It is a little-known law of journalism that, on or about the beginning of any new year, all columnists must write a "resolutions" piece. Since I'm already having enough problems with the Poker Police, I don't want to get into trouble with the Journalism Police, too. So here's what I'm planning to change in 2005.
In 2005, I resolve to:
1. Try to figure out what I am really trying to accomplish here, poker-wise. I never intended to "be" a poker pro -- that would have been disingenuous, since ESPN is paying me a salary and most of my expenses -- but, if anything, to give readers a look, from the inside, at what the life of a "pro" (that is, someone only playing poker for a year) felt like, looked like, tasted like. In other words, to use the metaphor of a pro as a narrative device through which to look at the weird world of poker. Now, even that seems a bit disingenuous to me, since, without the real fear of going broke, it's hard to understand the pressures, the terror, the loneliness of a poker pro -- and, of course, without the winning ability of a pro, it's hard to appreciate those moments of wonder.
2. Try to measure the odds against anybody actually earning a "respectable" living playing poker.
2A. Try to draw an accurate picture of how likely it would be for a brick-and-mortar or online player to wind up in the black for his entire poker "career."
3. Cease and desist with the bad beats stories. As many readers, my wife and my dwindling supply of friends have all pointed out -- over and over -- nobody wants to hear a bad beat story, unless, of course, it is his own. In fact, there are only two reasonable reactions to being told somebody's bad beat story -- boredom born of indifference to the teller, or pleasure born of distaste for the teller.
4. Cease and desist playing online ring games. For whatever reason, I just can't seem to beat them. I'll show you what I mean:
The last three times I played online -- all last week -- I dropped a total of $1,300. The first time, I lost $650 playing $10-20 hold 'em, winning less than 10 percent of the hands over six-to-eight hours of play -- playing only four-, five- and six-handed. In the process, I hit, on average, less than one of six draws where I had a four-flush or open-ended straight after the flop (and losing three of the six I did hit). I also lost a hand where I had 9-8, and the flop came 7-6-5 rainbow. I bet and raised throughout, until, after the turn (which was a 4 of diamonds, putting two diamonds on the board), it was just me and one other guy. He raised, I raised, he capped the raises. I figured he had an 8, of course, with an outside chance of a matching 9-8 for a split. What I never figured was that he had the 8 of diamonds and another diamond, which, when the river brought a diamond, gave him a flush.
I also lost a hand when I was dealt A-K, the guy in first position raised the blinds, I raised him, the big blind called and the raiser called. The flop came A-K-4. Big Blind checked, Raiser bet, I raised, both called. The turn was a 6. I bet, both called. The river was a 2. Both checked to me, I bet, Big Blind raised, Original Raiser folded. I figured he had something like 2-2, though I didn't see how he could have stayed in all that time with all that betting and raising with a mere 2-2, but you know these online guys. I called. He had ... 5-3 unsuited. Which means he stayed in for a double raise before the flop, and then all that other betting, with a 5-3 unsuited. And he won, so that shows what I know.
The second time, I lost $750 in about 90 minutes, playing $10-20 high-speed (known as Turbo on Captain Cooks) hold 'em. I only won one hand of the first 110 I played, playing again against four, five or six other players. But because I played carefully -- though not too carefully, raising when I should, value-betting (though, many times, I'd have the best hand 'til the river, when someone would catch an overcard or an inside straight or some other four-outer or six-outer to beat me, as evidenced by the single winning hand) -- I was down "only" $400 when the following three hands occurred (out of four), the last three in which I participated:
And this was a really good game, including one player who would call with literally anything and almost never raise unless he had the absolute nuts, plus a couple of other passive types. Pretty much ideal, except for one thing -- I couldn't win a single bleeping hand, no matter what I had.
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Figured it was time for bed. Couldn't sleep. Felt like I was being tortured to death. Winning one hand out of almost 120 in four-to-six-handed, can't hit a draw, other guys can't miss -- and against bad players, guys who rarely raise but call with anything. (I also lost a hand to a guy who cracked my aces when I raised and bet throughout with a 10-9 -- the board was something like K-8-7-K-4 -- and he called me with a Q-5, no draw, nothing.)
Next day, with about $160 left in my Captain Cooks account, I was looking for something reasonable to try -- maybe a $3-to-$6 high-speed game. Only thing open was a four-, five-handed $8-to-$16 game. After four or so obvious folds, these were the first -- and last -- two hands I played:
So, in the five consecutive hands in which I actually competed, I lost when I was a 40-plus-to-1 favorite after the flop, was a 4-plus-to-1 favorite before the flop, hit a set on the flop, was a 5-plus-to-1 favorite going to the river, and was a 6-plus-to-1 favorite going to the river. What are the odds of that happening, especially after losing 109 of 110 hands in four-to-six-handed play? Gotta be -- let's go conservative -- at least 10,000-1 against, right?
So what I'm thinking is: Somebody's trying to tell me something.
And that something is: Don't play ring games online anymore.
5. Did I mention that I am absolutely not going to whine about bad beats anymore?
6. Cease and desist from complaining about the bad plays of bad players. For one thing, it is bad players -- even those who call double raises, pre-flop, with 5-3 unsuited -- that allow good players to win money, at least over the long run. At least, that's what everybody says.
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7. Get out of the house more often. (Self-explanatory, see above.)
8. Learn how to lose with more grace and dignity, keeping in mind that every bad session, every bad streak -- no matter how long it lasts -- is just a small part of the eternal poker game we are constantly part of until we hang it up for good. I know this in my head, of course; but somehow, it has not found its way to my heart.
9. Give the Unabomber, the Crew, Mike Matusow, the Screaming Swede and, especially, Phil Hellmuth a break. Now that I understand how much of poker is pain ...
10. Never, never, NEVER use the phrase "LOL" ever again.
11. Stop printing e-mails from readers telling me that "you suck" or that "you're an idiot" or the like. It was cute when I was doing well. Now that I'm floundering, it's just depressing.
12. Talk less and listen more, especially to those who know what they are talking about -- like Matt Matros, Greg Raymer and Maess from Minnesota.
13. Keep detailed and accurate records, the better to distinguish paranoia from bad luck from bad play.
14. In the unlikely event I ever win a substantial sum of money again, buy the missus a bauble or two. (If truly necessary, the gifts can always pay a visit to Mr. Pawnshop.)
15. Remember that it's always darkest before the dawn.
16. Maintain the rich vein of optimism that has carried me through so far.
HEY, IRS: HOW JAY IS DOING IN HIS NEW CAREER
Last week: lost $1,150
Career-to-date: plus $14,439
Jay Lovinger, a former managing editor of Life and a founding editor of Page 2, is writing on his poker adventures for ESPN.com and also writing a book for HarperCollins.