Thursday, August 20, 2009

The benefits of (nearly) going broke

Some time last year my poker results started declining. My tournament ROI dropped and I stopped making significant money in cash games. In April of this year I had enough stats to know that unless there was a sudden upswing in my earn I was going to go broke.

I still haven't completely figured out what happened. The number of hands and tournaments is too great to attribute the downswing to variance, although I think it played a part. My current guess is I started playing bad as a result of running bad. Not stupid "let's try and get back a chunk of the roll at once by playing limits I can't afford," but that creeping disease of semi-tilt.

The situation led to considerable reflection and some tough decisions. First, I realized that I didn't quit a well-paying job to "become" a poker player. I was already a poker player and to make my living in any other manner was going to make me unhappy. I also concluded that five winning years provided convincing evidence that fundamentally I am a winning player provided I play my best and keep working on improving my game. This optimism was aided by a former poker student telling me "you're too good to not be making money."

None of this altered the fact that I was a few weeks away from going busto.

So I put a plan together. I got a long-term backer as well as other stakers to make sure that I could stay in the game. This also meant I had to work twice as hard for the same earn, but the alternative was unacceptable. I also started paying more attention to the small edges. Sitting out of a cash game when it got too tight to be profitable; changing my sleep schedule to target easier times of day; focusing on my strongest forms and structures of poker. And perhaps most importantly working my ass off through training sites, forums, books and other resources to make my game stronger.

I still don't know how this story is going to play out because I am still working with a worryingly thin bankroll and my house is falling down. My feeling (supported by steadily-improving results) is that I've turned the corner. One thing I know for sure is that nearly going broke has forced me to greatly improve my game and my approach to playing poker. And those of you who have accused me in the past, rightly, of being arrogant, may be pleased to know that this episode has also given me a little humility. Not a lot. But a little.