Sometimes you're up, sometimes you're down but what if the cards are running bad, your mind is just not on your game and it's the summer of 2006, it's Las Vegas, Nevada and there is a little tournament going on called the World Series of Poker? This is the situation Liz Lieu found herself in late last week.
The cards had clearly not been running for Liz. First she was card dead, then she would run into monster hands, then she would make a great read and get drawn out on. Now for me (and perhaps for you) these start to sound like excuses but when a player truly analyzes their own play, you not only have to look at your mistakes, you also have to look at the facts. How were the cards running, was your head in the game, was it the luck of the cards or were you off your "A" game. Finally, you need to assess just how well your "A" game stacks up against the other player's "A" game. I mean it just could be that you are not a top player. But here we are talking about Liz Lieu; top game is not an issue, so perhaps it's top form that is/was the problem.
Liz has not made a Day Two of any event to this point; in fact, Liz has not made it to a dinner break in a Day One yet. Bad cards? Well, yes. As I have watched Liz play and talked with her after the events, it is clear she was mired in a really cold run of cards. Unlike lots of players, Liz is able to discuss not only her 'bust out" hand but most, if not all, of the key hands she has played in a tournament. For example:
I saw Liz bust out of one event when she took her 99 up against Men 'The Master' Nguyen with a board of Q83. The Master made a flop bet into that board and Liz made the call. Men already had the big stack at the table, Liz was average and she put her tournament at stake with her pocket nines. Men held QJ and took down the pot and busted Liz. Would you take your pair up against the chip leader with one overcard on the flop? If so, why? If not, why? By the way; the correct answer is: It depends.
After the hand, Liz and I walked out of the Amazon room and went off for a walk and a talk. Less you think I am violating the unwritten rule of not talking to a player who have just busted, Liz actually likes to process her tournament with someone. Unlike many players walking and talking through the event helps Liz to move on in her head to the next tournament. These "Spotlight" articles are all about giving you some insight into the hearts and minds of some very high level professional players; Liz is constantly surprising me with the ins and outs of her game. This day we talked about several early hands and a few off poker topics when Liz said:
"You know Men is running very lucky today. He made that same move with middle pair against Vanessa Rousso and lost."
Liz then went on to describe for me several hands she had seen Men play in that situation, including: chip stacks, table dynamics, level related to remaining players, and previous hands at this table. This was the case of a player making an all-in with pocket nines to a one over-card board. This was a read on Men; this is a long history of experience and knowledge about a very crafty and respected opponent. This was an example of how the game is played at the very highest levels.
"The move is to force you to make a decision for all of your chips. The read is that Men does not do this as a blind bluff, it's generally a move with second pair, which in this case meant a pair of eights up against my nines. It's a good percentage play for Men and a call I have to make."
So what do you do when your game is not running right? What do you do when; you are playing your "A" game and not cashing, not getting deep in any events? And then, what do you do when suddenly you are not playing your "A" game?
During a break in the last event Liz played she walked up to me and said:
"I am not focused today; I am just not getting it. I follow the action on a hand and make my mental notes on the players, then the dealer shuffles up for the next hand and I do not have a read on the players. I just am not reading the table; it's like playing the first hand at a new table every hand."
This day, Liz was seated at a table with nine players she had never played. It was clear from watching her that try as she might; she was playing the cards but not the players. We all know it's a people game not a card game, but what happens when you just don't have the people skills? What happens is you bust out and go in search of your game.
So her we are in the middle of the desert, in the middle of Sin City, in the middle the World Series. Where would you go to find your game? (and aren't you just a little relieved to hear that the pros at this level can misplace their game too). How do you get your legs back under you?
OK, where to look? A few days off by the pool? Liz has a great house, south of the city, great view, big pool, quiet, relaxing. Maybe some yoga or meditation? Some time away from the Rio and the felt?
For Liz, the answer was simply, a big cash game at the Bellagio. For three nights Liz has been playing the $600/$1200 Limit Hold'em game on the big table at the Bellagio. From late evening until the wee hours of the morning, the game has played on and Liz has been there seeking her game. A text message the first morning after said merely:
"7:30 AM-on the way home from the Bellagio-very successful evening."
"9:30 AM-heading home, another big night, talk to you when I wake up."
Day Three was a smaller game ($300-$600), it didn't hold Liz's attention as long, so she left around 3 AM with her smallest win of the run, a mere $7,000. But more importantly, the game had been found.
"I just needed to get my confidence back. It's all about confidence and motivation. I know my game and my game is limit cash games. With all the traveling and the other distractions I have not played live limit for almost three months. Sure I have been doing a lot of online play but for me it's just not the same. I told you before; I need to splash a pot with those chips."
"Sure I have played what 5 or 6 events in the Series and although I have had a dry run of cards but that does not explain my lack of focus and my mistakes. That's on me. So I went back to where I am comfortable and strong. And it's been profitable as well as grounding."
Ed Note: Lots of fish in the waters every day at new room Poker Ocean.