Thursday, January 8, 2009

On goals

So here's the thing. I'm going to think out loud, and you get to read it. Good huh?

I have a problem. It's a mental thing. I don't know whether it's inherent or the outcome of years of being an editor, but it doesn't really matter, because it exists whichever way it came to be.

What it is, I'm goal oriented. When I face a task, I need to know what the outcome is supposed to be. And I mean, I need it. Without a defined goal, I become paralysed and unable to work at the task.

I suppose it's a good thing that I've recognised it, because it much more readily explains why I'm lazy than just believing I'm lazy. Because, really, I can do a ton of work if I am properly motivated, so laziness is not really a good explanation.

I realised that I have this problem by thinking about why I hate authoring courses so much. I should be good at it: after all, I believe myself to be a good writer, and it's at least true that I have no problem just writing whatever I want to. I don't struggle to put words together. So why do I hate writing courses? I think the reason is that my briefs are usually too open-ended. I don't know what my output is supposed to look like, and actually neither does my boss. So she fiddles a lot with what I've done, and I don't like that. When I edit, I know what the output is supposed to look like, and I have one of those minds that sees when things are "wrong". But if I don't have a good model of what's right, wrong is impossible to find.

More importantly, it's also hampering my poker, because I find it hard to motivate myself to study. I need to gain skills, particularly in ICM, that require a lot of hard study. But I can't motivate myself to do it. (I have an incentive for doing it: I can make money; but I can't make myself get down to it.) The work is not daunting: if I did three hours a night for a month, I would be skilled enough for my purposes, and do it for three months and I'd likely be as good as anyone.

I say "would be skilled enough" but the problem is that I don't know what "skilled enough" looks like or feels like and I don't know how to acquire the skills. Should I study my games and look deeply into spots I got into? Should I be systematic and work on spots that way? Should I enquire more deeply into the mathematics? Should I just look at tons of hands and hope it somehow soaks in? Different people suggest different methods, which implies there is no "right" way. But there will, I think, be a right way for me.

I am not seeking a functional understanding of ICM, nor am I trying to find a bodge that will "work". Some players do: they build charts that are enough to keep you profitable but are not even close to accurate. I want something more than that. I want to be able to look at a spot and know what I should do. I don't want to be guessing, as I am now. I want to know. I will make a lot of money if I acquire that ability. It is the single most valuable skill in the form of poker I play.

The problem, in case I'm not clear enough, is that I can't say "do thirty hours of button shoves and you'll understand button shoves to the required level" or "do thirty hours of equity calculations by hand and you'll understand the maths to the point where you can analyse shoves on the fly". There is no "do x, gain y" here that I know of. Or if there is, I don't know what it is.

Also, more importantly, I don't know what knowing ICM would be like. If you're struggling to understand the problem, let me explain by showing you learning with a defined goal. Take being a doctor. When you study medicine, you have a structured route to knowledge. Do the training, understand the human body. You understand it by learning different facts about different things. The body of knowledge required is purely external to you. You could be handed a (big) book with everything you need to know, and then simply study it until you had it down. The incentive for doing it is you get to be a doctor; the route to achieving it is to acquire and remember the knowledge. So someone presents with a cough, and you have a decision tree for coughs that you understand and can follow. Well, in a sense, what I want to achieve is the same. If I have 1.2K on the button and it's t150, my decision can be set out as a decision tree. I just don't know how to make the tree, and although it can be written down, it's not something you can study and remember. It's something you need to internalise.

So what's the solution? I'm thinking that probably I should try to find smaller goals, which I can define more easily, and pursue those. It's not easy, of course, to know which small goals will build into the bigger one, but it should be possible to find goals that I know will at least increase my skill.

And, yes, I know that it's perfectly possible that I'm overthinking it, and that just doing something would be much much better than being paralysed. I know that. I'm rational, after all. But we are beings who can know things for a certainly and still not be able to overcome the things that block us. Try telling someone with arachnophobia that spiders cannot hurt them.

17 Comments:

Anonymous Looney said...

I can't imagine the decision tree could be so clear since a lot of poker is knowing who you're playing against. Even though the Harringtons and Slanskys (sp?) and etc. of the world can write stuff like "the guy behind you has been playing loose all evening and the guy in front has been tighter than tight, and the guy behind you checks..." is not the same as sitting at the table and seeing how they respond to other's moves. It seems the tree would be too complex and varied to coalesce into a teachable model. Maybe I'm wrong, but you study the math and the probabilities, then you play for hundreds of hours and learn people...

January 8, 2009 at 3:45 PM  
Anonymous Dr Zen said...

1. In principle, what you are saying is right. However, in the type of game I play, I can get by without knowing the other players very well, unless they are good players. I have a display that shows me their stats, which are a reasonable indication at least of how they approach poker.
2. The main skill in my game is knowing when to push or fold. This depends on several factors, one of which depends on the other players, ie what they call with. Obviously, you can't ever know what they will call with on this occasion, but you can make an educated guess. For instance, all players are more likely to call than KK than 73. (Mind you, not all are likely to call with JTs than 73, because 73 just might be Joe Blow's "favourite" hand.) You can get by with generic ranges for the callers, which you get better at making as you gain experience.
3. Many times your shoves are good against any calling range. Part of the skill that I am trying to acquire is recognising when this is true. In these spots, it literally doesn't matter who your opponent is or how he plays, except that you will generally make more money if he calls less.

