I am Emotionally Dead
Okay, so this is something I’ve wanted to talk about for a long time. Because it is both a help and a hindrance to my game.
I am emotionally dead. I could not care less if I win or lose. Naturally I WANT to win, but I don’t suffer any ill consequences when I lose. I just don’t care.
I thought this was a big neon sign in my favor within the poker world. Until I read Barry’s book, that is. And I found out that if I have no emotional investment, I can never really be a world class player.
I had often wondered why I stopped winning tournaments. I had worked my way up from freerolls in 2002.
Here is how it came about, and how it almost destroyed me in the poker world.
I was playing a lot at Sahara in Vegas. Glenn and I had been spending winters in Vegas off and on for many years. AOL was really cool about Glenn, because he was one of those demented programming geniuses. He could fix just about anything. He was one of those guys who is like an idiot savant, when it comes to programming. He didn’t need to know the language, didn’t need “lessons.” He could be seated at an old mainframe or a PC. If someone just let him have a few hours alone in front of a monitor, he could figure out just about anything.
Glenn was a Cobol programmer for many years. Maybe working on dinosaurs all the way until 1996 helped him become so well rounded. Beats me, but at any rate, AOL was very accommodating. What they wouldn’t give him in raises and excellent reviews (AOL had a policy about the word “excellent.” They figured NO ONE was “excellent.” So why did they even have that category?), they gave him in permission to telecommute.
We loved the desert, so we spent a lot of time wintering and playing poker.
I had no aspirations to be anything but a low-limit Stud player (there is something telling in this). I had no interest in tournaments or Hold’em. I thought Omaha was a moronic game, although sometimes I would become hooked on the action of high only.
So then someone at Sahara talked us into signing up for freerolls. After all, we were putting in the hours there, why not take a free shot (plus free rebuy or add-on)? Oy, vey, the world was never the same again.
I played in a tourney that barely got two tables. I think maybe we had 13 participants altogether, and half had gotten in via freeroll, lol. I was hooked, even though it was NLHE.
Over the next few years, I spent a lot of time and money on tourneys, and it was a losing proposition.
While I could kill small tourneys, big ones were unattainable, especially once the poker boom hit and the structure was sped up, while the starting chips were often cut in half.
I worked my way up from the freerolls to $100 buy-in tourneys with relative ease. In fact, it was probably too easy for me. Number one, it had me thinking I had what it takes to win tournaments. While I wasn’t thinking of the series at this time, I definitely thought I had something special.
Two, which was a revelation I’ve never experienced before or since, I was accused of cheating.
This is a long, stupid story for another day, but suffice it to say, the senior citizen’s at the Colorado Belle were just certain that poker is “all luck,” since they lose. They are quite sure it is a house game, where only the house wins in the long run.
So when I began running over the cardroom, they noticed that I was winning “more than my fair share.” They went to elaborate lengths to prove that I must be cheating. Although Glenn and I didn’t play at the same table, and tried to always avoid playing at the same table in the tourneys, it did occasionally happen. We played fair against each other, although we were the only couple in the cardroom which actually played AGAINST each other instead of softplaying. He knocked me out of several tourneys.
But that still didn’t stop the rumors, and eventually he just quit tourneys there altogether and concentrated on cash games.
Even then, the rumors persisted. If he came to watch me during the final table, the seniors would rush to the CRM and complain that Glenn must be using his Walkman to relay signals to me. They claimed he would be standing behind some opponent of mine, looking at his holecards, and using the Walkman to relay what those cards were. After all, I won WAY too many tourneys at the Belle.
Eventually that problem got solved, but I learned a lesson in how mean and spiteful losing players can be.
So back to my biggest problem. Which is being so emotionally dead.
I have never really thrown a fit when eliminated during a tournament. I take my lumps and walk away. I’m not “kind and generous,” on the other hand. I don’t congratulate a dude who calls all-in with 83o against my aces and flops a pair while rivering another pair. He didn’t “play well,” he’s a moron.
But unlike Barry, I don’t “have” to win. And with no will to win, I cannot win.
I noticed the less I cared about winning an event, the worse I played. I played to “get into the money,” or to “pass the time.” I didn’t play to win. I thought about how horrible it would be to play 18 hours straight. I thought about how little I wanted to be on TV, or at the TV table. All of these things kept me from winning.
