23/03/2009

What the Books don't Teach You: Part Three

Carl Sampson 'The Dean'

In this final part of this mini-series I want to discuss several key elements with regards book learning in poker. There is nothing wrong with reading poker books, I have read hundreds over the years but you have to read them objectively. This is a key lesson that I have learned over the past few years. But books once written remain a constant in what is a rapidly changing poker environment.

This is why joining poker forums or good coaching sites is a stronger move and one that is now taking advantage of a constantly updating and current environment. I know full well that joining this forum over two years ago was a move that was crucial to my continued education as a player as I had always avoided them up until then.

But one underlying problem with getting all of your information from poker books is that they don’t update themselves with new relevant information. This leaves the student who is depending on them entirely in a delicate situation where they are in danger of becoming out of date or worse still, learning material that is already dated.

Poker evolves so quickly now that it is actually a very difficult game to write about. A player is in a constant state of adaptation and education and current understanding is constantly being updated. I really think that if you desire to improve your online game then you really need to join a forum and/or a coaching site.

This will avail you of information from people who are already active and successful in the area that you are trying to be successful in and that is online poker. I certainly could detect my game becoming stale a couple of years or so ago and becoming a part of a mass “think tank” of accumulated opinion can only be good for a player.

This leads me onto the topic of variance which in my mind is the biggest obstacle for any player to overcome in poker. The problem is in that we each have our own interpretations of it. The books or whatever can give advice on how to handle this till the cows come home, I honestly feel that this is something that has to be experienced.

It is easy to talk about going through some 300 big bet downswing at limit hold ‘em but another thing entirely to experience it and actually feel what that can do to your mental state. Bad runs cause you to doubt yourself, your game selection, your methodology…..everything. Books cannot give you experience and this is something that only playing can do.

The ability to be able to multi-table has led to a skill compression in online poker. Players are playing lower stakes and playing more tables rather than one single table at higher limits. This leads to online games being tougher and that makes the variance more severe. But each of us has our own built in poker personality and that personality can stomach some things but may fail to conquer others. For instance when I first started out online I played limit hold’em. The skill levels back in 2002-2005 meant that you really didn’t need any more than a 300 big bet bankroll behind you at nearly all levels.

These yard sticks no longer apply now and certainly at middle limits and above. I found that although a 200-250 big bet downswing was bad for me, I could just about stomach it. But yet something clicked within me when I once experienced a dip of 320 big bets followed by another of similar size over the space of a couple of months.

Something was changing and the games were toughening but I ended up discovering that I just couldn’t hack going through these swings. It wasn’t the amount in dollars that bothered me, it was the sheer volume of beats that you had to take during these runs. I also knew that bankrolls of 500 and even as high as 1000 big bets were becoming necessary at middle and higher limits and I didn’t want any part of it and switched to playing SNG’s and no-limit.

This was despite the fact that I loved limit hold’em and still do but if I had to choose how to lose $5000 and the options were…..losing 500 big bets at $5-$10 limit or losing 25 buy-ins at NL200 then I would be able to stomach the no-limit situation far better.

This is the kind of thing that no one can show you, it needs to be a combination of knowing yourself and becoming self aware through experience. This is perhaps the one factor that fascinates me the most about poker... it is after all one big life experience.

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