Poker Is A Skill: Stop Losing Now

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I completed a new poker booklet this week. It’s called Poker Is A Skill: Stop Losing Now. As the name implies, it is a guide that teaches you poker skill, with the intention of helping you stop losing.

Now, this booklet will not prevent you from ever having a losing session. The only poker book that could achieve this would have to be titled Poker: Stop Playing Now. There’s no other way to avoid losing sessions. Instead, my booklet will help you transition from a long-term losing player into a long-term breakeven or winning player.

StopLosingStop Losing Now is currently available on Leanpub for the indecently modest price of $4.99. If reading the book even keeps you from saving $5 at the poker tables, then you’ve already made a profit!

While I’d love for you to buy the book and help me sustain my independent writing career, the purpose of this post is not actually self-promotion. Instead, I’m about to give you all of the essential information of the book in a highly condensed fashion. Where the booklet itself spends a thousand or more words on each concept, I’ll give you the gist of each here in fewer than a hundred.

From the subtitle of “10 simple steps from beginner to winner,” you can glean that the book gives you 10 nuggets of wisdom which, if followed, will help you stop losing. Most of these suggestions are generalizations and over-simplifications. Consider them a starting point and a fallback strategy rather than a comprehensive guide to playing expert poker.

1. Play with weaker players.
Poker is often a freakishly simple game. If you regularly play with players who are better than you, you will lose money in the long run. If you find players who are weaker than you, you will make money in the long run. Easy game, yeah? You should always know why you are playing in a particular game. As the old saying goes, “If you can’t spot the sucker in your first fifteen minutes at the tables, you are the sucker.”

2. Understand relative strength.
A flush is a strong hand. But it will lose the pot if it runs into a full house. It’s not enough to know whether you have a good hand or a bad hand. It only matters whether you have a better hand or a worse hand relative to the hands of your opponents. I’ve won a lot of pots with ace-high and lost a lot of pots with a flush.

3. Put your opponent on a range.
Instead of trying to divine exactly what hand your opponent holds, try to consider the entire range of likely holdings. If you have a flush, don’t ask yourself whether or not your opponent has a better hand than you. Instead, ask yourself how often your opponent will have a better hand than you, given his actions thus far in the hand.

4. Know the odds.
Poker math is not that hard. Most of the time it involves counting and then dividing by a number less than 10. If you can read this blog, you can do that math. Spend a small amount of time to learn that you’ll make a flush draw on the next card about 1 time in 5, and you’ll hit a gutshot straight draw more like 1 time in 11. You could even take a little cheat sheet with you to your poker game if you’d like.

5. Embrace variance.
Poker is a skill. But it’s a game that also involves an element of chance. Bad players wouldn’t keep playing if they lost every single hand or every single session. Sometimes you’ll play well and lose and sometimes you’ll play bad and win. Learn to live with it and laugh at it. Learning the math will give you some perspective on chance. Maybe practice some breathing exercises as well. I’ll have some of those here on zenmadman.com sooner or later.

6. Start from a position of power.
This is really two concepts in one. First of all, don’t get involved in a pot unless you start with a decent hand. Folding is always free. Secondly, what constitutes a decent hand depends upon what the players in front of you have done and how many players are left to act behind you. In a late position, you can play more hands than you can when you are first to act. In later position, you have more information on every round of betting.

7. Bet when you have it; fold when you don’t.
Deciding exactly what constitutes “it” is as much art as it is science. The value of your hand is relative to the strength of your opponent’s range. But the simple part is this:

  • If you think you have a strong hand, you should often bet.
  • If you think you have a very weak hand, you should usually fold.
  • You should only check and call when you have a draw with good odds or have a good reason to believe that you’ll earn more money by playing your hand passively.

8. Semi-bluff with equity.
When you have a good drawing hand, you can bet with the hope of getting immediate folds and the chance of improving to the best hand if you get called. This is a semi-bluff. The stronger your draw, the less often you need your opponents to fold for your play to show a profit.

