Saturday, November 19, 2005

Just trying to learn...

Editor's note: this post is the result of three days of editing so I apologize for any time inconsistencies.

I changed the name of this blog -- I'll explain the decision near the end. This entry has been a long time coming, so let me start with a quote. To set the scene, this occurred about a week ago at the dealer's choice cash game after a Saturday tourney. I was taking a bit of time on many of my decisions and one of the guys got a little impatient and said something like "This isn't the world series of poker you know". My reply was:

"I'm just trying to learn how to be a better poker player."

Lately I've been trying to figure out my overall goal for poker. Originally I started playing because I thought I would be good at it, I liked the competition, and I needed a hobby away from my family for my sanity. Now, about a year, 600+ hours, and $1300+ later, it is time to rethink things. Poker is a huge time suck, can be very frustrating when things aren't going well, and I'm not making a bundle of money. So why am I doing it? Should I find another hobby that exercises my mind and body in a different way?

Obviously, I'm not giving up poker anytime soon. In fact, I hope to play the rest of my life at least occasionally because it is one of those hobbies which you can pretty much do until you die or lose your mind (I don't expect I'll be too concerned about poker if that happens). But, as my bankroll grows, I'm going to need to make some decisions about bankroll, limits, and time that really need a solid foundation.

Before I go much further I think I should lay out some recent background (more than anything, this entry is meant to let me organize my thoughts and give me something to go back and focus on).


My party results are pretty much representative of my limit results (actually, they are slightly worse than I've done at UB) so I'll just list my PP stats:

6h 50m 2-tabling at 50c/1 limit
+$62.75 (with a $100 bonus) ~$9/hr tables, 8.0 BB/100, $20+/hr w/ bonus
814 hands, 19% VPIP, 7% PFR, 3.33 AF
Total Rake: $21.25

Of course, 800 hands is way too small to get anything statistically meaningful, but the stats are about what I expect. Overall, I'd say I had a slightly better than average cards (only one session really crapped on me) and not too many outdraws. More importantly, I was playing a solid tight-aggressive/aggressive game and felt very comfortable at the tables. My bankroll is such that I can easily support 1/2 or even 2/4, and based on my experiences, I am ready to move up. The things I think I do right:
  1. Tight. Easy to do when you use a hand chart like that in Small Stakes Hold'Em
  2. Aggressive. Generally bet whenever you think you ar in the lead, and they pay you off well at low limits.
  3. Decent Reads. Many times I made decisions based on a read (and PokerTracker) that made me some money.
But, I still have a lot of leaks to work on (none of which should prevent me from moving up):
  1. Overaggressive at times. Often I bet top pair out of position even on the river. Many times I could save some money by check-calling and avoiding the raise.
  2. Too attached to big pairs. A problem for everyone, but I need to be more willing to give up JJ or QQ without a fight if an A or K lands and there is action.
In my mind, I could easily be profitable at 1/2, maybe $5-$10/hr. Two tabling is pretty rough on me on any site other than UB and UB may not be the best for lots of limit play (last night there were only 4 full 1/2 tables going). Why is it rough on me? Well, I've been at a computer most of my life and I've acquired a variety of repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) as a result. Don't get me wrong, I'm not in bad shape, but committing myself to playing 20 hours of two-tabling in addition to my grad work without multiple monitors would be more clicks and typing than I should do.

Aside: I threw in the rake number above to illustrate just how nasty Party's 10% rake for the first $5 in the pot is. It easily accounts for 2-3 BB/100, which makes most players into losers at that limit. On the plus side is their high bonus clear rate at the low limits (almost $15 an hour -- awesome).

Update: Tried two-tabling Stars 1/2 today -- did pretty well making $33 over 40 minutes (hit two big sets though -- luck was on my side) and felt comfortable once I got over the shock of how much money was flying around. It seems like (at least during the afternoon) the players are tighter pre-flop compared to Party, but don't play too well after the flop. I think I'll move up for sure now.

I won't go into much detail, but lately I've been making a decent amount from tournaments when I get a chance to play them. I still think I'm being a bit tight during crunch time (I've gotten a lot of 2nds and 3rds, especially in live play, but very few firsts) but overall I think I am playing ok. Ultimately, though, most of my bankroll has come from ring games.


