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Understanding of self is key to poker success

4 February 2011

I have always been a fan of endurance sports. I was on the cross country and track teams in high school and college. And I continue to run, bike and cross country ski at every opportunity.

(You're probably wondering how this relates in any way to poker or gambling right now. I promise it does, but give me a few paragraphs to get there.)

During my time as a competitive runner, I was surrounded by amazing athletes, most notably Lawton Redman, who competed for the U.S. in the biathlon at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

I wasn't as good my friend Lawton. Not by a long-shot. In fact, I wasn't as good as most of my cross country teammates. In reality, my talents were best served in middle-distance races during indoor and outdoor track season. But cross country, where there is only one race — an eight-kilometer run through fields and wooded trails — was my favorite season. It takes a different type of person to excel in distance races. Sure, there's a genetic component, but what I've always been fascinated by is the mentality it takes to succeed.

Elite runners on my college team logged 70-80 miles per week, and they made it seem effortless. I aspired to reach those lofty heights, but my body just wasn't up to the task. Any more than 60 miles a week and I would start to break down. And when it came to race day, I almost always seemed to lose focus in the middle of my cross country races. I couldn't seem to find it in me to buckle down and push myself over the entire course. I had no problem staying focused for an 800-meter race on the track, however, which only took about two minutes.

In the poker world, the endurance "athletes" are the grinders who put in hour after hour making a small profit. I admire low-limit online grinders the same way I admire my old teammates who could put mile after mile on their running shoes with no ill effects and who could race at maximum effort for a full 25 minutes.

A few months ago Full Tilt Poker announced a new promotion called the Black Card. Any player who averages 500 Full Tilt Points (FTPs) a day over a rolling 100-day period is eligible for the card, which gives the player access to exclusive bonuses and cash. I know that I could never earn enough points to actually get a Black Card. But I wanted to see if I could reach the 500-point threshold once. So last week, I tried — just for a day — to be a low-limit online grinder.

I opened the day with $49.79 in my account. With a bankroll of that size, there was no way to earn those FTPs fast enough without risking my whole bankroll and getting lucky over and over and over in a standard ring game, so I turned to Rush Poker.

If you've never played Rush Poker, you're missing out on the most intense poker experience you can find online. You are placed in a player pool with all the other people who want to play the same game at the same stakes. You're seated at each table for one hand only, and as soon as you fold, you're whisked away to a new table with new players. You can play literally hundreds of hands per hour, and as a result, you can earn FTPs faster than you would at a normal ring game at the same stakes.

I decided to play the lowest limit of Rush Poker offered, $.02/$.05 no-limit Hold'em. Full Tilt offers both six- and nine-handed games at this level, and while I would have earned FTPs faster by playing six-handed games, I'm a better full ring player, so I decided to play at the nine-handed tables instead.

Even with Rush Poker, I knew that I'd never reach 500 FTP in a day if I only played at one table. So I decided to play four tables at a time. If you think Rush Poker is crazy, try four-tabling it.

To maintain some semblance of sanity, I played in 20-minute bursts, taking a 5-10 minute break after each mini-session. Over the course of the day, I played a total of 9288 hands in a little more than nine hours, averaging nearly 1,000 hands an hour (996 to be precise). I had a few winning sessions and a lot of losing ones. In the end, I ended up going broke and fell short of my goal by 89.23 FTPs.

I could have reloaded and played for a couple more hours and hit my target, but I think by then, the point had been proven. There's no way I could be a multi-table Rush Poker low-limit grinder.

I have a lot of respect for anyone who can play four tables of Rush Poker at the same time and win, even at the tiniest rate. It would take about 11,250 hands a day at the stakes I was playing to reach the 500-point threshold at $.02/$.05, and assuming a very possible 2.5bb/100 win rate, a player could make about $500 a month in winnings and bonuses with a black card. Granted, that's only about $1.40 an hour, but if you're willing to put in the time, you can definitely build your bankroll this way.

But you have to be wired correctly to make it work. And if I've learned anything in the last few months, I'm not wired to be an endurance poker player. I've played (or attempted to play) a 24-hour session three times in my life. I've had terrible results in each of those sessions, despite playing against opponents facing the same fatigue. I met a similar fate in my attempt to net 500 FTPs. I lost more than 10 big blinds per 100 hands, an absolutely miserable loss rate, and one that I have never seen playing under normal conditions (normal conditions for me consist of 20-30 minutes online, playing two tables at the most).

In college, I eventually accepted the fact that I was never going to be an endurance stud. I learned what I could from my friends who could log mile upon mile, but in the end, I grew to relish my mid-distance role. And I think now I understand that I could never be a low-limit grinder, slowing building my bankroll by putting in tremendous volume at the lower limits. I'm just not built for it. So instead, I'll play in the games that I do best in, and learn what I can from those who can put in the long hours at the tables.
Understanding of self is key to poker success is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
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Best of Aaron Todd
Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.

Aaron Todd

Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd was an editor/writer at Casino City for nearly eight years, and is currently the Assistant Director of Athletics for Communications and Marketing at St. Lawrence University, his alma mater. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi.