This is the 2nd blog in a series of 4 in which I’m looking back at my professional poker career which started 5 years ago.
Being late to the party
This is an easy one which I guess many poker players would answer if you ask them what they could have done different at the start of their career. Everybody has heard about the stories how easy making money online was back in 2005/2006 but I was really hesitant at first to start playing online. For me however it was another reason why I didn’t play as much as I would have loved and that was World of Warcraft. I wanted to quit that game for a long time already and exchange it for poker but I just couldn’t quit the game that easily. I had build up a big WoW Guild with a lot of my personal friends and was managing that guild since the start of it. I just couldn’t say goodbye to something I had put so much effort in and the many players who were personal friends before WoW or became personal friends during the time I played WoW. I struggled a lot to quit the game and the moment my father died in November 2006 was for me the final blow which made me quit WoW and focus on poker. I loved WoW as much as I love poker but sometimes you need to learn to let go.
Learning from others
I learned the game by reading a couple of books before I started playing actively but everything else was just learning by playing. While playing is an important part of becoming better, every professional poker player would say studying is at least as important. I’ve used PokerTracker a lot to study hands I played but to be honest that’s about it. I had one good friend who also played Limit with who I discussed hands but he played such a different style that it was hard to apply his approach to my own game. Today most poker players are in a Skype group to talk hands and I think that’s a really smart thing to do, however I’ve been to stubborn to discuss hands with other players my whole career.
Sure I’ve browsed the forums to look for good posts, articles and what not but since I mainly played Limit there wasn’t a lot of stuff that caught my interest. When looking at the forums most plays seems so standard that it often felt like a waste of time. Sure I understand that tweaking your game only by 1/2% has a huge impact on your winrate, especially when you play as many hands as I always did but I just never really got into the whole studying thing. I’ve tried watching video’s as well and that bored the hell out of me to. 55 out of the 60 minutes are standard plays and in those other 5 minutes someone was discussing that in some cases you could do X and other cases Y would be better, for me that kind of advice never really worked. My approach to poker is a very mechanical one, which isn’t the best approach but it has always worked for me. Sure I adjust to the different opponents I’m playing but I’m not 3-betting AJo UTG+1 in 64,5% of the cases against a specific player. It’s either always raise or always fold and while that might not be the best play in the long run, while playing 24 tables there isn’t much time to think about these kind of situations.
Coaching is something I’ve thought about a lot and that seemed more worth my time but again I never took any coaching. I’ve looked into a couple of peers who coached other players but I never felt comfortable opening up my game to other people which is probably my biggest leak in the last 5 years. Again even if somebody can improve your game with a simple tweak by 1/2% it’s just so much worth in the long term that it’s always profitable to take coaching. Sometimes I feel stupid for doing it all by myself and I know for sure I could have improved a lot quicker if I had done things different, the ego in me however feels proud for doing it all by myself. I do advice however everybody else to take coaching, talk hands in a Skype group and watch video’s. Your opponents do it and to stay ahead of the curve you need to know as much as they do and more!
I’m not sure if this is a mistake but for sure there is more money in other games today then there is in LHE. This year I’ve seen many LHE players trying to learn other games and this made the low/mid stakes at least not any harder than the previous year. All the others years before that LHE has gotten harder to beat and has been for many players a game in which they try to break-even and win the money by getting SNE which guarantees a nice amount of money in rakeback. While a lot of professional poker players don’t get this approach I think it’s the only way to go in LHE games today, apart from a handful of players who can nearly play GTO (Game Theoretical Optimum) poker. There are very little players who beat the game by more than 0,5BB/100 and that’s just because the game is more “solved” then other games. Since you don’t have to think about bet sizes in LHE the game “solves” itself a lot easier and thus makes it harder to make a huge profit pre rakeback.
There are 2 main reasons why I never left LHE and yes I’ve tried. The biggest reason is probably because I like the game better then NL or PLO. Many people don’t get that but to me NL feels like the most boring game ever in which you fold way to many hands pre-flop and with most other hands you are either all-in pre-flop or never see a showdown. I like the fast pace action in LHE even if you can’t make any huge bluffs. PLO for me feels like to much gambling and thus creating a lot more variance, while LHE is already a much more high variance game then NL is, I never wanted to get into a game with even more variance.
