Thursday, December 26, 2019

Year in Review (from 36,000 feet)

I just ran what felt like a mile across the Houston airport.  It couldn't have been that far, but good lord did it feel like it.  My plane in Pittsburgh loaded a bit late, then we had some "rivet" or something that looked suspicious on our wing.  I swear to god the pilot said "we have maintenance on the way to see if that is 'pertinent piece' of the airplane".  Like, he said that.  So we take off around an hour late, land 40 something minutes late, and I haul ass....you know what, it doesn't fucking matter.  I made it.  My lungs are burning and my legs hurt and I'm sweating but whatever I made it.  Half the plane has the fucking flu pray for me.

I just reread my last post and boy was it brutal.  I don't feel quite that bad now, but close.

Anybody who knows me well knows this has been one of the hardest years of my life.  The only more difficult one I can think of was 2014, the break up year, and in retrospect while that sucked ass and was incredibly hard it was probably the best thing that happened to me since I got into MIT.  This year has been really hard and honestly I don't think it's going to be something I look back on and am like "yeah man, I'm really better off for having gone through all that".  Pretty much just everything has sucked. 

I'm starting to have some health issues; all mild but pretty annoying and nothing I'm going to go into detail about here.  I'm drinking too much.  I'm not sleeping well.  My anxiety is acting up.  Poker has been an abject disaster.  As of this writing I'm winning about $10 and .36 bets per hour for the year (which obviously means that I've run poorly when playing in my bigger games) when playing "freelance".  And in not that many hours.  It got so bad that I took a prop job for a bit in the Spring, working stone cold graveyard (2am to 10:30am).  I lasted 7 weeks before realizing the job was going to kill me and there was no hope of getting onto a human shift.  And for my trouble I basically lost almost exactly the amount they paid me, including a 50 bet loss followed by a 90 bet loss two days later.  And this doesn't count whatever I lost playing on KingsClub, which I have written down somewhere and is not...insignificant.  Basically I've broken even for something like 16 months, give or take. 

So when something like that happens everything basically falls apart around you if you're not careful.  I have to be playing badly, I just have to be.  I think I've manged to plug up some of the leaks and flawed thought patterns recently, but even then it's still difficult.  I still have days when I just don't have it;  I didn't even realize that until recently, when I forced myself to bring all my focus and tools to bear and realized wow you really were coasting through entire sessions there bro.  I don't have the armor I used to have.  I can't let mistakes go.  I get emotional (that was happening more early in the year when Glenn was literally bullying me like a middle school playground gorilla trying to get me fired from the Hustler) from time to time.  I get angry at my idiot opponents, sometimes even at people I call friends, for things that just should slide right off my back (and certainly did when I was winning $100/hour).  I have to take early outs.  I don't have the confidence to stick around in mediocre games.  The traffic is killing me (nothing worse than driving home at 7pm in still bad traffic stuck 50 bets wondering when you'll ever win again). 

I had a week recently where I won $18k, 10 of it on the same day spread across two 40/80 sessions at the commerce then the bike (that's right, I played 2.5 hours at commerce, won $5000, decided my game was about to get bad, drove to the bike and played 4 more hours and won another $5000) and I didn't even feel that good about it.  In fact I had a panic attack at the table the next day at 5pm the next day because the woman I'm "seeing" told me she was going into town for a few drinks and I fomo'ed because I wanted to see her.  I mean come on....Sure that can make you feel not awesome, but a full blown anxiety attack at the table?  That's just not healthy.  That just can't happen.

And this would all kind of be ok, I think, if my personal life was somehow firing on all cylinders.  But it's not.  Not even close.  I've lived alone now for 5.5 years, but up until this year only very rarely have I felt truly lonely.  It's happening more and more lately.  Maybe what I want is changing?  Maybe my value system is?  Maybe I'm starting to feel like I'm wasting my life?  Maybe I can no longer handle being in the same casually undefined relationship for 3 years?  Maybe I'm just bored of poker and not hungry anymore after achieving basic financial freedom?  Could it be as simple as I'm not learning and therefore not having fun? I used to think I'd go back to software after a few years of this poker stint.  Now....I'm not so sure.  Do I need to make things easier or harder?  I just don't know.  But I gotta do something.  I gotta join a softball team or a gym or meetup or something.  Poker is supposed to allow me the freedom to live my life the way I want to and I'm just not doing it.

