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Poker News | PokerWorks Op-Ed

Grinding Online - When Ego Gets in the Way

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What kind of player do you consider yourself?  By that I mean what stakes do you think of yourself as playing, either live or online?  Are you a “big tournament” player?  A 100-200 no limit player? One of the “big game” players at the Bellagio?  A $.50-$1 limit player?  Your answer to that question reveals a potential danger to your bankroll as you try to build it.

I have run into bad stretches of play.  As I have previously written, I started my online adventure with just $50, to see if I could catch up to the PokerWorks writers who were attempting to duplicate Chris Ferguson’s $0 to $10,000 online feat (yes, I know that’s cheating, but I didn’t have the time in my life to go through freeroll hell to make the first few dollars.  Sue me).  

From the beginning, I was scrupulous about what stakes games I would play, allowing myself only to play in games and tourneys that my bankroll would justify.  At my highest point, I had nursed the $50 into a little over $2,300, and things were looking good for further gains.  At the same time, I had a self-imposed rule that when I went into a slump of more than 20%, I would force myself to take money out of my online account, and use it for family fun, and then readjust the stakes levels I was playing, based on the remaining balance.  In this way, I had removed $1,350 of my winnings over time.  That insured the project being a profitable venture.  Yes, I know, not much “gamble” there, but I don’t subscribe to the theory that poker players have to go broke a hundred times before they hit the “big score,” because I firmly believe that if you hold that idea in your mind, that even if you eventually do hit it big, you’ll just lose that as well.

Which brings me back to my original question about what kind of player you are.

One of the most gratifying parts of the journey was gradually working up to higher stakes levels.  While at the beginning, a $1 profit at .04-.08 limit stud was cause for celebration, it was a lot more fun to double up a buy-in of $80 at $2-$4, or to cash in a tourney with a buy-in of $20, as opposed to one of $1.  The endorphin rush of taking down a larger prize is definitely bigger than with a smaller one.  

I began to define myself as “at least” a $2-$4 limit player, a $12-$27 sit-n-go player, and a .50-$1 no limit player.  Unfortunately, with a smaller online bankroll due to the withdrawals I had made, the normal variance at work meant that my remaining money was much more at risk.  And that’s what happened.  At that point, my actual online bankroll sat at a little under $250, through a combination of bad luck, stubbornly bad play and the ego-driven idea of what stakes I “deserve” to play.  

The ego says, “Keep playing these stakes, your luck is bound to turn, and since you have proven you can be successful at this level, you will be again.” 

The ego says, “It just takes one good tournament score, and you’ll be back where you need to be.” 

It’s the same voice that insists on making what your gut knows is a hopeless call on the river when your opponent just hit his 4-out hand.  It is, I fear, the voice of the loser.  

The winner controls the ego, rather than having it control him/her.  The winner is humble, knowing that the universe owes him nothing, realizing that luck is a fickle thing, and that there is no shame in regrouping at a safer level, and grinding his way back up.  In many respects, ego-driven gambling is what has caused the current economic meltdown that the world needs to come to grips with.  Bankers created a situation where they were playing higher and higher stakes with riskier and riskier bets, until variance, as it always does, caught up with them.  

I severely reduced my stake levels and my tournament buy-ins.  I dropped back to as low as .25-.50 limit games, and $4 and $5 tourneys.  To be honest, it wasn't easy.  I found myself making riskier plays with marginal holdings, because I simply didn't value the amount of money for which I was playing.  I got impatient with how slow it was to make any money at those levels, and, as a result, chased hands that I know needed to be mucked.  Ironically, in the past I’ve played levels even lower than that and been completely happy grinding out small profits.  But the taste I had of faster gains jaded me.  

What I needed to do is simple.  I had to return to the mindset with which I began the journey, which is just to enjoy the challenge of playing my absolute best for the sake of winning, regardless of the stakes.  Staying focused in the moment, and knowing what plays to make at each point in a game, is a reward that, in many regards, is even more gratifying than the money that results from those decisions.  

You’ve been there, haven’t you?  That place where every move becomes clear, where you know just when to bluff, just when to bully, and just when to be more passive?  That is the zone that the great players inhabit more often than not.  That is where the long-term winners live.  That is where I truly want to be.

See you at the tables!

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