Tough Times, Slumps, and Lady Luck

There will be tough times, and they can come in many forms. You will fall into patterns and become predictable. You will become enamored with yourself and over rate your play. You will have periods where your personal life gets in the way of your poker game. These are the facts and if you are going to be a professional poker player you better accept them.

The most obvious sign of trouble being that you begin to have difficulties with your game. In my personal experience as a full time professional poker player, I had experienced a tough time while actually winning money in the games. I had lost my motivation to play. Suddenly, I found myself making more excuses not to play. I was burned out mentally I no longer had the drive to play at the highest level. I needed a break from poker and a vacation to recharge my batteries.

Burnout can be a really tough problem to see clearly and understand. It can be even more difficult to force yourself to take the right steps to correct. For months I knew I lacked motivation, yet I kept trying to convince myself that I needed to get up and get down to the casino and play. I told myself to just focus and work harder. Unfortunately, I was only forcing myself deeper into a miserable state of depression.

Slumps are an entirely different animal. Sometimes it’s called “being card dead”, “snake bit” or “no cards.” No matter the name, they can occur even when you are playing great and really having a good time. I have been through many slumps and they are never fun, but I know that I must keep playing solid and things will turn around. These are times that I remember playing well and making great decisions and at the end of the night the results just were not equal to the quality of the play. Slumps can last several hundred hours and there is really nothing that can be done but to play through it.

Swings in luck I put in an entirely different category. When you get unlucky, and it happens at a greater than expected frequency, you have to remember that there will be times when the pendulum swings the other way and you are exceptionally lucky. Luck will even out over the long term, but in the short term it can make some serious deviations from the norm. In no limit you can get the money in and be a huge favorite in an enormous pot and the other guy just gets lucky. When this happens eight or ten times in a row it is just a bad run of luck. I used to wonder how it was possible to be a four to one favorite and lose ten times in a row; the simple answer is luck.

Predictable plays are a problem that all players have and it is hard to avoid. You will spend hours trying to find a style of play that works and once you find it you do your damndest to implement that style. This of course makes you predictable and your opponents pick up on what you are doing and make adjustments. Just as quickly as the new style worked it becomes ineffective. You must be constantly working and making changes to your game.

I hate to admit it, but it is true that I am my own biggest fan. I look in the mirror and see the greatest player on earth. I know I need to be more realistic in my assessment of my own abilities. In order to continue to grow, I have to be brutally honest about my own abilities. This is a problem that can limit anyone. I have good friends that are brutally honest and take great pleasure in pointing out my inadequacies. Once, I even hired a coach to help me with my game, so that I would not be relying solely on my own opinions.

Your personal life can get in the way of your poker game. While it seems like a “well, duh!’ statement, many of us refuse to admit the amount of influence we allow our personal life to have over our poker game. Every single day something from your personal life has an effect on your poker game. Good or bad, big or small, there are things floating around in your head that you can’t simply put in a tidy little out of the way place until you are done playing poker. Drunken horny single women with jobs blowing up the cell phone can be a distraction and influence your play. Trust me.

I have lived the life and I share these insights not just to warn you, but to help you be aware and to learn to make the proper adjustments when these issues come up. It’s vitally important to make a proper assessment of what is going on with your game. I would write in my journal every day and when I go back and look at the journal the thing that most annoys me is that I know I wasn’t honest in my assessment of how I was playing.

I’ve grown older and now I only play part-time but my journal is kept much better. The journal is more than just wins and losses and a bunch of statistics. The statistics mean nothing without the accurate assessment of what is going on during any particular session. The statistics fit neatly into a spreadsheet, but the analysis of my play make take a few sentences or even a few paragraphs. I try to write down as much as I can remember so that I can refer back to the journal and understand what was going on at the time.

Example 1: I played eight hours and was stuck over $1000 for six hours when I got incredibly lucky and won a $3000 pot.

I have a $2000 win for the night and it looks like an hourly rate of $250 per hour and in reality I played really poorly. This is the importance of the narrative to allow me to understand what really happened.

Example 2: I was in a perfect game, playing great and winning, had a $500 win after two hours, then got up and cashed out so I could leave with a hot Asian chick.

This was an example of my personal life getting in the way of my poker game. I was playing strong and showing great results, and I could have carved the game up for another $1000 or more, but I found an opportunity to do something else. At the end of the year I will have to look back and accept that I missed out on thousands of dollars because I chose to do other things. Loss of potential wins is the price you pay as a poker player if you want to do other stuff.

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