The last post I wrote made it sound like I was definitely quitting poker.  That's not the case.  In the last 6 weeks I've still mostly been playing (although there was quite a bit of time off between Christmas and Thanksgiving and a wedding in Mexico and of course drinking my face off on weekends) and actually kind of enjoying it.  I made an effort to improve my focus and procedures at the table.  I'm trying to get back to the basics of soft limit hold 'em games, just fucking punishing people for making the most basic mistakes of the game, not worrying about being balanced (just being aware when I've painted myself into a range corner) unless I'm in a hand against someone who has a clue.  I've worked Commerce back into my routine, and if the games go overnight I've found them to be pretty darn good and a nice fit to my natural rhythm.  And it feels good to play "big", even though I'm not playing anywhere near big (I haven't played a hand above 60/120).  My focus is a little sharper, I have a little more fun, I feel a little better about myself than I do bum hunting the yellow chip stone fish.

But I am attempting to make a substantial change.  A good friend of mine is an SAT/ACT verbal tutor, and he really likes enjoys it.  He's worked for a large national company for several years and suggested that I apply and give it a shot (on the math side, obviously).  I did a few phone interviews, went to their office and took a math test, and it looks like I'm going to get hired in January.  This isn't like panacea or anything, but it could be a nice complement to a part time poker schedule and there are opportunities to grow both my personal skill set and perhaps eventually build a small business.  And the market for math tutors is just absurd.  My friend gets billed out at $220/hour (which I expect is what they'll bill me at).  Obviously he (we) keeps only a small fraction of that, but you can kind of see where I'm going.  If you're good at it and able to get new clients, it's pretty easy to charge $100-$150/hour for your services.  And if you're able to get enough new clients that you can't handle them yourself....and you're able to hire people to handle them....you get the idea.  There are lot of ways it could turn into something good, and in the meantime making $40/hour to do something constructive while learning a valuable skill doesn't sound that bad at all.

But now on to the point of this post.  This year hasn't been all bad; I've got a lot to be thankful for and I'm going to run down through the list now.

Despite my claim of health issues I have actually had a good year in terms of my physical fitness.  I'm down over 20 pounds from "peak fat" as I call it, most of it this year.  My cardiovascular health could improve, as well as my strength, but for right now I'm going to focus on losing another 15 pounds or so hopefully by summer.  And the important part here is that I (re)learned how to lose weight.  I simply have to count calories, I have to write down everything I eat.  That keeps me accountable and gives me the satisfaction of skipping that last snack before bed because it makes it so clear that eating it will mean I made no progress that day.  For the first time in several years I'm confident that I'll be in better shape every quarter this year.

I've developed a few valuable friendships (you know who you are), maintained some other ones, and rebuilt some that were deteriorating.  I went the entire year with really only burning one bridge (and it's not burnt down completely and wasn't that strong of a bridge to begin with).  That's a good year for me!

I saved a life.  I'm not sure if it was even mentioned on here, but I fostered a pitbull named Bronson for 5 months, eventually finding him a forever home with my neighbor's niece.  He was out of time at the Ramona Animal Shelter, going to be put down that day, and I volunteered, stepped the fuck up, drove to the IE to get him, and just figured it the fuck out.  For five months I lived in my 500 square foot apartment with him and....

Cora!  I adopted a cat this year and love her to death.  She originally just moved in as a foster because....well it's a little complicated.  The woman "I'm seeing" is deep in the cat rescue life and was fostering Cora and another adorable little guy I refer to as "Baby Chark".  Those two cats were going to be moved to "the cattery" which is basically a closet in an animal adoption center to make room for some more difficult cats that she could handle.  I volunteered to take the two of them, but Baby Chark was adopted before he could even move in.  So I got Cora, fell in love, and decided to keep her.  It's a little terrifying to think I'm going to have her until I'm in my 50s, but I have no regrets.

