I’ll never make that mistake again…

Where to begin… So much has happened since the last time I posted… There are so many things to talk about. 

I started writing this before the world shut down. At that point I wanted to talk about mistakes. I wanted to talk about how mistakes affect us, and how we learn from them, specifically speaking about poker. With the current state of the world, I feel like it’s actually the perfect piece to come back to you with.  

Let me start by saying mistakes are important. I’ll say that again, MISTAKES ARE IMPORTANT! Where would we be if everyone went about their day always making the right choices? Our world would be pretty boring if you asked me… 

Some of the greatest discoveries of our time were discovered by mistake! Did you know that during the 1800’s ether and nitrous oxide were both widely abused by people attending “Laughing Parties”? When the laughter died down, someone pointed out the substance could help mask pain, and Voila! Anesthesia was born! 

When it comes to poker, it’s important to know that mistakes are important here too. Often when sitting into a poker tournament, you’re seated with 7, 8, and even as many as 9 other players at the table. Most, if not all of which you don’t know. You’ve never met them before. You know absolutely nothing about them. Most importantly, you have no clue how they play. In most cases I suggest patience. Sitting back and being observant, trying to glean as much information as you can as early as you can. There are situations that seem to be unavoidable however. You’re Dealt Ac Ah on the button and another player has already raised into you. These are situations that most players dream of. When the flop reveals 9c 10c Jd, and the player leads out, what do you do? The turn is the Ace of Spades… Now what do you do when he bets into you again? And then what when the river is the Kc and they’re still betting… 

You’ll notice that I’m not instructing you on the right play’s here… The truth is I don’t know the answer. There are many decisions that could lead you in the right direction, but there are also many decisions that could lead you in the wrong direction. My suggest for this scenario is to accept your lumps and learn from them. Take the information and use it.  

On the very first hand of my very first World Series of Poker Main Event, I was faced with one of these situations. I had just barely eked my ways into the top 10% of the World Series of Poker Main Event Mega Satellite, earning my way into my very first World Series of Poker Main Events! I was on cloud nine! This was all new territory for me. Climbing the stairs to the Binion’s Horseshoe event hall, passing some of the world’s most legendary poker players on my way, I was a nervous wreck. Barely able to sign my name on the TV disclaimer, and nearly tripping on the extension cords taped to the ground in front of the door, I finally made it to my assigned seat. 

I realize I’m assigned the seat directly to the right of the dealer… The worst possible seat for me. When you’re a big guy, you need a little extra space, and corner seats are generally the best… But next to the dealer… Zero space to move… Unfortunately, though, once you have your seat, it’s yours… There’s not a whole lot of complaining you can do about it. One thing that is nice is that when you’re in that seat, the World Series of Poker always starts the dealer button there. So, I’ll have nearly an entire orbit to gage the mood of the table! 

I arrived at my seat a good 10-15 minutes early, which is important to me, I like to get settled in. I like to talk to the dealer a bit, and maybe try getting to know a player or 2 that may have shown up early as well. Just something to calm the nerves a bit. To this day, I still get first hand jitters, regardless of the tournament. 21 years in this game and I still get nervous… This day however, talking to the dealer wasn’t helpful. I’d already had 3 cups of coffee, and a full breakfast, I was ready to go… nervous or not, I was ready. That 10 minutes flew by. The next thing I knew, the Tournament Director was yelling, “Tournament dealers, shuffle up and deal!”  

The cards were dealt. The first person to act, took his time… and lined up a raise. Then the second person folded, as did the next. Then the next person lined up a 3-bet followed by 2 more folds. I look down at my cards: Ac Ah. I figure, its early, no reason to get super excited, and decide to slow play, maybe catch one of them getting out of line. I call. Then things get crazy. The small blind calls as well. The big blind folds… back to the original raiser, who the announces: All In!  