9. Bluff when they’re weak.
Bluffing isn’t usually about getting someone to fold a strong hand. It’s more often about determining when your opponent has a weak range and attacking that range. Rather than trying to strong-arm a player off a strong hand, make your bluffs invitations for your opponents to fold their weak hands.

10. Never stop learning.
This is good advice in every aspect of life, but it’s especially important if you want to be a winning poker player. Following these first 9 steps should take any player from losing a lot or a little to breaking even or winning a little. But if you want genuinely good poker results, then there is work to be done. How much work you do is up to you. But if you always keep learning, your game will develop, your results will improve, and poker will be a hell of a lot more fun.


Thanks for reading my Stop Losing micro-guide. If you’d like to read my more elaborate explanations of these 10 steps, or if you’d like to support my independent publishing venture, stop by Leanpub and purchase a copy of Stop Losing Now.

It is currently complete, but not finished. That means that I’ve put all the content into the booklet, but haven’t given it the final polish. One nice thing about Leanpub is that it gives you the opportunity to provide feedback on the book before it’s 100% finished. I can use that feedback to make the content even better and more well-suited to your needs.

If you have any questions about this post, or any other suggestions for players trying to make the jump from struggling player to breakeven or winning player, please share your thoughts in the comments below.

The Future Is…Coming Soon

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So maybe the future isn’t now. After all, if the future were now, then where would all the presents go? Santa would be out of a job. Exactly. That paragraph made about as much sense as time travel will in any TV show or film. Let me begin anew. A nuevo.

I’ve decided to implement an idea that I had a couple years ago and then again a few months ago. It involves writing about a ton of stuff (and doing some other stuff) and putting all of that stuff here, where you can get at it in one place.

Now, my concern has always been that this could end up as a jumbled mess. After all, most business and marketing folks suggest that it’s a good idea to start with a focused idea of what a business is. And this website is sort of like a business. Except that it really isn’t. It’s an organic creative project that will grow until my body, the Internet, or this enthusiasm for zenmadman.com dies.

So what’s the plan? Funny you should ask. I just decided that I’m not telling. Hee hee. Instead, I’m going to just start doing it. That’s one of those things that productivity experts often advise. Make goals, but don’t go around announcing them to the world all the time. Just start doing them. And then they’ll be done and then you can show people what you’ve done.

So, you may have noticed that this post is categorized in the “life” section, as most of my recent posts have been. I’ve also got a pretty (or ugly) yellow banner thing that declares this as a post in the rambling path. To date, all of this blog has been about my rambling path, more or less. But the fact that I feel the need to brand this post as part of that path kind of makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Chinese Is Hard

I started learning Cantonese last week. I borrowed the Pimsleur course from the New York Public Library and started doing one 30-minute lesson per day. Today was Day 4. I think I only learned about a dozen words today, but I’ve already forgotten half of them. Fortunately, Day 5 will have a review of today’s words, which include things like “here,” “there,” and “Kingsman Street.” Or maybe that’s a movie title. Not sure.

This is the part of the post where I would launch into a detailed account of the life of Paul Pimsleur, who studied cognition and developed the technique of spaced repetition, which involves waiting until just before you forget something to remind yourself of it. But I’m not going to write a paragraph about that. Crap. I already did, didn’t I?

Anyway, the course has 30 lessons of 30 minutes each. They’re supposed to be studied one per day for a month. But maybe the idea is to repeat them if comprehension and retention is weak. Whatever. I’m going to power through and see what I come out with on the other side. I can always go back and do the lessons over again from the beginning, possibly repeating each lesson until it’s more deeply ingrained in my brain.

Inbrained. That’s my new portmanticized word of the day. I’m just a portmantic at heart. Or maybe a portmaniac. Or maybe that’s the French in me. And now I’ll leave you with the mental image of an alien popping out of my chest and then doing something really French, like wearing a mime suit.

