By Jeremy “Oldschool” Steinhausen
My personal mission for this summer was to grind a micro stakes roll online and move up limits every few weeks so long as I continued to win. I wanted to see what it was like to be starting all over again, like any one of you might be doing right now. I wanted to grind up from the bottom and get the full experience of actually building a roll through the micros.
So as of now I am up maybe USD $600 from playing $0.10/$0.20 and $0.25/$0.50 NLH over 30,000 hands so far. I was closer to USD $1000 when I hit a rough patch a few days ago after moving up to $0.25/$0.50, and I gotta say I was a little disappointed. It’s not like the money bothered me – I honestly don’t worry too much about USD $400. It was more about that feeling of failure, and my impatience to get to the next level. This is what I am sure many of you go through.
When I first grinded up from the micros around 2008, it was a very fast process. I started at $0.02/$0.05, and I was playing and beating $2/$4 within 12 months and making USD $20,000 as a 20-year-old kid. It was very rewarding. Looking back, I can see that I had a lot of time on my hands to grind and focus, plus I didn’t put pressure on myself because at the time I had no idea where any of this was going and the games were easier then; micro stakes really didn’t play much different than $2/$4. Unfortunately, now there is a huge jump in skill level with every rise in stakes.
Often people ask me how many buy-ins they should have to play a limit, or how to manage their bankroll. The easy answer is it’s different for each player. What I can say for myself is that I need confidence and a relaxed mindset to play any limit, which matter more than how much money I have.
My friend Morgan, for instance, is a very good player. I have talked poker with him a lot and I learn something from him almost any time we discuss hands. Morgan is very difficult to stress out and won’t let disappointment shake his confidence. He can (and has) played $5k NLH heads up on a $100k bankroll and rode out downswings to the point that his account could be down to $10k, but he just sticks with his guy and grinds it back up. He sees a profitable spot and he maximises his expectation, which is a great gift to have.
Many of us – and I include myself – don’t have this ability. We have expectations, we have wants and desires and we are impatient to get them or achieve them. The problem is, in terms of poker, all of these things are essentially buttons waiting to be pushed that will make us feel stress. And when we feel stress, we are not playing good poker. So where am I going with all of this?
Well, I wanted to share with you some notions I hold and activities I implemented in my life to keep my sanity, control myself, and use what I have going for me to my greatest benefit. This is not an exhaustive list by any means but here goes…
Stress is probably the number one road block for most of you. It kills people, takes years off their life and also kills bankrolls, wishes, and dreams. A little bit of stress in everyday life can be a good motivator to get things done. However, in poker that isn’t necessarily true. Poker stress causes your brain to shut down and prevents you from using your cognitive abilities.
Have you ever been so annoyed with yourself or a situation that reason goes out the window and you just want to yell and lash out? That is stress doing its job and what a wonderful job it’s doing for you as you try to piece together a bunch of random bits of detailed information while playing poker. So first thing to think about in improving your game and moving up in stakes is minimising your stress.
Just One Small Step…
When I’m moving up in stakes, I try my best not look at it that way. I don’t let moving up in stakes become an event; I look at it as a process. If you look at it as an event this causes stress for several reasons. Firstly, a clear change has happened, things were one way before but now they are different because you have “moved up”. Change is stressful! When we “move up” we feel like we just got a promotion, that our responsibilities have been increased and, in return, we hope to earn more money.
This is ridiculous as who wants to get a promotion when they know that they risk being demoted on any given day? Also this promotion does come with more responsibilities – better players to deal with and less fish. The worst part about this new promotion is that you are not guaranteed to make anything more than you did before.
Tips for Moving Up in Stakes:
1. Try to look at shot taking as an ongoing process – like when you have a job and your boss starts giving you a few extra tasks to do just to get your feet wet. It’s the same way here. Start with playing four sessions at your normal limit for every one session of the higher limit. See how that goes and, if you feel good after a few days, switch it to half and half. If you feel a little weird one day, go back to just playing lower again, and start the process over. Make this as least stressful as possible.
2. Be engaged in your sessions. And when you find your mind wondering, looking for something else to do, go do something else or try one of the following tactics. Being bored is another thing that can aggravate you. Personally I have this problem a lot, where I am just so used to playing poker I get bored. I know what I’m going do in almost any situation before it happens. I might be playing a few hands in a row versus some nitty regs, and I’m just like ‘if I have to fold one more river I’m going lose it!’
Some tricks I use to help engage myself are rewards like… candy! SweetTarts are my thing, but you can use whatever candy you like. I try to give myself non-harmful treats for sitting in the chair grinding, so candy is good. If I catch a bad beat or I make another disciplined fold that tilts me, I reward myself with a piece of candy. My brain associates that positive reinforcement to my good decision, and it also keeps me engaged.
I also have a massage chair and I reward myself with back massages. TV is not a good reward because it distracts you. I would consider it a harmful treat. You want to use treats that won’t affect your ability to play. In the end the simple idea is to be engaged, and be happy while you are playing.
3. The buy-in question. Let’s say I’m playing my normal $0.50/$1 to crank out my living like I have for years. I like to have A LOT of buy-ins in my cashier. At least 60 or more for whatever limit I’m playing. It makes me feel comfortable and helps remind me that I won all of that money playing poker, so it’s that much easier not to freak out if a little down swing hits me. Once again, some were born with the wonderful gift not to let it get to them, but I find it difficult, so I make do with what I have.
4. Consider your job as a poker player an ongoing process of self improvement. This process has no end in sight. Acknowledge that you will never completely eliminate mistakes, but that you fully intend to continually to learn from them and get better at what you do and who you are every step of the way. With this attitude, one can accomplish almost anything.
5. REDEFINE YOUR GOALS! This is the most important thing and I’ve said it to my poker coaching students for years. Make smart goals that are process oriented, not results oriented. If you make a goal to put in more volume, what usually happens? A lot of times you’ll try to play too many tables right? And then you play poorly. Sure, you make a little extra in rakeback, but you lose even more at the tables from losing focus, and fighting the stress and unhappiness of managing the extra table load.
If you set a goal to make USD $5000 in a month, sure that is nice, but what if you don’t run very well? Most winning players I know have losing or break even months about four months out of every year (there are, of course, some exceptions). Reaching that goal is out of your control, you can’t control whether you’ll have a good month or not.
So what kind of goals should you have then? The answer is ‘process oriented goals’!
Process Oriented Goals
These are goals that break down something in your poker game that you focus in on, study and repair/improve. Every session I play, I will have some type of goal/s, a process that I want to go through to help me become a better player. Some examples of goals might be to pay attention to everyone’s ‘fold to 3-bet’ stat and to make sure I don’t miss a single good spot to 3-bet bluff. Or another goal might be to only play four tables and find a bet sizing tell on one of the regs I play with. Another goal might be to talk over a hand with another coach and try to find one thing they have to say that I didn’t ever think of (hopefully more than that!).
These process oriented goals make me a better player and are goals that I can accomplish no matter what, so I don’t ever have to worry about failure. The best part about these goals is that they are sure things. They are guaranteed to improve my game and they never hurt me. What a beautiful concept.
For every one of my goals I will also make a journal that includes my thoughts and what I felt I learned through that process. I’ll save it and date it and read it over again a week later. This helps me retain and digest my experiences.
If you are already doing some of this stuff, I’m sure you are happy with the results. For everyone else: give this stuff a try! I believe it will make a huge impact in your poker life like it has mine.
For more information on Jeremy Steinhausen, visit his website or check out the video below:
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