Working on the Mental Game

After seven weeks, I’ve finally hit my first significant downswing since starting my quest to become a full-time live-pro. This week, I played for a total of 32 hours and lost $1,978… :(. Even with all the success I’ve had since starting to play full-time, it’s hard not to feel slightly discouraged. While believe most of my losses were the result of negative variance, there were a few spots where I noticed I was making worse decisions than I normally would and was beginning to deviate from my A-game to my B, C, and possibly even D-game. Fortunately, I was able to pick up on this quickly and cut my session short, which is what led me to not reaching my volume goal for the week. I also did not complete my goals related to running, but was able to complete my studying and meditation goals.

I’ve never been one to go on super monkey-tilt or anything like that as a result of losing/ running bad or whatever, but as I stated above, there are times when I can tell it’s affecting my game. Usually the mistakes I begin to make are pretty minor things like chasing draws without proper direct/implied odds or opening up my pre-flop raising/ limping/ over-limping ranges in spots where doing so is not optimal. I think what I'm doing here is chasing my losses and looking for a way to turn my session around. To be clear, I think even when I’m “tilted,” I still am playing a winning strategy, just not one that is as +EV as it would be if I were playing my A-game. Here’s an example of a hand I played this week where I chose to gamble rather than make the most +EV play:

Game: 1/3 NL, 9 handed

$375 effective with Villain. Villain is a 50 year old biker who plays a very tight-passive game. Anytime he shows aggression he seems to show up with a nuttish hand. Hero has somewhat Laggy image in villain’s and the rest of the tables eyes.

Preflop: Villain limps UTG. UTG+1, HJ, and CO limp. Hero is on button with AKcc and raises to 18. All call.

In retrospect, I think a slightly larger sizing like 20-23 would be better for exploitive reasons. Given my image and position, I think a lot of the time the end result of my raise is going to be all limpers calling, as they’ll suspect (rightfully so) that I can be raising a pretty wide range in this spot. Since I’m close to the top of my range and on the button, I should want to get as much money into the pot as possible.

Flop (83) 2d3c6c

Checks to hero who bets 50. Villain check-raises to 125, folds back to hero.

When this particular villain check-raises here, I believe his range is exclusively sets and straights. He’s never going to semi-bluff turn a hand like 77 or 88 into a bluff (or make a weird “see where I’m at” type raise with any over pair). Against this range we have about 27% equity. Our pot odds are about 3.4:1, meaning we actually have the direct odds to make a profitable call (without considering implied odds, which make it even more profitable) and see what the turn brings and what the villain decides to do. However, in the heat of the moment, wanting to get unstuck and ensure that I was able to fully realize the equity of my hand, I decided to 3bet shove which I think is a pretty big mistake. Against other villains who are capable of check raising lighter or semi-bluffing, I think it’s more defensible, but against this guy in this spot where I have basically 0% fold equity, it’s certainly a losing play.

A simple EV calculation confirms my mistake: .73 * (-307) + .27 * (490) = -92.1

Where (-307) is the amount of money I risk by 3bet shoving the flop and 490 is the amount of money in the pot before I shove + villain’s remaining stack.

So, this was not one of my finer poker moments. The board ended up running out Kx4x and villain showed 22 for bottom set and scooped a nice 260 BB pot.

Even before running the equities and seeing how big a mistake I had made, I knew I had screwed up and decided I should quit right then (this was on Friday night). I then ended up not playing Saturday as I was lucky enough to get an invite to the Cleveland Indians’ 2nd game in the ALCS (Go Tribe!). Not only was the game fun and full of lots of positive energy, but I was able to take some time to reset and cool off a bit which I think will benefit me in the upcoming week. As far as other things I’ll be doing do combat this mental-game leak of mine, I’ll be focusing on running and practicing meditation to relieve stress and maintain a positive mentality. I’m also doing a little bit of reviewing of Jared Tendler’s Mental Game of Poker which discusses and gives some strategies to combat problems in one’s game that arise as a result of negative variance. Depending on what I learn and what else happens this week, I may discuss some of the methods he prescribes in next weeks’ post. Until then, thanks for reading! Peace and much love.