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My 'GTO' Approach to the End-of-Year Grind

 photo abarone68: Went from low-stakes to mo' steaks!
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Musings about SNE, chasing VPPs, and dealing with the mental strain that is synonymous with grinding at this time of year

It’s nearly October and for many players on PokerStars, that means one thing – time to start that hectic end-of-year grind.  Over the next few months the tables will undoubtedly be filled with a higher concentration of regulars looking to reach VIP levels, milestones, and bonuses. 

While it’s tempting to blame the structure of PokerStars’ VIP system for this problem, as a player I know that this is largely my own fault.  Despite having the entire year to work, I often chose activities that didn’t involve button-clicking and now find myself in the midst of a mad dash to reach Supernova Elite. 


It wouldn’t be so bad if I was the only player in this situation, but countless others like myself face a similar daunting task; trying to accrue a boatload of VPPs in some of the reggiest games.  Because of the increased difficulty and calendar-related pressure, October through December is arguably the worst time of the year to grind.  The irony, of course, is that professional poker players talk about looking for +EV spots and yet these same guys are the ones grinding a significant percent of their volume during the most -EV months of the year. 

It didn’t have to be this way.  Looking back now, I probably shouldn’t have taken off all of January in favor of laying by the pool in Chiang Mai.  Or spent April bouncing through Europe and pretending the SNG lobby didn’t exist.  But what’s done is done and here I am, with roughly 500 hours left in my work-year.  So now what? 

In the immortal words of flash-in-the-pan rap artist Bubba Sparxxx, “Buckle up, ‘cause it’s gon’ get bumpy.”

Bumpy, of course, refers to the massive swings that are in store.  With additional solid players taking the spots of recreationals, there’s less money to go around and that opens you up to the possibility of trickier spots, thinner edges, and some hellacious negative variance. 

But abarone68, I’ve got a great bankroll, I’ll be fine.

If you’re one of the few players who actually practice proper bankroll (BR) management, congrats.  But having enough bullets in the gun isn’t the same as the willingness to keep firing.  By that I mean just because you might have the ‘roll to afford a brutal downswing doesn’t mean you’ll be able to maintain the resolve to keep loading games after a few bad sessions.  

Even though my own bankroll BR is fine, I’ve recently found myself struggling with motivation.  Right now, for instance, I’m writing this article when I could be registering in the lobby.  Oops.  Dealing with mental strain and burnout is something that a lot of players either don’t consider or don’t want to consider, probably because it makes them feel weak.  Showing insecurities in the real world isn’t exactly considered ‘cool’ and it’s even less so in the online poker world, where the majority of posts are either brags about your own game or condescending jabs at the play of others.  But the old adage remains true, that often weak is strong and strong is weak.  The first step to fixing a problem is admitting that one exists, and I’m not ashamed to admit that the mental stress of poker can occasionally get to me.  As I grind through the final and most stressful 100 days of the year, there’s a very simple ‘GTO’ method I use.   

Goals (G):



That is probably the most appropriate gif of all-time.  What. Do. You. Want.  But before we dive into that, let’s remember what goals aren’t: dreams, wishes, or desires.  Unless you’ve got a magic lamp, your wishes don’t mean shit.  Goals are objects of a person’s ambition or effort, which means in order to achieve it you’ll actually have to work at it.  When it comes to poker, I try to not set monetary goals.  Although making x amount in a month/year sounds sexy, that number doesn’t necessarily reflect how hard I’ve worked.  So instead, I prefer to focus on things I can actually control – like how much time I dedicate to the game.  I’m looking to earn 350,000 VPPs which comes out to about 500 hours of play. 

Time-Management (T):

There are only so many hours left until 2016, so it’s important to plan some sort of schedule that will help me reach my goal.  It’s tempting to say ‘Oh I’ll just play 500 hours ez game’ but that’s not much of plan at all -- it’s a wish.  Do you have that lamp?  I didn’t think so. 

I’m a huge fan of structure.  Some people find it to be limiting and I can understand that, as many poker players chose this career path because they wanted control over their own lives.  Well, you can still do that.  Take control of your own life.  If you’re actually serious about reaching your goals, then try to map out the exact path that will get you there.  I can finish Supernova Elite by mid-December by breaking down the approximately 500 work-hours left into (12) 42-hour weeks.  At least six days per week I will play a 10 AM-4 PM shift and make up the remaining (6) hours for that week during off-peak sessions. 

One last thing I wanted to put in this section is to be aware that life often gets in the way of plans.  At some point during the next three months I’ll undoubtedly slip up and miss an hour, a session, or even a day and that’s fine as long as I remain accountable.  So if I missed two hours’ worth of VPPs on Thursday, that’s okay because I’m a human being, I’m not perfect, and now I’ve got to make up that time on Friday or Saturday. 

Outlets (O):   

Simply put, outlets are things that help you maintain (what’s left of) your sanity.  Outlets allow for the expression of energy and emotion, something that is much needed after a long day of decision-making.  Obviously not all days are going to go well and I’ve yet to find a better way to get rid of pent-up frustration than physical activity.  I normally hit the gym 4-6 times per week, usually immediately following my first session.  Instead of keeping that bad-beat fueled rage bottled up inside of me, I’m able to sweat out all the negativity.  But hey, if exercise isn’t your thing, two other favorite outlets of mine are cooking and writing.  Feel free to try those.  

Caffeine and sugar have also been shown to affect brain chemistry in a similar way.  At its core, outlets are enjoyable experiences that provide a break from the grind, so even something as quick as sitting down to drink a cup of coffee or eat a slice of cake can help your mindset.  I know that in the long run both sugar and caffeine are probably terrible for me, but in the short term they increase happiness and excitability, culminating in a greater desire to grind.



There it is, my 'GTO' method for surviving the next 100 days: Set some goals, plan accordingly, and find outlets for the negative energy.  While you’re at it, have a mocha.

gl,
abarone68

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