Someone once said that you have to treat a game of poker like it’s the most important thing in the world, while simultaneously not giving a damn. At least I think someone said that. And I think it was about poker. It may have been about darts, or having sex or making bread. But that attitude strikes me as a valid one and it’s an attitude that’s been bumping around in my head since the beginning of this week.
It seems to work. Yesterday I woke up, switched on my computer, languidly played two short-handed sit and gos and won both. My play has become much tighter and ferocious. Until this week my game was dominated by a sparrow-like flintiness and timidity: I’d meekly check and call and then crumble on the river – always hoping for the cards that never came. Now I rarely check or call, preferring to either raise – and raise like I mean it – or fold. I’ve become more aware, too – aware of position, betting patterns, chip size (both mine and my opponent’s), expected value and a bunch of other things that, in truth, I’m only really on the fringes of understanding.
Does that mean I’m any good? No, not really. But I think I’m learning. Every time I play I learn something. I feel like a completely different player than the one playing a few weeks ago and the boy – the thing – who started this back in March is unrecognisable.
Plus, my luck’s changed. After suffering a string of bad beats I feel as if the poker gods are smiling at me. And not only smiling at me: they’ve taken me out to dinner, paid for the taxi back to mine, carried me upstairs and – well, you can guess the rest.
Take yesterday, for example.
After winning those couple of sit and gos I entered a tournament. Usually my tournament standings make for disastrous reading: I tend to be too gung-ho and flappy near the beginning, tighten up after around a third of the field has been eliminated, go back to being loose and chaotic and swan out. This is no good. Yesterday’s tournament began in similar fashion. An entirely unconvincing bluff during the third or fourth hand saw a third of my chips evaporate. More chips somehow drifted away. Within half an hour I was bottom. I clawed my way up a little and by the first break was back to 2,000 chips – the amount I’d started with.
Three quarters of those chips disappeared almost as soon as I was back at the table and I was prepared to go out. Perhaps here, yesterday’s notes should take over:
“500 chips. Rock bottom. Go all-in with 5/10 off suit. A five comes on the flop but I’m dead until a ten turns up on the river. This never happens.”
“A/2 diamonds. Someone in early position calls all-in. I think and think and think and call. See K/Q. My ace holds up.”
“Take down three pots in a row.”
“Win a pot with 10 high flush. Up to 38th, somehow. 78 players left.”
“Fluke a straight on river. Double up. 28th.”
“K/Q gets paired on flop. Win big pot.”
“Gone from 500 chips to 12,800.”
“Get dealt A/K, A/A and A/K in three successive hands. Win two of them.”
“Remember: YOU ARE NOT INVINCIBLE!!!”
“Maybe you are though.”
And on it went. I found myself third, then second, then back down to ninth and up again and then on the final table with 61,000 chips. Of course I went out. Of course my all-in QQ lost to pocket kings on the very first hand. Not that I minded. For a start, I finished well in the money. More importantly, perhaps, I learned one or two things. I’ve learnt that playing with an air of emotional detachment works. I’ve learnt that in future tournaments I shouldn’t panic, that I should just wait for the right spot. And if the right spot doesn’t come along, I’ve learnt to shove all-in with 5/10 then ride my luck.