Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Evolve

As we all know, for online poker players in the US the landscape has changed dramatically. The reaction has been diverse. Some people have panicked, some are making contingency plans, but no matter what, if you choose to remain a poker player to some degree, you need to learn to evolve. After all the game of poker evolves. Whether you realize it or not, it's evolving everyday.

Besides control of mental state (tilt, focus, etc.), knowledge of the game (stats, numbers, probability, ev, HUD, concepts), hand and people reading skills (including ranges), and a lack of ego, one must possess a good sense of awareness to succeed in poker. This awareness involves what's going on in the short term, e.g. what's happening on your table in the present moment but also awareness involving the long term. This is understanding how the landscape of poker is changing, how the general strategy and approach of poker is changing, and making necessary adjustments to stay ahead of the curve. Basically one must evolve as a poker player to succeed over the long run.

I'll share parts of my personal voyage through poker the past 13 years to illustrate how poker changed and how I did my part in keeping up with the times allowing me to stay successful. After all, 13 successful years in a profession that swallows people up and spits them out defeated in many ways should make me a guru of sorts (obviously somebody like Doyle Brunson is the godfather of poker). Some of these tidbits I've repeated in the past but I think it's a good time to summarize them in one to get to the point at hand.

In 1998 I made the choice to stay in Vancouver, Canada while waiting for my new wife's immigration papers so she can come down to the US (I covered this in detail in a previous post here...basically the start of my professional career... http://nicolakpoker.blogspot.com/2010/09/road-trip-part-3.html ). I made a decision to play poker full time. I ordered almost every poker book I can get my hands on (which wasn't much at the time) including every 2+2 book and Super System. I read every Cardplayer magazine, every article in it, as it was the only poker magazine around at the time (I think). I knew I needed to learn as much about this game as I could if I wanted to succeed. Back then the only games spread were limit hold'em games. The learning curve was there but because it was limit, it wasn't as tough as nl would turn out to be.

Well I was beating the limit hold'em games good and made enough to support my new wife. Eventually we had a baby and I kept on playing full time while along the way befriending other players and discussing poker w/ them, in turn improving them and me. My wife became a winning poker player from the start as well (I like to think she had an awesome teacher/coach....me) and we bounced off ideas and strategy with each other. Back then there were no internet poker forums (well, not necessarily true...there was rec.poker but the info there was usually wrong when I reflect back on it), no training sites, and we had to rely on books and each other to get better.

During the turn of the century (sounds funny but it was the turn), internet poker was introduced. Again only limit hold'em games were spread so there really was no transitional period. Basically I applied what I knew about live limit games and did ok. Also since this was such a new realm, internet poker, people were cautious about it including me. I still maintained most of my hours playing live.

Well I maintained my 80/20 or so ratio of live/internet play for the next couple of years. Paradise Poker would change that. They seemed like they were the 1st reputable site and they spread a lot of games. Internet poker was starting to catch on like wildfire. I too decided I needed to start focusing more on internet poker because I saw the speed of hands being dealt and I knew that the more hands I play the more money I make. I knew being able to multitable would increase my hourly as well. I started off playing 2 tables then gradually increased the number of tables over the years. Yes years, for a couple of reasons...the early sites only allowed a maximum of 4 tables (I think) and I wanted to take my time in increasing the number of tables played as not to sacrifice my overall earning power (there is a point of diminishing returns when figuring the max # of tables to play). I focused on playing my A game even if I was seeing 2-5x the hands I was used to seeing (playing live).

Following Paradise Poker's success, other sites opened up including Party Poker. They introduced 6max limit games (maybe Paradise introduced them 1st) and I decided it would be wise of me to learn to play shorthanded. It would allow me to play more hands/hr (for a better hrly) and it would allow me to play more hands (which would make poker more fun). Around this time poker forums, notably 2+2, were popping up and I started frequenting those sites to read other people's thoughts on the game. I really didn't post but lurked and read as much as I could. This shortened my learning curve in playing shorthanded limit hold'em.

