Managing the internal narrative

Irexes

Irexes

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Wrote this for my blog so the tone is a bit different, but anyway...


I've had an interesting few poker days and it's got me thinking about the way I think about the game. If you'll bear with me I'll try and explain.

First of all I had a fantastic run on the rings in a session a couple of nights ago followed by the worst losses I've sustained since the move to 50NL. What was a good night nearly became an incredible one and ended up a $40 loss over about 1500 hands.

This thread Lucky I don't tilt documents what happened, and as you'll see I made some nice moves given the context (a massive donk giving his money away) and got repeatedly outdrawn when way ahead.

Earlier this evening I got knocked out of the Cardschat Full Tilt tourney when I called an SB allin steal with Q9 in the BB and Ranny turned 47o (SOULREAD IMO :)).

The 4 on the flop did for me :)

Then about ten minutes ago as I write I was knocked out of a $10 rebuy in 125th (of 2151 starters) by this hand,

pokerstars Game #16347299071: Tournament #81875998, $10+$1 Hold'em No Limit - Level XVI (2000/4000) - 2008/03/29 - 20:17:16 (ET)
Table '81875998 115' 9-max Seat #9 is the button
Seat 1: sickdonkeyfi (167370 in chips)
Seat 2: kashvii (107807 in chips)
Seat 3: Chris333KK (72092 in chips)
Seat 4: potstabber10 (199371 in chips)
Seat 5: jedi1066 (135786 in chips)
Seat 6: leg177730 (147288 in chips)
Seat 7: martin69 (224963 in chips)
Seat 8: Irexes (45225 in chips)
Seat 9: kalltkaffe (70881 in chips)
sickdonkeyfi: posts small blind 2000
kashvii: posts big blind 4000
*** HOLE CARDS ***
Dealt to Irexes [Kh Ks]
Chris333KK: folds
potstabber10: raises 6000 to 10000
jedi1066: folds
leg177730: calls 10000
martin69: folds
Irexes: raises 34825 to 44825 and is all-in
kalltkaffe: folds
sickdonkeyfi: folds
kashvii: folds
potstabber10: raises 154146 to 198971 and is all-in
leg177730: folds
*** FLOP *** [Ac 2d Jd]
*** TURN *** [Ac 2d Jd] [6d]
*** RIVER *** [Ac 2d Jd 6d] [3s]
*** SHOW DOWN ***
potstabber10: shows [Ah 4h] (a pair of Aces)
Irexes: shows [Kh Ks] (a pair of Kings)
potstabber10 collected 109250 from pot

(HH edited to make it shorter)

4 hours down the drain for a small profit.

However in all these cases I am very happy to say it registered barely a flicker of emotion and in terms of impact on my play I don't think they registered at all. I regularly say that I don't tilt and I genuinely mean it. For me controlling the anger or emotions generated while playing is a huge part of the game. Letting someone not only take your money but also knock you off your game and cost you more is as big a hole in your game as playing unsuited aces under the gun. The trouble is that it's harder to spot in Pokertracker and too easy to write off once the steam stops coming out of your ears.

But how do you watch the fool above with A4 reraise allin and hit an ace on the first card out against your KK without wishing to put your foot through the monitor? How do you reload in ring against the superdonk without becoming one yourself? I think the answer is to control the dialogue which is taking place in your head while you are playing.

While we play we talk to ourselves, we tell the story of the game, the narrative of what is happening, why it happened, our role in it and most importantly we tell ourselves what is going to happen next. Of course objectively the fact that we may be on a downswing, or superdonk just took half our chips is irrelevant to the way we should play the next hand (metagame considerations aside) but in practice we tell ourselves "I'm due a win", "He can't be lucky again" or most dangerously that playing badly is justified by the bad play of others.

These negative thoughts make for a great story in which we cast ourselves as the hero. In our imaginations we are always going to come back if we have a chip and a chair and a double up with KJo is a racing certainty. Sometimes we do the opposite, we approach a hand with the fatalistic expectation of defeat and this is of course the best way to ensure a win! Because reality will confound whatever we expect to happen and the romantic in us knows that in the story the last minute 3-pointer always goes in.

In really bad cases I hear people tell themselves they are just unlucky. This is a wonderful way to avoid confronting either the reality of bad play or failing to grasp the role of variance. It's seductive though to hand over control of your fate to a perceived tendancy to get outdrawn because the martydom it easy and beating yourself up in public is rewarding to a certain kind of person, and it's short step from there to the ultimate "story" of OMG RIGGED!!

