The Evolution of a Poker Player

by trikkur

The following article was found on the 2+2 forums. The original post is by the user Ship Ship McGipp and is titled The Evolution of a Poker Player and can be found here. This article has been edited for clarity and readability.

Disclaimer and qualifier: I have played well over one million hands of online poker, and almost that many this year alone. I’ve just recently started to reflect on my career in poker, and I was able to find the points in time in which I really had epiphanies. I remembered that was a question that is asked in most “wells.” I was asked more than once in mine, and right now jman is doing a great well in HSNL in which people are asking him the same question. I’ve decided that I’ll take the time to answer it comprehensively, since I haven’t made a serious post in MSNL in a very long time- this is my Christmas present. I’d appreciate it if HSNL people read it and expounded upon it (and the future- most notably) and if SSNL and MSNL people would ask questions related to this thread that others could help them answer. The goal of this ‘essay’ is to expedite the education process of all those who read it indirectly.

The Evolution of a Poker Player

by aejones

Poker is discovered differently by many individuals. Clearly, if you’re reading this, you’ve received it a specific way. This essay is designed to describe a successful way to go about educating yourself about this game (a ‘method’ that many of you will be able to identify with), the pitfalls to avoid along that path, and what you can expect in the future.

Doyle Brunson's Super System

Doyle Brunson’s Super System is one of the few “must read” poker books

Although there are a variety of ways to go about discovering the game, including dreams of wanting to become the next half-witted accountant from Tennessee with a weight problem to make seven figures, there are specific channels to go about educating yourself on it. After many of you found poker and decided you wanted to get better at it, you picked up a poker book at your local bookstore. This book was in all likelihood terrible (with the exception of Super System), but nevertheless an integral part of your poker career. You learned about pot odds, or how to squeeze out an extra bet with two pair playing 3-6 limit, where the only person who can beat the rake in that game is Jerry Yang. Basic concepts, but fairly important ones nonetheless. Through these books, you learned to play tight. Tight was right. It worked. You might have won some money in home games or online – it seemed fairly simple enough; no one else was folding enough, so by folding a lot and only playing strong hands, you would have an advantage.

If you really got more hungry, you searched Google for poker articles, or read excerpts by Phil Hellmuth or Daniel Negreanu from their websites. For me, Daniel Negreanu was my most important teacher before I was any good at poker. He was one of the few people 3 or 4 years ago that actually went through some thought process fairly publicly, and I benefited greatly from knowing how he thought. To this day, I believe that if/when I play with DN, I’ll have a huge advantage recalling his thought process from hands I read over and over back in the day (without him knowing the information I’m using). These kinds of things will help the average railbird, and might even assist you to winning low stakes NL online, or even tournaments, but it’s not nearly enough to win online. Thus, you reach the first milestone in your poker career.

Milestone #1: Poker is not played inside of a box, if you want to surpass the fgators’ of the world; you need to learn to think outside of it.

Around this time you start thinking about things other than your cards. You realize that other people have cards too! What if you could figure out what they have? A novel concept, indeed, and one that many players have not come into contact with yet. Second and third level thinking come into the picture, and you get excited about poker. You realize there are all sorts of player types, and you should try to cater to the way they play (tight in loose games, loose in tight games) instead of imposing your impressive will of folding in an already nitty game, or splashing around with bottom pairs and draws when no one is folding second pair on any street for any bet.

You learn about Gabe’s girlfriend Shania – I can do anything as long as I balance! You likely overvalue balance, which in time you will learn to de-value, and then value highly again.

This is around the time most of us learn how to play LAG as well. When you learn the nuances of playing loose and aggressive and the effects of your image on the table, you are brought into a whole new world of poker. Everything looks and tastes different than it did before. Suddenly, you’re looking to fillet a different kind of fish – a TAGfish, specifically. You realize your image can affect others into making awful plays. Hell, we all see how bad people play against Poly Baller. You learn to play draws super fast- anytime you can get it in with more outs than you have fingers on one hand, you’ve done alright! Hello fold equity! Anytime I go all in, I’ll just be like ‘fold equity, fold equity, fold equity’- it’s a chant to the poker gods.