After this nl games were introduced, including cash games and tournaments. Up to this point I had never played a single hand of nl. I was intimidated at the thought of losing all the money I had in front of me in a single hand and chose to stick with limit hold'em (obviously this thought turned out fallacious in determining profitability in poker). I dabbled in some online nl tournaments because I could only lose the initial buyins in those. I had zero clue on what I was doing from a fundamental view, but I relied on my experience in hold'em in general and my hand reading skills to hold my own.

Well Chris Moneymaker would forever change the landscape of poker for good (or up to the present). I remember when he won and everybody was like "who is this guy w/ a cool sounding last name?!". A lot of new people got into poker because of him (everyday guy winning the WSOP main event and a million dollars) and a lot of limit hold'em players made the transition from limit to nl including myself. I realized nl was the future of poker and I needed to make the jump like everybody else.

I jumped into $5/$10 nl games from the start, as they were equivalent to the limit stakes I were playing at the time ($15/$30 to $30/$60 limit).

Tptk? no problem, get in 100bbs on the flop no matter the texture! Shove river? No way, that costs too much if I get called! Face a river shove? Fold because they must have it! AK preflop? Call the 3bet because it's only a drawing hand and I may not even flop a pair! Face a big turn bet w/ my fd? Call because I have a fd!

As you can see I was lacking in understanding the nuances of nl, not to mention the correct fundamentals. I was playing nl like I was playing limit!

I did well from the get go even though I really didn't know anything from a fundamental view. Again I relied on hand reading, not tilting, and just a general understanding of hold'em to do well. Slowly over time I began thinking about the game and how it differed from limit. Tbh I think coming from a full time limit hold'em background hindered me. Guys that were jumping directly into nl hold'em from scratch had a leg up on me because they had a clean slate to start with.

I was aware that this was the case and I made a conscientious effort to improve my nl game independent of my limit game. Along the way I increased the number of tables, going from four to eight, from eight to twelve. This caused a boon in my bankroll and I was making so much money that I started getting content. I started lowering my hours played. I went from grinding 40hrs/wk to 20hrs/wk which wasn't a bad thing for me because I had a wife and a kid and I wanted to spend more time with them. Also I pursued other interests, notably video games (it's the Asian in me).

Around this time we decided to buy a house because after all I was crushing the games and could make lots of money any time I wanted to (all I had to do was log in and start playing). I even won $250k in an online tournament around this time (which made the game seem easy for me). Fortunately I did a smart thing and paid off all our debts and invested most of that money for our future (although I've debated whether it might've been smarter to play higher stakes with it, probably so, but can't fault me for the path I chose).

Well now complacency set in...I blame that partially to the success I was having. I am sure this happens to a lot of poker players. I didn't spend much time learning the game because I was confident in my abilities and I was always doing well. I didn't move up in stakes because I was making plenty grinding 8-12 tables of $5/$10.

Come Oct. 2008 I was having my best year in poker, reaching close to half a million dollars in profits (mostly from cash games, almost all of it at $5/$10 nl 6max games, just playing 20 hrs/wk), and about this time I almost developed an ego (almost). Then I hit a 300k (maybe it was 400k) hands break even stretch over the next 4 months.

I mentioned I started getting complacent and my results started to show. I was complacent regarding my skill level. Cardrunners was introduced in 2005 and new players were flocking into the games armed with the knowledge they had acquired from training sites like CR and the new information being introduced in the forums. I was not one of the guys learning.

2009 rolled around and I was reeling from not making a penny the final 4 months of 2008 after doing so well the 1st 8 months. I decided to take a step back and look at the big picture. How were the games evolving? How did the players become so good? Better yet, what was I doing wrong and how can I get back on top? With a little push from some 2+2 regs that pointed out what I was doing wrong (some in a mocking fashion, others in a helpful manner), I decided I needed to reevaluate my game and figure out how to crush the games once again.

I hired a coach (turned out I didn't learn much...or maybe he wasn't as good as advertised), I started reading a lot on 2+2, and for once I started watching some videos on CR and other training sites. I really started thinking about the game when I wasn't playing (this was usually the most effective way I improved over the years). I needed to evolve because the games were changing (thanks Taylor Caby, and I don't mean that in a good way! ;) ).

