October 31, 2011

A change of scenery...

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 :)

October 20, 2011

Ideas for improvements to PokerStars...

I recently had the chance to go and meet up with the PokerStars VIP representative for the UK & Ireland, Johnny C. I actually travelled down to London soley to go out for lunch with him whilst he was covering EPT London. It's pretty sweet that it only takes 2 and a half hours to get from my house to the middle of London, given that it's 150 miles away from me in little old Lincoln. Drive to Newark, train to Kings Cross, tube to wherever. Bink.

He ended up taking me to this Lebanese restaurant. The availability of Lebanese cuisine in Lincoln is rather limited (there is none), so it wasn't something I had tried before but turned out to be really good food and I had a really good time effectively talking about poker for two hours. Anyone who knows me know I could blab on about poker all day! Yes, I'm one of those annoying people! I actually remember him from his Dusk Till Dawn days, and we got on well.

I was kind of pleased to be given the opportunity to speak to someone from PokerStars in the flesh. I'm not sure I gave the best impression of myself earlier in the year when the SNG-changes and rake-changes were implemented. I was rather opinionated on the subject at the time, and although I think we helped iron out the situation out at the time a reasonable amount, it may not have been in the most gracious manner. Anyway, it was good to be able to show at least one PokerStars employee that I'm actually not a dick :)

He gave me the opportunity to talk about things that I would like to see on PokerStars, so I thought I'd explore some of the things I said that I might like to see, some of which I discussed of at the time, some  came to mind afterwards, and some were hijacked from the "PokerStars software improvement thread" on 2+2.

Filter Bookmarks
I'm not claiming this suggestion as my own, as it has come up a lot in the 2+2 thread, but I do think this one is a no-brainer for Stars and imagine they will incorporate it in a future update.

At the current time there is no way to save searches you make through either the Cash Game, MTT or SNG filters. You have to manually click everything. So say I want to play 18-man Turbo SNGs in my session, as well as $74 Hyper-turbo satellites, I'd have to keep making multiple changes to the filter each time.

A feature such as one illustrated in the picture below from this post would do just the trick:

I suggested they could add some (or all) of the functionality of TableNinja. From a selfish perspective I already own TableNinja, and should perhaps want to keep my advantage over those who don't know about it or can't afford it. But meh, if PokerStars introduced some of it's functionality I imagine it would be much less buggy. Also, the recent reaction of the TableNinja guys to a multitude of requests to support the recently introduced Nova Themes leaves little to be desired.

Ironically, when I checked the aforementioned 2+2 thread shortly after going to London, I noticed that such a feature was already in development, and has since been released in beta mode in the new client as announced here.

I would like to see them add as much of the functionality of TableNinja as possible, such as SNG betting and auto-timebank (if this specific feature could be automatically disabled during sync breaks, even better!).

Battle of the Planets
The Battle of the Planets leaderboard is a long established promotion on PokerStars, but it is also one that hasn't had been altered for a very long time.

I suggested perhaps some separation between the types of game that are offered, such as a different leaderboard for 6-max SNGs, 9-mans, Fifty50s, 18-mans, 45-mans and 180-mans. Currently 45-man and 180-man tournaments aren't rewarded by this promotion, and given their popularity, and the fact this is where much of the 9-man traffic have defected to, I think it would be reasonable to include them in some manner.

There would be lots of things to consider, such as how the whole prize-pool would be distributed, how the low-orbit and high-orbit would work, how points would be awarded across the different formats, as well as how different buy-in levels would be considered. Although I have no real problem with BoP as it is at the moment, I think there is potential room for improvement. (Of course, they could just quadruple the prizes =)

Easier background changes
Because I play mulitple formats of SNG, I like to be able to differentiate between them as much as possible. It would be handy if it was easier to change the background colour of a table. Currently it takes 8 clicks to do this (View Options --> Table Themes --> Background --> Enable Custom Background --> Select it --> Ok --> Apply --> Apply to current tournament), and it would be great if it was just one.

Perhaps some sort of automatic different background for Final Tables would also be a good option (similar to what Full Tilt had). Being able to automatically detect/set different backgrounds for different games would also be pretty cool.

Sync Breaks
It was mentioned to me that Stars were considering bringing Sync-Breaks into 18-man SNGs. All I can say is YES PLEASE!! I would not be opposed to sync breaks being incorporated into any kind of SNG. I've been a big fan of them ever since they were introduced. Playing intense 5 hour sessions with no breaks, as playing non-sync-break SNGs basically require, isn't all that healthy. A five minute break every hour is the nuts, and in my experience allows me to play more games as I can put in longer sessions.

The argument against sync-breaks largely stems from them being unappealing to recreational players who don't want a 5 minute break in the one 50 minute long SNG they are playing (for example). I think this could be at least partially avoided by incorporating my next suggestion...

I'm Ready
An "I'm Ready" button for when sync breaks come into play, but you want to continue would be a great addition. It can be pretty annoying when you're playing heads up in your last game of the session, you have one big blind left and boom, there's a sync break and you have to wait 5 minutes to be put out of your misery.

Again, we saw these utilized on Full Tilt, and although it would probably be wise not to use too many of Full Tilt's ideas(!), I think this one is a clear winner.

Improved hand histories
Currently rebuys and knockouts aren't correctly counted in Hold 'em Manager, as the hand histories PokerStars produced don't allow it (afaik). There is a fairly long winded workaround (posted here) to allow accurate records to be kept, but it would be great if this was unnecessary and the information was available through HEM.