Wow. This post really reads like I’m on drugs, doesn’t it? Well, that Indian dinner was very spicy.

Some Streaks End At 1

I succeeded in doing my 8am hour of exercise, Cantonese, and smoothie. The rest of the day felt like a failure, though. I suppose I achieved a few of my goals:

  • I revised 2,800 of the 4,000 words I wrote yesterday.
  • I only ate in the hours beginning at 8am, 12pm, 4pm, and 8pm.
  • I got a haircut. In Spanish. Sort of.
  • I did some laundry.
  • I studied my Spanish.

I probably did some other semi-productive stuff, but it all feels like a bit of a mess at the moment. Whatever.

So my Duolingo streak stands at 18 days. My consecutive days blogging streak stands at 4. My morning exercise and food management streaks stand at 2. And my productive morning streak will have to be rebooted tomorrow.

Here’s to a new streak!

Achievable Goals

Mush. My brain feels like mush right now. I woke up at 8am, which is rather early for me, and I kept to a rigid schedule that involved 1 hour of eating and relaxation, followed by 3 hours of work, repeated 4 times throughout the day. There were walks and whatnot bisecting each 3-hour segment, but overall, I just worked and worked and worked and ate and then worked and worked and worked again. And then all of that all over again.

Perhaps this was a bit much. Oh yeah. I also did my half-hour of Cantonese practice and a half-hour of Spanish practice. Now I’m writing this blog.

My idea was to make this whole schedule a daily routine, to be repeated at least five times weekly. That’s the sort of unreasonable goal that I often set for myself. Now, going into today, I had decided that I would only try this on for a day and then reassess the situation. So what did I learn?

Waking up at 8am is not the worst thing in the world. Doing some exercise followed by language practice was a nice way to get awake and alert. Following that up by writing 4,000 words in the next 3 hours was…well…exhausting. Keeping to my feeding schedule felt like a good thing. The regular walks were excellent. But the number of work sessions felt like too much. The word “unsustainable” comes to mind.

So what achievable goal will I set for myself tomorrow? I think I’ll keep the first 4 hours of my schedule intact. I’ll wake up, exercise, practice Cantonese, and then do 3 hours of writing. That part is good. Following that, I’ll have lunch at the very lunchy lunch hour of noon. After that, who knows? I’ll keep the 4pm and 8pm meal times, but aside from that, I’ll let the day tell me what to do.

Oh, yes. I think I’ll also get a haircut.

One obsession at a time

For over a month, I wrote a post here almost every single day. I double posted some days, so I ended up with more posts than days from January 17 through February 17. It wasn’t the most productive habit, but I managed to maintain it pretty well.

I more or less kept it up through the end of February, faltering only when I tried to move my writing over to my Mets-related blog, which I haven’t really touched since I started it.

But on February 28, I started a new daily habit. My intention was to add this new habit to the old habit, so that I would be studying language on Duolingo every day, as well as writing a post every day. Somehow, I wound up replacing the old habit instead of adding a new one.

It’s funny, because the way to get rid of an unwanted habit is supposedly to replace it with a new one. So I used that principle unintentionally, accidentally overwriting my wanted habit with a second, also wanted, habit. So the question I’m left asking myself is this:

Do I have room for two obsessive habits in my life? I hope the answer is yes, but I don’t really know. I’ve usually just had one, and it tends to change rather frequently.

Still Sick

Yeah. That’s right. I’m still sick. I think I’m mostly better, though. No longer do the insides of my head feel like they’re supposed to be on the outside. But there’s something wrong with my neck. Of course, there’s still something wrong with my head, but that’s mental.

On the plus side, after a day of Advil and a heating pad, I can look all the way to both the left and the right. I can look up and down as well. So I can shake my head yes and nod my head no – yeah, it’s the other way ’round, isn’t it? – but whatever that third axis is – let’s call it the maybe/z axis – I can’t move it that way. Like, I can’t listen to my shoulders.

