Purpose Reprised

December 24th, 2009:

"After reading some of Dusty’s blogs and half watching It’s A Wonderful Life for the nineteenth time, I remembered that I’d really like to do some things that help people in my lifetime. And a lot of those things take money."

This was one of my motivations for cranking up the volume this year. I felt like I had a purpose. However, this purpose was vague until recently: play lots of hands, make lots of money, help some people out. To explain how this purpose has become personal and particular, I first have to take you back 23 years to the day.

February 24th, 1987: It was around 11 AM on a bright and cold Tuesday when the phone rang. I had stayed home from school, so I snapped up the phone. When the doctor asked to speak to my mom, I knew I would never see my dad again. I waited for confirmation while my mom talked on the line in the other room, but I knew. That was when I learned to read someone by the tone of their voice.

I was eight. For the next ten (twenty?) years, my mom did everything in her power to make sure I got what I needed to grow up happy and healthy. We had great friends, generous family, and quality schools. These things mean a great deal, and they make a huge difference. But they say a boy needs his father. Well, that's not exactly true. We need food, water, and shelter. But a father sure is a fantastic luxury to have, and one that should never be taken for granted by anyone.

So how does this give me purpose now? A few weeks ago I found out that my mom's friend's daughter's husband Johan has metastasized kidney cancer. He and Stephanie have four children. If he receives standard treatment, he might have one or two more years to spend with them. However, there is a high-cost treatment available that could give him a chance to see his kids grow up, and give his kids the chance to grow up with two loving parents. The treatment is expensive, but some things are priceless.

I have decided to take four weeks out of my life to do nothing but play and study poker. I will not be leaving my building for twenty-eight days. I will be playing over 300 hours of poker, and studying another 30 plus hours. I will be recording daily video blogs and posting them here, plus short daily poker videos which will be available only on Drag the Bar. How on earth is this related?

Well, my plan is to try to get action on some sort of prop bet. If I win, the money goes to Johan's treatment. If I lose, whatever. If I don't get any action because quarantining myself to play twice as many hours as I ever have in a month is not enough of a challenge, then I'll simply make a donation myself 28 days later.

If you would like to donate or find out more about Johan and Stephanie, here are some links:

Stephanie's blog: http://doyouwantthecansir.wordpress.com/

Johan's blog: http://www.helpjohan.org/contact.html

Donation site: http://www.giveforward.org/johan/

Questioning Faith

Disclaimer: This is not a post about religion, but there may be some parallels, hence the title.

You will often hear that one of the best ways to learn is by teaching. In fact, if you watch my first video, you'll hear me say it, and I do believe it. However, sometimes when you're teaching something, you find that you don't actually understand it the way that you'd like to.

Now, you may understand a concept well enough to apply it in practice, or well enough to communicate it effectively. But when you delve a little deeper, you may see that there is more to understand than has been discovered. Let's take gravity, for example. On Earth, gravity can essentially be reduced to the concept "Shit Falls." If you let go of something, it moves downwards until it hits something else. However, if you look at it in a cosmic sense, or a relativistic sense, or a quantum sense, gravity is something different entirely. And the more you think of it from all of these different angles, the harder it can be to remember that Shit Falls.

I've noticed this a bit with my poker game recently. A few weeks ago, just after joining Drag the Bar, I started trying to break down Limit Holdem into a million pieces. Well, more like fifty pieces. I started categorizing all of the things that I want to make videos on, all of the ways I want to make videos, and all of the different ways I could break things down.

The trouble with breaking things down into too many pieces is that it's hard to put them all back together. I'm now expending a lot more mental energy when I play, because I'm considering everything that I've been reconsidering, which is everything! It's sort of a loss of faith by design. Well, now it's time to start putting those things back together, again by design.

I've done this in the past several times. Take my game apart, struggle some, then put it back together stronger than it was before. It turns out that these lapses of faith are just growing pains.

Dealing With Variance

I played a show last night with my band, Villain's Lament. We played a pretty good show for an awesome crowd. Jared Tendler showed up, and it was great to meet him, particularly on a day that I was dealing with some serious negative variance.

The club's stage was tiny and rickety, and their outlets were so worn that the power strip I was plugged into repeatedly worked its way out from the wall. It's hard to rip it up on guitar when your amp keeps flickering on and off. On top of that, I had both cable and pedal issues so bad that I actually ripped them out of the signal chain for our closing cover of Paradise City. In spite of these technical issues, I managed to play well enough and actually enjoy the show.

I think I've mentioned that I hate February. Well, it hasn't been doing much to redeem itself. Outside of joining Drag the Bar (which I'm still exceedingly psyched about), things have been bleak. I've hit the first 500 Big Bet downswing of my poker career. Intellectually, I know that it's quite likely to suffer such a downer despite playing your best with a solid edge over the competition. If you play long enough, these things will eventually happen. I also know that I have not been consistently playing my A game this month, so I can take some responsibility for my poor results.

