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The Pursuit of Poker Success – Moving up in Stakes

25/03/2018 by Byron Jacobs
Book Excerpts
D&B MAGAZINE

The Pursuit of Poker Success front cover

We are very excited about our forthcoming book, The Pursuit of Poker Success by Lance Bradley. Lance is a leading poker journalist who has just won the Best Poker Journalist award for 2017 at the American Poker Awards.

In this book Lance interviews 50 leading players to understand what really drives them to achieve their success. It is fascinating to see their different views on subjects that are often problematic for amateur or semi-serious players. For example, moving up in stakes. Should you exercise cautious bankroll management or is it better to take shots now and again? Here are how three players, Phil Galfond, Doug Polk and Vanessa Selbst approach this issue.

Phil Galfond

Playing at those stakes ($10-$20) also forced upon Galfond that he had to make some changes to how he rationalized various decisions he made while playing. There was part of him that might have been scared money when he moved up, but he recognized through experience that he had to change that if he had any hope of being successful.

“I realized a long time ago that I naturally, for whatever reason, do not mind having to make big call-downs and be wrong, but actually if I made big bluffs and got caught it was unpleasant for me. And so I had to learn to kind of force myself to make the plays that I realized I didn’t want to make for emotional reasons rather than logical reasons.”

Galfond wouldn’t advocate that type of shot-taking for every player, but does believe there are some personality traits which might make it possible. “I think self-awareness is really important. It’s kind of a pre-requisite because then you need to ask yourself how it’s affecting you. Something like this and if you are capable of, you know, moving back down and not letting it tilt you or affect your play as you move back down.”

Doug Polk

The lessons learned by playing opponents he considered better than him allowed Polk to eventually move up past those same players. While a lot of players lose their bankroll by moving up too quickly, Polk often sees players, particularly those focused on playing heads-up, simply unable to make challenge better players because they only see the worst-case scenario.

“It’s a funny line to be honest, because most people in poker fail because they are just too risky and they just can’t help themselves from taking shots all the time. Then there’s a small amount players I’ve met a long way that’ll fail, but they don’t ever achieve the success they should because they’re scared to take a risk, to fail. They’re scared to lose in a game. They’re scared that they’ll go on a 10 buy-in downswing. They’re scared that they’re not going to have what it takes to hang at the higher limits. So if you really want to succeed, if you really want to find yourself at the top, playing with the big guys, you’ve got to have enough discipline to not fall into the first category, but you can’t be so conservative you fall into the second.”

Vanessa Selbst

While Selbst enjoyed a great deal of success early in her career and developed a reputation for being aggressive, there was one are where she was actually quite different from a lot of her peers. She was actually risk averse. Younger players often have little or no trouble rapidly moving up in stakes, often ignoring the principles of proper bankroll management to do so. Selbst always valued the money she had already worked for more than the potential of greater returns in bigger games if it came with any sort of risk. “When I first started playing poker my risk tolerance was abysmal. The first time I really hit my stride was in 2005. I had just started really beating $10/$20 online and had a few hundred thousand dollars in my bankroll and the $25/$50 games were great, but the idea of losing like $50,000 on a bad day just made me sick to my stomach. So I just didn’t play those games.”

“I look back now and the opportunity cost of not playing those games when the games were that good, it’s probably in the order of millions of dollars and that makes me sick to my stomach now to think. When you’re looking forward, it’s just easier to think of the downside and how much that’s going to hurt, but until you get a perspective of the long run and instead of being ‘I’m not being results oriented, no those games were definitely good, I definitely had an edge, I knew I had an edge but I passed up on that edge for like pretty irrational reasons, my risk aversion’ which is an irrationality. Knowing all of that makes me more upset.”

“I basically beat risk aversion out of myself by realizing that opportunity cost is another risk that you’re taking on. Just because you’re just not physically doing something, you’re not proactively doing something, you’re still possibly choosing a risk, a very real risk. Once that lesson got beat into me it’s so much easier now to make big gambles.”


If you enjoy the full article and think this book is for you then pre-order now and the book or ebook will be sent to you as soon as it publishes: The Pursuit of Poker Success