It's no secret that a grad student supporting a family of four in the bay area is not going to be living richly. In fact, we have a pretty steady burn rate (difficult to estimate but I think it is $500-600 a month) and we are almost though our savings. So it would be a huge advantage to be able to use poker as a second job (that I do for fun) and help support the family with it. Here are some numbers:

Taking into consideration bonuses, I've come out ahead by $1400 over the past four months (this does include the $400 from the stars tourney) and I've been steadily climbing limits. I've been running good though, so $1000 is a good estimate to start with. So, I've made about $250 a month (with previous months at a faster rate) and averaged about 4.42/hr (5.53/hr in ring games since 10/1/05 not counting bonuses). I've been averaging about 60 hours a month for the past 3 months.

So, lets say I commit to giving $100 a month to the family -- it seems pretty decent while still small, amounting to over a grand for the year. I don't think that would hurt me too much because I'd still come out ahead in the long run, but I've been running good lately. The sad thing is, I was seriously thinking about this a few days ago, and I got a sick feeling about losing bankroll if I hit a slow streak... I'm realizing I have some psychological hang-ups about steadily increasing my bankroll (which is one of the reasons I'm at lower limits than my bankroll can theoretically be able to support).

In summary, I'd really like to give as much as I can to my family without hurting my bankroll and keeping the growth going. $100 a month will slow down the disappearance of our savings, but not stop it. FYI, I'm not concerned long term, because my wife or I could easily get a real job or we could borrow money to make ends meet until school is over. Ultimately, once we both graduate, we'll have quite a bit of earning power.

CONCLUSION AND "What's my (blog) name?":

If you ask any poker player what their goal in poker is, you'll ultimately get a lot of different opinions. Some do it purely for the money (CardPlayer has a lot of writers that believe this). Some do it purely for the fame and prestige (I'd say 80% of the recognizable 'TV pros' fall into this category). For instance, my friend Brian has said a few times that his goal is to get one big hit (a big tourney win) and then be set the rest of his life. Some people do it to become the best -- a king of the hill, if you will. Finally, a lot of people do it for social reasons -- home games across the country are filled with those kinds of players.

But, what motivates me? Well, like everyone, I have numerous reasons, but here are my main ones:
  1. Challenge. Face it -- I'm the type of guy that likes to be the best at whatever I do, and I love the competition of poker.
  2. Social reasons. A hobby that gets me out of the house, 'nough said.
  3. The money. I've never really worried about money too much, but I do like earning it.
  4. Fame. Everyone wants to win the WSOP, but I realize it is a pipe dream (where's that expression come from -- marijuana?).
#1 and #2 are really the big ones -- the rest don't matter so much, although with my recent family funding issues, #3 is moving up. You see, I was thinking about it (and talking it over with my wife) and if I can come up with an extra $200 a month from poker, it would go a long way to decreasing our burn rate (read: lengthening the time before we need to get a job or borrow money). At first, I wasn't wild about hurting my bankroll even for the cause of putting food on the table (some parent I am, huh...). Mostly, I'm afraid if I am expected to contribute, my poker game will go to hell and I'll start hating table hours (killing reasons #1 and #2 above). Then, I had an epiphany: I can be a bonus whore for my family!

You figure I put in at least 40 hours a month anyway, and there is no reason I can't average $5/hr of bonuses (Bonus Whores is a great resource for this, BTW). There is really no reason to play without a bonus nowadays. But, $5 * 40 = $200... bam, family supported by doing nothing more than I'm already doing. And, my wife won't complain as much about the long poker hours if I help buy christmas presents with the money... Yes, I do have the condition that I reserve the right to hold back the bonus money if I hit a major bad stretch, but I don't think that will happen with my experience and the quality of the players at the low limits. Obviously, profits from poker play will go to build my bankroll.

I'm still not going to consider myself a poker professional (I prefer the term poker UNprofessional, hence the new blog name). Being a professional means a lot of things I'm not. Instead, I'm letting the poker sites support my family as I chase my hobby (and flushes, lots and lots of flushes).

So, that's it, when I have more time I'll post another set of goals for the next month.

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