To set this up. The blinds are 25/25 so with the small blind and big blind the pot starts the hand with 50 chips. The first to act raised to 125. Now we’re at 175 chips. The next raiser makes it 400. And with my call as well as the small blinds call the pots up to 1375 chips. During this year our starting stacks were only 10k. So, this is a substantial pot already. So, when the original raiser goes all in, ON THE FIRST HAND, what do you do!? I mean, I have Aces! I’m supposed to call this! I have the best starting hand in poker! This is when my gut starts churning… Something is not right. Then the next player says call… Oh man, triple up here I come. Now it’s my turn… I sit and think for a bit, going over all the scenarios. What if I lose this pot…? Can I accept a one and done? After all the work of the day before to get here… Can I really be in this situation… The gut starts talking to me…. Aces in the first hand, with 2 players all in preflop… I’m supposed to call… I’m supposed to win this pot… Then my nerves take over… Nope, it’s not worth it. If I call and lose this pot, I’ll never forgive myself. So, I verbalize: Fold. I couldn’t get my hands to work, so I had to verbalize it. I asked the dealer to hold mine aside, so that I could show them after the hand. And to my surprise he did. Then the small blind then folds as well. 

The hands are turned over. The first player shows Qc Qd and the second player shows Kh Ks. A part of me died in that moment. Did I make a huge mistake for folding? In the initial moment of information. I 100% made a mistake. My guts and my nerves were going crazy. I stood up and tried taking a deep breath… then the flop came out Jc 10h Qs.  

The emotions changed… They went from dread to relief in the blink of an eye. The flopped set of Queens… Oh man! Dodged a bullet there. 

The turn however is a Kc… Oh man… Another emotional roller coaster…. First, to worst, to first… I’ve now got a straight. Why did I fold… why didn’t I have the guts to just call… Pulling my hair out… I drop back into my chair… 

The river… Jd… A Jack of Diamonds…. The winning hand is Kings full of Jacks. I don’t exactly know how to describe my emotions in the moment. I went from being the biggest fool, to being the smartest poker player alive, to being the laughing stock of poker… to finally determining I’d made the correct fold. Talk about a roller coaster… I was flabbergasted…  

After the pushed the chips to the winning player, I asked the dealer to reveal my cards. When the players at the table saw my Aces, several of the shook their heads… “How did you fold there…?? Why would you ever fold there?? I mean, great fold! But you should never be folding there.” And to be fair, they’re absolutely correct. It is a mistake to fold there. Today 

Today, I can’t make that fold… My brain has too much poker history and information stored in it. But that day, I made that fold. It was a mistake, but I got lucky that it wasn’t a costly mistake. Making that mistake saved my tournament. It saved my day. It allowed me to settle down. It allowed me to continue playing poker.  

Remember when I said mistakes are important? This was an example of an important mistake in my poker history. I learned a few things from that series of moments. First, even if I would have made the “right decision” and called there, the outcome would have been bad. Secondly, trust your gut, TRUST YOUR GUT. I can’t explain it, I really don’t think anyone can. Finally, it’s ok to makes mistakes… sometimes those mistakes have positive outcomes.  

In closing, Mistakes are important. We all make them. If you can learn from them, do so. Use that information. It will help you on your journey.  

I’m back, and I’m going to try being more diligent in posting more. I hope this last year has helped you get grounded; I hope you’ve utilized it to improve yourself! I know it’s been a rough road for me, but I’m in a better place than I’ve been in a long time… 

May many pots be pushed your way, and remember, I’ll never claim to make you a better poker player… I only hope I can help you see poker in a different way! 

Overwhelming Splendor

Hey look! You didn’t have to wait another 6 month to a year for my next rant! Let me start this one by saying what a year this has turned into! There are so many milestones that have been met, and so much loss to deal with. As a parent of special needs children, the struggle of surviving through each day can really get to you. The excitement each new day brings allows us the ability to move on. My guess is that you’re wondering how this relates to poker. Well if you think of poker as a special needs child you will understand 100%.

Every moment in poker is filled with problems, losses, gains, answers, confusion, and emotions. Think of a child with ADD and how many things they have to deal with mentally from moment to moment. I learned a great lesson from my eight year old son this week. After having a rough day at school, his frustration had hit a peak in his music class. He was trying so hard to pay attention to the grumpy teacher, but the distractions all around were overwhelming him. It was really hot in the music room and the kid behind him was kicking his chair, and his friends next to him were talking. The noises from the room next to them were really loud, and interesting. The Lego Character in his pocket was begging him to come out and play, and he had to go to the bathroom. With all this going on, he decided to stand up and walk over to the teacher and politely ask if he could take a break. He explained the problems he was experiencing to her, and she smiled down to him and said “I think we all need a little break today.” She allowed him to go to the bathroom but told him to hurry back. When he returned, the class had moved to the hallway. They were all lined up and headed to the front of the building where they sang their songs outside on the grass in the quiet breeze. When faced with problems, sometimes you just have to think outside the box. This is what I learned from his rough day at school.