My repetition that "I don't tilt" is as much about developing a self-fulfilling prophecy as anything else. I have decided I don't tilt, so I don't. There are a few people who have decided they are lucky (coughBBBcough) and amazingly they seem to be so. Of course this "story" is no more true than the "I'm unlucky" gang, but the advantage in attitude that such an internal dialogue gives must be huge when harnessed correctly.

What I tell myself constantly is that the wins and the losses are part of one long continuum, that when I am losing I am playing as well as when I am winning. "Meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters both the same" said Kipling, and he's absolutely spot on. The player who has a big MTT win out of the blue and decides they are a world beater is as deluded as the poor chap who drops 5 buy-ins in a ring game and decides there must be a hole in his game when he's just been unlucky.

It's tricky but the eyes must forever be on the horizon, on the 60% ROI over 1000 tournies or the BBs won every 100 hands, not the tourney win or the $200 pot. The trouble is that poker is seductive in it's appeal to the storyteller in all of us. In the films the ace comes on the river, the gambler finds redemption or crashes to oblivion and good guys always win. It's hard to tell a thrilling tale about Sklansky bucks or hundreds of thousands of hands, but that is where the money is really won and that is the story we should be telling ourselves.

So when I find myself in situations like those above and I lose a few quid, I don't think OMG the universe is out to get me, I think hard about whether I made any mistakes and then move on to let the real story of my poker adventures continue, and that is a very, very long tale, which I tell myself will have a happy ending.
 
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Kenzie 96

Kenzie 96

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Nice post sir, have noticed this correlation between attitude & success at the tables myself.
 
ChuckTs

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A+

I'm a strong believer that the mind plays a much bigger part in, well everything, than most think. Simple confidence and really believing you can beat a game can shift a player from a long-term -5ptbb/100 player to a long-term 8ptbb/100 player, of course alongside good play. I'm a perfect example of this.

Keep telling yourself one thing, and that one thing will keep on manifesting itself, good or bad.

More articles please. We've had far too few of these from you, Chris, Liam and others. I hate referring to others as "others", but you get the idea :)
 
1nickthegreek

1nickthegreek

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Very good and super insightful post Irexes!!! Amazing how something as small as that can put someone on tilt (myself included), you just have to learn to roll through the ups and downs if you ever want to succeed in this game IMO.:D
 
wickedlovely

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Excellent post.

My own negative-oriented internal monologue is perhaps the biggest hole in my game. It's something that has to be consciously worked on every time I'm playing. Hard work, but I'm learning.
 
Irexes

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Thanks folks :)

I'm going to try to write some more articley stuff Chuck, the shift to Ring has given me a whole new list of topics and I've been threatening for a while but I'm serious about a look at the MTT, Ring differences once I get it sorted in my own head.
 
belladonna05

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Good maybe you will make me improve my internal narrative to more then wtf did I call that for? :D
 
4Aces

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Very good post Rex!
After reading this I feel like I am never going to tilt again, lol. I bet I do though. :(

I wish I read this yesterday when I called a guys allin with QQ, he was pushing allin PF every hand. We were both 200bb deep, he had 34 and flopped 2 pair. :mad:

Still, Ive saved a short cut of this post to my desktop, so that I can read it everytime something brutal happens.
 
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zachvac

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Good post, 100% true. One thing though you talk of how you didn't tilt through a $40 loss in 1500 hands. Now maybe you're just that good but if you continue at the rings I think you'll have much longer and much worse losing streaks. Hopefully you can keep this attitude through the extended downswings as well.

Now from the sound of your post you've gotten further in this aspect than I have, but I remember when someone was watching me play poker over my shoulder and I just started laughing. "what happened?" "This guy called my all-in with a gut shot and hit." "Why aren't you pissed? He just sucked out on you horribly." "It's just such a bad play and funny to see people throwing away money." At that point on another table pretty much the exact same thing happened only he didn't hit. And I laughed again.

