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Wednesday, April 06, 2005

A Year of Cheap Thrills
This past Friday, April 1, was this blog's first birthday. Looking back on the year, I am happy to say that I've gotten a lot better at poker.

I am a winning poker player. Definitely not a big winner, but a winner nonetheless. I haven't gone broke or into the red. In fact, I can honestly say that if you include bonuses, poker has been nothing but profitable from my very first deposit of $50 into Paradise Poker. However that profitability is something I am only so proud of: The price of being so consistent is that I have been pretty risk-averse in terms of the games and limits I play at. More on this below.

Looking back over my blog, I realize that I don't usually post about my day-to-day play. For one thing, my day-to-day play isn't usually that interesting. But after a year of blogging I've also realized that when I'm losing, I don't enjoy writing about it. And of course I have plenty of losing days. Some bloggers are brutally honest about their highs and lows, and I respect them for it.

So here are my numbers.

When I started this blog I had already been playing for almost exactly one year, almost entirely at .50/$1 limit Hold'em games, occasionally delving into $1/$2 and $2/$4. In my second-ever post, in April 2004, I wrote "Currently I'm down $99.27 after almost exactly one year of playing online (home and B&M play not included in this figure). I've also cleared $454.10 in bonuses, for a net of $354.83." In case that's not clear, I like to separate what I've actually won at poker from what I've cleared in bonuses.

A year later, I've won exactly $503.53 at poker, and cleared another 1,584.95 in poker bonuses, for a total of $2,088.48.

Whenever I update my poker log, my first reaction to these numbers is usually disappointment -- even embarrassment, which is another reason I rarely blog about my own results. I know that there are plenty of online poker players (many of them bloggers) who have taken far, far more cash out of this game, often with much less effort than I've put in. And like any poker player should, I question whether or not I have a clue what I'm doing.

But then I think, hey, I'm making $1,000 a year playing a game I really enjoy. And that usually makes me feel better.

In my gut I know that my overall poker profits should be much higher than they are. In the past year I've identified what I feel are my two main "leaks," and neither of them have to do with poker strategy:

First, I tilt when I'm up. I get cocky. I get loose-aggressive. And then I lose. This "tilt when up" phenomenon can happen in a single session or over the course of many sessions. In the latter case, as my bankroll swells, so does my poker ego, and I'll start not paying enough attention to my game because it has seemed "so easy" for so many sessions.

Drinking severely exacerbates my tilt-when-up problem. I am quite certain that I lost more than $500 in late-night drunken sessions in my first year of play, but (bonuses included) I stayed in the black. I started this blog as part of my effort to stop screwing around and take the game seriously, and in this past year -- while there have been a few nights I regret -- I've been much better behaved about not playing when I've been drinking.

In general, I feel I've learned some big lessons and have the tilt-when-up problem mostly under control.

Unfortunately, the second thing stopping me from being a more profitable player is harder to remedy. It is lack of funds. Mrs. Cheap Thrills is a grad student and I am freelance writer and book editor. Our household income is scarily low. (There is a reason I named the blog Cheap Thrills.) Mrs. Cheap Thrills graduates this May and looks to have a very nice career ahead of her, but this summer we will be faced with relocating to a new state (not sure which one yet). And once do know where we'll be living I will start looking for a non-freelance, higher-paying job. But in the meantime the impending move exacerbates our money problems.

What this means is that I don't keep thousands of dollars tied up in online poker. I have never totally maxed out a bonus. I typically have between $500 and $1000 in various sites, and will free up two or three hundred for a good bonus. So that limits my bonus-whoring potential.

I also end up feeling like scared money when I take a shot at higher limits. More on this below.

Here's a brief overview of the year as I recall it:

March-April 2004: Spring rolls around and it is a time of new beginnings. After a winter slump at online poker, I dive back in and start winning. I discover the poker blogging scene and decide to dive into that too. I also build a nice poker table and document it in the blog.

May-June 2004: I continue grinding at .50/$1. I also play a few times at the Foxwoods $2/$4 game, getting comfortable with playing in a casino. I also started using PokerTracker in May.

July 2004: Several things happen that help my game enormously. First, I read a book on 7-Stud and started beating up the Paradise .50/$1 and $1/$2 tables. Second, I started two-tabling, which both increased my profits-per-session and helped me reduce "boredom" tilt. For the first time, I started doing better than break-even at Party's .50/$1 Hold'em tables. Prior to this, the bad beats had always driven me crazy and I had preferred Paradise, but now I started getting the hang of extracting cash from very loose games.

August 2004: I read Bob Ciaffone's Middle Limit Holdem and started playing $2/$4 at Party almost exclusively. I go up about $1000 in August, which turns into my bankroll for a Vegas trip. Mrs. Cheap Thrills and I take the $3/$6 game at the Mirage for a couple hundred each. I am feeling very confident.

September 2004: I have another Vegas trip planned, this time a bachelor party. With little time to get my money back into Neteller, I don't play much online this month. In Vegas, I play a ton, often tired and drunk (deep down I know it is the tilt-when-up phenomenon, but I'm having too much fun to care), but surprisingly only lose about $150.

October-November 2004: My online win rate drops considerably. I'm not losing, but things don't seem as easy as they did. Is it the tilt-when-up problem again or something else? I decide that I like live play better than online and make a few trips to Foxwoods and one serendipitous stop at Turning Stone in NY.

December 2004-March 2005: Just like in the winter of 2003/04, I start losing. Not a lot, but I'm not winning. I don't know if fewer fish play in the winter or I just play worse in the winter, but this is two years in a row it's happened. I think what might happen is that I'm more worried about money with the holidays going on, and it hurts my play. I'll take a $100 loss in $2/$4 and totally freak about it. So just like in the winter of 2003/04, I start playing a lot less. When I do play, it's mostly at .50/$1, fooling around with low buy-in tourneys, or grinding out bonuses.

April 2005: The renewal of spring is upon us again. Winter doldrums are lifting. Confidence is rising. But with our financial situation, returning to $2/$4 still doesn't seem like a great idea. Question is, how long will that stop me? :-)

So that's the year in review. How about right now? Where does my game stand?

The main thing I've developed in my past two years of playing online poker is the ability to whomp on very bad players. I am proud of this skill. In the end, I think that whomping on very bad players is where the profit in poker really comes from. I think they'll be bad players at the low-limit tables in Vegas for years and years to come.

I would like to be playing at a higher level, though, and I do fear stagnation. I worry that financial issues are keeping me not only from making as much as I could, but also from getting better as fast as I could. But on the bright side, I am getting better. I look back at the player I was year ago and laugh, both at how bad I was and how good I thought I was. I hope that next year I will look back at myself now and do the same thing.

So that's my year-in-review post. I'm glad I took the time to write it: It's important to think about how well I'm doing vs. how well I could be doing, and to look back on the highs and lows of the past year. But I am now in the mood to just go play some poker!

"my first reaction to these numbers is usually disappointment -- even embarrassment,"

I hear ya dude. But I have to keep reminding myself that winning play is winning play, and that's better than 80% (or more) of the players out there.

Congrats on your 1 year--Very Nice.
Don't forget the hammer shirt that you and the Mrs. have. That must be a highlight of some kind. :)
Congrats..... keep it up. Let me know the next time you go to Foxwoods.
Excellent news. Here's to the years!
fine post - i love these retrospectives, especially after a year.
Excellent post! Very open and honest. Keep up the good work, and you have to consider yourself a winner if you are enjoying yourself!

I also get "dissapointed" in some of my results, thinking my table numbers should be higher, etc.. but it is what it is. Just keep at it and figure out where you fit in.
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