The Day to Day Mindset of a Professional Poker Player

Being a professional gambler means you lead a strange and unconventional existence, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve done the corporate grind and I find it wonderful to not have to such freedom from middle managers trying to make sure I understand the full extent of their limited authority. Still, the day to day existence of a poker player has it’s own interesting trials and tribulations. I think the biggest challenge I face is just keeping my moral up.

Because the game is all about trying to beat eight other people at the table with you, you win most of the time you’re there. In fact, even if all you did was win your fair share of pots, that means you’d only be a “winner” 1/8th of the time or so. I kept track of my daily wins and losses because that’s what we’re supposed to do as good poker players, but I developed a habit that I was just leave the book in the car at the end of the day. Entering a failing day always felt so negative to me that I figured I’d just wait till a big up day, but when that came, I typically didn’t feel like entering all that data either. I just wanted to celebrate in my glow and I feared that entering all of the losses the book contained would just bring me back down again.

As the weeks turned into months, I began to wonder just how bad the data would be when I finally entered it into my spreadsheet. I was sure it would tell me I was a loser at the game of poker, but I wasn’t sure how much of one. Really, since I’m paid by the house, being a loser isn’t such a bad thing. I don’t get to chose my own game as most professionals do, and the game I’m typically sitting in isn’t the one most professionals would chose. Furthermore, at $25 an hour, I can afford to lose, oh $5 or so an hour and still be ahead of most people’s jobs. Let’s face it, $20 an hour to gamble all day isn’t all that rough an existence. So I finally got off my ass and entered the data and discovered… I was actually a winner at the game of poker. I was truly surprised but even with the games I was being put in, I managed to add to, and not subtract from, my hourly rate.

To me this reveals a startling truth about poker: everybody feels like a loser most of the time, even the winners. I now see how people just stop caring if they’re playing correctly over time because they figure they’re just going to lose anyway, so why bother trying to do what’s correct. They allow their previously good and profitable play degenerate over time until they are losing players who have no hopes of anything but a brief flash of temporary good luck.

I remember when I first started learning about poker, Mike Caro lectured that you as a poker player needed to envision that you were being hired by someone else and playing with someone else’s money. That the wins and loses that you were taking were all someone else’s responsibility, and instead that person was paying you a flat rate per hour simply to make the best decisions possible. The point of this exercise is that poker is not about winning pots, but instead about making the correct decision as best you are able. If you simply keep making the best decisions you can, the pots should take care of themselves.

I think Mike is one to something here, because it takes the pressure off of feeling like you have to win everyday. You don’t have any real control over whether you win or loss a given session at poker, but instead need to just focus on making the best decisions you can. “Let success take care of itself,” is what Mike would say.

It feels great to have the data saying that I’m doing something that many people find rather difficult. I feel very secure that I can continue to make a living and provide for my loved ones if I just aim to keep improving everyday. I love my job and I love the influx of new faces everyday. This is a great country, and poker is a great game. To borrow an ending from Jerry Maguire, I love my life, I love my fiance, and, I wish all the rest of you my kind of success.

Defending the Merits of K2 suited

As I mentioned previously, Normandie now has as $15-30 game, and I’m very happy to see that. In order to improve my game, I started reading Bob Ciaffone and Jim Brier’s book, Middle Limit Poker. I like some sections of the book and I feel it is helping me to improve my game, but some of Bob Ciaffone’s ideas regarding hand selection just don’t seem to stand up to close scrutiny.

He doesn’t believe in playing KJ suited if the pot is raised at all, even if there are multiple callers, which is different advice than Jennifer Harmon gives in Super System 2. Of course it comes down to play style, but I think I have to go with Jennifer Harmon on that one. KJ suited seems like an excellent volume hand and why not put it into a volume pot. Of course, one of the early limpers may reraise and you’re suddenly forced to play in a capped pot, but that doesn’t happen to often. In most games, if players are limping early, they have a calling hand. If you are playing against a table of tricky or deceptive opponents, then laying down suited cards in the face of one raise seems like sound policy, but to say that you should play all games that way just seems way too nitty to me.

In regards to hand selection on the button when there have been four or so limpers in front of you, Bob Ciaffone seems to fall into the line of thinking made popular by David Skalansky that undervalues suited hands in comparison to small pairs. Specifically he recommends calling with any pair on the button in that situation, and suited hands such as 10-9 or K9, but nothing lower than that. According to him, “We do not recommend limping in with King little suited or worse. The problem with limping in with any just any suited King, Queen, or Jack is that, against a lot of opponents, drawing to the nut flush becomes increasingly important. Contrary to what many players believe, when many players take a flop, it is common for one flush to lose to another flush.”

Well, sure, but its also common for one set to lose to another set when many players take a flop, but he doesn’t seem to acknowledge that. Let’s take a look at the basic mathematics of Holdem starting hands. Since you get two cards out of 52, the number of possible combinations of starting hands are 52 multiplied by 51 divided by 2 or 1326 possible two card combinations. Now, if you already have a two-card hand, and are interested in the likelihood of other hands people might be holding, then the number of possible combinations are 50×49/2 or 1225. So, if we hold pocket deuces, let’s examine the likelihood of other people holding over pairs: there are six different combinations of each possible pair, and there are twelve ranks that are higher than yours, so that’s 12 x 6, or 72 different combinations of pairs that are higher than deuces. Divide that by 1225 or 5.8% likelihood than another players two card hard contains a pair higher than yours. Given that there are eight other players at the table (or nine in a Las Vegas setting) there that’s eight times 5.8%, or 46.4% likelihood that at least one of the other players present has a pair higher than yours when you have deuces.

Mike Caro has been advocating for a while that people steer away from the lower pairs of deuces through fives and I feel that’s sound advice- flopping a set when someone flops a higher set is very expensive. Now Bob Ciaffone does have a point that making a flush when someone has a higher flush is also very expensive, but he shouldn’t turn around and then advocate playing all your pairs in a multiway un-raised pot on the button. If one holds a hand such as King little suited, what is the likelihood that someone else holds a suited Ace of the same suit- the only hand that you really fear when you make a flush.

If you have a King and a deuce of a given suit, the is only one Ace of that suit and ten other cards of that suit (because you have two yourself). So that would be 11 combinations of a suited Ace higher than yours, and there are, again, 1225 possible combinations. 11/1225 is .00897, or .9% or so per player. Since there are eight other players present, the total likelihood of another player holding a higher suited Ace is 7%. Furthermore, unlike a pair of deuces, this hand has other ways to win rather than just hitting the flop hard. You could flop top pair, which is a dubious holding because of your weak kicker, but keep in mind that you are also in last position. If everyone checks to you, and then do not check raise you when you bet, then you are almost assured of having an uncontested top pair for that particular hand.