Sunday, June 25, 2006

my poker career

People have asked me, especially with the heater I've been on in June, what my career trajectory has been and how it started. So I decided to answer hopefully once and for all with this story.

I've been playing cards all my life-- literally as long as I can remember. I started playing bridge as a small child, and got together for weekly games with my mother and grandparents. We also played rummy and several variants, but always plenty of card games. Poker wasn't a frequent sight then, but I was made well familiar with cards from my youth.

I started playing Hold 'Em in college. Never seriously, just for fun, always small-stakes games with low buy-ins. Just for kicks and never really an exhibition of skill. I got better, but I was for all intents and purposes still a novice. I occasionally played play money games on Paradise Poker at this time, around 2001, but again still really didn't know anything about the game.

Around late 2003 three of my friends-- Alex, Jeff, Roy, and I started a regular home game. $20 buy-in, .10/.20 blinds, unlimited rebuys (cash game after all). This played much deeper than the games I was used to and was my first real exposure to poker with any sort of deep stacks.
I started beating the game fairly regularly in 2004 but still didn't know how to play well. Still, we had a rotating cast of players, more of my friends got into the game, but the core of us four were the regulars and the long-term winners.

In October 2004 my roommate at the time, Lamar (who remains a close friend) had gotten into the game and decided to deposit a little money online. We played small stakes and small tournaments at Pokerroom with mixed success. He lost some money and then resolved to put up another $25 to give it a shot, or give up entirely if it failed.
Then we caught our heater.
We both like to gamble. And we started winning right away this time. We did the typical gambler "taking a shot" thing, moving up in stakes as we made money. Before very long we were sitting in at the 2/5 no-limit game, the highest stakes Pokerroom offered at the time.
We went on a two-week heater where we played four nights each week and left each night up two full buyins.
We were ecstatic-- it seemed like such easy money!
We took some of the $8k we had and bought some things, and at this time I decided I really wanted to study the game to make sure this was sustainable. So I bought some books-- Super/System and Harrington on Hold 'Em, Vol. 1 were the best-- and began to study as well as play.
Unfortunately our luck ran out and we lost most of it back. We just weren't as good as we thought we were.

In December I got a real job at a law firm, but I still spent lots of time playing my home game-- and in addition, I began reading the 2+2 forums on a regular basis. In April I deposited $300 on UltimateBet and decided to take a shot at sit-and-gos and MTTs.
I had a couple cashes early on in their afternoon $22 6-max tournament, and was decently successful with sit-and-gos, but I kept taking shots at multis without really knowing how to play them.

Through the summer I continued to work and play, but our home game was breaking (Jeff moved to Germany; Alex to Austin) and so even though I was still beating it it was a much less regular occurrence. In addition I ended up going through nearly all of the money I had online and I wasn't making enough to save to play more. For all intents and purposes, I was BUSTO again.

In late July I entered a $5 MTT on UB using player points I accumulated. I made it to the final two tables; good enough for $25. This is how my current bankroll started.
I used this to grind out some $5 SnGs to build a roll for a while, playing the occasional multi. My roll was probably around $100-200 in early August, when I had my first breakthrough: I won a $10 MTT on UB and cashed for over $900. The deck completely hit me over the head, and I knew this, but at the same time it confirmed that I could win (which was a hump I was having trouble overcoming).
So I started playing $10 and $20 SnGs to maintain the roll with the occasional MTT. The very next week I won that $22 6-max for another $850. My roll was on its way.

I played primarily $22 and $33 SnGs and occasional multis for a while, slowly increasing the roll until the big scores hit. I had two big weekends, one where I won the $22 6-max again for $800, a small $33 for $700, and cashed in the weekly $215 for another $500. $2k was a huge boost to my roll at the time.
The second big weekend happened while I was in Austin, dodging Hurricane Rita and seeing Austin City Limits Festival. I stayed with Alex for a couple days and we played some tournaments. I won one for $800 and finished third in a $109 for $1200. Another $2k weekend and we were on the go!

