Thursday, May 11, 2006

No Screenshots

You know one blog I really like to read? Jordan's High On Poker. I like his poker stories, he seems to have a similar sensibility to my own, I've met and played with him in person and he just seems like an all-around geniunely good guy and a lot like the guys I grew up with. But what I really like about High On Poker is that Jordan has a way of writing about interesting topics that not only get people thinking, but get me thinking, a much harder task. Earlier this week I read another of his posts discussing why he plays poker, in terms of his ultimate goals. It's something Jordan and I spoke about when we played our first of hopefully many NY blogger homegames. So this all got me thinking this week: What do I hope to accomplish by playing online poker?

For many people, this question is actually pretty easy. My buddy V, I know why he plays poker. Yes he does enjoy playing it (except when pokerstars is on the rag of course...), but really, V is there to make money. You can look him up on Sharkscope and see that he plays tons and tons and tons of 1-table sngs. I must have personally watched him play three or four hundred of what we call the "6x12's" on pokerstars -- 6 people at one short-handed table, $12 buyin, top 2 seats pay, nlh is the game. Why does V love these 6x12's so much? Because, with lots of fish playing throughout the pokerstars site, V knows that he only has to get past 4 of them and he will make a cash. No matter to V that the payout even for first place is $42, which less your $12 buyin and $1 fee, nets you just under $30 for a first place win. Never mind that second place only pays $24, for a mere $11 profit. See, that's the thing with V -- he is more than happy grinding it out for a couple of hours, playing three 6x12's, cashing in two of them, and winning $28 on the night by playing just those three games. And it works for him. The guy's bankroll has been climbing -- I won't say "steadily" climbing, but climbing slowly, and right now it sits just a stone's throw from yet another new all time high. V is getting just what he wants out of his online poker experience. He's playing a game he enjoys, and he's slowly building his bankroll.

Another example is a guy like Wes or even the Blogfather himself. These guys focus -- in some cases almost exclusively -- on cash games, when they're not dropping the Hammer in blogger tournaments anyways. And if you read their blogs from the beginning, you can see a constant theme of starting at the lower limits, grinding out, peddling the nuts, making a profit of a consistent multiple of the BB. And then what happens next? They move up in limits. They see if they can make that same BB multiple at the next level up. If they aren't ready yet, they drop back down until they're consistently making money again at the lower level, and then you try to move up again later. The overall goal here is clearly to keep building that bankroll. To find the game and the level that will maximize their consistent profitability and keep the chips consistently flowing in their direction.

In terms of overall poker philosophy, sometimes I think I could not be more different from these guys. My friend V is the guy who got me into playing online poker in the first place late in the summer of 2005. As as result, I spent most of my first few months playing in the 6x12s that V likes. Adjusting to online play from live play took its toll on me at first, but eventually I got to the point where I could cash in a 6x12 with as much regularity as V. But, unlike V, I quickly grew tired, downright bored even, with the idea that I could kick ass in this tournament, get smacked in the face with the deck, put moves on people out the wazoo, and the best possible outcome for me would be to win $29. And then it would be right back to another 33% chance to cash again in another 6x12. I realized by the end of 2005 why I was feeling so unfulfilled by online poker after three or four months of playing, unlike V who still loves his slow n steady sng style:

I do not play online poker to make money.

Now, don't get me wrong. That's not me saying that I don't care if I lose money, or I am not thrilled if I make a lot of money. In some sense, it is always about the money, in that if I thought I was going to lose 10 grand a year playing poker online, I would be out like a light. There are about 15 different reasons why losing a noticeable amount of money playing poker online would not work for me. So yeah, it's not "not about the money" entirely. But at the same time, grinding out hundreds and hundreds of sngs, just so I can watch my bankroll slowly climb by $4 or $9 or $16 a night, simply doesn't do it for me. Grinding it out at the cash tables, winning $188 some nights, but on others losing $215 on four bad beats, that's not doing it for me either. It's not even close. If that's what it took for me to be able to profit consistently, and in small increments at that, then I wouldn't be playing poker online.

