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Everything I thought I knew about poker is wrong...

PhulHouze Posts: 200Member
edited November -1 in NLHE Strategy Discussion
Recently going through a ridiculous downswing, and trying to get some perspective. I know everyone goes through them, but somehow my swings seem more extreme than you'd expect. I've been logging my sessions in poker journal starting the beginning of the year, and here are some major turning points:

1/31 - up about 900
2/1- 4/25 major downswing (-4400) yearly total at -3500
4/25-7/10 major rebound (+8.1k) yearly total at +4600
7/10-Present another huge downswing (-4600) back to zero for the year

Almost all of this action comes from 1/2 tables. I know Bart and some others have suggested that 1/2 is unbeatable long term, but the structure where I plau (Atlantic City) is much more friendly to 1/2. Players usually buy in from 150-300 and the rake is 10% up to 4 plus one for the BBJ. Seems to me like this structure is beatable.

Problem is, when I am doing well, I play with confidence, push small edges, make plays when I sense weakness, make hero folds correctly, etc. When I am struggling, it seems like everything is a bit off. I try to reduce variance by tightening up preflop and avoiding marginal spots postflop. For example, I'm more likely to check fold 99 on a Q85 board, whereas when I'm running well I'm more likely to cbet or c/r. I think these are the types of plays that aren't strongly EV one way or the other, but they do increase variance, so I'll play safe. It seems, though, that players at the table sense weakness - suddenly I'm getting check-raised on every c-bet, players are bluffing me and showing it. I'd gotten used to just sitting down and running the table - playing with no fear, and not having to worry about anyone messing with me. Once things go wrong, though, they go very, very wrong.

From highlights from my last trip include flopping 3 sets and one boat over 6 days. I won one of those (bet flop w set of aces and everyone folded), and lost the other three. 2 of these cost me my stack. The boat I actually folded on the river (pocket 3s on QQ3JJ board, guy showed KQ). I had kings four times - once folded pre and guy showed aces, once folded flop when ace popped, other I stacked off against aces, fourth I bet T96 flop, and checked behind turn 9 and river T (A9o was trying to trap me). Aces four times (one was the set) other 2 everyone folded pre. fourth time, guy called $35 pre at a 1-2 game w 3s4s, put me in on tw-spade flop and turned flush. Lost two buy-ins getting overflushed, etc, etc. Sure there were some bad moves in there - I probably bluffed off 3 buy ins, but overall I lost ten buy ins this week at $200 a pop.

I guess my question is, at what point do you decide that run bad is variance and at what point is it an issue with your play? I feel like my understanding of fundamentals is solid, and I don't make a lot of the mistakes I see other players making. For example, I'll be at a table where a $15 preflop raise gets called six ways, and players are showing up w 69o type hands, even though they are playing $200 stacks. Mathematically it seems impossible for them to win like this, just praying to flop trips or a straight, but again and again I keep running into these ridiculous random situations. It also seems mathematically impossible to have downswings of 4600 at 1/2 (that's 23 buy ins, and isn't 10 buy ins supposed to be a standard downswing limit?)

Feeling like a whole year of work has just been wiped away in the past few weeks is really affecting me mentally, both at the table and away from it. I've seriously thought about quitting poker altogether. I had told myself earlier that I would make a decision at the end of the year about whether poker was worth continuing based on my end of year hourly rate. Obviously, if I keep losing at this rate, I won't make it to the end of the year. Part of me thinks it may be best to just give up completely and spend my time being human - getting outdoors, going to bars, etc. Another part of me thinks the variance is the result of the 1/2 "jungle." Supposedly 1/2 should be the easiest game to beat, but when you're playing 7 people for hand and everyone's just trying to hit the lottery, it starts to feel like the game is completely random. By that logic, I should be moving up. I don't really have the bankroll to play 2/5 or higher, but since poker is not my primary income, I could just take shots at $400 a pop here and there until I get a bankroll built up. I'm also a bit reluctant to move up during a downswing since it's the opposite of what you're supposed to do, but I've been waiting weeks for things to turn around, but it just doesn't seem to be happening.

Has anyone been through a similar experience?


  • ThehammahThehammah Posts: 7,085Subscriber
    Boy have I.. At the beginning of this year I went on a +8k upswing then all downhill from then.

    What I have learned in actually playing other games was my major leak was putting players on a range but thinking they had pretty much the top of their range and I am sure I was folding in the wrong spots and calling in the wrong spots..

    I will pose a question to you and every other poker player I know.. Do you ONLY play nl? If so you need to start learning other games. There are really two main reasons to do this:

    1) You will learn things about NL that you just cant do when actually only playing it. I discovered my leak above by playing alot of Big O and PLO 8

    2) Variety. If you go to the casino and the NL games are all bad but there is a great O8 game you can go play the O8 game..

