The last couple of months have been the most trying of the last couple of years. This is largely because I wasn't winning, and boy can poker be stressful when you aren't winning, especially over a long period of time.
It is hard to put my finger on exactly what was going wrong, and this can largely be attributed to variance, as the variance in poker gives you such problems when analysing your results over a relatively short period of time. Was I playing bad? Was I running bad? To quote Grandpa Simpson, I think it was a little from column A and a little from column B.
One thing that I'm pretty sure happened is that I became somewhat of a Mental Game fish. Those of you who are familar with The Mental Game of Poker will know what I mean by that, there were just certain things I was doing that are clearly not good for your frame of mind.
Worrying too much
With each day and week that I wasn't winning, I was becoming more and more preoccupied with my short term results. I think it is sensible to check your results as infrequently as you can manage, and I've only ever found checking them during your play to be counter productive. But I had gotten to the point where I was treating the refresh button on Hold 'em Manager as though it would give me a penny every time I did so.
Also, I had gotten to the point where I was much too emotionally involved in the outcome of every showdown. I was hoping the cards had magically inherited a memory to let them know that I had been getting screwed over rather a lot lately, and perhaps they should let me hold this one time!
The funny thing is, with the quantity of poker I have played over the last couple of years (and we're talking well over 40,000 SNGs here) I thought I had become immune to these kind of concerns. How can you care about individual showdowns when you have faced hundreds of thousands of them?
I guess I have been pretty lucky over the last couple of years to have not faced too many downswings, and I hadn't been through a period as trying as this for a long time, which instigated me taking so many backward steps in my mental game.
Although I'm not too sure how becoming a Mental Game fish impacted on my actual game, I do think I lost my 'mojo' somewhat. Winning breeds confidence, and I think the opposite is true as well. Although I couldn't give you any strategy specifics, I think you tend to play a better game when you are confident. You perhaps question your decisions less and find more excuses to raise instead of more excuses to fold.
The lack of confidence was seeping through to home life. I'd gone from being a world beater who was printing money, to worrying I was just a pretender who wasn't going to be able to pay the rent in a few months time! My wife was starting to get a bit concerned...
Juggling too much?
My aspirations to make Supernova Elite next year (whereby I was trying to sustain SNE pace in the hours I like to play to see how plausible it would be) had led me to take on a little too much. I was mixing 6-man, 9-man, 18-man and even the odd 45-man and 180-man SNGs into my sessions. All of these games have very different strategies, and although I felt like I knew what I was doing in all of them, there is a difference between being finely tuned in a game, and knowing roughly what you are doing. I think it's impossible to play such a variety of games optimally.
I don't know why I didn't recognise it sooner, I guess I was just being stubborn. I thought I was good enough to win at all the games. Also, I was game selecting so thought that would make up for my potential lack of sharpness in certain games. I had kept a similar schedule in May and had done well,
Also, I think the 6-max SNGs, which obviously require a lot of short-handed play, and therefore attention, were hogging too much of my concentration, which was impacting on my general play
One of the main things that was getting me down was that I was losing money at 18-mans, which I considered to be my best game, and is the type of SNG I have made the most money in lifetime.
Looking at my results it was really a tale of two buy-ins. I started off with my worst downswing ever in 18-mans altogether, however I recovered very well in $30 games, yet relentlessly plunged in $60+ games. I really can't make sense of the results considering I don't believe the $60+ 18-mans are any more difficult than the $30 games. I suppose the most likely explanation is variance, these are still small samples we are dealing with, but it just doesn't feel like variance when you're on a 110 buy-in downswing. It feels like anal rape (presumably...).
|$30 18-man SNGs (1st Sept - 23rd Oct 2011)|
|$60 & $100 18-man SNGs (1st Sept - 23rd Oct 2011)|
It looks like September and October are the months where I went from being one of the best SNG regs to an FPP Pro:
|All SNGs 1st Jan - 31st Aug 2011|
|All SNGs 1st Sept - 23rd Oct 2011 (sigh)|
Change of scenery.
It was a $2.5k losing session (right at the end of that graph) that proved to be the final straw. I was just blanking everything for fun and I decided that I couldn't continue on as I was.
I took a day off and I made myself a spreadsheet to track my progress for the remainder of the year, something which has always made me feel a little bit better after a downswing. I think it's because it helps me re-establish that it is the long-term that matters, and over the long term I am capable of playing a lot of SNGs, and (hypothetically at least) making good money.
I decided to move over to playing 45-man SNGs, 180-man SNGs and turbo MTTs. I had been contemplating this for a while as I had been finding it difficult to put in two sessions a day with the schedule I was keeping. I'd either have a depressing morning session and not want to play in the afternoon, have a good morning and try to protect the win and not play (see, I was a mental game fish), or just be so burnt out from the stress caused by the emotion I was investing in my morning session that I felt I couldn't deal an afternoon session. By moving over to games with sync breaks (sync breaks wiiiiiii!), I could instead play one long session, as I had done for most of 2010.
I also thought it wouldn't hurt to lower my average stake, and figured I would be able to cope with the downswings better if a $2.5k losing session were an impossibility.
After grinding mostly 18-mans for the last year, I thought the change would do me good. It would also give me the chance to reset and start from 0, rather than always trying to dig myself out of the holes I had fallen in through September and October. Also, it feels like a new challenge, which is somewhat motivating.
So although I was aware that I could be making a decision that was based on incomplete information (ie. reading too much into variance), and moving over to games I might have a lower hourly rate in the long-term, I felt like there were too many positives related to mindset to not go with it.
I've been keeping this new schedule for a week now and I feel much better for it. I've only checked on my results two or three times. I feel much more accepting of the daily variance involved. I know that you can go on runs where you blank 50 180-mans without doing much wrong, so it would be silly being concerned with how you are doing on each individual day. Having a nonchalant attitude towards showdowns and results is definitely much healthier!
I also really like the 5 minute break I get every hour. It seems to make the day go faster as often a break will pop-up and I'll be surprised it's rolled around already. It's also good to get your eyes away from the screen for that time, and I think it allows you to stay "fresher" throughout the session. I've also been putting in good volume, playing a good long session each day I play.
It doesn't hurt that I've got off to a good start, but more importantly I think I've got my mojo back :)