I bought two houses.  Well, half of two houses.  Very cheap houses with a partner.  We're gonna rent them out and it's gonna be fine if they don't fall down.

I'm getting really tired now, probably because I'm on east coast time and I ran my equivalent of a marathon 2 hours ago, so I'm going to stop writing.  Long story...well...long.  2019 sucked ass but I did do some cool things.  I'm not quitting poker, but I know I need to be smarter about it and work harder than I have been.  I'm pursuing other opportunities so that I don't end up stuck in poker like some of my friends.   So it's not all that bad.
























Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The End Times

Everything ends.  Jobs.  Relationships.  Your life.  And apparently some things end more than once.  This blog hasn't really ended I guess, although upon review this is my 12th post in 4 years, so I mean let's be honest it's been "mostly dead" (which is part alive!) for some time now.  But it looks like my poker "career" is coming to at the very least some sort of long hiatus and (if things go to plan) basically ending in its current form.  And I mean this has happened before, I'm not saying I'm never going to play cards again.  But for right now I just have to face the facts that things are horrific, getting worse, with no reason to expect big improvements.

Honestly I don't even know what all I want to say, I'm just gonna write until I don't feel like it anymore.  It's therapeutic.

Nothing has gone right for 15 months.  Shortly after Vegas 2018 I just...stopped winning.  I had been on an amazing run for nearly 2.5 years (basically since the day I quit EMC), and was enjoying every minute of it.  You see, I had assumed when I quit software a second time that I'd get bored with cards fairly quickly.  Turns out you don't get bored when you're winning nearly 2 bets per hour for 3000 hours.  I ran so good for so long that I started to believe, while I must have been running hot, the results I was posting had to be somewhere near sustainable.  I mean, how could I possibly be winning literally THOUSANDS of bets more than I was supposed to be?  Sure, I was running hot, but you couldn't run THAT hot, could you?   Turns out you can!  I know a guy who beat the Hustler 25/50 for and I'm not even kidding, over $200/hour for something like 800 hours.

August 2018.  Cue doom switch.

I'd love to say it's all run bad, but it's not.  I haven't been working as hard as I should be away from the table.  Getting your head kicked in day in and day out affects you're play.  I'm surely, undoubtedly, playing worse than I was in 2017 when I won literally $100/hour (before promotions and jackpots) playing mostly 25/50.  $100/hour worse?  LOL obviously not.  But $25 or $30?  Maybe.  I'm not as sharp as I used to be.  I got really out of shape and don't have the energy or focus to play for as long as I used to.  My back hurts (from being old, from bad posture, and probably from the existential angst I'm putting myself through).  I just can't recover mentally like I used to.  I fucking stink, basically.  That's hard to admit, it's hard to say, but I fucking stink.

And on top of that games are getting worse every year, the rake is going up every year.  Fish are literally dying off and not being replaced (you just don't see 25 year old kids out there blowing their brains), and it's going to get REALLY bad when the economy turns south.  Like, hold on to your hats n glasses, this is the wildest ride in the wilderness bad.  The big games are mix games, and apparently I'm terrible at those (I played on kings club for a year and a half, lost a loaded Toyota Camry before I gave up).  And when this fantasy land made of money and 20% returns takes a shit, it's going to be a big smelly one for limit hold 'em for sure.  If I can't win now, what chance do I stand when half the games aren't even running anymore?

I already spend more time driving around the fucking urban hellscape that is LA county than ever, more than could possibly be considered reasonable.  Why?  Because it's harder to find a good game than ever, and with my confidence as shot as it is I can't even justify sitting in mediocre ones thinking "well I'm still winning I can just keep playing".  I just broke even for almost 2000 hours playing in the best games I could find;  how the fuck could I possibly be winning more than $15/hour in a shitty one!?!  And part of playing poker for a living is taking early outs when you're losing;  well guess what, that really adds up when you never win!  And of course I haven't moved closer to the casinos;  I didn't have to while I was running like God and inertia is a real thing and I do like it down here and ostensibly I have lots of friends and relationships but lol sure what the fuck ever.  If I just picked up and moved to DTLA or Long Beach or god I don't know fucking Australia I'd probably hear from like 3 people here in Laguna ever again.