You make this transition over and over again. You get aggressive, get tight, get loose, get tight, get loose, get tight. People change their ideal style based on what is sexy at the time, and eventually settle on something that fits their personality. When you’re loose and losing, you blame it on the loose leaks. When you’re tight and losing, you complain about not getting enough action. The human brain is constantly conditioning itself to be results oriented and doubt anything that doesn’t work at the moment. We’ll likely revisit this transition later in our poker careers.

A note about discovering LAG play. It is at this moment that Grimmstar shot off from the standard evolution of a poker player. He moved straight up from this first milestone, stunted his growth in poker, and became a terrible, terrible high stakes player. The man burned nearly a million dollars, true story. There are other examples about players who left here to success – for instance, I think CTS and jman had fairly instant successes at higher stakes. They were lucky enough to move up and run good, but wise enough to learn along the way. If you are fortunate enough to run good at 25-50 and continue to ask questions, study game theory, and be open to moving down anytime you hit a bad run- then you’re clearly smart enough to ‘learn on the fly’ and discover other milestones in your poker career as they come.

Oftentimes, the period before this next milestone is characterized by a great humbling at the poker tables. Downswings from playing too fancy and getting your ass handed to you by regulars will lead to low confidence. Usually a shot goes wrong or you just start experiencing extreme variance, running 50 buy ins below expectation in back to back months, perhaps. It all causes you to retool your game, and hopefully, have this epiphany.

Milestone #2: Playing the hand in the fanciest manner does not necessarily equate to making the most money.

This was by far the most difficult concept for me to understand. I spent the greater part of a year worrying about how loose and aggressive I could play, and checking the size of my dick every time I showed a bluff. I’m not sure at what point I came to understand that you could play “straightforward” and be extremely successful. I guess I could think of a few examples… I remember one time I was taking a shot at 25-50 on about a 50k roll, with a friend having some of my action (probably a quarter). I was playing straightforward, and after about 50 hands I was looking at my PAHUD and it said this player was like 15/12 preflop… I won’t mention who it was (not a 2+2er) but I asked one of my friends who played high stakes- and he said this guy is the BEST 25-50 player on the internet. How can he be the best playing 15/12? That baffled me.

Around here you will learn a very valuable lesson that aggression post flop is not the same as aggression preflop, and although they are inevitably related, they are not a direct product of each other. Some people like to LAG it up pre, and then a flop c-bet is as far as they go aggression-wise. They’re easy to float, easy to bluff-raise, easy to 3-bet pre. In general, their upfront aggression is strong, but their backdoor aggression is pedestrian.

(re: upfront vs. backdoor aggression. I’ve been using these terms with friends of mine for a while now, but I just realized that it might not be standard lingo on here. Upfront aggression is basically betting with the lead, lots of c-bets and obvious second barrels; Backdoor aggression is basically tricky stuff- turn check raises, river check raises, leading the turn without initiative, etc. Some players have absolutely no backdoor aggression, while I had been using entirely too much of it for most of my poker career- before the second milestone).

Regardless, once you learn about stats like WWSF and just general dogfights for flops that you know you both missed, you will have real battles with other regulars. A lot of you write posts in MSNL that say “Tough battle vs. reg with history.”

I call horse****.

Most of you are standard 19/17 TAGs and your only ‘battle’ with regs are “zomg, one time he called me down with third pair- an ace peeled the river, but he still called!” In most of these cases, it’s super standard without real history. Most of you haven’t seen history. I remember Ansky and irockhoes played a hand months ago where they got it on 4-bet on the flop with KQ on J high dry. THAT is a hand with history. Guy bet-calls AQ high on the river; THAT is a hand with history. Most of what you guys play is just crappy, obvious aggression, no offense.

As soon as I learned how you could play relatively straightforward and just add some tricks up your sleeve (when you image warrants you getting away with it) I instantly became a better player. If you all haven’t graduated from the whole “2+2 says I should be super tricky in agro” stage of your careers, hopefully you found this past section very insightful. The next milestone, however, is by far the most important in any players’ career.

