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Return to Live Poker (pt. 1: The Middle Way)

Stoic Poker Middle Way Meditation
Finding the Illusive Middle Way at the Poker Table

If you haven't read the preliminary story to this post, which gets you up to date on my poker/life story, you can find it here. Today we will be discussing my return to the felt after a long and winding road that lead through high times and low ones and exactly how it went from the start.

Back in the early days of playing poker, it was something we did after a party started to wind down and we didn't want to stop having fun. We were usually showing up at about a 9/10 and we would order drinks right away. We were young and wild and free as the hip young musicians say.

Those days are long gone, I am not a drinker anymore since my rock bottom, and I am nowhere near as free as I used to be. I hadn't been on the felt for years and I was nervous as hell before i even called for a ride.

Actually, If I am being totally transparent I had already bailed on the first few days I had planned to go and play. I have always been someone who uses preparation to make sure I am ready, but then I also use more preparation to procrastinate. It is just a way to give into my fear while hiding my true motivations from myself, but not hiding them very well.

At this point I had caught on to my tendencies and decided I had to go play this particular day with no exceptions. Luckily, I had reached a point in my commitment to Stoicism that if I gave myself an order, I knew I would follow it. I paced around my house for a while with my cute little doggo Nico wondering what the hell was going on the whole time, but I eventually took a deep breath and pressed the 'order uber' button on my phone.

My internal shit ramped up quite a lot, but I knew I wasn't canceling, so I had 7 minutes to get all my stuff together. Below is the list of my "Lame-Ass Wannabe Pro Supplies"

  • backpack

  • protein bars

  • seat cushion

  • scarf

  • hoodie

  • headphones

  • a book to read

  • a highlighter for my book

  • a notebook

  • a pen

  • phone

  • phone case with built-in charger

While I was riding, I called to put my name on the list for the biggest game in my local casino. $1/$3 NO muggafuggin LIMIT. The max buyin in 400 and the rake is about 400/hand I think. So, ya know, the type of games where dreams come true.

If I thought I was nervous before I left home, I had no idea what nerves really were until I sat down at that table. My heart was pounding, I was second guessing myself, and I was not doing a good job of knowing what people had when I was watching hands play out. I felt like the spot, and in retrospect I was a live spot for sure.

As a man who had spent an hour a day for over a year using a GTO trainer I knew my opening ranges from every seat, I knew what the trainer would want me to do on each street for the most part (96.5% gto wiz score,) and I was willing to go for it if the trainer called for it.

I think I had bombed over limps a few times and taken it down pre-flop, but I hadn't played any big hands. My nerves were chilling a bit after my first few squeezes worked, but I was still a mile away from how comfortable I wanted to be, or how comfortable I used to be.

I had noticed I was by far, BY FAR, the tightest pre-flop player at the table, probably in the room. These guys were playing bingo every single hand, and I was keeping myself to GTO ranges only. I couldn't get the thought out of my head that I wasn't using any of the things that used to help me so much. I wasn't reading people, I wasn't doing deep hand reading based off a million live factors, I was just playing trainer style.

As one does when they are in that mode, I got dealt A5ss in the small blind, someone opens the btn to 15 and I make it 65 because that's what you do, right? He tanks and calls, I hit a flop of A37 with two spades. I lead small as one does, he calls. The turn comes a 9h and I bet another smallish size because stacks are wack and I want to shove the river for a decent spr, if i hit or if a good card to bluff comes. Maybe I should have shoved, but I can't even describe to you how much my head was spinning during this session. He calls. The river comes a 7d, I check and he checks back and shows 97o. He let me know he was afraid I had aces and that is why he didn't bet the river.

Could I have played differently, better, sure. Always a possibility, but that wasn't what was important to me. This hand helped me realize that the trainer is a useful tool, but it is a very different opponent than the ones I was facing. It was a bit of a shock, but my eyes were open, finally.

I am highlighting one major hand that opened my eyes to the major differences, but if you play live you know there were plenty of clues being dropped throughout the night at showdown, etc.

I could now see, I was in for a whole new round of training. And this time, it had to be live at the table. I was going to have to put in hours and learn a whole new game. I wasn't going to abandon my new GTO knowledge completely, but I knew I had to find a way to mix in my old style. The style from back when I was loaded, didn't care if I won or lost, and I just soul read people by paying attention to their baseline behaviors and watched for deviations.

That style has its own problems, because when you are 100% feel and you don't do the right thing, there is nothing to fall back on. When my whole game was just based on guessing right, no matter how many factors I considered, I would always doubt everything I had achieved if I did the wrong thing. It was immediate and crushing imposter syndrome, and you know what, back then, I was a fucking imposter who was running hot in spewey spots.

I needed to find a way to balance between GTO and exploiting the shit out of players that call 3b's with 97o and don't bet the river with full houses.

As the Buddhists would say, I needed to find "The Middle Way."

Join me Next time to see if I managed to find a strategy that could blend the two, or if I just go broke and wait for my day job at the Public Poker School for Children to start back up.


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