I guess the hardest part of all of this is admitting that while a lot of it is bad luck, I definitely could have been working a lot harder this whole time.  I could have been studying more.  I could have been doing more to stay in physical shape.  I could have been doing more to foster and engender real, supportive, and positive relationships.  I could have worked harder to learn other games, to keep myself engaged.  I could have done a whole lot of shit.  But I didn't and now here we are.

And where exactly is that?  Here is basically broken I guess, at least in terms of poker.  Most of my friends, the ones I have left, have to just be completely sick of my endless negativity.  I have people in my life who are like that, for whom just everything is awful and woe is me I am such a victim.  It's awful.  How many bad beats can you listen to?  How many times can you hear someone bitch about how bad things are going, give them advice, and watch them make zero substantive changes?  How long am I going to feel and act like a victim?  Honestly.  This isn't me.

And I'm no fucking good to them either; I'm no fucking good to anyone like this.  I'm angry.  Depressed.  Anxious.  Scared even.  I never had an over-abundance of self confidence but shit now I've got basically none.  Try sitting with these people for 2000 hours and not winning.  They are stone fucking idiots, the lot of 'em, and yet me and my supposedly big brain cannot defeat them, day in and day out, month in and month out.

So yeah, here is no fucking place to play poker.  Here is losing all my friendships and not building new ones.  Here is completely out of balance.  Too much drinking, too much Netflix, too much driving.  Not enough learning, not enough working out, not enough sex, traveling, sunshine....not enough of anything good.

So I'm just not gonna stay here anymore. 

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Going Insane: A Two Part Instructional Guide

Fun fact of life....a lot of processes have basically two ways they can go.  Someone can play a hand of limit hold 'em and look like st1ckman, mostly because he had two options and just happened to flip heads.  The st1ck rides again.  Next hand he aborts every street and you stop wondering what you were thinking.  The st1ck is dead; long live the st1ck!

Going insane is no different.  You can go insane in two basic ways.  The first one is just what everyone accepts as going insane.  It's not as clean as they show on TV (nothing is....the white house...a court room...being a cop....saving the universe from a guy with a big chin), but it happens roughly the same way.  One day you wake up and your brain simply can no longer process and handle the world it is currently occupying.  You cannot cope with your environment, it's all fucking madness, and to the outside world you look like a stone lunatic.  You effectively cease to function.  I've done that one and let me tell you it's no fucking bueno.  Nothing makes sense, you can't solve the simplest of problems, everything is insurmountable, and waking up in the morning becomes a herculean effort that, once achieved, you literally question the point of.

The second way, unfortunately, walks the first path, but continues on to a more interesting place.  You wake up one day and realize that your brain can no longer function in the world you've built for it.  That's the same.  But there isn't a sense a panic, loss, or failure.   You aren't incapacitated.  You don't cease to function.  You realize that that the problem isn't necessarily with your mind, with you, but rather with the world you've carefully constructed around yourself.  That's the source of the madness.  In effect you're going insane, but what you're actually doing is leaving behind your past (insane) choices and moving on to a different (scary) place.  To the outside world, and to all but your closest friends, you probably look the same as you would in the first method.  And that make sense, as you have to basically go through there to get to this place.  But it's very different.

I suspect that many extremely successful people have gone insane in just this way.  They wake up one day and simply decide that their world is bullshit and that they no longer respect its norms and customs.  Elon Musk, as much as I hate him, is extremely successful and probably didn't want to flip the world on its ass at age 7.  The same argument could be made for Donald Trump.  It's entirely possible that the ability survive going insane could be a driving force in human evolution.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

5th Most Drunk Wedding Protocol

I'm on a flight to a wedding which historically is a good time for me to actually write a blog post. I was talking to friend who asked me the following simple question:

"Are you going to be the biggest drinker at the wedding?"