Milestone #3: The realization that TheWorstPlayer is awful at poker.

Okay, that was a bit harsh. It was the most concise way to say this: At some point in your career you will be humbled. If you reach this stage, you’ve likely been humbled many, many times. There are, however, spots where you should gain extreme confidence. Times when the heavens open up to you and you are being spoken to by the poker gods’ themselves. Perhaps when you make your first sick ace high call down (or in Gabe’s case, your first king or queen high call down), or you bluff (or 3-bet bluff) the river for the first time successfully. Eventually, however, you will learn that not everyone on 2+2 is good at poker. You will realize that quantity does not equal quality and that high post counts are more a function of boredom than wisdom.

This is where you try to find your niche. All great players are not made the same. Most of us come from different backgrounds and therefore employ different thought processes. You realize that you also have a valid opinion, and maybe you don’t agree with someone like Jason Strasser on a hand- but that’s okay, neither does durrrr! Point being, not everyone can play the same, so at this point in your poker career you gain a great deal of confidence. Maybe you start posting in HSNL more regularly, maybe your opinion is well received; alternatively, if you get to this stage too quickly, you need to have a strong self-confidence to survive it. I’ve been trying to surpass this milestone for 3 years. Mostly, I was humbled by players that were better than me (at the time, and still) by posting in HSNL. I didn’t have experience, but I had ambition. If you have thick skin and an open mind, this can be a strong learning experience. If you don’t, it can be confidence-shattering enough to induce people to quit the game.

This is the milestone around most people in MSNL struggle- most, in fact, may never ‘conquer’ this stage. Most will find MSNL grinding to be satisfying enough.

(note: reading this does not mean you’ve passed the third milestone, you have to realize it for yourself)

Once you realize everyone sucks, you’ll start to see it everywhere. In fact, there are winning 10-20 and 25-50 players, regulars, who are very bad. They do most things as good as a 3-6 player, but game select like a 100-200 player, perhaps. Seeing is believing. Maybe these guys aren’t that good!

You see certain players playing a lot of hours high stakes- he must be good!

You see Dario Mineri’s Sharkscope- he must be good!

You see Phil Hellmuth’s bracelets- he must be good!

If you can get past those three statements, your chances of succeeding in poker will increase exponentially.

The final Milestone is one that I’ve only recently come to discover.

Milestone #4: There’s more to life than poker.

A truer statement could have never been written. During nearly this entire maturation process, most of us who strive to ‘be the best’ were obsessed to some degree. I know you sat in freshman composition class, did not read the assigned chapters the previous night, and did math problems with win rates and tried to figure out how much money you were going to make this week, this month, and this year. I know if you ever took the time to learn equity calcs that you sat in the back of algebra and figured out how much fold equity you needed preflop to 4-bet shove Ax in a bvb battle. I know you skipped your 8am chemistry class because you were up until 6am getting unstuck.

We all know that.

This is the moment when you realize that there is a certain burnout point in the game, and in order to achieve maximum success you need to play quality hands, not a minimum quantity. Here is where you will decrease the number of tables you play and increase your reads on the regulars in the game. Many use this milestone to better their social life, spend more time with their family, and increase their exercise regimen. The fact is that many of us live unhealthy; we spend all of the time that we used to on athletics and our family sitting in front of a computer and reading a stupid website with ingenious posters like aejones. The more endorphins you can release through exercise or sex or something, the better decisions you will make. The fact is that this website, these forums, they feel like a fraternity- we laugh together at reef, we cry together at ddubious.

Get past the internet, get past the 45/12 on your right, and improve your life. Only by doing so will you ever improve your poker game.

In summary, many of us will cycle between loose-aggressive and straightforward. We will repeat this cycle many times until we reach a happy medium. We will second guess this medium, rightfully so, because it will be wrong. We will change styles again, doubt ourselves, rightfully so, because again we will be wrong. We will repeat this process over and over again. The best have found their niche; the best understand their place in the poker universe.

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