In cash games I can compete. I don’t get emotionally invested in individual hands or sessions, so I tend to win. I don’t have huge sessions though, because of that very lack of interest and emotion.
Barry MUST win. He will sit for 24 hours until he is winner. He has the physical and mental fortitude for it. I, however, think that my worst nightmare would be sitting and playing poker for 24 hours straight, especially stuck! I have so little need to get even or winner, that I never push myself to become a world class player. It just ain’t gonna happen.
But how does being emotionally dead also help in poker? It helps in many ways. It is a key attribute to being a world class player, if one also has the eye of the tiger along with it.
Not many of us can be Barry Greenstein’s or Phil Ivey’s, but we can attain that type of attitude in a smaller way, if we have both of those keys to success.
A story that revolves around Phil is that during the 2003 Series, when he was busted in 9th place, is that he was kind and cordial. It has been said that he shook hands with everyone, went to get his check with a good attitude and eventually left the building. Supposedly he was upbeat and generous to the valet at Binion’s, giving a good tip and a smile. Tomorrow is another day.
That is something we all love about Phil. Barry and Ted Forrest, two players I’m friends with, are the same. Barry, however, has the drive and emotional necessity to force a win. He HAS to win in order to be complete. Ted is a gambler and is very good. He loves to gamble on anything, and also has the drive to force himself to win. No one can beat the luck factor at poker, or Hellmuth would win every tournament…
But…we can make luck work FOR us, instead of AGAINST us. Ted does just that. He sets up situations where he can weather the bad luck, by creating good luck. “Creating” good luck is by building up our chips in advantageous situations. For example, Ted is playing against a player who is timid and not as willing to shove his chips as Ted is. So this player makes some kind of standard 3.5x BB raise with a premium hand. Ted decides he can create his own luck, so he smooth calls, heads-up as the closer. The flop comes with an ace, and Ted knows this guy doesn’t have an ace, or is certain of it when this guy makes some kind of timid bet or checks. So Ted decides to let his 97o represent the ace, and bluff this guy off of the pot.
Those kind of moves help us build chips and create our own luck. That way, when OUR aces get cracked, we still have some bullets, we aren’t DOA.
This is not an advanced concept, btw, but it is important for me to illustrate why people who have good control of their emotions, while at the same time having the drive to succeed, often make the top players in the poker world.
I had the emotional control. I did NOT, however, have the drive, the emotional drive and investment in the game. I had too much apathy. And apathy is a losing strategy in the bigger games and tournaments.
Although emulating my style of emotional control will help you succeed at playing cash games, while keeping you from having a massive stroke during a huge smack of variance, you must also have some kind of WILL to win. You must be emotionally invested in the game to some degree.
You cannot have too much emotional investment. You don’t want to be the guy with B.O. sitting at the table for five days straight, barely able to keep his eyes open because he is forcing a win. You cannot have THAT much investment in your drive to win. You must be mature and levelheaded when it comes to these situations. There has to be a balance. Sure, Barry, Ted, et al will play for 24 hours, when there is a fish in the game and they stand to come out winner. But these same players will NOT stick around when the fresh, well rested players step up to the plate. They won’t play against fresh players who are also winning players at their game. If Phil, Jennifer and Todd (Brunson) come into the game looking well rested and ready to rumble, the above WCPs know that suddenly they are the dogs in the game, if they are fatigued and not playing their A game due to stress of being stuck and inability to concentrate fully due to lack of sleep. They get the heck out of Dodge, winner or no. They live to fight another day.
So there is a balance that must be had. This is true whether you are playing for play money, low stakes, middle stakes or tournaments. There must be both attributes to win: a lack of steaming (good emotional control), and a will to win.
If you can balance both, you are in a very small minority of players. You have the personality to be a world class player at whatever limits or games you play.
Don’t be a whiner or abuser when you catch a beat to knock you out of a tournament. Be mature and professional. Shake hands with those commiserating with you, pick up your check, and be kind to the valet. Be the guy that everyone wants to be. Have that Phil Ivey quality whenever you play, no matter what stakes.
And then, rise to the top and be the best!