Never give up
I recently read something remarkable on the twoplustwo.com forums (thanks Petey5thStreet - what a great find!). It was a post made by Doug "WCGRider" Polk on May 5th, 2007 and the title of the thread is 'Reaching the end of my rope.' He was down to his last $30, again, had just about lost hope that he could ever be a winning poker player, and was contemplating giving up. This post was his desperate plea to the 2+2 community. He abandoned his pride and earnestly pleaded for someone, anyone, to help him out and tell him what on earth he was getting so wrong.
Of course, if you follow the high stakes games you will know how this story ends. Today, WCGRider is counted among the most successful and highly regarded online cash players in the world. Personally, I consider him one of my toughest opponents and I have tremendous respect for his game.
Move on up (just not too quickly)
There is a second 2+2 thread that WCGRider started on June 19, 2007, just over a month after the first one. This one is titled "Moving up, Moving on, and Moving out; Adios Beginners Forum!" and it tells a proud tale of triumph so heartwarming and inspirational it deserves its own timpani-heavy orchestral soundtrack. Humility, discipline, patience and a lot of advice from the 2+2 community were all the ingredients needed to get him started on his journey from $30 to millions.
Well... humility, discipline, patience, advice and responsible bankroll management. I cannot state emphatically enough the importance of responsible bankroll management. Moving up in stakes too quickly has to be one of the biggest and most common mistakes made by beginning poker players. Indeed, as it turns out, poor bankroll management was probably one of WCGRider's biggest issues in 2007. It was certainly one of mine when I first started playing poker.
The first $50 I ever deposited online I lost immediately in a manic 16-hour session of 25/50 cent Limit Hold'em. After that minor fiasco I stuck with live poker for a little while. I made a couple hundred bucks playing $5 sit-'n'-go's with the other kids in my college dorm and then I spent every day of winter break my freshman year playing live cash at Turning Stone Casino, which is 40 minutes from my parents' house in Syracuse, NY. I started playing $1/$3 spread limit hold'em and, frankly, I ran like god. I rapidly moved up in stakes and by the end of the month I was a regular at the $5/$10 limit tables.
The very first 2+2 post I ever made was on January 20, 2004 and it was about a hand in one of those $5/$10 games. I was in middle position with ATo. There was a raise and a 3-bet in front of me and I wanted to know if I should raise or call. The answer, of course, is fold. By a lot.
I tell this story to illustrate the fact that absolutely nobody is a winning player when they first start out. But it's easy to run good at first and think you're beating the games and then it can be incredibly hard to resist the temptation to move up to higher and more exciting stakes before you or your bankroll are ready for it.
I was incredibly lucky, much luckier than WCGRider. When I went back to college that winter I deposited another $50 online and continued running ridiculously hot and moving up in stakes far too quickly and I managed to run that $50 up to... well, my career as a professional poker player. By summertime I was playing $30/60 and before school started again in the fall I made my first withdrawal for $45,000. It bears repeating: I was incredibly lucky.
There is no doubt in my mind that had the poker gods not bestowed upon me that bounty of endless luck when I first started playing, I would have been riding the very same rollercoaster that WCGRider became so well acquainted with in 2007. And if I had been in his position, I honestly don't know if I would have shown the same resolve. I don't think it would have taken too many more busted $50 deposits for me to have decided that maybe poker just wasn't my thing.
So listen up, all you beginners out there. Take it slow. Really slow. Don't be easily discouraged and don't be too proud to ask for help. Have faith in yourself, be patient, and keep the stakes nice and low so you have plenty of time to improve. If you're lucky like I was, that's fantastic, but in all likelihood you'll come to a point pretty early in your poker career where you can't remember your last winning session and are seriously considering giving up. When that moment hits, take heart in knowing that every single one of your poker role models was once in your shoes. You never know. If you've got the passion and the determination and, most of all, the patience it takes to learn to win at poker, a few years from now you might just find yourself beating those nosebleed games online or traveling the world on the live tournament circuit.
To all the more experienced players, I hope you find this obscure little slice of poker forum nostalgia as inspiring and motivating as I have. It is so important to remember from time to time that no matter where we are in the game, no matter what stakes we play or how much we've won, as long as we stay humble and work diligently, we can always improve and there are always new heights to be reached.
And Doug, if you're reading this, thank you for writing that post all those years ago. It is such a vivid, poignant reminder of where we all started from and I believe it will encourage and inspire a new generation of players as they learn the game. See you at the tables, my friend.
Ike Haxton is a member of Team PokerStars Online.