12/01/2009

Locating Your Cut-off Point

Carl Sampson 'The Dean'

Reading Alex B’s blog this week revealed to me that me and him have something in common. In fact what we have in common may be present in the majority of poker players but it is certainly relevant to me for sure. But I want to start this week’s article by relating to you something from my past which is Chess.

I was a very avid Chess player in the mid to late eighties and early nineties and was a strong player. I worked very hard on my game almost every day studying endgames, opening theory, strategic plans in certain positions you name it.

I was as passionate about Chess back then as I am about poker now. I never made any money at it because there wasn’t any to be made unless you became one of the very best in the world but that didn’t stop me trying all the same.

But no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t go beyond a certain level which was considerably lower than where I needed to be to be seriously ranked. I would often play people lower rated than me and lose to them which proved to be a source of immense frustration.

But the problem wasn’t that these people outplayed me... far from it. I would make some silly mistake after several hours and draw the game from a winning position or worse still... lose it. Looking back now being a lot older and wiser and it is perfectly obvious to me what the problem was as I understand myself a lot better now than what I did then.

I have had a problem with concentrating for prolonged periods of time since I was a little kid. But I can see now that playing successful Chess isn’t just about having technical knowledge swimming around your head, this is only part of the equation of being a top player. Chess like poker is a mental game that requires mental fitness and stamina to play well the longer that you play it.

This mental stamina has always been a weakness of mine and is something that I now realise and work around. I am essentially idle but yet mental tests can be more demanding than physical ones and to keep concentrating for long periods of time is very difficult for someone like me.

You see Chess is like poker in so much as when your opponents are significantly worse than you then winning is automatic and even though there is tremendous variance in poker, winning is still automatic but over a different time frame. But as that gap closes then the need for mental stamina, focus, discipline or call it whatever you want elevates significantly in importance as you can no longer guarantee beating the opposition purely and simply based on what you know.

I remember years ago when I was playing more and more hours at lower stakes limit trying to make same money like some stupid Hamster on a wheel. I wasn’t seeing the proper problem and that was that I needed to concentrate more and improve my game as my opponents had improved around me.

No longer could I depend on my opponents making silly errors and playing weakly and passing me their money. Even now though I am aware of what the problem is I still cannot progress far beyond the hour mark when it comes to concentrating. I think online poker doesn’t help as you have no physical interaction with anyone and are merely staring at a screen!

I started to dramatically reduce the length of my playing sessions as my chances of making a mistake were definitely increasing beyond the hour mark and certainly when it went beyond ninety minutes. This isn’t too bad in limit play but in no limit it can be devastating to a player’s bottom line.

This was especially the case with me as boredom made the situation even worse. But I found that for me personally, when I switched to playing short sharp sessions then I was always on the top of my game and I now give myself breaks regularly which goes totally opposite to the age old generic advice about never quitting a good game.

I just don’t see the point in staying in a game when my edge has seriously diminished and I am in danger of becoming the value in the game. In fact I would go as far as to say that the vast majority of PAHUD users do not focus well enough on the data on the screen and don’t get anywhere near the amount of value from the product as they should.

I know that a lot of top financial traders have employed the services of psychological coaches to assist them in the markets. I have mentioned before how different people are suited to different types of poker but many people out there are trying to cram square pegs in round holes without even realising it.

I think as you start to look at sports and games in a different way then many of them are similar to poker in many ways and especially individual games like Darts for instance. Having watched a lot of Darts over the past two weeks leads me to believe that on a technical level, there is only so much that a player can do with three arrows from eight feet away.

The difference technically between the top players is so marginal that the differences in performance have to be mental and that is exactly the same with poker. When standards improve and everyone is playing decent technical poker then the psychological side elevates in importance and to be honest... in 2009 then this could just be the secret to winning online!

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