I think it's critical to recognize that things are rarely either/or. It's not that I'm [B]either[/B] running bad, [B]or[/B] I'm playing less than my best. I know that I'm playing my A game less often than I did last month, but I also know that I'm running as poorly as I ever have in my life. My absurdly low W$SD is evidence of that.

It's also critical to keep things in perspective. For instance, in a five year period my mom lost her mother, father, brother and sister. All this was only seven years after my dad died, leaving her to raise me on her own. Some people are born with missing limbs, senses, or mental faculties. A lot of those people don't spend their whole lives feeling sorry for themselves, so why should I? Having a little perspective makes it pretty hard to stay upset about losing a few hundred Big Bets, or having a guitar amp cut in and out.


In 2002 I went to Korea with a few intrepid Taekwon-Do classmates. We went to train with the national selection team, which included World Champions and at least one Olympic Gold Medalist. While they practiced more of a sport than a martial art, their training was absolutely brutal. It wasn't any particular exercise they did, but rather the sheer volume of kicks. Between the morning and afternoon sessions, we were throwing over a thousand kicks a day. This can tighten up the hamstrings a little.

After our last morning session at Olympic Stadium, we went out to the track to take pictures. Being on the same field that the best athletes in the world had competed for the gold on was inspiring. Knowing that I might never get another opportunity, I asked if we could take a lap.

A couple of the other guys and I took off at a modest pace. After a quarter lap, the tallest among us started to pull away with long, loping strides. Being a somewhat competitive person, I took off at a dead sprint. I ran the rest of the way as fast as I could. It turns out that there's a reason they train and pace themselves; I was dying. My German friend passed me around the last turn. He had actually trained as a runner and was laying back until the end.

I pushed myself as hard as I could, but my legs were heavy from the thousands of kicks. It wasn't a question of will. My body gave everything it had, and I stumbled past the lane numbers barely a foot behind my friend. The first thought through my mind was how unbelievably brutal it must feel to train your whole life for one chance to win and to come up inches short.

Last night I was watching the Men's Olympic Skating. The gold and bronze medalists were beaming from ear to ear. But all the silver medalist could manage was a false smile. He was more than disappointed to fall a hair's breadth shy of the gold. I've done well at the various pursuits I've engaged in over the years, but I've never reached the apex of my field. Nothing's ever felt like it was quite enough to be satisfied with. However, if I'm fortunate enough to finish second at the World Series Of Poker someday, I hope I'm able to enjoy the $5M I win and not focus on the extra $3M that I didn't.

As for that day in 2002, soon it was time for the afternoon practice, where I found out what it really meant to reach back for something extra. I threw on an extra sweatshirt for practice, and soaked it through. There's nothing like losing to whet the appetite for hard work.

There's a Reason They Call It a Grind

Or: Why I hate February.

For the first 8 years of my life, winter was my favorite season. I loved bundling up in monstrous layers of clothes and tumbling around in the rare snow storms in Manhattan. My building had a private plaza downstairs where the snow would collect and stay relatively pristine, compared to the yellow and grey mess on the streets and sidewalks.

Then on February 24th, 1987, my father died of cancer after being in and out of the hospital for six months. This was a major bummer. It was a bright and sunny day, featuring that cold winter light. 14 years later (to the day), I broke my foot on a sunny Saturday. Is it any wonder I prefer the dark?

This February began with promise, coming off of my best poker month and joining Drag the Bar. But I spent the second day of the month at the hospital, and most of the last two weeks distracted and scattered. I've only played about 13k hands this month, which would have been a decent pace for me last year. During these hands I've felt like I was running uphill, while falling downhill at the same time. I had no idea what my results were until yesterday. My guess was that I was down around $5k, but that was my cautiously pessimistic assumption. These have a tendency to be way off.

Anyway, I accidentally saw my account balance, so I figured I may as well check out my results. I opened up Holdem Manager to see that I was up over $4k! This was a pleasant surprise. I thought I was getting crushed... but wait... I had a weird filter on. Let me take that off... and it turns out I'm down over $5k on the month. Oh joy.

A closer look at my stats revealed that my WTSD was down a tick, and my W$SD had dropped 4 points. That means I'm making it to fewer showdowns and I'm winning less of from those showdowns. That's a recipe for losing. But to be honest with myself, I must admit that I haven't been on my A game very often this month. Things I'm doing wrong:

  • Not putting in the hours on a consistent basis
  • Not always properly warming up
  • Not devoting my entire focus to the tables (e.g. chatting or web browsing while playing)
  • Not properly reviewing my sessions

It looks more like I'm failing to do the things that contributed to a successful January than that I am actively doing something wrong. It would be easy to focus on the showdowns that I'm not winning, but I need to treat my game with more respect and get back to what was working before. It's time for a little R & R today, then back to the grind tomorrow. February sucks, but I still must make the most of it. After all, we only get 12 months.

