in keeping with my theme, that’s yiddish for “moments of confidence.” it is also the title of one of my favorite yiddish songs, written by mordechai gebirtig in 1940, imploring jews in krakow not to give up hope, to be patient and have confidence that things would get better, as their world was being dismantled and destroyed around them. you can listen to a version of the song on that website if you’re so inclined, or you can listen here – i like this version better (mp3).
i actually traveled to krakow and some other places in europe a few years ago, if you’re feeling adventurous you can check out my travel blog from that trip. i meant to link that before since i now have my homepage URL referring directly to this here blog. i like to travel, i haven’t gone anywhere cool recently, but the year after that i went to israel & sweden and then the year after that i spent a summer in belgium, and i keep meaning to organize those pictures in a similar fashion and put them up. so this is my official reminder to myself to do that already. anyway, enough about the long lost days when i used to have a life, we’re here to discuss poker!
as i talked about in my last blog, my online results during the first few months of 2011 were not particularly stellar, and i wasn’t #winning much at all. as my bankroll continued to stagnate, i started getting discouraged, and for the first time in a long time i felt my confidence begin to slip away from me. it was becoming more and more difficult to suppress the nagging fear that i might just not be cut out for this mad poker world. i described in a previous entry how i generally have better results in live cash games when i’m feeling good, and the fact of the matter is, an absolutely critical psychological and emotional element of being a successful player is having confidence in yourself.
poker players always emphasize not being “results-oriented,” meaning that you must focus on the decision-making process rather than the outcome. this is an oversimplified example, but if you get all the money in when you’re a 70% favorite to win a hand, you’re still going to lose that hand the other 30% of the time. and that 30% of the time when you lose all the money in front of you, it sucks. a lot! but you still made the right play. if you continue to make that decision every time you are in a situation where you are a favorite to win, and you play hundreds, or thousands, or hundreds of thousands of hands (i recently hit 300,000. groupie milestone!), you make money at poker. that’s the whole point of poker! making the decisions that will result in the maximum expected value over time, regardless of the outcome of one particular instance.
but the problem with this, is that you’re stuck in a position where you have no idea if your lack of immediate results means you’re on a downswing attributable to normal statistical variance, or if you just plain suck and need to get better. and recently i’ve had no discernible evidence to suggest that i have been making progress, but i have had plenty of poor results that could indicate that i might, in fact, suck. rationally i know that i can’t be results-oriented, but those nagging feelings of insecurity about my ability and my potential for future success just kept resurfacing and eating at me, and i think it was beginning to affect my game.
so a couple weeks ago, i was chatting on twitter with shaniac, aka shane schleger, who has been a successful high-stakes tournament pro for many years and recently got a sponsorship as a member of the pokerstars online team. he also has one of the most interesting blogs written by a poker player – it’s not a detailed and minute account of poker hands or situations or strategies, or a pointless regurgitation of what time he woke up for the gym and what he ate for breakfast. i think it’s one of the only blogs i’ve come across that has given me any real insight into what life playing the big high-stakes tournaments might be like. anyway, he had read my blog here and decided it would be fun to make me a “poker protege,” offering to stake me in two sunday tournaments on pokerstars: the sunday storm (which used to be the sunday quarter million; it’s an $11 buy in but now with a whopping $1m guarantee), and the sunday million, which is the canonical high-stakes sunday MTT that all the pros play (and that every noob like me desperately wants to play)! of course i gladly accepted this offer. i don’t play much on pokerstars for a few mostly circumstantial reasons – i’ve built my roll up on full tilt and it’s a pain to transfer funds between sites, and i’ve also got a nice database of hand histories on my full tilt opponents since i’ve played so much there. as much as i’ve disavowed academia, i’m still a scientist at heart, and if there’s one thing about scientists – we love data! i consider it a huge advantage to have prior statistics on my opponents; this can be essential for predicting their behavior and determining how to play against them. but in any case, i don’t have the bankroll yet to play ANY $200 tournaments online, so this was a really exciting opportunity for me. unfortunately i didn’t cash in either tournament, so it was a lame and not very protege-esque performance. i actually got close to making the money in the sunday million, but it was not to be. i got in some weird spots, blah blah, i don’t know if i feel like going into specifics about hands in this entry so i’ll just leave it at that.
anyway that was two sundays ago, and i’m pissed i didn’t take down the sunday million because that would have been cool and stuff, but i think that the simple fact that a legitimate pro who i have an immense amount of respect for would consider me a potentially good/random/interesting investment, even if it’s just for twitter kicks, really revived some of my confidence. part of what i love about poker is how individualistic it is, and how i can set my own goals and standards for success – but for someone who is just starting out, it’s so hard to determine whether i’m actually doing anything right. sometimes you can make all the best decisions and get unlucky and lose hand after hand; sometimes you can be doing everything totally wrong and luckbox your way into a major score. because of this disconnect between skill and results, i feel like i’m not necessarily qualified to judge if what i’m doing is working – i need someone with experience and expertise to tell me if i’m on the right track! but that gets back to another problem that i also described recently: so many poker players think they know everything and are the awesomest fucking thing ever. sometimes it feels like people who are trying to “help” me are really just trying to pad their own egos by pointing out things that they know and i don’t.
as corny as this is going to sound, i think i just needed somebody to believe in me. because a couple days ago.. i finally won a big tournament! it was a dinky $3 buy in, but there were over 5,000 entrants so first place came out to over $2100, making this my new largest online cash by about $100! yay! it was also the first big MTT that i’ve won outright, my other four-figure cashes all having come from third-place finishes or lower. winning is pretty fucking rad :) this has also brought my bankroll to its highest point yet, which is going to allow me to work some more mid-stakes MTTs into my routine.
so yeah. winning! i’m finally feeling good again. this has gone a long long way toward restoring my confidence. perhaps that might be results-oriented thinking, but i’ll take it for now :)