There will always be distractions in poker. How do you mitigate them and be the best possible player you can be? Between the constant chip noise, and the conversations at the other tables you’re not supposed to hear. Watching a player across the table doing a chip trick you’ve never seen before, and then a yell of excitement from across the room. All of these things and more are going on as you’re looking down at pocket jacks and are facing down a preflop 3 bet…  How do you isolate the moment? How do you harness yourself, and focus on what’s in front of you? The truth is, I have no clue.

Some of the things I use to focus during these long grueling poker grinds are pretty simple. If I’m at a table where the mood isn’t dead, I like to start conversations; I like to become part of the noise. I shuffle my chips a lot. It’s not only soothing but it seems to drown out the other chip noise in the room. When I’m at a table that’s dull and boring I like to wear my sunglasses. I don’t do this for deception, or to hide tells. I wear them for focus. If I’m finding it hard to ignore the constant distractions, I try to find something close that I consider a constant. When I say “constant”, what I mean is something that’s unchanging. Like a spot on the wall. It doesn’t move, it doesn’t make noise… It doesn’t change. The purpose for the glasses is to keep my opponents for seeing my problem with focus.

In all distracting situations I like to practice deep breathing. Taking a deep breath, and saying to myself “Breathe in”… Then exhaling, saying “Breathe out”. After 3 or 4 minutes of this, I find that I’ve calmed down, and in some cases I’m ready for a nap… Adding soothing music to this helps a lot. I know many people who will bring noise cancelling headphones. I don’t really like these. There are many situations in poker where you actually need to hear what’s going on or what’s being said, and these will absolutely hinder that. I use just you’re regular out of the box Iphone headphones. In a lot of cases I will have these in my ears to present the image that I’m listening to something, but I don’t have anything on at all. It’s pretty interesting what people will say when they thing you’re not listening.

There are a lot of different things that you can do to calm yourself, and help you focus. The real key is finding what’s specifically right for you. 

A few years ago I was playing in one of the Daily Deepstacks at the WSOP. I was sitting with a few familiar faces. While I was a local grinder I got to know a lot of the locals and became friendly with many them. This particular day I was sitting in the 6 seat directly to the left of Eddy. I’ve known and played cards with Eddy for a long time. We were in about the 3rd or 4th hour of the event and there was something different about Eddy’s game. He’s normally your typical aggressive player. He plays a lot of pots. Today however, he’s being very inactive. Folding preflop 8 out of 10 hands… I think he’d raised 4 total times the entire tournament. Completely contradictory to the style of play I’m used to seeing from him. To the point that I was ready to ask him if everything was okay… 

Our first break came and off he went. I noticed him calling someone as we left the table. Not thinking anything of it I went about my “break business.” When we returned near the end of break he was near the table, still on his phone. 6 or 8 hands go by and he’s still on his phone. Then his big blind comes, and he finally sets his phone down, only to fold to a raise. He picks up his phone and continues. The conversation he’s having seemed to be intensifying but I’m not one to eavesdrop so I mind my own business. The next had is his small blind. He repeats the action of the last hand… The very next had with him on the button, he walks back to the table and on his turn he looks at his cards, doesn’t spend much time thinking and angrily announces “I’m all in!” From the small blind I look down at pocket Aces… In 99.9% of cases this is the greatest moment in poker. Knowing Eddy, and the way today has gone, I know he’s not right in the head. He’s been distracted the entire day. These are the days where I tell people you’re better off not playing on days like this. In saying that, it is a tournament, and you’re supposed to exploit people in situations like this, friend or not. So I call, showing him the bad news… He turns over 7-2 of diamonds… And my aces hold up. He walks away, back on his phone. 

A couple hours later during another break I run into him near the cash games. He tries explaining to me the situation, and told him I knew. I also told him that I was 50/50 on calling him knowing he was on life tilt… He looked at me and told me he would have called had the situation been reversed. I shook his hand and walked away. 