Something For Everyone (that plays poker)

I just completed my first two Drag the Bar videos this weekend. I spent about 10 hours on the first one and 6 to 8 hours on the second. I'm not exactly a model of efficiency. It would be accurate to say that I'm something of a perfectionist. I could have spent twice as long on each and still not been completely satisfied, but I think the end product should be up to standards. As a musician, I'm used to spending 20 plus hours recording a 3 minute song, so poker videos seem like a bargain to me.

My first video is a stand alone titled Learning How To Learn. Aside from two Limit Holdem book recommendations, the video is intended for players of all games and levels. The general premise is that you should have a plan for how you're going to work on your game. If you want to be more efficient in your study habits, check it out.

My second video is the start of my series The Sixth Star, which follows my 2010 journey to Supernova Elite. Each video begins with a short power point snippet summarizing a few things I do to facilitate playing lots of hands. Like my first video, these segments should be universally applicable to players of all game types. The first one is pretty basic (yet critical), but future topics may be less intuitive. The video continues with some live 4 tabling action on Stars, followed by an in depth session review. How long the series goes on will depend entirely on how long it takes me to get my SNE. February has been a bit slow, but I have something thoroughly insane planned for March/April, so I should be making good headway at that point.

I Do My Best Work In Hospitals

It's 2 AM, and I've had no more than a brief late afternoon nap in the past two days. I would like to say that this is a function of the manic excitement I'm experiencing due to the fantastic opportunity I've received from Drag the Bar. In addition to joining a top flight group of coaches, as the first Limit Hold'em coach on Drag the Bar, I have the chance to design an entire curriculum. The excitement is real and it is manic. But it is not the reason I haven't slept.

I typically go to sleep around 6 AM. But today (yesterday? last night?), I left my apartment at 6 AM for the hospital. My girlfriend's father was having heart surgery. He speaks almost no English, so she was there as a translator. I was there for moral support.

There's not a whole lot to do in a hospital when you're not sick. I brought the pages for the first section of my poker book. I tried to edit them, but my critical brain does not function well at that hour. However, sleep deprivation brings out my manic creativity. So I spent the better part of eight hours mapping out a 40+ video course while my girlfriend talked to doctors, nurses, administrators, and her father. It was a long stressful day. But his surgery was successful and he's recovering now.

The last time I spent significant hours at a hospital was for a more morbid reason, and I had poker pages with me then as well. Having something discrete to ponder can draw focus away from your concerns. And the best way to get things done is sometimes to find something worse to avoid.

This blog may be a bit of a downer considering that half of it is about excellent news that I'm thrilled about. But the good comes with the bad. That's just life.

Drag the Bar

Few will believe me when I tell them I decided to quit my old site without plans to continue coaching in the near future, but it's the truth. Aside from my study group, I would have been happy to grind away the next five months in relative obscurity. But when opportunity knocks, I try to keep an open door. And the opportunity presented to me by Drag the Bar was too good to pass up.

As of today, I am the first limit hold'em coach at dragthebar.com, a wonderfully built coaching website which has already assembled a large handful of legendary no limit hold'em coaches. I'm excited to be working with a cast of such talented, enthusiastic and likable characters. But I'm even more psyched to create a cohesive curriculum for limit hold'em from scratch.

My grandfather was an architect, and I've always been somewhat of a builder (crazy Lego skills). I plan to present the game from the bottom up, with an entertaining introductory series. I'll be coming at it from all angles, though, with a series combining live play and in depth post session analysis for some more advanced content. Of course, I'll also be hyperactive in the forums; it's my biggest addiction. I have a whole mess of other plans, but I'll save those for another day. For now, I'd like to thank Hunter Bick and Drag the Bar for this opportunity to unleash my passion for the game in the most constructive and co-ordinated way I know how.

Aim High;
Let Gravity Do the Rest

31 Days
138 Hours Played
65,417 Hands
100,357.72 VPP
$10,729.20 Table Winnings

When setting goals for myself, I rarely fail to set the bar inordinately high. This month was no different. While I failed to play 60 hours per week, or to stay on pace for Supernova Elite in 6 months, I am very happy with what I accomplished. I played more hours and twice as many hands as any month in the past two years. With VPP, rakeback, and bonuses I made a little over $21k this month, and after coaching it's closer to $23k. In short, January 2010 was my best month ever. So far.

But enough bragging. What have I learned? More than anything, I've verified some of my previous assumptions:
  • Proper diet, exercise, and sleep are vital to performing at a high level over a sustained period of time.
  • Not looking at my results makes it so much easier to relax and just play poker. (see graph below.)
  • Grinding through tough sessions now makes it easier to grind through tough sessions later.
  • Adding tables reduces my winrate in BB/100, but improves my hourly earnings.
  • I must really love poker to not hate it yet. If you had told me as a child that when I grew up I would get paid six figures a year to play computer games and listen to Metallica, I would have been completely psyched.
  • I am capable of much more than I have accomplished in the past.