As 2006 started, I decided I really had to figure out what I was doing in the online poker world. I had started over the past couple of months to move away from my original sole focus on the low-limit short-handed sngs, and had once in a while branched out into the $1, and eventually the $2 and $3 MTTs on pokerstars. And you know what? I liked them. A lot. I had really enjoyed the whole progression, from playing tight and close to the vest at the beginning while you wait for the good hands, then slowly loosening up as the blinds get bigger, and then eventually being left with generally higher-quality players, and having to make aggressive moves regularly or be busted out by the blinds alone. I cashed in one of these $1 MTTs, then I had cashed in another. I had then cashed in the $2 and $3 events. I had never made a final table in a large MTT online, but I had done well, and more importantly, I had really liked it. The hand-to-hand play was much more exciting to me, and the fact that I could win, say, $800 instead of the maximum profit of $29, was a real thrill, unrealistic though that may have seemed at the time. This made me feel closer to the guys we're always watching playing poker on tv (this was before the days of High Stakes Poker on GSN), and I liked that too as I had become an avid watcher of the WPT and WSOP whenever it was on.

As a result, I have been focusing almost exclusively on MTTs in 2006. The results have been huge for me. Compared to where I was at the end of 2005 -- no final tables, just a handful of cashes in MTTs under 1000 people with buyins under $3 -- 2006 has been a monster. Seven final tables in MTTs between $10 and $50, tons more cashes in large events, a cash in the party million dollar guaranteed tournament, etc. And while I certainly have become a better online poker player than when I first downloaded pokerstars in late August 2005, I attribute most of the improvement in my performance in 2006 to me figuring out what I'm really looking to do in online poker.

I'm not looking to grow my bankroll at a slow, grind-it-out pace, taking huge lumps some nights and rebounding strongly on others. I'm not looking to 8-table low-limit sngs, even if these things will make me money slowly but surely in the long run. It took me several months to realize this, but it turns out that what attracts me to online poker is the ability to play in large tournaments (the more entrants the better), where some real money is at stake, even if it is much less likely that I'll actually be the guy who wins the first prize than in, say, a 6x12 sng. I prefer a game where I can play what I watch all of my poker idols play on the television like four days out of every week. Where I have to start off playing slow and smart, and wait for my opponents to slip up, and eventually trend towards playing like a maniac just to stay ahead of the forced bets. Where, if I play well, my bankroll isn't going to inch upward by one more blip on the cheesy long-term graph that some bloggers love to post on their homepage and update every single day (invariably always going upwards...hmmm....), but rather where I could take home a grand, or two grand, or even ten grand in one fell swoop.

Honestly, I don't care if my bankroll ever crosses three digits, four digits, five digits or 20 digits. I don't think I'd even care if my bankroll were slowly shrinking, as long as it was only slowly, and I felt like over time I could get better and turn things around. I want the excitement of the large MTTs, even thought it's harder to cash in them than in a smaller tournament. I want a shot at winning a huge cash payout if I win a tournament or play my best game ever, not just the chance at winning a few bucks if I play well. My focus is not on my bankroll, but rather on my enjoying myself playing in big tournaments and taking a shot at the big prize.

That's why I'm playing online poker.

For you screenshot hogs, don't worry because later today, Mrs. Hammer is going to a play on Broadway, which means that once I've got the Hammer girls in bed, it's all poker all the time in the Hammer house this evening.


Blogger Matt Silverthorn said...

Interesting post. I have to say that it's a little bit of everything for me. I like the MTTs, the SNGs, AND the cash games; it just depends on my mood. I think for me, the psychological and mathematical aspects of the game are what intrigue me the most (I have a minor in math). We all love to win money, but for me, I love getting a perfect read and executing a perfect play. Finishing late in a big MTT is always awesome too!

11:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great Post.

Find something you're good at and enjoy and go for it. It should be applied for life and poker.

12:41 AM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

Yeah I've said this before, but for me there is NOTHING better than going deep into a large MTT, and taking down a huge pile of cashish for your efforts. Better than any perfect read I could make in any individual hand, even for a $100,000 pot. OK maybe that'd be better, but you get my point.

