I was sitting around a few weeks ago and I was thinking about my poker goals as I posted them on New Years of this year. New Years 2006 is what I think of as the *real* start to this blog. I technically made the blog in April 2005 when I first heard of the pokerstars world blogger championship of online poker, and at that time I just put up one or two fake posts and the pokerstars banner, and I was in. Although I've been playing poker for many years, I didn't actually start playing poker online until late August of last year. By October I had actually started formulating my thoughts about online poker play, and I came back to the blog and put up a few posts, but as I read them now, they are really just mostly rants about the online poker sites being fixed, how furious I am, bad beat stories like I love to tell. It's funny to read, but I love that that stuff is up there. That was a window into my poker thoughts at that time, just like this entire blog has been all along. Things have really changed for me in the last six months of online play, and so there I was thinking about my goals for 2006, and how I'm doing with them thus far six full months into the year.
1. Goal #1 on New Years 2006 was "Win an MTT this year." Wow. At the time as I recall I had never won any online event of larger than 55 people or so, and this despite having won multiple live tournaments and final tabled several others. I was frustrated daily at my lack of mtt success, and so I set my goal to win an MTT, thinking if I could possibly pull that off at some point within the next year just one time, I couldn't even imagine how psyched I'd be.
Then a crazy thing happened. I won a 191-person satellite into what was then the fledgling monthly Party Millions tournament, the precursor to the now weekly Million Dollar Guaranteed tournaments on party. I barely remember the details now, it's been so many hands and so many tournaments ago, but I recall being in great shape through most of the end of the tournament, and I recall for the first time in a long time I was "in the zone". I wasn't necessarily bluffing more than I usually do, but I was putting my opponents on hands like a hawk, and I was always right. The closer to the end of the tournament we got, the more on-target my reads were. I was in everyone's heads in that game. I was the game. It was incredible. I won that thing, and suddenly it was like the floodgates were opened. I realized, seriously here, that I had not been playing enough to my poker strengths. I could read people generally very well in large mtt's, and that didn't leave me to just make the plays I'd read about or seen others do at the poker table. Shit, when I know the other guy is weak, I can do whatever I want to him. A child could win with that knowledge. Ever since that tournament, I have opened up my game just by playing and watching and learning and reacting, and from that moment on, I never looked back. I've won three or four mtt's since that time, and final tabled in several others. As I've blogged about, I have made at least two mtt final tables in every month of this year. Then in May I won the party 40k guaranteed tournament, something which still seems surreal to me. I think I'm a great poker player, but I also recognize that my chances of ever winning a 2300+ person holdem tournament are quite low. My bankroll is something I don't even think about anymore, because I don't want to be a high-roller and I am happy with the stakes I've been playing at for some time. I've said it here before and I'll say it here again -- I play to play poker, not to make money.
So, it's been a brilliant six months with respect to my first goal of 2006. I've obliterated it. So, I am taking the unusual step of revising my first New Years Resolution halfway through the year, to more accurately reflect the current reality. My new mtt performance goal has to be aggressive. In January at this time I had never won an online mtt, and I made winning one as my goal, something I had never accomplished in several months of mtt play online. So now I need to be similarly aggressive.
My new goal for 2006 is to win at least one tournament a month, and final table in two others. I need to get more consistent with my play. I have long since accepted that you don't need good cards to win a large poker tournament. It helps, sure, but you flat out don't need to get good cards. So I need to make my play more consistent, such that I should be not just final tabling, but winning an mtt a month. Other great poker players do this (even some who blog, despite not exactly being part of this whole "community"), and I want to be one of them.
2. Goal #2 on New Years 2006 was "Stop steaming so much." Hmmm. I am still a big tilter. No argument there. However, most of you didn't know me back in January. I used to be the type of guy who gets knocked out on a bad beat, and sits and angrily out-of-controllingly berates the guy in chat from the rail for the next 15 minutes, and then threatened to maim, throttle, cut, or slice n dice the owners of pokerstars in chat for the next several minutes as well. I would enter entire other tournaments right after such a beat, just to go allin on the first hand with nothing and lose. I would know I was going to do that going in. It was not a healthy relationship to have with the game.
I can't describe how much winning and cashing in so many of these mtt's has changed my perspective. I know a lot of the reason I was so frustrated was that I was a great poker play with a whole lotta chutzpah, but I was kind of trapped in some other type of player's body. Once I opened up my game, and really started focusing on my reads of other players, I realized that was how I was meant to play, and I have had increasing success over time. My emotions are so much more in check today than they ever were six months ago. I haven't ragged someone who bad beat me in the chat in months, and I have completely given up threating physical harm against Lee Jones and friends. I haven't had my chat privileges suspended on pokerstars since the end of 2005. So I am definitely making progress here. This goal does not need to change, as it is still a key area I have to work on. Now, my problem is making fishcalls when I'm tilted, instead of raging uncontrollably. Still a bad problem, and still something that needs to improve in the second half of 2006.
3. My final New Years resolution this year was: "Continue to get better at trusting my instincts." I can honestly say that I have taken this goal to a whole new level so far in six months of 2006. I had no idea when I wrote that on January 4 just how much my game nowadays would depend, utterly rely on my read of my opponent, each and every hand I play. Sometimes I get that read wrong, no doubt about that, but I play the game by my reads and my opponents these days, much more than anything else. Like I've said, I don't need good cards to win a big mtt anymore. I just need good situations, and stellar reads, and I'll get there. So I have largely met this goal already six months into 2006, and I will be revising this one as well, to address what I think is the new largest area I need to excel in:
My new goal for the rest of 2006 will be to continue to refine my hand-reading abilities, focusing specifically on not getting trapped as much by slow players.