The other reason is that I just couldn’t start from scratch anymore. When I play LHE I feel comfortable and know I can beat the game up to a certain stake and have faith in what I do in 95% of the situations I’m facing. When learning a new game it feels like starting all over and while that is exactly what you should go through I just never had the energy to do it. I think if I didn’t work part-time I could have done it but I didn’t want to invest in my poker career by scrapping a couple of months of profit and start all over in a new game. I did try it for 3 weeks playing NL but just didn’t like it and I have tried MTTs and Hypers as well but with the crazy variance in those games I always reverted back to LHE.
While I’m not good enough to make money playing NL or PLO cashgames I do feel fine about my overall poker skills and would say I’m not that bad in games like Razz or Triple Draw. Being versatile as a poker players is something good and I think I’ve always been versatile so it’s not like I can only play one game and have no clue what to do in any of the other poker variants.
While this isn’t an actual mistake I do think that it makes much more sense to play poker full-time. I already had a good career going when I founded poker but most other players started out while they were studying or working jobs which didn’t pay good or which they didn’t like. Poker is a game which you need to fully embrace and the more you live and breathe it the easier it gets. The thousands of decisions you make a week are becoming a sort of rhythm and the more often you play the more you start to recognize situations and the easier it becomes to take the right decision in those situations. I’ve had weeks in which I played every day and would notice myself how things got easier. After a holiday it sometimes felt like starting all over and that already gives a lot away why it’s better if you play poker full-time.
While it’s better for your game to play poker full-time I think for me doing it part-time has always been the better choice. I never had to worry about bad streaks in which you wouldn’t win anything for weeks. Since I had an income on the side I never had to worry about money in those periods and as important I didn’t end up in a black hole in which the only thing you do is play poker and when things are not going your way you can become really frustrated which again doesn’t help your game. Often when these periods happen stepping out of the game for a week or so is the best thing to do because if all you do is playing poker you often don’t see your own mistakes anymore. Sure I have had my days as well in which you kept playing while you knew it wasn’t the smartest thing to do but on Wednesday I always had to go to work and that always made me think about what I had done the days before. On Sunday it always felt as I had reset myself, seeing it as a new week and taking a fresh approach.
So while the dream was always to play poker full-time and while I recommend everybody who tries to go professional to do it that way, I have always embraced the fact I had something besides poker and I think many other poker players seek something like this after playing full-time for years. But this is often after they already have made plenty of money, not when they are still building their bankroll.
Now this is something I regret. In my best years discipline was the thing that was probably the skill in which I excelled and which compensated a lot for the fact I never really studied a lot of poker. I never played above my bankroll, never played drunk and never really tilted, at least not those tilts which you regret afterwards. Also I always kept grinding, starting at Sunday evening and playing on Monday and Tuesday. While I still never do anything really stupid the amount of hours I’ve played the last two years have been way below the goals I had set myself. Till Black Friday (April 2011) my volume had always been great but I’ve been struggling ever since. The first months after Black Friday it felt like a well deserved break after 30 months of non-stop poker and hitting every volume goal I had set for myself. In 2012 I tried to set goals and stick to them but my life had changed and my priorities were different. Making money somehow didn’t seem as important as it had been the years before and although my discipline in poker suffered a lot I was very happy to stay disciplined in staying healthy and hitting my goals I had set myself in cycling.
2013 hasn’t been very different from 2012 although work has been in the way even more then it was in 2012. When I started to play poker part-time my job kept me busy 24 hours a week but when I got home I didn’t had a lot of work related stuff on my mind and had plenty of energy to play a 3/4 hour session. Nowadays things are very different and I hardly stop thinking about work when I’m home, often need to read some e-mails and for sure don’t have the energy anymore to put in a session of poker. Sure if I want to I can stick to my schedule at work and play as much poker as I used to do but that would mean I need to switch jobs and I do really like my current job. The mistake is probably not about being disciplined but it’s all about the priorities you set yourself as I know I can be very disciplined as long as I set the right priorities.