    I actually over this past year have made the decision to play mostly OE or stud 8 or better and Omaha 8.. I love these games and personally I find NL kinda boring.. I have played NL but only when there wasnt a Omaha game or while I was waiting for a seat. I like playing NL but I love playing these other games.

    The more games you play also the less trapped you feel that NL is the only thing you can play. In atlantic city there are lots of other games you can play even more than where I play in LA.. So get your books out and start learning some other poker games!

  • PhulHouze Posts: 200Member
    Thanks Wendy. I have been learning Omaha lately and played in a few O8 home tournaments for small buy ins ($40). I also am reading Championship Omaha by TJ Cloutier and Tom McEvoy. I don't think I'm learning much from the home tourneys though, cause it's such a donk fest - people are just playing any two hands and calling to the river. They play pot limit, so basically I'm playing super selective (only hands that have nut high and low potential, though I sometimes limp in lp with rundowns and such and fold the flop if there is a strong low possibility). Players will come in with anything and call pot pot pot without even thinking, so you either get a huge stack quick, or you get knocked out when someone hits their 7 high flush draw on the river.

    I enjoy PLO a bit more, as it seems that there are a lot more playable hands since you don't need to worry about only playing hands with an A and a 2. I also sometimes have a hard time counting my outs and figuring out how strong of a low I hold. Still, I'm not 100% comfortable playing either of these for 1/2 at the casino right now, as I'm sure there's a learning curve and I don't think I have it in me to throw a few thousand at learning these games until I get my bankroll back in order. Long term I definitely think Omaha is going to be the way to go, as from what I hear, people make even wrorse mistakes than they do in NL.
  • DavidChan Posts: 1,208Pro
    Nothing you can do about running bad in big pots. Usually, big pots play themselves as long as your fundamentals are pretty sound.

    You should focus your attention on maximizing your winning in small and medium pots, especially non-showdown pots. Becoming a very effective thief at stealing "orphaned" pots and becoming a very skillful thin value bettor in medium-sized pots are the best ways to protect yourself from the shocks of losing the big pots.
  • PhulHouze Posts: 200Member
    Thanks, David. I definitely agree, and I have been padding my WR massively lately by limping wide in LP and betting $7 into almost any $12 pot that gets checked to me on the flop. Most times I take it down, and the other times, I can often pick up some sneaky two pair or gut shot and actually take down a big pot from someone who's trapping with top pair. Lately though, it seems like any time I lead at a multi-way pot I'm getting check-raised. At first I thought my frequency was too high so I've been scaling it back, but it seems that even when I'm nitting it up and playing a few hands an hour, people are still targeting me, perhaps cause they think I"m so tight that I'm weak. I usually think the opposite - a player who's tight is more likely to have a hand, so I refrain from c/r bluffing these guys. However, I think the guys pushing me around are actually right in a way, because I'm accustomed to being an aggressive player, and I've learned that part of lagging it up is letting go of a lot of medium strength hands when straightforward players start showing aggression....so while I don't give these players credit for understanding this, I really am the type of player who knows how to fold a hand.
  • nahcretep Posts: 108Subscriber
    I feel you as I am going on a down swing lately where most of the money lost I am all in with the best hand and losing on the river.
    sounds like the game I play where $15 raise goes six ways.
    I feel the same way as I also play in a crazy home game and see weird play wins, and think to my self are all the things about hand range position, SPR etc etc pointless? as these players just don't follow any fundamental strategy and just play by feel.
    against certain player types who plays hand for no reason, you just have to play poker like how they play and how they think about betting, calling or bluffing and forget about what you think is the "correct" way. ( obviously we are not calling 3,4 UTG to play like them, but you know what I mean )
    and some times, I wish I can unlearn some stuff and play random like them as it is really hard to tell what they are doing.
  • SatanLovesPoker Posts: 168Member
    I am 100% sure there are no issues with your play that are causing this variance. It is really hard to play bad at $1/2 by playing decent hands in position, there really isnt that much wiggle room to screw up unless everyone at the table is stacked at 250bbs+. If it's any consulation I have had a 400hr break even stretch at 1/2 but it was due to being on the losing side 8 big pots. Over another stretch of 300 hours I was only the losing side of 7 flopped/turned set over sets.

    I know it is hard to fathom, because it seems everyone that posts in forums like here, or two plus two seems to be the small percentage of winners in the game, Most of these people have just not hit the bad variance yet. Yes it is a skill game, but it is luck in being in the right games, at the right times, and hands holding up in the right pots, and avoiding bad variance that destroys your confidence.

    You said you feel like a whole year of work, was wiped away in 2 weeks. If poker feels like work then that might be an issue, there are dozens of other easier ways to make money then playing 1/2. Play poker because you like it, if you want to go play $2/5 go for it, your good variance might be coming up, and what better time to go on heater then when you just upped limits.
  • Gordon806 Posts: 59Member

    1. How many hours are we talking? That would give a better idea of what were looking at. As I mentioned here before, Limon says until you've logged 2000 hours you don't have a clear indicator of what your win rate is.

