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    A SCOOP Perspective: Keeping Cool and Running Hot in the Blazing Sun

    Posted by Luke Haward May 20, 2013

    I’ve needed a great deal of calm and patience, resolve and stamina during my recent move from my native Oxford, England to the exotic Guadalajara, Mexico. I need these very same faculties to perform at my best in the mammoth field multi-table tournaments I frequent weekly. In both cases I’ve had to deal with whiners, fools, tightwads, lunatics and tricky customers. The difference being that in moving myself, my little family and my belongings across continents, I’ve been through an intensely novel and very physical ordeal, while the online poker grind has remained reassuringly comfortable and solidly samey – the same old spots just in a different timezone.

    Surrounded by packing boxes, toddling second cousins, fans that just don’t cut it in this heat and a wash of smells and sounds that waft in from the busy street outside my mother-in-law’s apartment may not seem the best environment to grind out high stakes poker games, and in this case appearances do not belie reality. It’s a far from an optimal space. But I’m damned if I’m going to miss the epic value and huge fun, not to mention wondrous structures on offer in the SCOOP tourneys running this fortnight. My new house is ready, contract signed, but the WiFi company is dragging its heels. Things move slow in Mexico.

    I pride myself on my ability to avoid tilt and distraction, and this is done through flexibility, not through iron will. I’m often reminded of the metaphor of the willow, which will bend under the weight of snow in winter, depositing its burden on the ground and rebounding, while the tough pine boughs snap under the same weight. The secret to equanimity lies in letting go, not in holding fast, and just as one cannot force oneself to fall asleep or to relax through willing it furiously, the path to learning (or teaching) real repose in life, and in poker, is a subtle and a gradual one.

    So I sit down to the grind, through a sea of activity crashing around me, headphones as my lifeline to the little boat I navigate through the storm, this focused state I need to play my A game. I play out these tournies with their ridiculous field sizes. So far I’ve been running fairly deep, taking a few bubbles and a couple of spots in the money over a small sample of SCOOP mid events. The closest run so far to anything really exciting has been my 195th finish in the SCOOP 2 Mid, the $215 full ring $1 million guaranteed last Sunday.

    In a field of 8031 with a top prize of over $240k, this felt deeper than it was, with near 200 players still plenty left to beat. Still, it was a decent run, and due to the size of the guarantee, my finish brought with it more than a trace of that oh-so-serious of psychological pitfalls in tournament poker; the challenge of handling deep bricks. I’ve had closer runs, and finishes which were harder to accept, but it remains one of the trickiest parts of the MTT grind, the most significant others being the horror of realising you’ve made a big mistake in a key spot, and the handling of downswings and MTT variance as such.

    I forget which famous player came out with it, but I always remember seeing a poker pro in interview offer some crucial words of wisdom about execution and poker form. He said that amongst the top players, what really makes the difference is not the quality of a player’s A game, but how often they are on their A game. I heard this said long before I had any A game worth speaking of, but sensed the truth of it even then, and it’s a truth I’m still growing into. A simply put but profoundly important point which bears examination.

    If you suffer a bad beat on one table, and get steamed, and let it affect your play in future hands and on other tables, even for a short spell of time, the negative value of the spot gets amplified as if in an echo chamber, one built out of your own stretched and jangled nerves. If you can keep your cool in these spots, even in spots where you’ve screwed up and you know it (the toughest beats being handed out by yourself), you’ll save yourself a world of pain and reduced equity play.

    Again, this is something that can’t be forced, but that can be ever so gently learned. There are calm fish, and raging pros, but it’s an element of the game which shouldn’t be overlooked just because it can’t be learned in a theory book. And just as in every other strategic area of poker, just when you think you’ve got it down, you see there’s something else to learn. There are times when you’ll fool yourself, thinking you’re calm, and your girlfriend will come up, peek over your shoulder and ask you “How could you fold pocket Jacks there?” and have you fuming in seconds and wishing you’d never taught her the fundamentals.

    I stand here now on the shoulders of giants, indeed I live from their very pockets. As a horse in the stable of the notorious Andres Soprano, I am coached and backed by legends of the tournament scene. I am one link in the chain away from living myths such as Assassinato, but still leagues below such figures in my actual skill level. I stand at the mid-point between the micro fish and the high stakes sickos, just another getting-there reg working to push up my ROI to the point I can make it on poker alone, and channel all my passion for writing into novels and charity projects, dreams I have yet to realise. For now a mixture of poker writing, academia, editing, coaching and grinding will be my lot, but at least over here I can afford the swimming pool already, which I have to say makes me feel just a little bit more baller.

    QuadJacks – May 20, 2013

    About Luke Haward

    Luke Haward is a writer, editor, MTT grinder and poker coach based in Oxford, UK and Guadalajara, Mexico. His interests include game design, charity, ecology and philosophy. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeHaward.

    View all post by Luke Haward

    There is 1 Comment

    1. - May 20, 2013
        -   Reply

      Great article! It is quite rare to see poker players who write so well. Most can’t paste two coherent sentences together on Skype. Keep the articles coming, and keep winning big on stars. I know this is overused, but you’re really one of the guys who deserve it.

    Write Your Comment

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