I actually learned how to play nl after years of playing a limit style. After having a good 2009 I decided to set a very high monetary goal of a million dollars in 2010. I decided to start at $2/$4 nl and was the biggest winner at that limit across all sites in January (winning $40k, based on PTR). I was up $120k or so after the 1st 3 months and was crushing $5/$10 in March. In April I hit a nasty downswing where I started off winning $20k early on and was down $20k midway through the month.

Downswings are a great time to take a step back and reflect on your game. Again I really took improving my game to heart and figured out some things. A specific concept I realized was that it's sometimes better to take a passive line...sure it's simple, but after having been such an aggressive player for so many years (again limit hold'em teaches pure aggression and I guess that still lingered with me through the years), it was tough learning and applying that simple concept. Suddenly my game opened up and I felt like my eyes opened up as well. I could see things a lot more clearly in no limit. I could understand why certain players took certain lines and I had a much better understanding of what lines were optimal. I improved my nl game almost 2x.

Besides doing well in cash games I decided to enter the world of live tournaments with this new found knowledge. I had played in them sporadically in the past and have done ok, mostly WSOP events (a couple of $60k + cashes along w/ numerous smaller cashes). I entered 17 WSOP events last year and cashed in 5 of them showing a small profit (actually that's 4 of the past 6 years I've shown a profit at the WSOP from tournaments only).

I didn't win the million dollars as I had hoped but that's because again I decided to scale down my work to focus on my family and hobbies (golf and video games). I also decided to introduce myself to the poker world and started blogging, joined Cardrunners, joined PokerRoad as a cohost of a podcast, and started tweeting (check out Taylor Caby's recent blog about tweeting to find out useful ways to take advantage of Twitter... http://www.cardrunners.com/blog/Taylor/some-thoughts-on-twitter ). I decided to get to know my fellow opponents and the people that comprised the world of poker. Up to this time I had stayed behind a screen just focusing on making money, not caring about meeting others (it wasn't shyness or lack of social skills...I just chose to remain anonymous and focus on my family), and meeting up with a select group of Las Vegas friends from time to time.

I realized in order to improve my game even further I would have to start networking, to start meeting others, and talk poker with others, like I had when I 1st started playing poker back in my Vancouver days. Plus it's never bad to have more acquaintances and friends. I needed this to fully evolve into the best player I can be. Also this is the age of social networking so I wanted to take advantage of all my resources. I'm about as an easy going person as one can be and I'm very approachable so for anybody that reads this and ever runs into me, say hi and introduce yourself and I will do likewise :) . Just don't ask me for money!

Now this leads us into the present. With the occurrence of Black Friday Americans are very limited in playing online (the smaller sites that still cater to Americans are unstable at best) so one must make the choice of pursuing a new career or adapting to the new environment. Since poker is what I know best and I've been doing it for over a decade I am going to remain a poker player. I have the advantage of living in Las Vegas. I have plenty of experience playing live poker but it's been awhile since I played live poker full time. How will I cope with the new landscape of poker? How I've always coped whenever the landscape changed. I'll adapt, I'll keep figuring out ways to get better, and I'll keep crushing. I'll evolve.

*This post is geared for internet poker players but I think my general message is clear for everybody...the game is always evolving so keep getting better...evolve!

**I was going to split this post into 2 but decided the message is better served being read at once. Props to those that spent the time reading it, and thanks!

3 comments:

  1. Great post Sir, was a great read and all the best for you. Hope you evolve into a Monster, lol. Keep us updated about how things are going on the live front cash/tourney. Great to read your blog. One of my fav. Keep the run good.
    Best Regards
    SJD

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  2. Tx SDJ, and I will update on the live front. Will be addressing my WSOP plans soon.

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  3. Wow, hey John, this blog post just hits home....thanks for this....I've only been playing for about 3 years professionally/semi, but I to started playing Limit for about 13 months Live before transitioning to online...now back to live poker NL since there arent any Limit games good in Florida

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