    2. I can't speak for live 1/2, but when I used to play online I was a pretty big believer in beating each level before moving up. There are a lot of valuable things to learn at each level so I'm not sure jumping to 2/5 is the answer because you think your do to run good. The sooner you start learning that your whole poker career is really just one big session that will help.

    3. What are you poker goals? Defining this helped me a lot and cut down on unrealistic pressure I used to put on myself. Have short obtainable goals and not I want to beat Tom Dwan.

    4. Have you ever thought about getting a coach?

    5. Thinking your not making mistakes at the table is kinda lol...I make mistakes all the time...I mean all the time. Not sure if you were just saying compared to others at the table or not. But logging hands and reviewing them is huge and the quickest way to get better. My game might have as many holes as swiss cheese and I may make a ton of mistakes each session but you can bet I'll be reviewing them after every session and sending them to my friends for their opinion. The end result may be losing a big pot with pocket 3's on a QQ3JJ board but how did u get there? There may have been a mistake along the way so reviewing is key!

    6. Notes at the table - This is huge for me at 2/5 and I would imagine even bigger at 1/2. In 6 months you should have at least notes on 100-150 regs. I set a goal at the beginning of each session of getting notes on 4-6 regs or players I don't have.

    7. Balance and a break -- I don't know if your playing full time but when I switched from online to live I went the first five months at even. I wasn't playing full time and that was after only 250 hours, but my coach and I had a good laugh because I was making .57 cents an hour. But he also said at least your not losing so there is a bright side to everything. The one thing I noticed though was I was getting frustrated just like you at this point but I took a break...actually 3 1/2 weeks off and ever since then it has been a total 180. So you might just need a break from poker. All successful people will tell you a lot of their success is about balance, not burnout.

    8. Results -- About six months ago I made the decision to have my best friend log all the results. I text her the results and she logs them for me. Poof. Out of sight out of mind. I literally sat here for 5 minutes to try to think of my last session's results and I couldn't do it. I had to log into the website and look it up. I use pokercharts. com its like $10 a year for access. If you have trouble/tilt you might want to look into this.

    9. Max value and all the little crumbs -- David hit on this and this may be the biggest factor. Whenever you pick up all the little money or getting max value on each hand then it makes up for all the run bad and gets you through the tough times. I see soooooooooooooooooooooo many regs that just don't get max value and then they can't weather the storm when they run bad.

    Hope some of this helps....
  • PhulHouze Posts: 200Member
    Thanks, Vincent. That's really helpful. I think I may just need a break. This isn't my first year playing, but it's the first year I'm really keeping careful records using an app on my phone. I used to keep track of wins and losses by just watching the stack of cash in my shoebox, but then I would reward myself by pulling a few hundred out here and there, so I couldn't be sure. This year I have logged 647 hours so far. While it's not an airtight indication of my WR, it's still a pretty sizable sample. I also think that you can tell something about the quality of your play by how hands go down. If I raise all in OTF w a set and get called by a gutshot that hits, even though that has a negative affect on my WR, I'm still pretty confident that I made the right play. On the 3s full hand, I actually lost a pretty small pot. I raise to 6 from HJ, BB called. Bet 7 into 13 on Q3Q flop. He called. I bet 15 OTT and he raised to $35. I flatted, figuring he would lead river and call a shove, but when the board double-paired, he led for $65 and I folded. I'd say I lost the minimum...There's just a sense I get sitting at a 1/2 table that I'm watching people constantly make horrendous mistakes. Not that I don't make any, but some mistakes are just clear-cut terrible: Shortstacks with $60 calling $15 pf raises w 68s, guys c-betting AK on an airball flop and calling a c/r shove...I know I'm better than these players, no matter the results I've been getting.

    I think you're right about needing a break. I do get a bit tilted when I see people make ridiculous mistakes and profit from it. The reason I'm considering coming to 2/5 after a break is that I want to play against thinking players. I recently played a hand where I flopped middle pair and a straight draw on an 8-high board and bet when checked to me. Turn and river were both overcards, and I figured the guy couldn't have a strong enough hand to continue. I fired big on the river, he snapped and instantly flipped over his cards going "Straight!" Problem was, he had an eight and a gutshot. He thought he had a straight so he called the bet and was able to beat my pair of sixes. I guess you could argue that you shouldn't bluff at all at 1/2, but if that's the case, what's the point of playing at all? Is it really poker without bluffing ;)

    Anyway, I really appreciate all the feedback. I think taking a break will help get my head back into the game, and also be able to go for max value. One thing I noticed in the last few days is that I was scared to go for value. During one hand I had AK on an AT8 board. I bet small on flop and called small leads from the BB on turn and river, thinking he had to have AT. Of course, he turns over A5o and is shocked that he didn't win...I'm wondering why on earth he even called a pf raise with that hand.

    So - break, reasonable schedule (8-10 hours per day)...back in a few weeks and see how it goes.
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