Thursday, August 06, 2009

Summer Vacation and Being Staked

Starting last Saturday (Aug 1), I'm taking two and a half weeks off and going back to work on August 20. This should give me time to run errands, make appointments, do some reading, plan a honeymoon, think about my future, and maybe start an online course. (Did you know MIT puts all their courses online?) I'm also going to Cleveland for a few days (after Hawaii airfare almost doubled). All the props at the Bike were encouraged to take time off this month because the big Legends tournament attracts plenty of action to the Bike. Of course, the action would probably have been profitable for me if I stayed and played, but they offered unlimited time off in August without penalty- but without pay, either.

For the first week or so I'm not doing anything poker-related (other than this blog post). I think it may be beneficial for me to take a step back from poker for at least a few days. I've been having more difficulty concentrating at the table, and it's interfering with the quality of my play. Also, I've been doing almost no analysis of my game when I'm not at the casino. Analyzing poker theory, strategy, and tactics not only keeps my game sharp, it also is what keeps the game fun for me. When I don't study, I don't have as much fun playing, I don't concentrate as well, and I have almost no chance of getting any better. If I'm not getting better and I'm not having a lot of fun, what's the point of playing poker? Well, there's the money, of course, but I don't make enough for that alone to justify it. I haven't completely lost interest yet, but if I can't get myself to refocus on studying the game, I think I'd be making a mistake if I kept on playing just for the money and job benefits.

In the second week of my break, after my poker hiatus, I want to re-immerse myself in poker analysis. Discovering new theories and strategies has always been the driving force that has made poker fun for me and made me want to get back to the tables. I'm hoping this will reignite my excitement in playing poker. I think there's a good chance that it will. The real challenge will be to maintain this interest for more than a few months.

At the end of July, I had several people offer to put me into various tournaments during Legends. I haven't played any tournaments in quite a long time. There are lots of reasons. Essentially, I just think I can make more money in cash games, and for the past year I've been paid a salary by the Bike when I play in cash games. Tournaments have lots of hidden fees that make them tough to beat: they often take 20% up front, plus sometimes another 2% for "bonus chips", plus often 3% goes back to tournament staff and dealers, and then they will certainly ask for a tip at the end, expected to be another 2-5%. I don't like having to prepare myself to play for 14 hours when I might be done after 1 hour. I also don't like the culture of tournaments. For one thing, there is a lot of pressure to chop the winnings at the final table, and I find the negotiations for the chop to be an unwelcome distraction from the game. I could just refuse to chop, as I've done in the past, but this actually incentivizes the other players to try to knock me out as soon as possible. In a cash game it is profitable to have people gunning for me, but in tournaments it is very unprofitable. Another problem with tournaments is that people routinely work together. For example, players might sell 50% of their winnings to other players in the tournaments for 50% of the entry fee. The problem here is that these players have incentive to let each other stick around, which is unfair to all players who are not involved in such deals because it makes it more difficult to outlast those who have made deals. Of course, people push chips to each other and soft play in cash games a lot, too. I just don't think the effect is nearly as deleterious as in tournaments.

Anyway, I have had several people offer to stake me for the Legends of Poker tournaments. I have almost never made any deals in poker. The exceptions include a few intances involving close friends when I first started playing casino poker and one chop I agreed to at a final table in a tournament. My general philosophy regarding such things is that even if I were willing to trust other players, such deals often have insidious effects on the integrity of the game. However, as long as the person staking me has no other "horses" in the tournament and does not enter himself, I don't see how there could be any conflict of interest. I suppose I have to take my backer's word that he is not backing anyone else, but as long as I don't know of anyone else, there shouldn't be any problem (unless that person is aiding me unfairly without my knowledge, but this idea is pretty far-fetched). The deal, by the way, would be that my backer would pay my entire entry fee and we would split any winnings 50/50. According to one of my prospective backers, I can even ask the tournament director to cut me two checks, each with the taxes taken out, to make it a little more official. I've had one person offer to back me for as many of the tournaments as I am willing to play. Frankly, though, only the bigger ones are worth my time, even playing for free. Most of the tournaments are only $300, which is too small. I'm considering playing in the $1070 NL holdem tournament on Aug 17. As a rough guess, I'd say my EV for this tournament is around $1400. This means that buying myself into the tournament, I'd expect to net about $330, but by getting backed for it, it's worth about $700 to me. Also, my volatility is obviously much lower if I pay no entry fee and only get half the winnings.

Frankly, I think my backers are overly optimistic about my chances: my EV would have to be at least $2140 after taxes for them to make a profit on me. Then again, I may be shortchanging myself; I have very little idea of what the level of competition will be. Another reason it seems like a bad idea to stake someone to a tournament is that it would be so easy for the "horse" to screw you over. For instance, if I took five people up on their offer for one tournament, I could take the $5350 and then intentionally dump off my chips before reaching the money, ensuring that I wouldn't have to pay anyone off! Of course, this would require quite a bit of subterfuge on my part, which has never been my strong suit.

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