With this money I decided to expand to other sites. My next destination was Pokerstars because I'd heard so many good things about their tournaments. It took me a while to get used to the software, and I was still playing primarily SnGs and small buyins.
Then the big breakthrough came. I entered the $11 rebuy 45k on October 12 and played well and caught an insane rush near the end. I was massive chip leader at the final table, but I goofed up a bit heads up. Still, we made a deal, and I took $9700.
I felt like this was for real now.
Later that fall I won UB's nightly $33 10k for about $3k and a $44 for another $2700 or so. I was running insanely hot this fall; I wasn't playing as often as I do now, but when I did the results were remarkable. I went back over my records and from my first win in August through the end of November my ROI was something like 480%.

Then came the biggest turning point in my life.

I've made reference to "the accident" on the 2+2 forums but many may still not know what it is. I fell off a three story house (my house) and landed on the pavement. I was in the hospital for twelve days, I shattered my entire face and broke my arm, and required two surgeries to put my face back together. It's still not perfect but all in all I'm lucky to be alive.
When I got out of the hospital I went and stayed with my dad while I recovered. Since I couldn't move very much or do a whole lot, I spent a lot of time with my computer, and online poker by extension. Two days after I was released I finished 7th in a UB $109 for $700, even though it took most of my energy to stand and walk to the kitchen for a drink (which I had to feed myself through a tube on the end of a syringe, because my mouth was so swollen and wired shut).
But I still had it. I read 2+2 constantly and did my best to study and play and improve my game.
On December 20, eight days after I was released from the hospital, I won the Stars $11r 25k for another $8000. I felt like I was on my way for sure now.

As I recovered I spent more and more time as a presence both at the tables and on the forums online. I started taking shots at bigger tournaments on occasion, but with mixed results. I didn't have another significant win until February 1 when I won the $11r 25k again, this time for $9800.
A week later I won a $109 on Stars for $4500.
I felt great about my game at this point. I was also occasionally visiting Isle of Capri casino in Lake Charles and beating their $5/$5 300NL cash game regularly, so I felt like I could do both well.

Then the downswing: I moved back to Houston for an extended period in February. I probably wasn't quite ready but I thought I'd try anyway. I had some small wins during this time, but nothing substantial. Then in March I hit a serious downswing-- the combination of taking a shot at $2/$4 NL cash on Stars (one of the toughest places for cash games) combined with no big tournament results left me down about $5000 for the month. I was again questioning my game.

At the beginning of April, though, I took second in a Stars $109 for $5300 or so. I went back to my dad's for a couple weeks in April to rest and recuperate from the Houston lifestyle, and while I was there I hit it big:
-first place in the nightly Bodog 25k for $6250
-sixth place in the PartyPoker Super Thursday, another $6000
-second place (after a deal) in the Stars 33r for $6300 or so
-fifth place in UltimateBet's Sunday $215 for $7100

Then at the beginning of May I won my seat into the WSOP through a $160 double shootout on Stars. I can't even put into words what a thrill it was; I won a grueling 45-minute heads-up match against a tough, highly regarded opponent, and now I was going to the Big One, one year after being essentially broke.
I felt like my game was back. And not a moment to soon; I was heading to Turning Stone in May to play a series of tournaments and meet some 2+2ers.

My laptop broke shortly before the trip so I was unable to take it (or play online most of May). At Turning Stone, I only cashed in one of the tournaments I played, but once I got comfortable with the surroundings, I started beating the cash games and ended the trip ahead several thousand dollars.
Again, I felt like I could play cash games well and I might take a shot at them once more.
I fixed my laptop by the end of the month, but I went through a period where I was not only losing consistently, I was playing badly. I was extending one of my philosophies too far: I was taking "You need to be aggressive" and "You need to gamble to win tournaments" to "You should be shoving your chips in any time you have any piece of the board, without considering what your opponent has". I was losing again and struggling to figure out why.
So I decided to try cash games again. I started playing 2/4 NL on Bodog because a couple of people I met at Turning Stone told me the games were really good there. Within a weekend of playing there I moved up to 5/10 and was beating it regularly for a short while. I hit a short downswing, but was still up 5-6k, before I started thinking about tournaments again.

