Notes from the Poker Trenches
Between March 2012 and July 2016 I churned out somewhere around 150 poker columns for Unibet ("An Idiot's Guide to Poker") and then NordicBet ("Notes from a Semi-pro").
Over the coming months I'm aiming to post 100 or so of these columns under the faintly dramatic banner, Notes from the Poker Trenches.
Initially I wasn't going to put up any of my previously published work because much of it makes me cringe. In the early stages my poker knowledge was practically zero and my phrasing and terminology was clumsy at best, and at worst plain wrong.
Then, a breakthrough: I realised I could post columns with annotations, allowing me to correct said clumsiness (and wrongness) and in doing so poke fun at my younger, greener, more idealistic self.
I didn't use that typewriter to write them.
Date: March 2012
Notes: It was sunny in March 2012, apparently - well, at least for some of it. Otherwise, this is a bit of a mess: my choice of reading material looks - and this is me at my kindest - not great. I keep using the horrible term 'float' which presumably either means my bankroll or buy-in. Yet, in my defence, I was very much a beginner and was still getting to grips with both playing the game and how to write about it. Reading this back, I wish I could play against this old me and we both had near-unlimited bankrolls and poker appetites.
Column 3. An Idiot's Guide to Poker: Tilting
Earlier today I was strolling around in the sunshine, writing this column in my head. “This is only my fourth week of playing,” I was planning on writing, “and I’m already getting rather good at this online poker lark.” Then I was going to regale you – that’s right, regale you – with tales of going to my local threadbare library and reading Eliza Burnett’s Poker for Girls and David Parlett’s Card Games. I even had a quote from the latter: “Poker and its relatives are games of psychological and mathematical skill, where you can be dealt a bad hand yet still win by superior form.”
Good, isn’t it? I was going to write about becoming more psychologically and mathematically skilled. And it was going to get better. I was going to tell you how I’d trebled my float, how my bluffs had got stronger, about my love of flat calling when I knew I had the nuts. I was even thinking about writing a word or two on how I saw the future. You know what happened yesterday? Yesterday I got a glimpse of how things could be: I was playing with composure, skill – even a little class – and briefly daydreamt about making a living at this. Not now of course, but in three or four or six month’s time once my skills were refined. This is what I’d written in my notes: “I’ve begun to KNOW what my opponent’s are holding. I know when to lay down a hand. This doesn’t feel like gambling. I’M BEGINNING TO GET THIS.” The ‘get this’ part was not only in shouty capitals, but was also underlined.
None of the above is going to be in this week’s column. Prior to sitting down and writing earlier today I thought I’d go online and play a hand or two, no more. Well, perhaps play for half an hour, but no longer. That was six hours ago. In the six hours since then, all my hard work over the last week or so has gone to pot. My float has shrivelled. My appetite for flat calling has shrunk. The daydreams I’d had less than 24 hours ago about playing professionally seem tattered, ridiculous.
This afternoon I played like a chump. I lost a few pots where my chances of winning them were pretty much even and then just seemed to spiral out of control. I lost hands that I had no chance of winning. I cack-mindedly went all in on pots that I thought I could steal and got grubbily exposed. I’d limp in, knowing throughout the flop, the turn and the river that I was being beaten and still pay to see my opponent’s hand. Yesterday’s feeling of serenity seemed completely alien. I was playing like a madman and felt emotionally shot. I lost a lot and couldn’t seem to stop.
In poker circles they have a term for this. (In poker circles they have a term for everything.) It’s called going “on tilt” or tilting and essentially means the player has lost it, mentally and/or emotionally. It leads to anger, rash decisions, outbursts and, in most instances, disastrously bad play. The thing is, I knew I was tilting. I knew my play stank and was going to continue to stink until I’d lost the bulk of my float. Of course I could have employed a little self-discipline and just stepped away from my computer for an hour or so, but such an option didn’t seem available to me earlier.
Still, the optimistic side of me sees some good in this, realises that it’s good to experience going on tilt so early in my poker career so that I can look out for it in the future, recognise it, and nullify it. That’s the plan, at least. Let’s see, shall we? In the meantime, I’m off for a lie down and a long, hard look at myself.