I have had several situations of late where I have folded big (or small) hands to even bigger hands that my opponents have been lucky enough to have at the same time as I am pushing hard. So I know I can do this. But I also know I have a lot of work to do. The amount of times that I run into Aces in big spots in mtt's is mind-boggling. I need to get better at recognizing those times, or at least at recognizing the warning signs early on that I might be up against a better hand. I need to focus every time a solid opponent smooth calls me on the flop, and really ask myself if this guy has the goodz or is just full of it (often like me). Again this is something in which I have improved dramatically during the past six months, but I still get caught far too often. If I'm going to continue to play these large mtt's like I like to do, then I need to get better at avoiding the situations which can cost me a huge portion of my stack because I pushed too hard into a slow player. I basically feel like I'm doing great on the offense part of poker right now. It's the defense I need to work on. So that's one thing I will be focusing on during the second half of 2006.
In all, I really can't believe how well I have accomplished my yearly goals by only six months into the new year. The success I have had this year has really come as a total surprise to me. Don't read me wrong -- I have always known, and never for one second doubted, that I am a great poker player. But aside from a few early wins where I got my original stake, I had so little success in my first several months playing poker online in 2005 that I guess I had all but accepted that I wasn't ever going to be a winning player. All that has changed over the past several months, and I'm so pysched that you guys who read this every day have been along for all or part of the ride. I can't wait to try to meet my new goals in the rest of 2006.
A few other updates. First, congratulations to Scott for taking down DADI VII last night. Very impressive work from Scott, who was majorly short stacked as the final table neared yesterday, definitely in last place with around 1000 chips remaining, and fought his way back with a series of double-ups and solid play through the finish line. I was unable to defend my DADI VI title due to other plans, but I was able to rail the last hour or so and got to watch some mighty fine play. Including my cash game specialist boys JJ and even Waffles making the final table. And no that was not a misprint, Waffles played excellently and made the final table, before going out in 5th on the same hand that SoxLover went out in 4th as Sox continues another very hot streak of his own. And thanks and congratulations to Jordan, TripJax and Gary for hosting another successful event, and for the 66 signups, which was officially more than even the WWdN drew this past Tuesday. Nice showing, guys!
Speaking of Waffles, he and Smokkee have been having a very interesting debate about a hand that occurred in the Mookie tournament the other day, and several people weighed in on the debate during the chat at last night's DADI final table. Basically, Waffles had a flush draw and a straight draw going on the flop, such that he actually had sufficient outs with two cards to come that he was actually the favorite to win the hand when the flop betting occurred. It's rare, but Waffles had a drawing hand that was the favorite over a made hand on the flop. The question is, was Waffles "ahead" on the flop, or was he "behind"? Smokkee has been clear that his made hand was clearly ahead of Waffles' drawing hand on the flop, since Waffles needed a drawout to win. Waffles of course maintains that he was obviously "ahead" since he was the favorite to win at the time. As I recall, CJ weighed in in favor of Smokkee's position. But I am here to say, I really don't understand the distinction being made here. To me, Waffles was "ahead" because Waffles was favored. That's what being ahead means. It doesn't mean you already had the "made" hand. "Ahead" means winning, and to me on that flop Waffles was ahead because he had a 60-something percent chance to win the hand. I just don't understand how you can say that Smokkee was actually "ahead". He had a made hand, but he was behind at that point, not ahead. Despite being pat, he was still behind. I'm not sure what difference this really makes, but I did find the debate to be interesting given the difference of opionions that seem to be out there on the subject.
By the way, if you haven't seen this yet, poker player who blogs Rizen has just made the final table of WSOP Event #3, and is sitting in the chip lead at this time heading into final table play on Friday. Rizen has had an incredibly successful year playing poker online and live, so be sure to keep up with the WSOP coverage to see if the man can bring it all home. And go click over to his blog and show your support.
Last, two administrative items. The Hammer family will be going away this weekend for the 4th of July holiday, and as such, it is unclear just how much I will get to blog over the next few days. I'll definitely be back and better than ever after the holiday as I make my final few days of preparations before leaving for Vegas and the WPBT on next Thursday night, but I just don't know how much or if I'll be able to post between now and then. You can amuse yourself instead while I'm gone by reading some of my archives -- I'm telling you, the older stuff before I started hitting my stride in late January of this year is really funny. Insane ranting, but funny to me too when I read it now.
And lastly, along these same lines, the Mondays at the Hoy tournament has already been set up for Monday night, July 3. I don't know how many people will be able to play, and I don't know for sure if I'll be able to play either, but I've gone ahead and set things up in case anyone or a bunch of guys want to get in there and battle it out for the prize pool full of $20 buyins from all the players. So have at it, it is still Monday night at 10pm ET as always, password is "hammer" as always, and feel free to enjoy. I will join in if I can, but again it is hard to know just now what the likelihood of that is.
For those of you in the U.S., have a fabulous holiday weekend, and I hope everyone gets some time off with family and friends over the next few days. I will be back next week with a fun list of my favorite poker things that happened during the first half of 2006, and more of the same kind of poker content that you all have come to know and subsist on. Until then, have a great weekend and best of luck at the tables, it's been an incredible ride for the first half of this year and I can only imagine how much better the next six months will be.