Tuesday, March 28, 2006

I'll Keep Digging

One of the main reasons I keep this poker blog is because I like to look back at old entries to analyze my own thought patterns and hopefully see some progress in my game.  It’s difficult to be objective when you’re analyzing the previous “you” playing poker; but nonetheless, I feel it’s important to do so.

In looking back over the two years, there is one aspect of my poker play that stands out:  the stakes have slowly, but steadily increased.


I may be stretching things, but I liken the fear of losing in poker to some form of mental anxiety.  Look back at your own play over the years.  Put yourself back in your own shoes from a year ago and think about the stakes at which you used to play.  When I do that, and then think about losing at those stakes, there is no fear, no anxiety.  Over time, humans adapt to adverse mental conditions by desensitization.

Desensitization or graduated exposure therapy is what allows us to eventually move up in stakes and play the game the same successful way.  But it certainly isn’t easy.  At least for me, it takes time to overcome the natural tendency to fear losing such that my play is unaffected.  Different people require different periods of time in order to overcome the jump; and I believe that it’s mainly due to their mental capacity for re-training themselves.


In order to actually overcome this type of poker-based anxiety, you do eventually have to make that jump; you can’t just magically ignore the impact of playing at the higher limits.  Successful reconditioning requires some form of progressive exposure.  For me, this type of exposure was repeated attempts at moving up in limits, each time feeling less and less effected by the swings.

Just like the person with an irrational fear of snakes or spiders can manage their fears through the desensitization processes, so too can poker players overcome the same irrationality driven by playing at increased levels.


With that said, I have a question.  Part of the process in moving up requires at least some form of self-confidence that you can beat the game at the new level.  To do this, you obviously must be able to beat the game at your current level.  But what defines “beating the game?”

I ask in the context of NL cash games, because I’m sure the answer is different for tournaments and limit cash games.  If your comfort level dictates you have 20 buy-ins in your bankroll, then moving up when your bankroll has doubled may be one answer.  But what if your bankroll is inflated by recent success in other games, like a MTT win or running hot at PLO8?

Late last year, I moved up from the $50NL game to the $100NL game.  Granted, it took several attempts to desensitize myself to the inherently larger swings, but what drove my jump in limits was “beating the game” for roughly 50 buy-ins.  So far this year at the $100NL game, I took an early beating and dropped about 10 buy-ins; but have since made that back.  But with the bankroll where it is now, I theoretically have more than enough to jump to the $200NL game.

But I’m just not confident yet that I’m beating the $100 game.  Which is why I’ll stay where I’m at for now until I gain that confidence.  Feel free to reply with your thoughts on what constitutes your definition of beating the game and what gives you the impetus to finally make a move upwards in limits.

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