I had been posting on 2+2 regularly and was approaching my 5000th post. I turned it into an essay on my tournament philosophy and the flaws my game currently had and what I would be doing to fix them.
It was pretty well received, and more importantly, writing out my mistakes made me realize I was making them, and that I was being aggressive in the wrong spots, looking for the wrong pieces of information while ignoring the important ones. I felt like it helped clear my head, but again, there was no way to be sure.

Until the Big Day.

June 8 I decided to devote to tournament poker. I entered the Party $33 rebuy 35k guaranteed that afternoon. I love Party rebuys because of the "rebuy trick" (basically, any time you put all your chips in, you can rebuy, whether or not you lose the hand). I used this to amass a huge stack early on, which benefits my style the most.
I spent several hundred on the tournament, easily, but finished second for $7200.

I took a short break and decided to play the big nightly tournaments - the Stars $150 and the Party Super Thursday (also $150).
I finished 11th in the Stars $150-- disappointing because I felt I played well but got a couple tough breaks at the end I couldn't overcome.
I was playing well in the Super also, but I hit a brutal cooler when I made a move with A7 from the button and lost to the small blind's two queens. I was down to 20k chips at 4k/8k blinds; I decided rather than panic or give up, I would be patient.
I got moved to another table, picked up aces shortly after, and called an all in from another player. I won that hand, moved in again and took another round of blinds, and then found A2 in the big blind when the same player moved in from the button. I figured I was short enough that I needed to gamble and he could have almost literally anything, so I called. My A2o beat his 97s.
From that point I relentlessly attacked blinds until I was in shape to play real poker again.
I made it to the final table, and doubled up when one enormous stack was moving in nearly every hand to put pressure on everyone who was waiting for the short stacks to bust out. I called him with queens and beat his K2o, and suddenly I was second and in great shape.
When it got to fourhanded we decided to cut a deal. A little negotiating later and I ended up with 20k for my second-place stack.
All told, it was the biggest payday of my life, by about three times as much as I had ever previously seen. More importantly, I was playing well again-- running well of course, but also playing well enough to take advantage of those breaks.
Now I knew I could win at the higher levels.

The next Friday I was laid up in bed ill and decided to play poker. I entered the Stars afternoon $109 rebuy-- typically regarded as one of the tougher fields online-- and played a strong game, got lucky when I had to, and came away with a 10.5k win. So the Super wasn't a fluke.

The next week-- two days ago, Friday-- I was at it again and I played the Stars $150, among others. I did nothing in the rest, but after a wild ride which included me dropping the chip lead at the final two tables, fighting to get it back, then surviving a wild ride and several lucky breaks as a short stack, I got heads up and eventually won for 14.5k more.

Wow. It had always seemed like every time I would move up I would downswing and struggle for a while, but I would eventually succeed, and when I did it was bigger than ever. This month has been the ultimate example of that.

Nowadays I'm playing primarily $100 and up buyin tournaments online, and $3/$6 6-max and $5/$10 full ring no-limit cash games. I mix them up; I find I can't play the two well simultaneously because the mindsets are different (i.e. I do more dumb things in cash games that work in tournaments but cost a lot more money when you're wrong about them in cash games).

I'm leaving for Las Vegas for the World Series on July 9. I plan to play 10 or 11 preliminary events before the Main Event as well as some live cash games. I'm hoping recent results have been a good sign; if I continue to play as well as I can, and I get the cards to fall right, I think I can make some real noise.

Not bad considering where I came from. It's been an amazing ride.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice read nath. Good luck in vegas.

5:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post Nath.


12:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good stuff Nath. Way to make some noise.

7:45 PM  

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