In the last 12 months, every month except one, I’ve made money playing poker as a professional. It is a stark contrast from a year ago when I wrote a post titled Dealing with Downswings in Poker. It was about my seeming inability to come out of a persistent downswing. In this new post, I want to give you an update on my poker career, the changes I made – personally and professionally, their impact, and the way forward from here. I hope you get something useful out of this.
First up, current state:
- Winnings – In the last 12 months, I made more than thrice the amount of money that I made in the 12 months before that.
- Volume – Over the last few months, I’ve increased my volume to about 2.5x-3x the number of hands I used to play earlier.
- Win-rate – My bb/100 win-rate has been hovering around mid-single-digit for the last year.
- Stakes – I have climbed back up to the stakes I was playing before the downswing (50/100) and am planning to make a jump further up (100/200) soon.
- Mindset – I am more confident about my game than ever before.
This progress was made possible by bringing about changes in mindset, life, and in how I went about my poker career.
Unlike last year, when I didn’t have concrete data, now I have my HUD to give me a somewhat accurate picture of the effect of variance. I ran at EV in all-in spots this year, which is better than what I perceived to be a below EV run last year.
It was only in the recent months that I could truly comprehend the importance of putting in high volume. I was never a high volume of grinder. But I’ve changed this and am now grinding longer sessions and taking fewer days off.
- Focused effort
In my previous post, this entry was called Distributed effort. And it is one of the biggest changes I’ve made. Now I focus almost exclusively on cash games. I had realized that tackling tournament variance at a stage when I was vulnerable wasn’t a good idea. As things improved, I started taking shots at more tournaments (Sundays and occasional daily majors). Now, I buy into these through satellites or free tickets on deposits, so the buy-ins don’t affect my bankroll much. I did make money in them but it was a tiny portion of my overall winnings – cash games are still my roti-sabzi.
In terms of putting in study hours, I may not have increased the amount by a lot, but I’ve improved the quality of my study dramatically. Two major things that have helped in this regard are using a HUD to find leaks and working with a GTO solver ( I use GTO+). I also bought a new computer customized specifically to run these simulations. Using these solvers I’ve learned a lot more about the baseline optimal strategy which consequently allows me to exploit opponents a lot more if I see them deviating from it.
One of my favorite books that I read last year was Tiger Woods’s biography. A few times in his career, Tiger Woods changed his golf swing. It seems like a reasonable thing to do if you are performing poorly but he did it when he was at the peak of his career. The reason was that he wanted to stay ahead of the curve and he felt the new technique will give him an edge. While he was perfecting his swing, his short term results dipped, but as time progressed, he started outclassing his opponents.
My outlook on poker strategy has become the same. The new information and strategy I learned (through solvers and study) was difficult to implement at first. But as I became better at grasping the nuances, the results improved.
- Player-friendly policies
This change had nothing to do with me but it is about changes the poker companies made last year. Higher rake-back, better tax structures, and lower rake (in some cases) – all of these contributed to my bottom-line.
“For me, each game is a new challenge, which has to be dealt with rationally and systematically. At that time, every other thought fades into oblivion.”
– Viswanathan Anand
The Inchworm has crawled further. If you’ve read The Mental Game of Poker, you’d understand this reference. For those who haven’t, what I mean is that I’ve improved my C-game. Or put it in another way, my C-game is not as calamitous as it used to be. The results of this change are dramatic because having a poor C-game can mean not just a losing session, but it can also have repercussions on your confidence and thus affect your ability to play your A-game.
I achieved this in a variety of ways:
I found more people to talk Poker with – both strategy and mindset. Some motivated me to grind more, others helped me to fix my mental game issues. And all of them made me feel like I belong in a community and not fighting this battle alone (hat tip to all of you – you know who you are). It was important for me because, after many years of working from home, I’d become a recluse.
I developed a Warm-up and Cool-down routine and followed it somewhat regularly. I’ll give you an example of how this has benefited me. I noticed that I perform poorly in the first 30-45 minutes of a session probably because it takes that much time for the brain to go from zero engagement to complete zone-in. My warm-up helps me bridge this gap much sooner.
- Mental Game Hand Histories
I made mental game hand histories in excruciating detail going down to the root of my mindset issues (like motivation, fear of failure, self-doubt, etc.). Again, refer to “The Mental Game of Poker” on how to make the mental hand histories.
