Retirement - Gangster Style


No Poker?
On the Other Hand...

You Decide

My Problems
A Seven Step Plan

Poker is the most hyped game. Hold'em tournaments are on cable, and celebrities have their own reality poker show. At least one series about Casino poker airs weekly.

It sure is popular, however...

No Poker?

I recommend that you don't play poker as part of your Gangster Style adventure. The learning cycle is too long; the upswings and downturns can drive you crazy; and it's easy to misunderstand the how-to books.


Bill said, "Wait a minute. You mentioned that poker was your main game. Is this some form of reverse psychology ploy to pull me into the game?

Two reasons lead me to recommend against poker. First, I've had a difficult time with poker. It took more study, more patience, and more emotional strength than I expected.

Secondly, you have other exciting projects. Handicapping has similar thrills and allows you play at a leisurely pace. Billiards gets you moving, and gin can be played anywhere, anytime.

And no, I'm not saying you can't handle it. It's just that poker is a lot of work.

If you're cautious, put poker at the bottom of your list.

On the Other Hand...

It wouldn't be fair to hide poker's attractive side.

Poker is primitive.

Poker stirs grade school memories. It's about the dare to cut through the yard that had the one-eared dog; poker is about looking the playground bully in the eye and saying, "That's mine."

At the poker table, it's about taking on the creepy characters, the cowboy with the beady eyes, and the slicked back hair guy with the missing tooth. Poker is about using your wits to beat players who intimidate the heck out of you.

Poker is about gumption. It's like a snake hunt in the swamp but without the mud. Poker is pure adventure.

Not the Money

The excitement is not about the money. The $.50 game seems to stir the same reaction as the higher cash games. It's about the direct, across the table conflict with characters you want to beat.

That level of excitement certainly fits a Gangster Style endeavor.

You Decide

How should we proceed? I still don't want to recommend poker.

It may be useful to examine several of my own poker problems. With the wisdom of hindsight, I'll discuss how I might have handled the situations differently.

Hopefully, these examples will help you decide how, or if, you want to proceed with poker.

My Problems

The following list illustrates several of my poker problems and possible coping strategies. Obviously, the examples reflect my learning. Some of these will be easy for you, and new ones may arise. As you read through the poker books, you'll get a better sense of the big picture.

A. My Problem: Expectations

I believed the ads stating. "Read this book and get rich playing poker." It sounded easy. This fantasy translated into too little study and a lot of frustration.

Acknowledging poker's complexity is a big step. With a clear understanding of poker's depth, it's easier to study seriously, to untangle mistakes, and to create a long-term training plan.

B. My Problem: Optimistic / Urge to Try Harder

As long as I thought there was a chance, I'd try harder. In poker, this killed me. Poker always gives you a chance, but the odds often make additional action impractical.

Poker is about adjusting to probabilities, not trying hard. Persistence must be tempered with a risk calculation that dictates play. Learn the odds.

C. My Problem: Patience

I didn't know I'd have to wait so long for playable cards. Some days I'd be right in the action; other times, nothing. For hours. All while others raked pots with junk. I said the heck with the guidelines and tried to make things happen. Things happened all right. I lost.

Poker is a streaky game. Sometimes it takes a while for 52 cards to shuffle themselves into a combination that makes your hand. Bad streaks happen. Pass the time taking notes on your opponents.

D. My Problem: Suspicious

In competitive events, I get suspicious. I don't trust my opponents. At the poker table, I think everyone is bluffing. I give away tons of money validating their honesty.

I'm still suspicious and continue to call, but I try to be more selective. Player tracking helps. This is a tough one for me.

E. My Problem: Bad Advice

This is my fault. I read a lot of books and sometimes mix up the limit and no-limit suggestions. It creates strategy mud in my head.

When reading about a new maneuver, I ask, "Does it apply to my game?"

F. My Problem: Seven Pounds

I sat in front of the computer for hours; at the card room, I spent the day in a chair. It was way too much sitting. I put on seven pounds.

Poker has the potential to be unhealthy. There's just too much sitting. Over the last six months, however, I've walked and exercised an hour everyday. I'm working through my old copy of The Complete Juggler.

The list is pretty negative, but I believe my willingness to confront problems will allow me to succeed.

Ironically, it's my difficulties that taught me the most. They forced me to be honest about what happened. Shifting the blame to the cards, or other's lack of skill, didn't work. The problems showed how emotional stubbornness clouded and distorted my judgment. Strangely enough, my positive views, like optimism, were the worst troublesome.

These are lessons you can't find in a classroom. Was it worth it? Would I go down this path again? Absolutely.

You need to decide.

A Training Plan

In reality, you don't need to decide.

You can experiment with poker concepts and put off any yes/no decision. An extended exploration reduces decisions into smaller, better-informed assessments. If poker is going to work for you, it will become clear; if it doesn't fit your style, that will become clear also.

The Extended Seven Step Poker Plan

1. Experiment with other games.

Backgammon has many of the same elements as poker and the feedback is quicker. In just a few games, you'll develop a feel for how odds dictate play and how much statistically based action fluctuates.

While you're at it, mix in some horse race handicapping. A day at the track is a pleasant outing. Have a hot dog; yell at the jockey. Poker education is a long haul project. You can't stay in the basement until your training is completed.

2. Read up on Hold'em.

Start with Texas Hold'em. The shared cards are easy to see, and it requires less raw memory than the stud games.

Pick up a good beginning book.

Winning Low-Limit Hold'em by Lee Jones is good choice. Graduate to classics like The Theory of Poker by David Sklansky, or Doyle Brunson's Super System II when you're ready.

3. Get your feet wet.

Poker software is widespread. Buy a card game sampler for your computer. I've seen CDs with a dozen games. Poker is usually included. The quality will only be fair, but it will teach you the flow of the game. Stay with this program until you can beat it regularly.

4. Find a tougher opponent.

Wilson Software offers an excellent computer based poker game (more expensive than the low end games, but worth it). As you gain understanding from the books, test it against these computer opponents.

It's free training, and your mistakes don't cost you money. When you can beat this program, you're ready for live play.

5. Live opponents.

Online poker sites offer an incredible training aid, the ability to play against live competition with imaginary money. Most of the players are serious, even though it's play money, so you will need to make good decisions to win.

5. Real money.

Once you're feeling good about your play, find a cash game for one to two dollars. Now you're in the real deal.

Start with a $200 stake. Play at this level until you hit 100 times the big bet.

If you lose half your stake, go back to the books and computer games. Drop back to a lower level. Find your leak.

6. Move on.

When you've won enough for the next level's stake, 100 times the big bet (200x is better), feel free to move the next level.

Be aware, the competition gets tougher as the stakes increase.

If you hit a losing streak, shift back down to a lower level and review the books. If you stop winning for an extended period, go back to the computer games until you identify and correct your errors.

Fixing weaknesses, winning at the low levels, and stepping up into higher levels when you're ready, that's the plan. With the low-end starting amounts and the computer practice effort, you shouldn't lose much. The idea is for your winnings to fund your poker education.

There are no limits on how much you can learn, or how much you can win.

7. Don't spin.

Poker is tricky. You will get confused, and your ability to trust your instincts will be challenged. Poker is designed to be counter-intuitive.

Slow down when it's too much. Take breaks.

Don't get pulled into the compulsive side of poker.

Gangster Style adventures are about keeping your balance. Take your mate dancing; break out your sketchbook; outline a mystery. Spend a day at the track. Enjoy your new ventures.

Balance, adventure, and style — that's the key.

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