Friday, March 07, 2008

The Blame Game

'Sometimes I lie awake at night, and I ask, "Where have I gone wrong?" Then a voice says to me, "This is going to take more than one night." ' - Charles M. Schulz

Quotes of the day is batting .667.

If I get angry after playing poker, it's inevitably because of something I did. Sure, I'll get the brief spurt of rage when some donk chases a naked inside straight draw to the river and catches when I'm pounding my set, but it dissipates and a note gets added next to his name.

There are those who will sift through their hand histories after a game and replay every move to see what they could do differently. I don't have OCD, so I can't bring myself to spend that kind of time... yet.

Then there are those who get knocked out of a turbo SnG with 4 left when they push their AQo into a 9To steal that's pot-committed because it's only 360 more chips into a 2k pot. A 9 hits and they end with the always classy comment of "idiot." They will never improve. We should all be happy for that.

Between these two lie an entire spectrum of players. There are those who can see their obvious mistakes, but don't categorize them properly. There are those who make the right plays but are convinced they screwed up. Some welcome criticism and advice, others won't listen to anyone but themselves.

In the end though, I believe there are only two things you can blame for a loss - the cards, and yourself, with the lion's share of that blame falling on you.

We have no control over the cards, so getting upset about them serves absolutely no purpose. It's like ranting at the flight attendant when your plane is snowed in. It's an easy target, but your righteous indignation isn't going to do a damned thing.

If you want to improve your game, then you have to be able to recognize where you made mistakes, and then avoid making the same mistakes again. It's simply stated, but difficult to follow through with.

I'll use Kat as an example. She's in the middle of trying to improve her game. People like Kat, and she's got some chops when she's focused and caring. She can also be very stubborn (just ask her), yet is also her own worst critic. She's recently realized that min-betting is killing her. So her credo of late has been - NO MORE MIN BETS. In the long run, this is a bit extreme, but for the here and now, it's an excellent stance to take for her. Min-betting works best as a finesse move, but if you're getting burned by them repeatedly, then chances are you're using them wrong. So by eliminating them entirely, Kat eliminates the problems associated with them. Once she realizes WHY they weren't working, then she can experiment with them again. More importantly than this one example is that she's reached out to other players and asked for advice to help her game. Will she use every piece she is given? No. She'll use what she finds works for her and fits into her style, which will only improve and deepen her game. If she just kept making excuses about why she hasn't seen a big score reecently, she'd stay in her rut.

Me? I'm perfect. No, wait... I'm a donkey. Strike that, I'm lazy. There's the crux of most of my problems in life. This is about poker though. No matter how I lose, I look at what *I* did wrong. Not just at my final hand, but the ones before that brought me there. The KJh that I popped from the BB when the SB completed, only to fold it when I was re-popped. The time I called that big bet on the river when I was 80% sure I was behind but the pot was just too juicy. The unnecessary steal attempt near the satellite bubble. And so on, and so forth.

One thing I often fail to do is review my winning hands. I have to believe that I'm not the only one with this problem. It is a decent-sized hole in my game that I've been working on. Too often I make as little as possible on strong hands. Top sets on co-ordinated boards where I'm afraid of someone catching up. Draws that I overbet and take down early. Yes, sometimes a small win is better than a large loss, but a large win can be worth the risk of a medium loss. How many times have I found myself being killed by the blinds late in a tournament and been unable to find a bad play that got me there? If I was to go back, I'd undoubtedly find hands I could have stacked someone with if I'd been less risk-averse or more delicate in my betting. 2000 chips near the start of a tournament could have become tens of thousands of chips by the later stages, and I wouldn't have been in the fix I was.

No, when I lose, the first thing I do after calming down is think back on my play. Usually this amounts to one or two hands where I know I fucked up that put me in a bad spot. I break it down, elminating unnecessary things like the specific cards, and focusing on position, hand strength, the type of players involved, blinds, stacks, etc.. Then I ask how I could play it differently in the future. If I find something I think will work, then I try it the next time the opportunity comes up. If it's more successful, it becomes another tool.

Re-evaluation is just as key. If you fall into a habit, then it becomes exploitable. J9s in position = worth seeing a flop? You'll start to get careless. Raise AA 3x a previous raise? Min-raise your drawing hands? Habit and routine are deadly. If you convince yourself that you're doing the "right" thing, then you create a blind spot in your game. It's NEVER the "right" thing. It may be the "best" thing, or the "ideal thing in that position." But nothing is 100% the "right" thing. If it was, then nobody would ask the question, "when can you fold aces preflop?" So every once in a while, I look at moves I make with regularity and ask how I can mix them up to my advantage.

But back to being lazy - I've lost count of how many times I've espoused focus in poker. I do this because I so often lose it. The battle is to regain that lost focus and get back on top. When I'm on, I'm on. I'm fearless, trusting my reads and pushing aside doubts. If I lose a hand, I forget about it and move on to the next one. When I'm off just a bit, I agonize over mistakes and what-ifs, and hurt myself. This is the same reason I have a library of unread poker books. Page after page of examples and poorly-written discussion don't hold my interest. I move on to something else and the pages remain unturned. There's a reason I only play for fun - I lack the discipline to take it seriously.

In the end, cards and luck can be blamed for individual hands, or maybe even a short run of games. Anything more than that, and you have to start looking at what mistakes you are making, because I guarantee that no matter how high your horse, you're still making some. Be they stasticial, psychological, personal, physical, or seemingly unrelated to the game, mistakes are being made that affect your play. There is no player more exploitable in my mind than one who is convinced they're playing perfect poker.


SirFWALGMan said...

I like talking to people and finding out new strategies and seeing what works for me. However one caveat is that different people suck. They may think they are good. But if they suck you could do yourself more damage by listening. Also some styles just do not work for you. Like maybe you don't play the flop well enough to be overly aggressive or something.. you can work on it but you can not play a style that does not work for you.

Irongirl01 said...

Excellent and well written post Astin. Definitely gave me pause to think.

Astin said...

I agree totally Waffles. The trick is knowing your own game and how you can adapt it with new strategies and information. You have to be confident enough in your knowledge and skills to know what's bad advice, and what works for you. This has to be balanced with being aware that you always have something to learn.

Otherwise you end up with a bunch of Harrington-bots and Negreanu wannabes who don't grasp the reasons why those styles work for those players, but go through the steps anyway.

BamBam said...

What an excellent read Sir!

nh, vnh!

pokertart said...

Nice post - needed to hear it today.

Eric a.k.a. Bone Daddy said...

if I'm playing perfect poker and I get exploited I am going to blame you.