Distraction can change everything in the blink of an eye. Find your humble place. Find your calming methods. Do everything you can to eliminate the distractions… 

I hope that I’ve help in some little way here! Again, I’m headed to Las Vegas in 3 days! I hope to see many of you there! Good luck to those that are going and may many pots be pushed in your direction!

Time Flies, or Does It?

Every day for the past few months I’ve stared at my computer wanting to write to you. I know that I need to, but the time is just never there. The truth is I need this as much as you. Writing these posts, sharing my stories, giving you a little insights, is all a part of me.

Many people who know me know that I love to tell stories. They know that I’m bound and determined to help – most times to a fault. That caring person is more a part of me than even my limbs sometimes. Sometimes I feel like time is humanity’s curse. We all need it, but there never seems to be enough of it. Or there’s too much of it and the anxiety of waiting is sickening. Today seems to be the best chance I’ll have to talk about time, and specifically how it affects poker.

Now, there are many ways time affects poker. First, and foremost, is the dreaded Tournament Clock. We should all know how much time is left in the blind level, but for some reason we always sigh when the tournament director yells out, “Dealer, complete the hand you’re on. The blinds will be up next hand!” We all know exactly when our next break is coming, but are never ready for it to end. The tournament clock has us all tied down. This one little thing triggers such huge many emotion… Time

When you enter one of the bigger poker events, are you ready for the time commitment required to play it. Let’s say you’ve entered the WSOP’s $1500 Monster Stack Event. Before you sit down to play you should know how many days the event is scheduled for. You should know the duration of the blinds. But, are you ready for the time you’re going to spend sitting on your butt playing poker? Are you ready for the 10-12 hour grind ahead of you? Are you ready to fold hundreds of hands before you see just 1 playable hand? By design, time and patience go hand and hand, but most people forget the worst part of both of them, Boredom.

Patience + Extended Time = Boredom. How will you conquer it? Let’s face it, 75% of the world today had some level of ADD, and boredom is a recipe for disaster. The more bored we get the more chances we have of making a mistake. So what are you doing with your time? Did you bring your Ipod? Did you bring a book to read? Did you bring a note pad? Are you giving yourself anxiety trying not to miss something? I’ve been there… The grind is real. Conquering time is one of the hardest elements of tournament poker.

I try to bring/do several things to pass the time. Music is a key element to my game. I almost always have my head phones in my ears. I try to have a mixture of several types of music available to me. When your mood changes or when you need something to wake you up, or calm you down, different music always helps. I also have several different blogs available to me in my phone or my tablet. Reading passes time. It keeps you interested, it keeps you mind open to information.

I also like to pack snacks, specifically healthy ones. A good bag of carrots goes a long way. About every 2 hours you’re going to get a break to stand up and walk around. Many people use this time to go to the bathroom, and get a snack. Most of these breaks are only 20 min. If everyone is doing this will there be enough time for you? Packing these snacks not only saves you time, it also saves you money. At the WSOP they have a hotdog cart in the middle of the room. $10.00 for a hot dog. $2.50 for a bag of chips. $4.00 for a soda… Crazy! You’ve already spent $1500 to play in this event. Why spend $20.00 more just for a snack that you’re probably going to regret in about 20 minutes anyway?

Don’t wait for the breaks to stand and stretch. I’m a 100% advocate walking around. Stand up, stretch, walk to the rail and talk to your buddy. Go to the water cooler and refill your water bottle. Do something! Don’t just sit there. you’re body and mind will thank you! There isn’t a whole lot more info to learn from the players at your table after the first few hours. You’re not going to miss something. So what, you folded AK under the gun. You’d have probably gotten yourself in trouble with it anyway.

As a talker, I spend a lot of my down time talking to people at the table, trying to get to know them. They’re all just as bored as you are. Strike up a conversation; tell a few jokes… lighten up the mood. It will go a long way having conversational allies at the table. Everyone’s got a story to tell, and you have nothing but time, take advantage of it.

I know that time has gotten the better of me and has taken from you… I hope that time allows me to continue writing to and for you. I leave for my annual summer trip to play in the WSOP on June 20th. I will do my best to update you on this year’s progress. I will be updating as often as I can on my twitter. Give me a follow @lespend.

I hop you enjoy my quirky writing style, and as always I will never claim to make you a better poker player, but I do hope that I can open your eyes and help you learn to be one!