Friday, August 17, 2007

Sometimes a weakness is more than just a weakness

In a recent blog post, Brian Townsend identifies what he thinks is a major weakness in his game.
I have been thinking a lot about my downswing. I have always followed up great months/times with bad downswings. I attribute this mainly to getting overconfident and lazy about my play. I get bored with poker when I have sucess. I actaully really enjoyed last spring when I moved down to 5k plo because it offered me a new challenge. I wanted to prove to myself that I was a top PLO player. I have had amazing results in PLO since then.

Challenge? No, I don't think so. I don't think it's about challenge. I think it's about the thrill of risk-taking. That's not the same thing as a challenge. A challenge is an intellectual thrill, the thrill of risk-taking is a physical thrill.
I have talked to some of the best young players, who are up to 10 years my senior, and they say they dont play as well anymore because it doesnt hurt to lose. I have noticed this about myself as well. I play amazing poker when the money I lose really hurts if I didn't have it.

Let's just ignore te part where he thinks it's better to learn from the best inexperienced players than to learn from the best. We can write that off to his own inexperience, he'll learn better when he gets some maturity.

But the part about it hurting is important. He needs help and he needs it now.

Have you ever known anyone who engaged in self-mutilation? Cutting themselves, burning themselves with cigarettes?

It's about intentionally creating pain. Not that far removed from making it "hurt to lose". Like every other kind of human behavior, there's a couple of different types of cause for the behavior.

As some of y'all know I have some severe depression in my background. I've had periods of intense internal pain. Just hurting, really, really hurting. Not from some physical cause, but from depression itself. It's a mental pain, but it's a mental pain that's felt physically without a physical pain. Sometimes depression does that to you. Other times depression is about no feeling at all. A nothingness. Numbness. No pain, no nothing.

Either of those kinds of feelings can be alleviated by self-mutilation. I've never engaged in self-mutilation but I can understand the kinds of situations that might make someone think it's a good idea.

That's what I think of when I see someone talking about a need to gamble high enough so that it "hurts when I lose". I think of the need to create a sense of pain to either mask some internal pain that really, really hurts or of the need to create a pain that gives you some kind of re-assurance that you're actually alive.

In either case it's not a good thing for a gambler. Brian needs to think about his risk-taking needs with a much broader personal scope than just his poker game.

Maybe I'm over-reacting. But I don't think so.

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Blogger Dr Zen said...

I'm not sure, Gary. It's an interesting thought but it seems to me more like he's chasing the rush you get from dangerous pursuits.

I often hear kids racing cars in the night. This is a boring town for a youngster, and the future isn't bright for a young man with no qualifications in a place that is not brimming with options. So I think they do it because they have nothing much to lose, and the thrill of putting it on the line is the only meaning they can acquire in life.

I dunno. Even at the bottom, I get the same feeling. If I risk money that would hurt my stack to lose, I'm on edge, but if I risk money I wouldn't miss, I am much calmer. Unlike Townsend, I prefer the second case though.

12:09 AM  
Blogger Gary Carson said...

"chasing the rush you get from dangerous pursuits" is just a polite way of saying "self-destructive behavior".

Back when I used to be a kid racing cars in the night it wasn't because I was in a town that was not brimming with options and I had nothing to lose. It was because I had a '56 chevy.

6:24 PM  
Blogger Dr Zen said...

Well, there are often different roads to the same destination, Gary.

I have been reading "Gambling theory..." by Malmuth (I got the book free). I note that he says that you should play at a level where losses are big enough to hurt a little. (Because if they are too little, you are so comfortable that you'll gamble more than you ought to -- in the sense that your risk/reward ratio will be wrong, rather than that you do too much wagering).

I entirely disagree with him, as it happens. I like Tommy Angelo's approach. Have you ever read his essay on firewood? (Basically, when he goes camping, he gathers *way too much* firewood, so that he'll never run out. The point being that you should, in principle, be sitting at the table with enough money so that you do not worry about losing and become too risk averse.)

I guess it's going to depend on the individual. Maybe Mason will lose discipline if he doesn't have enough at stake. Me, I like to win at games enough that I won't fuck around no matter how little is at stake.

7:11 PM  
Blogger DMW said...

I don't see where he is creating the pain for himself. He knows that if it is there he plays better to avoid it. That's not the same as seeking it out.

and I think everyone has had trouble playing for stakes that don't matter to them.

1:55 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

1. Mr Carson: You ARE over-reacting, but that's because you misunderstand Townsend's have it almost perfectly backwards.
2. DMW got it exactly right. It's not the enjoyment of pain, but the desire to avoid it, that makes Townsend's play better at those levels. He's clearly not saying that the experience is better when he plays at those levels and loses, i.e. that it feels good to lose; he's saying he plays better--presumably more disciplined, more in-tune poker--when the stakes are higher, when losing would mean real pain, i.e. precisely because it would feel bad to lose.

(You're right that some people like pain, and that that can be unhealthy, but this ain't that.)

11:23 AM  

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