Monday, 20 October 2014

Nick Wealthall on making the most.

Gary Player (a golfer from the past) once said, ‘The more I practice, the luckier I get.’ Since then, people haven’t stopped repeating it.

When it comes to poker, that might make you feel nice the next time you do some work on your game then hit a two outer to win a pot (yay – sweet, sweet justice) but really, it's total nonsense.

Luck in poker is a constant.

In fact, we can use our super geek powers to express all luck in poker as mathematical variance. (Other super geek powers include, but are not limited to: never needing the calculator function on your phone, shouting correct exasperated answers at The Million Pound Drop, and the ability to have skin so pasty it’s nearly translucent).

So you know… in your face… old golfer bloke.

Luck is constant in the playing of poker (and if you think it isn’t and keep moaning on about how you’re running, then stop and ask yourself this… how do the cards know it’s you playing them? Trust me, it’s not personal. If you keep thinking it is, then poker isn’t for you. Try golf instead – you won’t be any less frustrated, but at least you’ll get out in the open air).

However, in your career there’s some serious hidden luck. An obvious example is if you enter a limited number of big tournaments; how you run in those few hundred hands could have a huge effect on your career as a whole. But if you’re going to play a decent amount of poker, that stuff will mostly even itself out (hey, even if it doesn’t there’s a 50% chance it will skew the good way and then you’re Jerry Yang!).

One of the most important parts of poker is often mistakenly referred to as luck, when really it’s opportunity. To put it simply, it’s the breaks you do or don’t get. People are terrible at taking opportunities, and even worse at making them. For most folks, they just slide on by.

Years ago, when I’d only been playing for a few months, I was sat in a Vegas Limit game and had my first ‘poker celeb’ spot. A player who’d final tabled the WSOP a few years before was sitting in a limit game a level above mine. Now this was back in the day when I thought TJ Cloutier was cool (honestly, part of me still does and I’m not even his Craps host… is that wrong?) so I had some excitement about the whole deal. My only thoughts were, “I have to meet him so that I can ask him stuff. Lots and lots of stuff.”

I immediately put my name down on the list for his table, even though it was higher than I wanted to play. I jumped at the first available seat, and then moved until I was sitting next to him (and yup this is super stalker-ish, but at least I only wanted him for his brain). I spent the next two hours watching him play, trying to learn and then asking him questions. I learnt a lot, and I’ve repeated the process many times in my poker career. As such, I have restraining orders out against me in several countries and most US states.

I kid. In fact, the opposite is true. Poker players love talking about poker and poker hands – every single one of us. Now, I’m not saying you should run up to a well known player after they’ve bust a tournament or dropped a few buy-ins at a cash game session, but if you ever have an opportunity to talk to someone better than you, you should take it. Do it without ego, admit your mistakes, and look to learn. Almost no-one does it, and almost no-one does it without ego, so the opportunity is always there.

I was reminded of this incident recently when reading about Doug Polk (aka 'WCGRider'). You may know him as one of the biggest high stakes winners online and one of the best in the world right now. If you don’t know his story, you’ll once know he was a mere mortal like us and also super horrible at poker. The great thing about Doug is that he documented his journey through poker, starting with being busto and desperate for a change of fortune, in forum posts which you can go and Google and read. What you’ll find is a post from a few years ago when Doug couldn’t beat $2NL, entitled, ‘Reaching the end of my rope’.

The interesting thing about his story is not only his rise to the top of poker, but how he did it.

He asked for help!

But not only that, he asked for help with more zeal and determination than an X Factor contestant with two yeses waiting for Simon to cast the deciding vote.

He openly invited anyone online to help him. He went to the book shop and read poker books for hours (not having the funds to buy them). He got the instant messenger handles of good players so he could send them hands to look at. He posted hands and questions on online forums.

He didn’t let lack of money or his losing stop him getting to where he wanted to go.

And what do people say when they see Doug’s smiling face sitting behind a big pile of cash chips or a WSOP bracelet? (He won his first this year). Many of them will say he’s lucky… or was born with some natural gift. Very few will acknowledge the truth; that he created his own opportunity, that he wanted it more and that he outworked them.

The opportunity is out there for you in poker – it always will be. The resources to get this good at the game get bigger and better every month. The games may be a little tougher, but every day players win and move through the limits.

Whether it’s poker or something else you want to get good at, don’t just sit on your hands and hope things go your way. Go find your own opportunity, and when you get it kick its doors in, pack it full of dynamite, and blow it the fuck up!

Tags: Nick Wealthall, columnists