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.