12:49 AM  
Blogger Wes said...

I would be lying if I said the underlying factor that brings me back to the tables was not the money that I can win. That is the ultimate reason why I continue to play.

There are also some other things I enjoy about cash games that I cannot partake in MTTs or SNGs. I enjoy playing deepstacked and being faced with some tough decisions, and the ability to play a hand multiple ways. This is not to say that there are not different ways to play a hand in a tournament, there is just rarely the opportunity in online tournaments that each player is 100+BB deep and you have the oppurtunity to take their entire stack if played correctly.

Oh yeah, that was a fantastic post.

1:01 AM  
Blogger smokkee said...

Good post. I prefer MTT's for the exact same reasons. The dynamics of an MTT and even SNG's are an interesting challenge for me.

I don't like the swings of cash games, there's too much risk. And grinding out cash games is just plain boring for me. I play single table SNG's for to feed my MTT play. I'm still working on a major MTT cash. But, i'm sure it will come. I might do a similar post.

1:02 AM  
Blogger The Poker Enthusiast said...

You hit the nail on the head for me. I will grind out SNGs to maintain and slowly build my bankroll while working for the big prize at the MTTs. Great post by the way.

1:46 AM  
Blogger drewspop said...

Great post. I am with you man. Not as good at it as you are yet, but getting second in that 180 SNG hooked me on the possibility of the larger cashes.

See you tonight for a bracelet or 17k on FT hopefully.

2:36 AM  
Blogger Hoyazo's Daddy said...

I am the "V" from the post. I play in almost exclusively single table SnGs and cash games.
The reason that I play SnGs is the same reason that I don't like to watch the first quarter of an NBA playoff game...I want to sit down and see the game tied with 5 minutes left and skip all of the boring stuff. I don't enjoy sitting down to play a 4 hour tourney every night. This is not to say that I don't sit down and play for 4 hours (I'm a junkie, just like the rest of you), but I enjoy playing in a number of different situations in a compressed time period.
Cash games, on the other hand, offer an interesting challenge that you don't have at the SnGs. No blind increases forcing people to make short-stacked decisions. No limits on the amount that you can win/lose.

Hoyazo, when are they going to take down your picture from that website ( That's just wrong.

3:40 AM  
Blogger Jordan said...

Well done, sir. I like the post. It didn't hurt that you had such nice things to say about me at the beginning either.

You got me thinking about my game a bit. You have definitiely had some nice success at MTTs, and it's great that you found your game. But I'm going to go out on a limb and make a prediction. By the end of 2006, you are going to be playing a larger variety of games. Why? Because too much of anything can get boring.

I used to be an MTT enthusiast, and I still am to an extent. I don't like the 1000 player games because of time issues, but when I play them, I love them.

As you probably already know, I like to spread it around and go for whatever I'm in the mood for. Sometimes its SNGs other times cash games, and occassionally scheduled MTTs (as opposed to MTT SNGs). I guess though, I still love those MTTs, since any free Saturday or Sunday I immediately look to see what games are scheduled.

Great post!

4:04 AM  
Blogger Tom aka 10,000 Days said...

It's great that you realized exactly what is drawing you to poker while also enjoying a lot of success at it.

The large MTT's are what draw me, too, but I need to keep playing cash games in order to build a sufficient br to enter those events.

9:27 PM  
Blogger Klopzi said...

I wish that I had the time, drive and patience to play MTTs exclusively.

Unfortunately, I don't. I play poker because I love the grind of clearing bonuses and the excitement of sitting down with a chunk of cash and putting it all on the line with one hand.

I play poker for the money.

I'm testing out my MTT game right now, but I'm guessing the experience will leave me frustrated and $220 poorer. I'm only giving it a try out of jealousy of the other bloggers out there winning the damn things (you are, of course, included in that list).

Going deep in an MTT would be nice, but I'm not holding my breath.

Great post!

Do me a favour: win a bunch of huge tournaments paying out ridiculous amounts of cash and I'll live vicariously through you.

2:42 AM  

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