January went rather poorly for me, but I am in no way disappointed. I finally found my way into the local network of poker games, and have been playing a .25/.50 cash game in a local bar on Sundays and Mondays. The game is pretty loose, wild at times, and has a heterogenous mix of styles and skill levels that makes for an interesting and profitable playing experience. Though I've taken some hits in this new game, I've also posted some respectable wins, and I am confident that once I've settled into the game as a regular, the swings will even out a bit and the profit will become more steady.
It's been a long journey from my decision to experiment with heads-up NLHE one year ago. My decision to grind low-stakes HU SNGs for my primary source of income may have been premature, but at the time it offered me an escape from a shitty job that provided an even more threadbare source of income. I've grown as a heads up player, but more importantly I've grown as a poker player. The experience of playing so many hands one-on-one has, I feel, significantly augmented my understanding of fundamental and intermediate poker strategy, relative hand values, and equity, as well as my overall "card sense." This overall improvement is evident in my improved results playing 6- and 9-handed SNGs later in the past year.
There have been three things, however, that have held me back from really improving my game: sticking with low stakes, relying on Sharkscope, and, more recently, a lack of study and self-analysis.
My reluctance to play for more than ~$20 a game has prevented me, in both HU and FR SNGs, from really being challenged by more competent opponents. I think that this attitude grew out of the relative poverty that I was living in in Chicago, when $20+ games could easily entail $100+ swings, which could be very discouraging and even scary when I had bills to pay. I was, essentially, playing on scared money, and keeping the opposition weak and the stakes small ensured that the swings were minimal, and my flow of income gradual but relatively predictable. Related to my reluctance to play higher has been a reluctance to significantly increase my volume via multi-tabling. Though I experimented with two-tabling HU SNGs briefly last spring, that experiment coincided with a significant downstreak and was subsequently put on the back burner, so to speak.
"Bumhunting" HU SNGs, and utilizing the Sharkscope Tournament Selector to avoid sharky FR SNGs, has had the same effect as playing low stakes, preventing my from being consistently challenged by tougher, more competent players. I began utilizing Sharkscope almost immediately last January for much the same reason as I listed above; it kept the swings low and the income more predictable. It has retarded my development even more than playing small, particularly for HU SNGs, and I need learn to rely on it less if I am to improve my skills.
My lack of study can be directly attributed to my getting a non-poker job in October. Since then I have not been able to put in the hours necessary to make significant money playing HU, and have had no need to. Poker has gone from being my primary source of income to being a fun and somewhat rewarding game again, and since my results have been positive there has been no urgent need for study. Studying poker books has similarly been replaced by reading literature and non-fiction, which has also been fun and rewarding.
I still don't make much money (~$1100 a month), but I'm living rent-free and no longer playing poker for my income, so moving up a bit should be a little easier. Likewise, since poker income is not so urgently needed, weaning myself off of Sharkscope should also be easier. And putting in an hour or two a week reviewing fundamentals, studying strategy, and analyzing my own play should not be difficult. To whit:
Preliminary Goals for 2011 (in order of priority)
Study more. This includes SNG strategy, HU strategy, and even cash game strategy, as well as reviewing fundamentals and increasing my understanding and application of specific concepts (specifically equity, ranging, and ICM).
Increase my average stake in non-HU SNGs to at least 9 (from ~$6). So long as my ROI remains positive this goal will stand.
Decrease my reliance on Sharkscope. By the end of the year I should be able to maintain a positive overall ROI over a significant sample size without having used the service.
Familiarize myself with the use of HUDs in 6-max and FR games. Though I happily do not needed a HUD to beat low stakes SNGs, I suspect that my failure to familiarize myself with the basics of HUD use will become more of a liability as the stakes rise.
Increase my average stake in HU SNGs to at least $14 (from $11). This may prove unwise in view of my lack of consistent HU practice, but if my ROI remains positive I will hold myself to it.
Play fewer MTTs, unless I study more. The fact is that, if not for my big cash in September, MTTs would have lost me money this year. I'm not terrible at them, but I'm not great either, and without further study I'd rather they didn't drain my bankroll.
This is going to be a lot to tackle at once (particularly moving up in stakes on less practice/studying while simultaneously weaning off of Sharkscope and learning to use a HUD). I'd appreciate any comments or suggestions that any of you might have. Good luck at the tables this year!