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!

Oops… Did I do that…?

“And you have the option sir.”

“Hmm. I think I’m going to raise.”

The table goes completely silent. Everyone stares at the player in the big blind. Whispers from around the table begin.

“Who is this guy?”

“I’ve never seen him before.”

“He’s never raised before!”

“I don’t know what to do here.”

In order, the entire table folds their cards.

The amount of times I’ve seen this scenario unfold is countless. This is one of those moments that I live for. That moment when you’ve changed as a poker player. Over the course of my career as a poker dealer, I’ve been blessed to witness the evolution of many different players. New players always have that lost look on their face, but the moment when ‘lost’ becomes something different… yeah, I get goose-bumps every time.

The last few months have been awesome for the dealer in me. The mentor in me, on the other hand, has been working overtime. The number one question people keep asking is, “How do I know I’m getting better?” The truth is, that’s not a question easily answered. There are several different ways a player can improve many of which go unnoticed to most observers. It’s also possible you won’t notice it yourself. This is why I’m creating a list of levels to help you better understand who you are, and where you sit as a poker player.

The list starts a little differently that you may expect.

  • The Rail – ‘The Rail’ player isn’t ready to sit at the table. This player loves to hang out with his friends but would rather sit behind their buddy and watch the game. You will often hear them saying things like, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” Or “I would only slow the game down.” or “This game is too complicated for me.” These players will often ask questions like, “Why did you do that?” and “Why did you win the chips?”
  • Shots Please – The ‘Shots Please’ player finally sits for the first time but feels they need a little extra courage to stay there. This player is known for phrases like, “Please be patient with me,” and “Can I fold?” You also find these players staring at poker on TV in amazement trying to learn from it.
  • Check Fold – The ‘Check Fold’ player has overcome their fear of sitting at the table. They are finally used to the flow of the game. These players probably won’t play many hands, but when they do be careful…they most likely have AA – KK – QQ. I mention this because these are the only hands they aren’t afraid to play. Anything else will require too much thought, and if they take too long, the staring people will freak them out and they almost always fold in fear. The common statement here is, “Can I check? No? Then I fold.”
  • I Call – ‘I Call’ players are great. They are finally in that ‘you don’t scare me’ mode, and haven’t quite arrived to the ‘I want to win’ level. These players are starting to understand table dynamics and are eager to see the hand’s results. They know that three of a kind beats two pair, but often forget that a flush isn’t greater than a full house. These players are notorious for going out early…and not caring. They are just excited that they finally ‘get it.’ They will almost always check if they are first and will almost always call any bet. You can guess their signature quote: “Check! How much? I call!”
  • Can I Raise? – The ‘Can I Raise?’ players are where I get most of my entertainment. These players have learned a bit about what good starting hands are and finally understand ‘what beats what.’ They’re starting to talk more at the table and will show up to the game even when their friends can’t make it. They’re more cautious of their chip stack and eventually last longer in the game. You will often see them stare at their cards blankly, stare at the flop, then stare at their cards again. And then that priceless look of realization comes over them. The will almost always ask, “What are the blinds?” before they ask, “Can I raise?”
  • I Don’t Believe You – This is a very interesting level. The ‘I Don’t Believe You’ players are always fun to watch. You can see their thought processes. When a player bets out, they start staring at them. They will look at their cards over and over again. This is the level where these players don’t want to be bet out of the pot and they hate folding. They always want to know what the other player is holding. They almost never believe the person who bet. They will often lose a lot of their chips because they just want to prove themselves right. This is also the level where I see the raw emotions of poker kicking in. “Are you bluffing? I think you’re lying.” These are a few of the famous last words for this group.
  • Why Not – The ‘Why Not’ players can be the most frustrating players. This group has learned to bluff. They’re great at getting under your skin. The best part? They don’t even know it. They become aggressive in their actions and just like to bet. There really isn’t any rhyme or reason to their bets other than, “Maybe they will fold”.
  • Check Raise – The ‘Check Raise’ player gets it. This is the group that has finally figured things out. They are cognitive of table position. They are starting to understand the math in poker. They know what’s going on all the time. They set goals in poker; they’re actually trying to win. They get mad at themselves for making mistakes. They are often up late at night rethinking hands. You will often find them listening to poker podcasts, or reading poker books. They are always looking for the edge. These players often make themselves known at the table when they check raise. They will catch you when you’re not ready and somehow take all your chips and leave you wondering “Where did that come from?”

I know this list doesn’t officially answer the question I originally posed, but I hope you can find yourself in there. Somewhere. I’m not a fan of looking at somebody and saying, “This is where you are in the game.” I want a player to look at themselves and realize who they are. I’m not ever going to tell you I know how to make you a better poker player. I will help you find the tools that can help you better understand yourself.

I love watching the game blossom in players. That burning desire to get better drives my desire to help. I hope you find who you are in this game, and continue your growth. If you find me chuckling unprovoked at you during a game, know that I’m not laughing at you. I’m just entertained by the growth I’m witnessing!