180-man Rebuy
It would be great if more 180-man turbo rebuy tournaments were offered. Since being featured in the "Tourney" tab as well as the "SNG" tab, the $3.50 Rebuy 180-mans have proven to be really popular...even more so than the $8 and $15 turbo freezeouts . It would be excellent if we could see a higher buy-in offered (~$10), and I think perhaps even a smaller buy-in (~$1) would prove to be popular.

Auto-Rebuy (for tournaments)
Most good players will always choose to play with a full stack in a rebuy tournament, and thereby always auto-rebuy before the tournament starts. This requires pressing a couple of buttons, which might not seem all that difficult, but when playing a lot of tables, you can often not notice you haven't re-bought until you are dealt a good hand, when it is too late. If there were an option in the client to always auto-rebuy when a rebuy tournament starts, that would be fantastic. An option to always rebuy / double rebuy when you lose your stack would also be very helpful.

This idea doesn't come without a couple of issues. For example, whereas I always double rebuy in $3.50 180s when I bust, I often choose not to in  2x Turbo or 3x Turbo tournaments, where a double rebuy might only represent a couple of big blinds. Also, what about the $2 Rebuy grinder who decides to take a shot at the $100 Rebuy for one buy-in, but forgets he has made these preset options. He auto-rebuys when the tournament starts and spends $100 he didn't mean to. He then busts, and spends $200 that he wasn't intending to auto-double rebuying!

A potential way around this would be to create detailed options, detailing what buy-ins and speed of tournaments the settings apply to, but of course this makes it more difficult to program. Nevertheless I still think it's a really good idea, and one that is quite often demanded in the 2+2 thread.

Dual Colour Notes
This was actually suggested to me by Jonny, the VIP rep, a few months ago and I think it is a really good idea. It would be great if you could mark people as 2 different colours. This throws out so many more options for colour coding people. I tend to mark terrible players bright green. With this option I could mark them as "Terrible, tight", "Terrible, loose" etc. Half the circle would display one colour, and the other half would display the other.

"Rush Poker"
This isn't really a suggestion, but I thought it was worth mentioning...

Last month PokerStars announced that it is "developing a fast moving ring games product" which they "expect to be available for public beta testing in a few months".

Personally, I'd prefer not to see Rush poker, or a similar product, released on PokerStars. I think it teaches the fish to play tight, which can't be a good thing. (the Rush Poker tables on Full Tilt were renowned for being nit-fests). Also, I think I'd be unlikely to play this, so I'd prefer not to see any traffic being taken away from the SNGs I do play.

But that's just my personal opinion, we'll have to wait and see what happens.

16:9 Tables
Personally, I'm not hugely fussed about this new feature, as 9 tables fit perfectly onto my 30" monitor, but it seems like a reasonable option. Some regs are calling for 16:9 tables as well as 4:3 (as they are currently). It might allow more HUD space which could potentially be a good thing, and would allow for tables to be a better fit on certain monitor configurations.

Run it Twice
Being a SNG player, this doesn't affect me, but it seems like a good idea, and allows those who want to reduce variance to do it. Adding a Run it Twice feature (which you can enable/disable dependant upon your personal choice). The illustration below points out in how it could be done without it having any affect on the speed of the game (see this post for more).

So lots of things for the guys on the Isle of Man to be getting on with :)

To be fair, PokerStars is clearly the market leader when it comes to improving their software. Every couple of months they seem to add new features. To keep up with the updates, you can always check the PokerStars software improvement thread on 2+2 for announcements, and you can see what changes have been made on the PokerStars Software News page.

October 06, 2011

Sunday Million runner-up loses his $148k winnings in just 5 days!

I was intending to write a detailed blog post on this, but had second thoughts. Just yesterday I was discussing the negative effect that sites such as Sharkscope and PokerTableRatings have on online poker, and I felt like it would be a bit brutal/unethical to go too indepth into it.

Nevertheless I decided I was shameless enough to try and get a few blog hits from an eye-catching title :)

So if the blog title interests you, I suggest you check out this thread for the full story:
2+2 Thread: "This week's Sunday Million Runner Up has questionable bankroll managemennt"

Cliff notes:

  • Player Won $148,300 finishing 2nd in the Sunday Million last Sunday (2nd Oct)
  • Proceeded to lose a majority of it in $5,000 Heads Up SNGs
  • Played various stakes Heads Up Hyper Turbo SNGs, and ended up playing $15 heads ups with the remainder of his roll.
  • Busto, and resorting to playing FPP satellites :-/

One has to feel sympathetic, I can't imagine he is feeling too good right now (ldo). Although probably not to this extent, I imagine most people who play poker have at least some experience of degeneracy, and can also empathise with him to some extent.

Considering how many big money winners there are every Sunday, and the number of satellite entries, it's a little surprising that you don't hear about this kind of thing more often. The last time a player gained this notoriety was perhaps 'bommel222' who won $30,000 by finishing in 2nd place in the Guinness World Record breaking largest online poker tournament ever held (which had just a $1 entry fee, and over 149,000 entrants), and proceeded to lose all his winnings in just 67 hands playing $200/400 FLHE and $25/50 NLHE.

One feels compelled to remind everyone of the excellent Gaming Controls available on PokerStars.

You can self-exclude yourself from playing above a certain limit in cash-games, tournaments and sit and gos.

If that isn't sufficient, you can also completely self exclude yourself from PokerStars for a set amount of time (there are 12 and 24 hour durations, as well as 7, 30, 60 and 120 day durations).

Both of these processes are irreversible. Find out more here: http://www.pokerstars.co.uk/help/responsible-gaming/