for me over the last 6 months (and you can just look at the rudimentary posts of this blog for evidence), is that I deviated from the things that make a great poker player, and never came back to the script.

You cant have it both ways Not even Farve. You want to be good, you have to know the playbook inside and out. and you have to practice it, every day. And sometimes it hurts. suck it up buttercup.

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