November 28, 2013

1 millllllion VPPs & My biggest ever downswing

Last week I passed the one million mark of VPPs earned since I began playing on PokerStars. Although there is no tangible reward, aside from my lobby and VPP count sporting the 1 million Hall of Fame badge (booooommmm), it's kind of a cool milestone to reach.

The good sports at PokerStars support provided me with a lifetime audit so I could work out a yearly breakdown of VPPs:

Reaching this milestone would have felt rather underwhelming had I not recently managed to dig myself out of my largest ever downswing (or at least after my high stakes cash game days pre-2008). It has been quite the most extreme ride on the variance rollercoaster over the last 2 months.

It all started after I binked a $109 turbo on the 4th of October. I have been doing particularly crap in $109 turbos all year, and this was my first outright win since January. Consequently I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. I even made a couple of frivolous purchases; something I rarely do just because I happen to have experienced some positive variance. Little did I know I was about to be brutally punished for this. I went on an absolute death run in everything.

Those of you that have followed my blog (when I used to update much more regularly!) will know that I am generally somewhat of a variance nit. I was always pretty proud that my Sharkscope graph never shows me going on more than a $10k downswing. Still, I've taken a few swings that felt kind of rough before. Actually in October 2012 I grinded through a $7k downswing and wrote a small article about mental fortitude and such (see here). In late 2011, I asked Father Christmas for my sick graph back after a long break-even stretch, featuring a 200 buy-in downswing in $60 18-mans (see here). I've never experienced anything quite like this, though.

Perhaps I have been particularly fortuitous in my poker career to have avoided such a death run until now. I can't deny I have had the odd particularly lucky bink (Winning the Sunday Supersonic was ridiculous, so was my 3rd place in the Monte Carlo although it was kind of due but that's a difficult claim to make when it comes to live poker tournaments), but when you go on a death run, any previous fortune is quickly forgotten.

Epitomised life-time graph on PokerStars

Whenever I encounter someone who questions my job, or the ability to support my kids via gambling (a fairly common occurrence when speaking to those who know little about poker), I tend to throw them the statistic that I hadn't had a losing month in 4 years. I suppose I was technically stretching the truth, as I did actually have a losing month in February 2012. However I only played 500 games that month because my daughter was born then. Other than that though, it was true.

Monthly Profit Chart (does not factor in rakeback)

Well October changed all that. I sat down at my computer and just started losing. For the first few sessions it was a bit annoying (as anything other than winning tends to be!) but it was standard and to be expected. But then it kept happening. Repeatedly. Not just losing but on a complete free fall where I couldn't win anything. The more it went on, the more I struggled to believe it was possible to run quite so bad. We've all talked about the mythical "doom-switch", well I was starting to become a believer in its existence. Had someone at PokerStars read my petulant comments aimed at the  PokerStars SNG rep on 2+2 and pushed the button on me??

It's a common theme amongst recreational players to say that sites are "rigged". You see it all the time. The "Poker is rigged, collected threads edition" on 2+2 has 60,000+ posts and 2.5 million+ views. Obviously this is a completely ridiculous notion, and it's difficult to show anything but complete contempt for people that say anything like this. However, I got a glimpse into the mind of someone that does think like this last month. What I mean by that is, I am extremely well educated in variance, I have been a professional poker player for ~6 years, I've played more than 80,000 SNGs/tournaments. I've seen it all. Yet I ran so bad in October that I was seriously beginning to wonder whether there was some kind of virus on my computer or something! If a fish was to run anywhere near as bad as me over a short space of time (which is more likely assuming they are playing much worse than me...well, probably!), I can see where this unreasonable train of thought might arise.

$25k for the games I was playing was pretty ridiculous, with an average buy-in around the $35 mark. I wasn't doing anything too much different than I had for the previous couple of years. I guess the only thing which did change was I really went for it on each Sunday. Under the guise of working harder to try and grind through the downswing, I think I was looking for the easy way out. Just a quick-fix Sunday bink to get out of it.

Unfortunately Sundays went disastrously, and were pretty soul destroying. I kept getting to 2 or 3 tables out in huge fields where there were big prizes on the final tables, but I diddn't quite get there.

Sunday November 3rd seemed to be no exception. Except this time I was blanking everything. I had just a handful of tables left, and it wasn't looking good. My cashier balance was $25k down on what it had been just a month earlier, and I was psychologically preparing myself for a drop in stakes, and heading to Grindsville Central for the rest of the year.

Epitomised 2013 PokerStars graph
After a month of running like death, I finally had a turnaround in fortune, and managed to run really well in the $109 Cubed Turbo (not a tournament I recall playing before. I played it as a squared, but still, I wouldn't recommend flicking this one in, the field is ridic) which was one of the few tables I had left. Something strange was happening, I was winning showdowns, left right and centre. Even a couple where I got it in kind of bad! I could easily have finished 7th for $4k when I jammed A9 into tens, but I caught a miracle A on the river, which inevitably led to me finishing 3rd for $13k.

Although it only dug me out of half of my downswing, that bink was pretty damn good for morale, and was definitely a huge turning point for me. I had got to the point where I didn't feel like I could win anymore, and I certainly missed that feeling. That bink made me feel like I might actually win again. Although I'm sure that feeling doesn't help you actually win, coincidentally this time around I actually did start winning again. I'm not sure 'momentum' is really a thing in poker, but I seemed to have it, and November has ended up being really kind to me, and I dug my way out of my worst downswing ever.

Normally two months of breaking even would feel prettttty shitty. On this occasion though, I'll definitely take it. It actually feels like a pretty good achievement grinding out of such a hole. I definitely feel like I have learnt a lot from the experience. I think in the future I will be even more battle hardened against variance. I also learnt the perils of shot taking, something I tended to avoid most of the time, so I think I'll go back to being a more careful in this regard.

My online results this year haven't been all that spectacular, obviously this 2 month blip hasn't exactly helped, so I'm hoping I can end the year on a high note in December.

Win Coaching
Just quickly, on another note, I will be donating a couple of hours of my time along with a bunch of other UK Pros to raise money for the charity Crisis. It's £21.84 to enter the draw (which is the cost to give a place to a homeless person in a Crisis centre over Christmas) to win a couple of hours coaching with one of us. If you are interested, check out thread here: