Thursday, August 25, 2005

Broken Home

I have written that the most obvious area for improvement in my poker game is in the psychological realm. This is uncharted territory for me and I have no real concept of where this line of study will take me, though I can hope at its conclusion. There is, however, one aspect that needs attention, one that is overt even to me. Complicating the issue is that this particular trait is one that didn't arise from playing poker, but one that is ingrained in my daily life.

As it relates to poker, the problem is obsession with bankroll.


I finished reading "The Professor, The Banker and The Suicide King" last week. I found it to be okay. There were details, but not much depth. I would imagine someone less familiar with the game and its players would come away wondering what the hell was interesting about this book. Because I do have some knowledge of the participants, I could divine the tension. But, ultimately, it came up short.

The most interesting passages were the players' thoughts on bankroll, the increased stakes that Beal demanded and how they did manage to take some of the players out of their comfort zone. Still, they continued to profess that they don't sit down at the table thinking about how much money is there. It's just the game and chips are the currency.

Furthermore, they've all gone broke at one time or another. Many times for some. It is inherent in their chosen profession. The only way to get to their level is to take shots, move up to the bigger games. All of them have taken shots and failed. This is probed most in depth regarding Jennifer Harmon, how she failed numerous times to move up into the Big Games, always falling back to her previous level, re-building the 'roll and trying again to beak through.

I don't get the sense these people are at peace with going broke, but I get the sense they accept it as part of the process.


I have a mortal fear of going broke. It's not simply the attendant feeling of failure. It's also guilt.

I learned some hard financial lessons on my way to adulthood (I'll get there soon, I'm pretty sure). You name it, I fucked it up. Bounced checks. Bailing on jobs. IRS audits. Massive credit card debt. Collection agencies with my phone number on speed dial.

Most of this was caused by just plain immaturity. But there were other factors, including ambivalence (partially brought on by rampant marijuana usage) and yes, gambling.

This irresponsibility somehow became a major personality trait and I hated it. So I fixed it.

Now, that's the good news. The bad news is that I am fanatical about money. From my former lackadaisical tendencies, I have swung 180 degrees to complete compulsion. I spend more time in Quicken than Courtney Love spends in rehab.

And I've treated my poker bankroll the same way.


"It's not about money. Money is just a way of keeping score."

Well, for me, it's been about money. I continually track my balance, even thinking about it during play. And that attitude is dead wrong. It's the wrong frame of mind in which to play. Because I'm playing to "get it back," which deflects attention away from the things I should really be thinking about: the play, my game, improvement.

As my bankroll tumbled from its peak in mid-May, I couldn't bring myself to step back and re-evaluate. Instead, I just kept chasing, determined to return the numbers to their previous heights. And while variance was definitely putting a size 11 boot in my ass, I helped the descent with this single-minded approach, which resulted in some poor play. The direct cause of that poor play was my own impatience. My desire to replenish the 'roll--and fast--led to overly aggressive play, to seeking the Big Score, rather than the methodical, reasoned approach that had been successful.

You can't play your best game if you're afraid to lose. You can't play your best game if you NEED to win. You can control only one thing: your decisions. You make the best decision you can and live with the results.


Maybe it's my Judeo-Christian upbringing, maybe it's the constant recriminations from my mother...whatever it is, I occassionally struggle to reconcile my poker hobby with my duties as husband, father and bread-winner. Here's where the guilt I mentioned earlier comes in. There's no guilt when you're up 4 Gs and the dear and patient wife gets a nice new patio furniture set out of my poker haul. But when you're looking at dropping $1400 over a four-month span, starting to think about going broke and how you can't possibly dip into family money to start up again if it comes to that...I think it's fair to say I've stayed up nights contemplating the idea that I am doing a disservice to my family with this hobby.

In the light of day, I'm almost certain that's not the case. I have personally gleaned great benefits from finding this little niche, which naturally flow to the Mrs. and AJ, as well. Nonetheless, that fear of going broke, of failure, of letting the game infringe on my responsibilities--financial and otherwise--as head of the household gnaws at me. Worse, I've let it follow me to the tables.


These are issues which I need to overcome if I want to continue sucessfully on the poker path. The alternative is quitting and I absolutely do not want that. I need to find that balance, life and game, responsibility and hobby, attitude and bottom line.

Accept that it won't mean the end of the world if I do, in fact, go broke. And play like it doesn't fucking matter.


At 11:27 AM, Blogger Irritable Male Syndrome said...

Dude, what's your email address? I've got a response that's flat out too long to post here.

At 11:48 AM, Blogger Pokerwolf said...

You and I have similar problems, especially with the family bits.

You hit the nail on the head with your "Play like it doesn't matter" statement.

Now I just need to keep that in mind when I'm playing.

At 12:41 PM, Blogger BadBlood said...

