Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Tilt and Flow

I'm mired deep into a macabre of a losing streak, stuck over $2K in the last two weeks. Poker is as fickle as the Northern Lights, but I'm not freaking out right now. The swings are bigger because I'm playing bigger stakes.

I'm playing some of the best poker of my life, but I've lost close to $2K playing online poker in the last two weeks. I've won a tournament and had a couple second place finishes in that time including a come-from-behind second place in The Wheatie last night on PokerStars, but even those victories can't overcome the losses at the tables. It's mind numbing that I'm making great decisions and playing some of the best all-around poker in my career, yet when I open up my bankroll spreadsheet the numbers spell out... L-O-S-E-R.

That's poker. And I'm, not going to change a thing or tweak my game. I'm minimizing my mistakes and making solid decisions and I've become a victim of the capricious nature of variance.

You have to let the game of poker come to you and come through you. Buddhists have preached about letting life flow through you including all of its experiences is really about training your mind to focus on the present moment... the now.

I played for two different basketball coaches in high school with different philosophies. One coach preached on flexibility... being able to adapt and overcome your opponents. Depending on what their offense was doing, we'd react and play a zone or man to man. Our offense was called the Flex and we'd run different variations depending on how they matched up with us defensively. The other coach was hell bent in making the other team make changes in their game plan. We were a pressing team that played straight up man to man. No questions asked. We ran a motion offense against a zone or against man to man. No questions asked.

Act vs. React.

It didn't matter how we ended up record wise with the different coaching styles. What mattered is that there is no right way to coach basketball and win games. I have deduced from watching tons of basketball, hockey, baseball, and football for almost three decades is that the best teams make their opponents adapt to their playing style while they constantly modified their gameplans on the fly. They had a hyperawareness of the ongoing events and were able to make correct adjustments instantaneously.

Some of the best traders that I knew on Wall Street had no idea what they were going to do that day. They relied on instincts and testicular fortitude and waited for the moment to arrive. When they found the slightest of edges, they attacked. Viciously.

I've tried to construct an approach to playing poker by mix together basic Buddhist doctrine with high school basketball coaching philosophies and trading strategies...
1. Be patient and let the game flow through me.
2. At the slightest sign of weakness, attack aggressively.
3. Constantly adjust to my opponents.
One of the most difficult aspects of poker to overcome (especially playing live when you are seeing less hands per hour) is that the flow of the game rarely cooperates to your hands and mental status. The more you try to force the situation and impose your will onto the game, the more frustrated you become. Going card dead or playing against calling stations will often test your patience and focus.

Letting go of the ego is the quickest path towards living in the moment. Suppressing your ego at the poker table is essential. Titdom sets in when you are convinced that the strategy which you've worked on and developed after hundreds of thousands of hands and decades of experience is no longer valid and you have to deviate from your gameplan in order to achieve success. That includes taking chances that you normally would avoid like chasing gutshots and two outers or playing hands out of position that you would never consider playing. But after losing a few hands or getting bluffed out of a big pot will often make you question the foundation of how you play.

Tilt is a powerful liability that has the potential to corrupt almost every facet of your daily existence such as work-tilt, ex-wife-tilt, or traffic-tilt and proceed to allow anarchy and chaos running rampant through your life. Most of the time, you have your head so far up your ass that you had no idea how foolish you were acting. Your reality had become tainted by tilt. Not only should you not operate heavy machinery, but you should also not be near large sums of cash that you're ready to piss away at the tables to the uncircumcised Eurodonkey from Linkoping who cracked your set with a runner runner flush draw with 4-2o.

The problem with most poker books is that they explain to you how to play poker, but don't tell you how to experience it. Whereas mathematics and strategy play a tremendous role in poker success, so too does psychological temperament. And aside from a book or two, there's very little on the subject matter on how you should be experiencing poker.

That mental grasp is the edge that the best poker pros in the world have over the rest of their peers. Some good players in the world are erratic. And you have to be to play poker. You have to have a reckless streak inside and that "gamble" in you that sets you apart from 99% of the people on this planet.

But from what I've seen covering tournament poker over the last two years is that the most successful poker players over the long term are the ones who have the best temperament. They control their emotions and while their internal chatter might resemble the drunken hotel room scene in Apocalypse Now, their external appearance is stoic and they look unfazed by the bad beats and suckouts.

The best way to endure a losing streak? Play through it.

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