I’m sure it will all clear up by morning. If not tomorrow morning, then some morning next week. Ciao.

Oh yeah. I started learning Italian today. Why did I start that? Today? Really, why? I really am a pain in the neck. Maybe that’s the problem.

Sick

I’ve been sick all month. It sucks. I hate being sick. But I’m not dead. I’d rather be sick than dead, so there’s that. Thought I should let you all know that I’m not dead, just in case you were wondering. So, yeah. Sick, not dead.

Positive Procrastination

About that new habit…

As I have alluded to many times, and outright stated more than once, I am a master procrastinator. Waiting until tomorrow is a skill, and I am very good at it. I have decades of practice. While it’s rarely good to avoid doing what needs to be done now, not all methods of procrastination are created equal.

Some methods of procrastination, like excessive eating, can be harmful. Others, like reading about relative nonsense or going for extensive walks, can be slightly negative to slightly positive. But there are yet more ways to procrastinate that are genuinely productive. I call this the Robert Benchley method.

Beginning with the (perhaps faulty) premise that some level of procrastination is unavoidable, I am faced with the question of how best to utilize my time spent procrastinating.

When I’m blessed with a task that drives me to excessive procrastination, I have an opportunity to sink a significant amount of time and effort into another task. That other task doesn’t even have to be fun.

For instance: I’ve been avoiding getting started on an article that I’m not all that excited to write. Yes, I’ll probably get around to doing it tomorrow morning. But in the meantime, I have the choice of posting on a Mets message board, or continuing to review my past-tense conjugation of Spanish verbs. While the latter option sounds a lot less fun, I can get myself to work hard at it when there is something worth avoiding.

What am I saying? I love conjugating past-tense verbs. As a master procrastinator, I have more experience with the future tense. But I’ll get around to reviewing that later.

A New Obsession

Once upon a time, I went to school. During each of my last 7 full years of school, I studied Spanish. By the time I graduated high school, I was able to hold a conversation in Spanish, write about most subjects in Spanish, and even think in Spanish. Some say that you need to think in a language to be fluent in it. I was not a fluent Spanish speaker, but I was getting there. And then I stopped.

For the next 15 years, I did little more with my Spanish than sing along to the opening song of Desperado. It’s a hell of an opening number, but it doesn’t exactly cover the entire language. So, what’s a gringo to do?

Well, in 2012, I lived in Costa Rica for a few months. I watched TV and movies in Spanish, shopped for groceries with labels in Spanish, and gave taxi directions in Spanish. I also tried reading El Hobbit, with some degree of success. All of that, along with some work with a dictionary and Google Translate, helped bring my Spanish vocabulary out of the recesses of my brain.

I got a lot better at the language, but after a few months, I moved on to Montreal, where I learned several French words. I didn’t exactly keep up with my Spanish. But in 2013, I moved to a small city in New Jersey that is about 85% Spanish-speaking. The trouble is that most people who work in the neighborhood (i.e. folks with whom I interact on a regular basis) also speak some English, and default to that when they see me.

I have managed to practice a little speaking, and I overhear lots of conversations that I can half-translate. All of the city-related mail comes in both languages, giving me another opportunity to practice and learn. But it wasn’t until yesterday that I started studying in an organized fashion.

I started using duolingo.com, a site that turns language learning into a game. I like games. I set a daily goal of 50 XP, which means doing 5 of their little modules. That’s their highest setting, 50 XP, which they refer to as “insane.” Maybe it is an insane daily goal. I don’t know. All I know is that I grinded out 1220 XP yesterday. So yeah, like I said in the title, it’s a new obsession.

I’m going to play some live poker today, and I’ll try to practice my Spanish while I do that. I’ve also downloaded some béisbol podcasts, so I can improve my ability to talk about sports in another language. That’s probably a good way to be able to engage strangers in conversation.

I’ll also keep listening to “Canción del Mariachi,” because who doesn’t want to hit a guy in the face with a guitar every now and then?