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Old 08-18-2011, 12:40 AM   #10
Chuck Bass
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Join Date: Oct 2009
Location: Once A Gambler is the name
Posts: 9,220
Re: My somewhat different poker story (extremely tl;dr)

Vol.4: From SNGs To Heads-Up Cash games, Discovering CardRunners And Quitting My Job For Poker


The cold, dark winter was about to be over. It was spring. I got my first paycheck that didn't go to paying my debts. I had a few thousand on my poker account, money that was mine, money I didn't owe anyone. I made plans of grinding it up to $30k by the end of the year, and based on my results it looked like a realistic target. I was still in a somewhat happy relationship with my girlfriend, and didn't miss being single too much.

We met through my workplace. She worked there part-time. We didn't see at work too much, which was good, and we originally got together when we went drinking after a night shift. We were pretty low-key about it, althought most of our co-workers knew. She knew about my poker playing and was very supportive of me. She was smart enough to understand it wasn't just random gambling, that it was possible to make money from it by outthinking everyone else. I was happy with my life.

On a certain night in April I was grinding a full schedule of SNGs again. It was a Saturday. I always made sure to grind as much as I could from Friday to Sunday, just like I nowadays do with MTTs, because the games were so much softer on those days.

On this particular Saturday, I lost and lost and lost. I had never encountered such a downswing before. I should probably say at this point that I admittedly didn't have a very good idea of variance back then. The 100 SNGs I played on that day, of which I cashed about two, felt like an impossible stretch of bad luck. I had never tilted really hard on my SNG career, but on that day, I sure tilted. And when an recovering gambling addict tilts, it's of the dangerous kind.

I had only a handful of cash game experience, and I had never won anything from a cash game pretty much, apart from that one night in Brisbane. I surely had never been profitable in a cash table. And I had never played a hand of heads-up. Actually, I'm pretty sure I had never played a hand of 6-max either. I know this sounds strange, but in 2008 there was basically one training site (CardRunners) which had just launched, and full ring was still the main game. The transition to 6-max had begun, and the full ring games had started experiencing their slow death, but back then there was basically no studying material for 6-max or heads-up. So it was only natural I had never played them.

I had ran into someone's blog a few days back who was strictly a heads-up player. I wish I could remember who it was, but I've totally forgotten. I'm pretty sure it was no one who even plays anymore, or at least he never made it big. But back then he was a minor star in the mid-stakes HU games in the Finnish poker community. He had pretty impressive results, and I remember reading a couple of hand histories he posted. I thought his playing style was insane. Raising 8-6 suited pre-flop? 3-betting a rag hand? Going broke 100BBs deep with top pair? Crazy! I thought the world of heads-up was interesting, and made a mental note to sometimes look into it and maybe practice a little at micro stakes.

On this particular night when I was tilted like a raging bull, I forgot about all the rules. I forgot about bankroll management and taking stupid shots. I had spent a great deal of time teaching myself to become a solid grinder, especially on the mental side, as my post-going broke analysis clearly showed that the reason I went broke was a) not being able to control myself, and b) playing in games I couldn't beat. I had a post-it note on my desk that said the following words:

When you face a bad beat, breathe. Remember what happened in 2007. You don't want to go back there. Don't do anything stupid.

So tilted was I about this 100 buy-in downswing, that I threw the note into the garbage bin. "**** this", I told myself, and searched for cash games in the lobby. I opened a 1/2 heads-up table, despite having absolutely no idea how to play that game.

I can't remember any of the hands, but I dropped about $400 pretty quickly. I had $3000 on my account before the session, and I lost $2000 thanks to my awful SNG run, and now I only had $600 left. I didn't have any extra on my bank account, I'd have to wait until my next payday until I'd be able to deposit, and even then it'd be less than the $600 I still had. But I didn't care about any of that. I was furious at the unfairness of the game. "This is so unfair", I said to myself. I sat out from the 1/2 table, and sat in a 3/6 table. I remember the guy's screen name. It was J. Braddock. He was an Ongame reg at those stakes, which I of course didn't know at the time. Had I known, it would've made me want to play him even more. A part of me wanted to lose.