January 8, 2009 at 3:50 PM  
Anonymous Dr Zen said...

Isn't it funny that when you first mentioned PokerRoom to me I had never played hold'em and wasn't sure whether a flush beat a straight? I've learnt a lot since then.

January 8, 2009 at 3:51 PM  
Anonymous $Zero said...

a straight beats a flush (if you can make the flush fold).

January 8, 2009 at 6:51 PM  
Anonymous Dr Zen said...

I think I have never folded a flush on any board that made a straight possible and I doubt I ever will.

January 8, 2009 at 6:52 PM  
Anonymous $Zero said...

well, that all depends on how strong your flush is, doesn't it?

if it's ten-high, i'm sure you'd give it some serious thought against a strong player.

but i'll bet you'd even fold a strong flush against a possible full house, given the right conditions.

hence losing to two pair (on the board).

January 8, 2009 at 7:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

boots sez:

"When I face a task, I need to know what the outcome is supposed to be. And I mean, I need it. Without a defined goal, I become paralysed and unable to work at the task."

Applied to life in general, that does what?

"Also, more importantly, I don't know what knowing ICM would be like."

You've made an assumption, stated or otherwise. You've assumed that ICM is the key to winning.

Which I suppose means that nobody won before there was an ICM.

Gambling is, in a way, life in microcosm.

Goal orientation is not in itself a bad thing. The problem is when one attempts to take definite concrete steps toward the goal.

Within the labyrinth of life one can choose any turn that is offered, but one cannot walk through walls. One can be as a prince deigning to accept an offer if it is deemed worthy, or simply declining those that are not.

January 8, 2009 at 7:46 PM  
Anonymous Dr Zen said...

zero, I wouldn't fold a flush in an STT when a straight was possible, period.

boots, ICM is the key to winning. Take it or leave it.

There has always been an ICM. You are saying something like "nobody had ears before there Uranus was discovered". Well, they had ears. They just didn't know that there was a Uranus.

Whatever the rest of what you were saying means, I have no idea, but basically, I will not achieve my goal without taking steps towards it.

January 8, 2009 at 8:11 PM  
Anonymous nobody said...

You wrote,

"Whatever the rest of what you were saying means, I have no idea, but basically, I will not achieve my goal without taking steps towards it."

You can only step where there is footing. You cannot construct footing by your will alone.

January 8, 2009 at 8:56 PM  
Anonymous Dr Zen said...

I'm not sure what you're trying to say.

January 8, 2009 at 8:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

boots sez:

"I'm not sure what you're trying to say."

Yes, and I've been trying to say it for what could amount to years now.

(btw, mum's the word)

Let's say you have a potential straight. You can play it for a potential straight.

But if it isn't a potential straight, you can still play it as one, but you can't will it to be one. It is what it is.

If it's a potential straight you have an opportunity to play it as a potential straight. You didn't create that particular opportunity. You didn't make the footing. You can only choose whether to step there, or not.

Try reading this again with that in mind,

Within the labyrinth of life one can choose any turn that is offered, but one cannot walk through walls. One can be as a prince deigning to accept an offer if it is deemed worthy, or simply declining those that are not.

You cannot create an opportunity, you can only indicate that you would prefer that one should exist.

Try reading this again with that in mind,

The problem is when one attempts to take definite concrete steps toward the goal.

When you still don't get it, well fuck me for bad communication innit.

January 8, 2009 at 9:28 PM  
Anonymous Dr Zen said...

That's true so far as it goes, but I work on the assumption that opportunities will even out over the long run and I should play accordingly.

January 8, 2009 at 9:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

boots sez:

"I work on the assumption that opportunities will even out over the long run"

That's what you've been told innit. One of the things I learnt somewhere a long time ago is that when things are not working out as you think they should given your assumptions, check your assumptions.

Try reading this again:

You cannot create an opportunity, you can only indicate that you would prefer that one should exist.

We've covered this ground before my friend, and gotten... well, here.

January 8, 2009 at 9:39 PM  
Anonymous $Zero said...

I work on the assumption that opportunities will even out over the long run

but have you ever observed that dynamic working in real life?

like, say, fairness in the workplace?

or the way people behave in general?

now, i'm sure you'll say that cards comes closer to obeying the maths because it's just raw numbers, but... that would only be remotely true if you were playing against flawless faceless computers.

are you?

and if so, your odds of winning would never get past 50/50.

or worse, if you were playing against more than one flawless computer.

see what i'm saying?

January 9, 2009 at 2:11 AM  
Anonymous $Zero said...

zero, I wouldn't fold a flush in an STT when a straight was possible, period.

even if a full house was also possible?

and losing the hand would mean going bust?

January 9, 2009 at 2:38 AM  
Anonymous Looney said...

Isn't it funny that when you first mentioned PokerRoom to me I had never played hold'em and wasn't sure whether a flush beat a straight? I've learnt a lot since then.

Too funny... you've really learned the game, I dabbled for awhile and went on to something else. :-)

I've probably played at three or four home nights since that time, and less than that online... go figure...

January 9, 2009 at 4:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

boots sez:

"I'm thinking that probably I should try to find smaller goals, which I can define more easily, and pursue those."

I definitely recommend pursuing smaller goats, the large ones tend to be rather stringy.

January 10, 2009 at 3:53 AM  

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