Innocent question. Fair question. Good question. The answer is maybe yes, but I explained to him that the goal is always to be somewhere around 5th most drunk, at the wedding or otherwise. You ever been to a wedding where 5 people got kicked out? They can't kick out 5 people! And even if they do by the time they get to you all bets are off anyway and the bride is either loving it and number 6 drunk or in tears anyway so fuck it, it's not on you and at least you got your money's worth for the personal foul.

I've been number 1 drunk at a wedding before. That's an entirely different magilla, because you can be number 1 drunk and just WAYYYY out in front, settin the pace, lappin fools. That's not a good place to be. Things can go very wrong, very painfully, very quickly, out there. You can come around a turn and put it into the wall at 170 MPH like it's nothin out there. You do not want to be out there. It's scary out there.

Somebody has to be there, though; someone is the most drunk. We can't all be 5th most drunk; that's not the way counting works. If you find yourself number 1 most drunk, I have great news! The fact that you noticed you're most drunk means there is still time to get things under control! Choose your next steps very, very carefully. Proceed directly to the dance floor with a glass of water and let someone pass you right on by. Everything is gonna be fine!

Failing that you need a good friend who can simply explain the situation to the groom:

"Either you didn't know Jesse well enough to invite him, or you should not be surprised here. This is at least a little on you, man"

5th Most Drunk. That's where you wanna be.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Evolutionary Pressure

My favorite professor in college was Patrick Winston, who taught me basically "Intro to AI" and "How to Communicate".   One of the cooler things I remember him teaching us about was the subject of genetic algorithms, which in a nutshell is a way to solve a problem that works in the following way:

1.  Define a problem space and a measure of fitness for a solution.
2.  Randomly generate solutions to the problem with some parameters.
3.  Let the randomly generated solutions fight it out (solve the problem).
4.  Take the fittest ones, mutate them, and let them try again.  Etc, etc.

Basically the idea is to mimic the evolutionary process we see in nature in a computer simulation in order to come to some reasonable solution for a very complex (perhaps NP complete) problem.  The example that was coded up in the class involved little creatures made of blocks who had to figure out how to capture the piece of food in the middle of their little world.  I can't find it...but you get the idea.  You started off with a few simple block beings and eventually you'd get all sorts of crazy things fighting over the food pellet.

Poker ecosystems are no different.  People have seemingly random strategies, they test them out against each other, the ones with the best results get to play longer, the ones with the worst results usually go broke or play less.  People adapt, and mutate....but not really.

So I was thinking the other day about the poker games I've been playing in these past few years, and something occurred to me seemingly for the first time.  I've always known that "mega fish", your truly special game starters that everyone wants to play with, that even regular fish know are terrible, are extremely important to a poker ecosystem.  But something that had never occurred to me was the following reason for it related to long term (very long term) game health.

True mega-fish remove evolutionary pressure from the ecosystem.

And that's really the simplest way to say it.  If you have a game that features some truly terrible players there is far less pressure on everyone else to improve in order to survive.  Regular fish don't lose nearly as much when there is a mega fish in the game for a few reasons.  First, because of schooling....if someone is playing J7o for two bets it's far less of a mistake for the regular fish to play JTo behind him.  Also they don't get bum hunted as hard.   Mediocre players (break even players) stick around longer.  And perhaps most importantly or at least most interestingly winning players can leave large leaks in their games unaddressed for months or even years and still get along just fine. 

And it's kind of that last part that I was really thinking about when I was driving home from a game the other day and texting with Pete and The Hammer.  The games I usually play in just don't have any truly good players.  Nobody has even a modicum of game theory knowledge.  Everyone goes on tilt.  Almost everyone chases losses and quits amazing games when they've won "enough".   And the winners can just get away with this because the games are so often just balls nuts amazing that they can make large glaring mistakes (both in tactics and meta stuff) and still win enough to just keep going, month after month, year after year.

And I mean don't get me wrong, I'm definitely guilty of this stuff, too.  Spending the last 2 years playing basically no higher than 40/80 has definitely left me in a spot where I struggle to remain comfortable if I ever get into a reasonably tough game with 3 or 4 actually good players.  I honestly figured I'd be back to software by now, but I've frankly been winning so much for the last 3000 hours that I'm just under no pressure whatsoever to make a change.  And there you have it again :)