But I find I still have a hard time when it happens for an extended period of time. On that note another aspect you didn't mention is that often it's a bankroll issue. If someone can't stand losing a buy-in at certain stakes, they shouldn't be playing those stakes. But if they are and that one bad beat puts a big hole in their bankroll, they'll obviously feel it a lot more than someone practicing good bankroll management. After seeing both Tenbob and Chuck hit -5 buy-in days and myself drop 6 buy-ins in a weekend, I'm beginning to think that for long-term multi-tabling the 20 buy-in guideline quite simply isn't enough. Even if I didn't even lose half my bankroll, that's a lot of money. If I only have $1,200, losing $300 of it is still a lot. And although I've dropped down, I've decided that something like a 40-50 buy-in rule would be more optimal pursuing long-term play just for the reason discussed in this article, so it doesn't feel like you're losing a ton of money during a downswing and you can keep playing good poker.
 
NineLions

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Nice Rex.

Along the lines of what Zac has said, I think you don't put yourself in situations more likely to cause you to tilt. Situations like being underbankrolled, or starting your recent testing of the cash game waters at $100NL rather than $25NL even if you are rolled for $100NL.

And I don't know this for sure, but you probably don't play when you're out of sorts mentally or emotionally from other sources, like work, or down with a cold, or really tired. Again, situations where you might set yourself up to be more likely to tilt. Some people can play when they've been drinking, and others can't, so those who can't should avoid playing when they have been drinking, etc.

In other words, setting yourself up so that you're more likely to be successful in not tilting.


Plus, you've got enough hands under your belt to have a feel for variance, so that's it's not just a theoretical concept. And enough poker confidence and knowledge to know when you were "outlucked" rather than "outplayed".


But, I like this idea of "practicing non-tilt".
 
4Aces

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After seeing both Tenbob and Chuck hit -5 buy-in days and myself drop 6 buy-ins in a weekend, I'm beginning to think that for long-term multi-tabling the 20 buy-in guideline quite simply isn't enough.

Ive been saying this for awhile now. I used to think 20 buyins was "enough" and that you would never go broke if you were a winning player with 20 buyins. That's not true. Ive been on 12 buyin downswings at levels I know I can beat.

This is the BR management I use.
LIMIT - 500 Big Bets.
NL/PL - 45 Buyins.
SnG - 65 Buyins.
MTT - 200 Buyins.

I see many people using the Ferguson rule, but its just too risky if you really don't want to go broke. If you only have 20 buyins for one level, don't be surprised if you lose half of your BR (and maybe all of your BR) playing great.
 
zachvac

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Ive been saying this for awhile now. I used to think 20 buyins was "enough" and that you would never go broke if you were a winning player with 20 buyins. That's not true. Ive been on 12 buyin downswings at levels I know I can beat.

This is the BR management I use.
LIMIT - 500 Big Bets.
NL/PL - 45 Buyins.
SnG - 65 Buyins.
MTT - 200 Buyins.

I see many people using the Ferguson rule, but its just too risky if you really don't want to go broke. If you only have 20 buyins for one level, don't be surprised if you lose half of your BR (and maybe all of your BR) playing great.

Well I do think the Ferguson rule works if you're going to move down when you lose for bankroll management. The big problem is just that it's more likely to cause tilt when you lose 5 buy-ins and it's 25% of your BR than if you lose 5 buy-ins and it's 10% of your BR. Just the perception of what money is. If you're a rich trillionaire and a couple hundred bucks is nothing, I see no problem using the 20 buy-in rule, because if you drop 5 buy-ins you just move down, move back up when properly rolled, and if you are good enough will go up. But I for one think hundreds of dollars is a lot. So although I'm going to start playing 50nl when I hit $1k (20 buy-ins) I do think I'm going to wait until I have at least 50 buy-ins for 100nl.
 
Irexes

Irexes

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Good post, 100% true. One thing though you talk of how you didn't tilt through a $40 loss in 1500 hands. Now maybe you're just that good but if you continue at the rings I think you'll have much longer and much worse losing streaks. Hopefully you can keep this attitude through the extended downswings as well.

The $40 was for that session from start to finish but before I ran into uberdonk I was $200+ up for the session. I'm currently enjoying a $300 downswing if I go from the highpoint.

My tolerance for this is I think based on my MTT experience where a couple of months can pass where you get nowhere near your "highpoint" while at the same time playing good poker. I've had 1k downswings a lot and a couple of 2k ones. Chasing the win over a long period (metatilt?) by changing the principles of a winning strategy can be really bad, so I try and concentrate on sticking to my guns and reassuring myself that the win will come. Reading my blog posts I finish a lot of posts with "a win is just around the corner" or "if I keep playing like this I'll be back on track soon".