I read about elite performers and soaked in whatever I could from their habits, routines, and mindset. As an example, another anecdote from the Tiger Woods’ book: Tiger’s dad coached him from a young age. He wanted to ensure that Tiger developed his mindset and not just his golfing skills. So in practice, as Tiger would get ready to take an important shot, his dad would rattle coins in his pocket to unsettle him. Learning to focus under any circumstances was a skill he learned early, and as he grew up, he was recognized as the strongest mindset golfer on the tour.
- Relationship with the game
I worked on improving my relationship with the game. I’d always heard maxims like ‘Process over Results’, but it is only now that I’ve internalized it. My goals are no longer just monetary but process-related (x number of hands played at my A-game, y number of tourneys with a min buying of z amount).
When variance negatively affects my results, I treat it as a gentle reminder to dodge complacency. There is less ego involved, less entitlement and I am less stressed as a result. Now, I don’t define a bad session purely in terms of results. Instead, it is one in which I’ve broken discipline with respect to session length, game selection, or focus.
- Moving to Bangalore
After two years of living in Goa, I moved to Bangalore. I have a lot of friends here so that fixed my loneliness problem. They also served as a good support system whenever I was down.
For the last one year, fitness was my number one priority. So instead of finding time to workout, I planned my day around it. I joined a fitness center and am fairly regular at it. I’ve also started Intermittent Fasting and plan to continue it if I see good results.
Discipline is Freedom – it is a mantra that I am convinced of. I’ve created a daily schedule that I try to follow. By auto-piloting my day, I worry less about the mundane and can use that potential energy on the tables instead.
I’ve also started making other positive changes in my life. For example, I have a ‘Never’ list in which I write bad habits that I want to get rid of. One such habit I got rid of is spending time on the phone on the bed at night. I also added new habits like taking a cold shower which boosts testosterone and increases focus.
- Cutting down on Intoxicants
I’ve quit smoking (with the help of this book). It has just been three months but I already feel like a non-smoker and likelihood of relapse seems low. I’ve cut down on my alcohol consumption. Now I do it only socially and not as an escape from uncomfortable feelings towards numbness.
I made these life changes not for poker but for myself. I had not been happy with the version of myself I was at that time. So before anything else, I wanted to be able to be okay with who I am. And these changes helped me reach that point. I am now more comfortable with my current version.
TACKLING THE DARKNESS
If I were to tell you that these changes allow me to be perpetually at peace, it would be a lie. I still do have days when I fuck up. I still have moments of doubt (usually after a bad session) when I doubt my career choice or my ability as a poker player. But the difference between then and now is that these episodes occur much less frequently and when they do, the intensity is much lower.
As an example, earlier, if I were to lose 2-3 buy-ins early in the session, I would regress to my B or C game. Now, if that early loss happens, I am able to bounce back much quicker and stay at a higher level of performance for longer.
I’ve learned the important skill of being aware of the problem, detaching myself from it and looking at it from a high vantage point. When the storm comes, the tree that is my poker career gets shaken but not uprooted.
THE WAY AHEAD
In my previous post, one of the goals I had defined for myself was Creation over Consumption. I wanted to write more and create more things but unfortunately, that is one change I couldn’t make. And whenever I found myself in a dark spot, this failure would always loom large and make me doubt my life choices.
In fact, the reason I finished this post today (I had written the original draft months ago) was because I wasn’t feeling motivated to play poker. Playing cards for money doesn’t seem like a fulfilling life if I can’t or won’t use the freedom it provides to do the things I love to do. And that’s what happened today which is what prompted me to finish this post.
So I want to get back to writing. That is what fills me with contentment and makes my life meaningful. Poker is great as a career choice, but I need writing to make my day wholesome. This post is a small step in that direction.
Some other areas where I want to improve are:
- Fitness – Going forward, I am laser-focused on being the fittest I’ve ever been. I am nowhere close to where I want to be.
- Meditation – I want to build a regular meditation habit. I realize that the focus and mindfulness that comes with meditation is an edge that I want to utilize on the tables.
- Reading – Unlike previous years, I read very few books in last one year and I want to change that.
I want to live life right now and not in an assumed future. This means finding time to do all the things that make me happy (writing, reading, travel, meditation). And doing things that need to be done (laundry, buying groceries, cleaning the house). It also means choosing gratefulness over envy.
In terms of poker, I have identified areas of improvement which will then define my goals: improve win-rate, become better at MTTs, be more consistent in warm-up/cool-down routines, fix motivation issues, and become the strongest mindset player I can be.
Finally, I want to leave you with something a writer I like said (I don’t remember who). Paraphrasing: “Writing is penning down one right word. And then another one after that.” Poker is much like that. Your poker career is an accumulation of one hand after another played to the best of your ability.
Good luck on the tables.