Dude...I know you replied in the post where I made the same observations of myself. We have similar thought patterns for sure.

Keep trying, I'm gonna.

At 12:49 PM, Blogger Ignatious said...

i'm with chad. abridged version:

i had the exact same money issues "growing up" - i sucked. irs troubles, the whole ball of wax. and it's beyond ironic to me how poker has taught me fiscal responsibility (as it is) and money management skills.

herein lies the rub. to play poker well you gotta play with impunity. you simply can't think of the money - you gotta make the right play - regardless of how much money is sitting in front of you, or in your bankroll. you gotta balance responsibility with indifference during actual play. yikes!

oh man, i'm just getting warmed up. better stop now or this will be an uber-comment.

fine post. you're in a position to make a jump....

At 12:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just gamble with play money.

Problem. Solved.

At 2:17 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

My spending over the losing streak has mirrored yours and I keep looking at the damn balances as well.

I think that's why I've been so stagnant with regards to moving up. I worry about losing it all, start trying to play video poker (get the quick score) rather then poker.

This will definitely be a 2am discussion in Sherwood Forest in Decemeber.

At 2:22 PM, Blogger Littleacornman said...

Great stuff..I see a lot of myself in your post.Its a tough balancing act as Iggy says.
I'm off to roll a fat one and hit the tables and so long as I play each hand as well as possible I'll try hard not to be too pissed if I lose...

At 2:46 PM, Blogger Joaquin "The Rooster" Ochoa said...

Wow...I have this crazy response to this...I'm up and down...up and down...then I bail all my money out and back into the account. I don't really keep track, I just keep track of my toys I purchase with my kicks, new Naz CD, and trips here and there. When I win a nice hand I look at it as beers for the night sometimes and cash out only 50.00 bucks and head to the bar...I always play around like that with my roll. I know this doesn't help much, but a response none the less

At 2:47 PM, Blogger Joaquin "The Rooster" Ochoa said...

Oh, but my main bankroll...well I protect that like a fine piece of ass...I rub it..kiss it...adore it and take good care of it.

At 3:58 PM, Blogger The Bracelet said...


Is that anything like Kung-Fu?

Do you break humongous chunks of the body of christ with just the side of your wrist?

How many bibles can you punch thru?

I imagine you can wield a candle stand like a deadly weapon, put your head thru at least 4 pews piled on top of each other, and have attained (at most) the level Brown Cross.

Or maybe I'm not religious and I don't understand what Judeo-Christian means...

At 10:39 AM, Blogger StB said...

I was going to throw some advice in there but Bob has me laughing so much I forgot what I was going to say.

At 11:37 AM, Blogger Erin said...

I rarely post but felt I had to in this case...

First, Bob - that was hysterical but for future reference this is what it means, lol:
is a term used to describe the body of concepts and values which are thought to be held in common by Christianity and Judaism, and typically considered a fundamental basis for Western legal codes and moral values.

Second, I find as a stay at home mom I have the same issues, but my issues of guilty come from using my husbands hard earned money to play poker. It is difficult to explain how I could lose say a couple of hundred when my husband just brought home the paycheck that day. I'm lucky to have an understanding husband, and to be quite frank, lots of backed up bills.

You have to find out why you are doing this (playing poker that is). Is it to make a name for yourself? Is it to build a financial future for your family? Is it just because you have a love for the game? That will help you figure out some of the guilt and how to work around it. If it is just for the love then you can worry about the bankroll, but if its to make a name for yourself and suceed in the poker world then you know as well as everyone else that you can't worry about it, you have to take the risk, its the only way to succeed.

At 1:24 PM, Blogger Otter Chaos said...

If we're honest, most of us have been there or somewhere like it, hopefully some time in the past over which the scar tissue is now nice and solid. I know I have.

I've been doing a lot of thinking about bankrolls of late, possibly because I'm approaching the point of having one that's large enough to care about and I worked damn hard to get it. I lie, I loved every minute of it. (What the HELL have the kids done to this keyboard!)

Specifically, I've been examining the roll size-to-stakes deal that people always quote. Apart from the mathematical aspects, I think the psychological ones are similarly important: the idea of not committing more than, say, 5% of your roll to a cash game (probably less, maybe 1%, on MTTs unless you're good enough to care about leaderboards and such) is that it should be a small enough hit, should you mislay it, that your game won't be affected.

If you're mentally strong enough (and have a game that's proven and well-trusted) you can probably risk more at a seating. I suspect the pros can run a greater % of their bankrolls because they can stop worrying about the financial implications once the $$ are turned into chips. But make the stakes high enough and they will be affected, because risking a million dollars, even with an edge, is scary if it's the only million you have, much more so than if you have 99 more back at home. And the first million is the hardest.

At 10:59 AM, Blogger Beck said...

Have you read The Psychology of Poker by Alan Schoonmaker? Great book.


Post a Comment

<< Home