This is a feeling I've struggled with so many times during my career. It's almost perverse. You do your best to win, you spend endless hours studying and getting better. You fine-tune your game to a point where it's almost too good. Yet you still want to go broke, because being broke means being free. Being broke means that none of the negative emotions associated with poker can touch you, because you can't play. You are free to do whatever you want, you no longer have to experience the adrenaline rushes, your heart beating faster and faster, the disappointment when you catch an unfortunate river. You are free from checking your bankroll 10 times every session, you're free from the stress. You're free from posting hand histories to forums, checking if a push was profitable with SNGWiz. You're free, because you're off the bandwagon. The only way to not be able to play poker is to be broke. This was the first time in my career I felt this strange feeling of wanting to lose. I wanted to commit a poker suicide, or at least take a break.

Of course, I didn't know this in my mind yet. Having come to terms with how my mind works, I only understand it afterwards, and it's taken me a long time to get to this point. So much of the stupid stuff I did during my years before learning to play MTTs, and finding the only form of poker that makes me happy and balanced, comes down to this. I busted a lot of bankrolls, not because I wanted to move up in levels too fast and had a get rich or die trying attitude, but because I wasn't ready for it all and wanted to set myself free.

In my mind during the match against J.Braddock, I had only one goal. It was to get my money back. I wanted to have my account balance at $3000 again, then I would quit and go to sleep. I'd forget about my lapse, about the entire heads-up thing, and get back to grinding SNGs. Somewhere at the back of my mind I had an additional target of losing it all, so it was kind of a win-win situation. I didn't feel stressed or excited at all. I justed wanted to see what happens. I posted my big blind.

In one of the first hands I called a 3-bet with 87 of diamonds (yeah, back then I didn't realise that calling large 3-bets 100BB effective with suited connectors isn't the greatest of ideas). I flopped a straight against his overpair, and doubled up to $1200. Soon after, I flipped with my jacks against his AK, and held. Fast forward a few minutes, and I called a 3-bet with a pair of deuces and hit a set. I got it in against his top pair, and held. Soon after, flush against two pair. In less than 20 minutes I had more than I had started my night with.

To those who've read the previous parts, this isn't coming as a surprise: After sitting out and hit and running him I thought I was approximately the best heads-up player in the world. I had won $2600 in a really short time. I had just made more in 20 minutes than I had made in a month playing SNGs. I thought I was a natural talent. I thought I'd be making hundreds of thousands, no, millions, by the end of the year.

I slept happily, and the first thing on my mind when I woke up was playing heads-up. I had caught the bug. It was full of action, it was exciting, it made me feel alive in a way that SNGs never did. I couldn't care less about SNGs, I wanted to become the best heads-up player in the world. No less would do.

While I still was a massive idiot at the time, I had managed to come to terms with the fact that you need to study to get better. I did think I was a great natural talent for crushing J.Braddock (thanks to running like the sun and coolering him left, right and center, which I of course didn't understand at the time), but I also thought I should find out about a few things. I had no idea what kind of bet sizes I should use. I had no idea what was a standard amount to open from the button, or what kind of hands I should play.

I bought a CardRunners membership and watched my first poker video. I was totally unfamiliar with the concept, I had no idea how training videos even worked. I had never heard of any of their pros, but I read from the heads up guy's blog I followed that they had good videos. I chose a video made by Taylor "Green Plastic" Caby, who was one of the biggest names in online cash games back then. He had over 20 videos, the one I picked was called "Taylor sweats Ezmogee" (the CardRunners executive Ezra, who coincidentally three years later would offer to buy all of my WSOP action), and the idea was to teach a newbie how to play. This sounded perfect, so I started watching.

During watching that video, so many things clicked. I think that for some reason I'm naturally very good at instantly copying someone's style, and that's something I still sometimes do when I watch videos. I choose an instructor, watch a video, copy his style and play exactly like him in my next session, just to see if his style works for me, and adapt bits and pieces to my own game.

It took me exactly 45 minutes of watching Taylor and Ezra to feel I was ready to return to the HU games, but this time with a more professional approach. I made myself a promise to always have at least 20 buy-ins for the level I was at, and to start from 0,50/1. (Back then most articles suggested that 20 buy-ins was enough of a roll for cash games, but this was because they were all made considering full ring games, and I had no idea you'd need more for 6-max or especially HU.)

