Monday, March 22, 2010

Stake, Stakes, and Tilt

I am very pleased to announce that I have received my first stake. While engaging in a conversation regarding my previous post with my longtime poker mentor Lorin Yelle, Lorin brought up the subject of moving up, and generously offered me a $320 stake to take a shot at the $25 HU SNGs. He pointed out that reliance on one's bankroll for living expenses stunts ones poker growth, and I really appreciate the chance he's given me to develop my game without risking the rent. My most recent cashout of $900 halfway through this month left my roll at about $1,050; plenty of buy-ins for the $5 and $10 stakes I usually play, but not nearly enough to move to the next level.
Initial results were encouraging; after three days of play I ended the week with 6 wins and 3 losses, for a total profit of $63.75. On Sunday, however, I reversed this trend, scoring 3 wins and 6 losses. Which brings me to my next thought, on the stakes-tilt connection...

I've had two horrible sessions in the last two days, which can be attributed in part to a (very) shitty run of luck, and partly to the tilt that resulted from this bad run, but also partly to moving further up into the regions of the $25 HU SNG. Part of what added to the 'horribleness' of these sessions was the same thing that contributed to an excellent session on Friday ($160 in 4 hours); the magnified stakes. I realized this more clearly after reading an excellent article in this month's online 2+2 Magazine, Mental Disintegration in Limit Hold 'em by Carl Sampson.
Carl summed up the disorientation I was feeling from moving up in stakes, describing a player moving from $3-$6 to $10-$20 limit games:

Suddenly you have experienced losses that are far higher than anything that you have ever been used to. The players are constantly aggressive and you feel like a fool in how you are being pushed around. You lose 30BB which is $600 in the space of an hour. That would have been 150BB in your old $2-$4 game. It shouldn’t make a difference but it will even if it is only slight.

All in all Mr. Sampson wrote a very insightful and interesting article, and I encourage you to check it out. The reason I mention it is because it made me realize more fully that I wasn't looking at my bad sessions in the proper perspective. Of my $97 loss on Sunday, $86 of it was essentially the result of only 3 losses (plus the lost fees from the other 6 games), though I felt like I had really screwed up in a serious, fundamental way, because I hadn't booked a loss that big before. Put in perspective, Sunday's loss added up to probably 5 or 6 buy-ins (2 $25s and 2-3 $10s), not the 10 buy-ins that it felt like. I have begun to realize, in other words, that moving up means more than just playing bigger; it is going to require a shift in perspective from a bankroll standpoint, as well as a full re-examination of my game and that of my opponents from a skill and strategy standpoint. Which brings me to my next thought.
Another aspect of moving up, separate from the scale of wins and losses, that is unsettling is the way one is forced to reevaluate their game -- and their leaks. On the site that I play at, traffic at the $25 level is fairly slow at most times, and most of the players that actually sit in these lobbies are seasoned regulars with fairly impressive records. For the most part I have managed to steer clear of these grinders, but I (accidentally) sat with one yesterday, and of course I got crushed. I believe in retrospect that I was intimidated by this guy's record as well as the higher stake, and as a result I committed a cardinal sin: I played scared poker. I had fallen back into a more passive style of play that one can get away with more easily at lower buy-in games, but which is an invitation to exploitation to a competent, aggressive player. My opponent's relentless aggression quickly reduced me to a 3:1 chip disadvantage, and in a poorly-timed attempt to adjust to this onslaught I ended up limp/shoving A3s with a reasonable number of BBs behind, and found myself dominated by his A9o. I realized after the match that I would not have limp/shoved such a weak ace against a similarly aggressive player at my usual stake; it was the intimidation factor of a higher stake and superior competition that clouded my judgement and made me react in a way that can only be called desperate, rather than thinking clearly through each move and, just as importantly, thinking ahead and setting up future moves.
In conclusion, I decided to take a day off from playing to enjoy some time with the lady and center myself, which I think has been tremendously helpful already in allowing me to examine my errors of the weekend and, hopefully, to cleanse myself of the sticky, foul-smelling residue of tilt and failure. Let's hope I've prepared myself sufficiently for things to improve tomorrow.

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