19/01/2009

Building Your Own Prison

Carl Sampson 'The Dean'

When you begin to look closely and analyse poker and blackjack then you cannot fail to spot numerous similarities between these two games. Concepts that are important in poker like game selection, money management, misdirection, solid methodology etc equally apply to blackjack as well.

But blackjack is a fantastically complicated game and really only properly understood by a very small percentage of people. In that instance it once again shares similarities with poker in that it’s possible for a player to think that they know the game when they really don’t.

Learning to count and knowing basic is really just the tip of the iceberg but I was rather fortunate on that score as most of my ground work was done whilst I was still in gaming and I would frequently practice my counting speed whilst supervising the tables.

But one thing that blackjack gives to a player at the beginning that poker does not in most cases is a clear solid methodology. It is much easier in blackjack to know that the fundamentals are correct. Also it is far easier in blackjack to know when you are doing something incorrectly and this helps the player to remain on track.

Because of this, an individual personality rarely comes into the equation in terms of having an effect on the system and cannot harm the way that you play. When you are feeling somewhat sick after having several maximum bets hit the dust during high positive counts then the counting system itself provides a sort of psychological safety net from overstepping the mark.

If you have been playing blackjack for a few years and have had basically no idea of how to play it and then you have educated yourself by reading a few books then you can be safe in the knowledge that the information contained in those books can be trusted to be good sound advice. Fundamentally, when you strip away all of the extras that combine to make a successful player, the underlying systems all do the same thing and achieve that objective very well.

This is blatantly not the case in poker and it is in this instance where poker reveals itself to be a far more difficult nut to crack than blackjack. In blackjack, your main problems once you became technically proficient were selecting profitable games and working out the best way to increase the longevity of your career.

You can also add getting the money on in enough quantity to make the entire venture financially worthwhile whilst making it appear normal at the same time to the equation as well! But you could take the best blackjack theory books in the world and put them alongside the best poker theory books or training sites and the blackjack experts would achieve far more success when it came to successfully transferring that knowledge in a way that makes the player successful (I am using the assumption here that a blackjack player can still find worthwhile games).

I have long since had the opinion that it is far easier to train someone up from scratch than it is to re-train someone and especially someone who is a lot older. I know that many financial institutions do this and would rather take on a novice trainee than someone who was industry experienced and versed in the ways of other companies.

This is a problem with self education if you have educated yourself with irrelevant or vulnerable systems. It can become very difficult to adapt once you have been used to doing something for a certain length of time. Another problem with educational poker sources (even the ones that are very good) is that they can be teaching you something that is not conducive to your personality and is also conflicting with your entire poker history and outlook.

Let me explain, I was reading an interview this week in Poker Pro Europe by Phil Galfond where he said that people should pick the form of poker that suited them the best. He also went on to say how players who feel very uncomfortable putting large amounts of money into the pot with mediocre values should refrain from playing six-max and concentrate on full-ring instead and I agree with him entirely.

It is terribly easy and very alluring to read about what some player is doing at six-max or any form of poker for that matter and then try to emulate them just because they are doing well. This applies to anything in life, a friend of mine recently returned from Australia having emigrated a couple of years ago saying how it was the biggest mistake that he had ever made in his life.

But the reason that he went was because his friend had also gone a year earlier and told him that it was the best thing that had ever happened to him in his life. You need to follow your own path in life and that is the best way to achieve success in my experience and that applies to poker perfectly.

You need to be aware of the fact that your past experiences that you have created for yourself may just have constructed your own mental “prison”. A myriad of thoughts, weak strategies, incorrect advice, irrelevant experience, contradicting advice and all the rest of it can leave you seriously handicapped in ways that you may not be fully in tune with.

It is only recently that I have come to terms with the fact that I no longer like limit hold’em and really never did. I played it because that was where the money was online years ago and it became a habit. I also played it because I already had the works of Sklansky and Ciaffone ringing in my ears. But it is clear that I was going “their way” and not my own.

I hated the level of variance in limit and still do but I found no-limit to suit my personality far better. I also liked SNG’s when I tried them and I hate the thought of not cashing for long periods and so mainly avoid large MTT’s. But I really do think that the way to success in poker is not to blindly follow what someone else is doing.

By all means listen and learn but you then need to try to assess what is right for you and if you can do that then you really are well on the way. I also think that you need to have a thorough revue of everything that you have ever read or done in your poker life and then try to analyse how this fits in with what you are trying to achieve and if it is helping or merely succeeding in holding you back.

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