Still with basically no theoretical knowledge, but a good game plan learned from Taylor Caby in my head, I sat in two tables of 0,5/1, waiting for opponents. Back then I played as salty_water, my Whitebet account. I named myself after a British Sea Power song. Come to think of it, almost all of my screen names come from songs: l31f3r1ks0n, aka Leif Erikson by Interpol. Cannotletgo comes from a Royksopp song that repeats the words "cannot let go". BoysDontCRAI obviously comes from the Cure song, and shmshmshmSHIMSHIMMYY hails from U.N.K.L.E.'s Rabbit In Your Headlights music video (I highly recommend watching it, it's a five-star masterpiece by the way).

It didn't take long for someone to come and challenge me. I crushed him. The next opponent, I crushed him too. I won $1200 on my first night playing 0,50/1.

The games back then were incredibly soft. Ongame in 2008 was about the same as PartyPoker in 2005 probably was. People were flat out donating you money. While I, looking from today's perspective, was pretty bad, I still beat almost everyone on the site. Two other regs that I remember playing the same games back then: Adrenoah and AkuJoe. Both made it and nowadays play high stakes with deep bankrolls. I played a bunch against both of them. They were certainly a million times better than me, but I ran really hot against them too, and I think I'm still up against both of them. I have no graphs to prove this though, because I hadn't even heard of Poker Tracker back then. Hold'em Manager was still in beta testing.

During the spring I skyrocketed through the stakes. It took me about a month to turn that $3k into $20k. I went from 0,50/1 to 2/4 in a few days. I grinded 2/4 and 3/6 for a month, and I won almost every day. I didn't have time to play a lot as I still had a full-time job and a girlfriend. I worked night shifts at the time, and I still remember what my routine was like back then: Wake up at 6PM. Eat breakfast. Open the client, and play a three-hour session planning to leave for work at 10PM. Find yourself still grinding at 10.30PM. Run to the bus stop, just make it to the bus, just make it to work in time. Work until 7AM, go home, grind for another three hours, pass out in front of the computer, wake up at 6AM. Repeat.

I thought I was so good. I posted some results in my blog, and everyone congratulated me. People were predicting that I'd become the next Finnish superstar. I really did win four figures basically every night I played. I got more and more cocky, and about a month into my heads-up career I started reverse table selecting. I sat out against anyone who was too bad. Random Ongame weekend night fishes were actively trying to give me money, and I refused to take it. Whenever someone limped his button, I sat out. I insulted him in the chat and told him that I don't want his money, I want to play against real players. It's funny to think that these days the tables are full of bumhunters who only play if someone does limp his first button.

I pretty much only played against the toughest regs. This is the first time I remember reading 2+2, I made a screen name (I can't remember what it was anymore, it's not the one I'm using now) to find out who the toughest regs were. Man, I'd love to find that post somewhere. I basically went to the mid-stakes forums and either started a thread or asked in someone's thread who are the hardest opponents you can find in the network. Then I went and challenged them, and I almost always won.

Of course, this was just a hot streak. I don't think I played more than maybe 30 000 hands during that time. Again I don't know, because I didn't have a tracker. It's hilarious to think that for a brief time period I crushed almost every mid-stakes reg in the network without understanding anything. I didn't have a clue about exploiting, or game theory, or ranges. I had actually never heard the word "range". I just clicked buttons, and watched a new Taylor Caby video every now and then. I remember making a set like 40% of the time when I flatted a 3-bet with a pocket pair, and I thought everyone was so dumb going broke with overpairs time after time.

Around the same time my hot streak happened, we got a new boss at work. She was an absolute ***** and hated me from the beginning. I loved my workplace because of my co-workers, who were great. But the new boss was just too much. She made my life hell at work, and after a night of winning $5k and then being berated by my boss at work once again I just randomly decided to quit. It was an impromptu decision. I remember her calling me stupid for doing some minor thing wrong, and in the heat of the moment I responded by calling her a **** and announcing my resignation. Because of my choice of words, I didn't have to go through the 2-week resignation period. I smiled and walked away, knowing I'd be making so much more playing poker. After all, I had made $20k in a month playing just 4-5 hours a day, how much would I be making playing full time?
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