I think this kind of positive reinforcement is essential through the downturns. On the flipside I try not to post bad beats very often and when I do it's not to look for sympathy. I have got absolutely locked into my brain that losing runs and beats are an unavoidable part of playing winning poker. With any beat I try and first assess whether it was my fault (and when it is resolve not to do it again), then congratulate myself on playing the hand/session/tourney well, then move on.

The big gaps in my blog usually reflect the losing streaks. I see no need to publicise or revel in them as I don't want to dwell on it. The wins however are great and I want to constantly reinforce to myself the positives. This is not to develop arrogance but to put myself in the right frame of mind to deal with the next inevitable low.

On that note another aspect you didn't mention is that often it's a bankroll issue. If someone can't stand losing a buy-in at certain stakes, they shouldn't be playing those stakes. But if they are and that one bad beat puts a big hole in their bankroll, they'll obviously feel it a lot more than someone practicing good bankroll management.

I absolutely agree with this and you cannot be concerned with losing for the sake of the money, you should only be concerned with losing because you played bad. Fortunately I'm not in a position where the money is an issue and could reload if required. I do play at levels where losses are not critical for the amount I have online and move down when I enter the danger zone for buy-ins. I think establishing exactly where this is varies from person to person as being discussed in other posts.

Along the lines of what Zac has said, I think you don't put yourself in situations more likely to cause you to tilt. Situations like being underbankrolled, or starting your recent testing of the cash game waters at $100NL rather than $25NL even if you are rolled for $100NL.

Yup, I'm determined that poker will never be "gambling" for me so I don't buy-in direct to the big tournies or take a stab at higher stakes than my skill and online bankroll can tolerate.

And I don't know this for sure, but you probably don't play when you're out of sorts mentally or emotionally from other sources, like work, or down with a cold, or really tired. Again, situations where you might set yourself up to be more likely to tilt. Some people can play when they've been drinking, and others can't, so those who can't should avoid playing when they have been drinking, etc.

In other words, setting yourself up so that you're more likely to be successful in not tilting.

Yep, I'll play maybe a cheap tourney when not in the right frame of mind, but I try not to put myself in a position where I'm less likely to win. I'm sure this varies from person to person as well.

Plus, you've got enough hands under your belt to have a feel for variance, so that's it's not just a theoretical concept. And enough poker confidence and knowledge to know when you were "outlucked" rather than "outplayed".

This is the big one I think.

Watching people post huge successes followed by post after post of "shocking beats" is often the result of false assessment of skill based on limited samples and a poor understanding of variance.

I'm well over the million hands and maybe even 2 having played nearly every day for 4 years at least a couple of hours and usually 4 or 5. I think you do get a sense of the long run even if it never fully asserts itself. If you are objective you can separate the bad luck from the bad play and not worry because the maths will assert itself and its probably balanced not just by the luck you are owed in the future but also by the luck you've had yourself in the past (when I bust out of a tourney with KK v QQ I think back through the tourney and consider the AK v 77 I won or the flopped flush that let me triple up, it's usually easy to find that the 4 to 1 shot you lost to is more than balanced by similarly fortunate events going your way over a remarkably short period).

I've only recently started playing with PokerEV but the graph for my downturn of $300 shows that if I was "normally" lucky with the all ins I would have broken even over the same period. This is reassuring and hopefully means I haven't got some big hole in my game all of a sudden but I'm not going to wallow in it (which is why I'm not posting it). Instead I'll look at the horizon again and post a graph showing the downturn once it's been overcome and I'm ahead of where it started.

Going back to the internal dialogue there are a lot of people (some on this board :) ) who commentate on their play, pointing out the bad luck, or the missed opportunity "OMG I folded Q2 there and would have hit the straight!". They explain that they are having no luck, that it's all against them, then when they hit the miracle out on the river they react as if they "deserved it". What they are not getting is that they "deserve" the bad luck as well as the good, it's all part of the same thing and embracing both is the key to staying calm and balanced when you lose and when you win.

What they are doing with the internal dialogue is explaining to themselves (and everyone else) that they are really a good player who is just unlucky. They are externalising the problem in order to soothe the bruised ego that wants (or needs) to win every time. They are going to be forever dissapointed because no matter how good they get they are still going to lose a huge % of the time (I'm going to write some more about this one day when I want to really offend some people :) )

But, I like this idea of "practicing non-tilt".

Yes and this is pretty much where I started thinking about writing all this. I attended a training programme the other week which spoke about "positive self-talk" which is about managing the internal conversation so that you think in positives in order to affect behaviour positively, which in turn leads to successes which make positive thinking easier. I'm summarising terribly but that's the gist of it. Contrast this to the "I'm unlucky" thinking which finds easy reinforcement, which leads to bad play which leads to further "bad luck" and I'll take the former every time.

So there we go, really long post and probably a tldr :) but thanks to anyone who did.
 
Gesshoo

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Nice post, Rex.

I do agree that you have to be quite fatalistic when playing, but I don't always find it easy to keep my internal (or sometimes external) cool when faced with (from my perspective) bad calls that end up in wins for the worst hand.

I am talking to myself about this on an ongoing basis, and will work it out in the end, but right now it aggravates me when it happens repeatedly in a tourney.

I find people make (IMO) bad calls, in bad position, with cards that I could never call with once you consider what the raiser could and quite well may have.

But call they do, and the A5 off-suit raises my big raise all-in and hits an ace to beat my pocket queens, the KJ calling with 2/3 of their chip stack after the T97 flop beats my KT that was all-in after the flop with a J on the turn.

By the way, both hands were in tonight's UB tourney, to put me out in 5th.

I am conscious of the way I play, and it yields profit and has always done so. I always try to get my money in with the best cards. I almost always do that.

The problem is, and this is something I am telling myself over and over, even when I do that, and I am a 65-70% favorite, I will lose those hands 30-35% of the time.

Over time, I win money - but it is sometimes hard to take when you get 2 or 3 of those beats back to back or close enough together to spoil a night's hard concentration.

So, I whine like a dog to my extremely patient wife, steam and vent for a while, then work on the fatalistic, long-term approach.

I am a net poker winner over the past 3-4 years of on-line play and casino play, the odds are on my side to continue that run (eventually and long-term) andI have to accept those 30-35% beats that will continue to happen.

But right now, when the blood is still relatively fresh, I wish I'd played better, more cautiously maybe, and most of all I wish I was still in the tourney!!!!!
 
aliengenius

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Nice post, Rex.

I do agree that you have to be quite fatalistic when playing, but I don't always find it easy to keep my internal (or sometimes external) cool when faced with (from my perspective) bad calls that end up in wins for the worst hand.

I am talking to myself about this on an ongoing basis, and will work it out in the end, but right now it aggravates me when it happens repeatedly in a tourney.

I find people make (IMO) bad calls, in bad position, with cards that I could never call with once you consider what the raiser could and quite well may have.

But call they do, and the A5 off-suit raises my big raise all-in and hits an ace to beat my pocket queens, the KJ calling with 2/3 of their chip stack after the T97 flop beats my KT that was all-in after the flop with a J on the turn.

By the way, both hands were in tonight's Ultimatebet tourney, to put me out in 5th.

I am conscious of the way I play, and it yields profit and has always done so. I always try to get my money in with the best cards. I almost always do that.

The problem is, and this is something I am telling myself over and over, even when I do that, and I am a 65-70% favorite, I will lose those hands 30-35% of the time.

Over time, I win money - but it is sometimes hard to take when you get 2 or 3 of those beats back to back or close enough together to spoil a night's hard concentration.

So, I whine like a dog to my extremely patient wife, steam and vent for a while, then work on the fatalistic, long-term approach.

I am a net poker winner over the past 3-4 years of on-line play and casino play, the odds are on my side to continue that run (eventually and long-term) andI have to accept those 30-35% beats that will continue to happen.

But right now, when the blood is still relatively fresh, I wish I'd played better, more cautiously maybe, and most of all I wish I was still in the tourney!!!!!

No offense, but you have to be kidding right? You don't exactly have a squeaky tight image after all. You are not going to get much respect when you show down 96s from utg and are in every single hand.
 
benevg

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...the KJ calling with 2/3 of their chip stack after the T97 flop beats my KT that was all-in after the flop with a J on the turn.
let me think.... 8 outs to the straight, 3 or 6 outs to the higher cards (AT seems like a more likely holding than KT), all this twice... well, it's practically a coin flip! (presuming you have a hand, and aren't just bluffing, for which we should allow as well)
i know my out-counting is not precise and some of those could be tainted, but... you have to admit that particular call wasn't all too bad. (not all too good either, but oh well.) especially since this was late in the tourney, where taking people out has a lot of value.... just a thought out there.

anyway, thanks Rex, awesome thread. i have been thinking about this, and so far i think i am managing it quite well, of course not without room for improvement. this puts a nice structure to it though.

-georgi
 
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