Chris Johnson

Chris Johnson is the owner of the 33 Bigs Website. In addition to being a writer and a marketer, he's a recreational poker player working on becoming a tough out. In this journey, he's recently realized that J2 suited is not a great hand to play out of position.

The First Taste of Tilt: Feb 2020 Recap

Welcome to the February 2020 Recap post.

I got to play a fair bit in Feb and I worked hard to keep learning through everything I was doing.

I spent about 35 hours playing poker, and here are the lessons that I learned this month.

Lessons Learned

#1 Mindset Matters Most

I played at the Final Table Poker Club, it was one of those tense nights where I was between 9 and 15 big blinds for several hours. The risk of being put out was right around the corner for me, and we were real close to the money.

I was tense, and with 14 left (paying 12) I wound up running my 1010 into the big blind’s Jacks.  That left me with 1 big blind on the button.

I got it in on the cutoff when it folded to me and I had J9 suited (the fact that it folded to me was why I made that decision, I knew even if I got a better hand I’d have at least the same number of callers behind.)

I hit the flop and turn, had 4 bigs, and then had to do a UTG shove with 77s, which held through 2 callers (AT and KT).

Once my comeback was there, and I had 12 bigs again, I was alive. I felt happy. I went from feeling tense and anxious and tired to being happy in about 3 minutes.

Here’s what’s true:

  1. If I had never almost lost I would have stayed tense through the whole tournament.
  2. I could have been happy the whole time and I would have played better the whole time.

After I came back, my decisions were sharp, the game slowed down and I was able to work my stack up to 175k chips in 2 orbits. But, even if I had busted on the stone bubble, I would have been fine with that, because the lesson “clicked”.

I found the mindset I want every time I play.  If I had carried that joy through the whole game I would have played better.

I could have been happy the whole time and made my decisions based on the information available the whole time.

Lesson #2:  I’m not really tilt-proof.

You know those people that claim they are immune to poison ivy, but eventually learn that they arent?

…and we all get to feel schadenfreude?

Yeah, so like that.

I’ve carried a little bit of arrogance in my poker life. How could I not? I got 600 hours in and I’m already getting a sick ROI in live games.

I have a smug attitude towards tilt. I thought it was for cash game players only. Or the sign of a weak mind.

I always thought I was playing at the level of my skillset and mindset.

Well, I went to Wildhorse for a normal casino MTT and ran my KK into AA on a defensible hand against joe coffee. I still had a playable stack early on in a soft tournament, but I felt like I needed to get it all back quick, so I made some stupidly aggressive plays and lost the rest of my stack.

Fired a second and did the same thing. Gone in 60 seconds.

All because I was just trying to prove a point to the villains at the table that I was bulletproof.

So I got a tilted. Chased a loss and tried to make something out of nothing even though I know that I had 40% of my starting stack and had enough to make a complete comeback. This was after I had my Portland epiphany, so it’s not as if some magic bullet is going to make me perfect.

So yeah, I gotta put a backstop in place to figure out how to combat tilt.

Lesson #3: Value Bet Relentlessly

The other lesson I learned is to keep value betting when you make a good hand. TP/TK single way and 2 pair plus multi-way is usually a great place to start.

Seems kind of obvious, but I was too timid with my value bets and leaving a lot of chips on the table by floating the turn or just check/calling. Online this is probably truer than at the felt because there is not social shame when you call 3 streets with 3rd pair.

Yes, I get it.

Sometimes you’ll be betting into someone’s made hand.  But that’s only going to happen once in a while, and it’s generally a good idea to keep value betting.  On any given street they aren’t getting the right odds to call.

My Play

I got to play poker in 8 events in February. I fired 9 bullets, all MTT.

Bullets Fired: 9
ITM Finishes: 4
Money In the Middle: $665
Money Out: $2121
Profit: $1456
ROI after expenses, etc:

I also got staked for 10% at an event so I had the fun time of getting to pay someone out.

It also made me play better, which was fun.

What Went Right & What Went Wrong

What went right:

  1. I have a reference mindset.
  2. I was consistent with my after play sessions.
  3. I grew my bankroll.

What went wrong:

  1. I tilted.
  2. I didn’t study to my planned standards.


I got about 7 hours – total – of active study in Feb. I was launching new business, and I had a few sick days so I wasn’t great about keeping my schedule.

What We’re Doing Differently Going Forward.

Looking at the month of March, I want to change a few things:

  1. Stay on schedule every day.
  2. At every break and tournament level, I’ll have a mindset check-in. This will help me go back and remember the great mindset I had before.
  3. Play online a lot more seriously. Have my RFI charts and have a “standard setup” for all of my online play.
  4. Schedule play and not play while multitasking.
  5. Online do hand reviews after every session. What did I do? Was each decision correct? Was I value betting or bluffing?
  6. More multi-tabling and focus in MTT situations.

I’m going to play in my bar league and another live MTT type session, but the real trick is to get ready for the Pendleton Roundup. I’m ready to play right and run deep.

In March, I won’t play nearly as much as I did in Feb because I know where some holes in my game live and I can get them closed with some serious study.

So onward.

Celebrate Every Player

At our bar league the other night, a lady was running good. She hit Aces twice in the first hour versus some inexplicably large pre-flop action on both hands.  She raised properly, they held.

She won a big flip with AQ vs TT.

And so she got to the bubble with a massive chip lead. She rivered another player’s all in on the flop when her ace hit the river.  She was way behind but caught.

It was her night.

Some of the regulars thought they had a skill advantage on her.  Maybe they did.  When we get to the “real” money bubble, they put some pressure on her to chop.

But she wanted to win. She said, quietly “I’m usually one of the first out here, and I like that I’ve got a chance to win.” Nice person.  I’d met her but rarely played with her, maybe an hour total.

Her refusal to chop pissed off one of the regs who wound up finishing third (2x buy-in) in top-heavy pay structure.   “I’ll remember this,” he growled.

And in most circumstances, with the bar closing soon, most players would have chopped. But she wanted the win.  She wanted it more than we wanted it.  My interest was to let the hosts go home, but she got beat up a lot by the players there, for weeks.  

For one night, she got to take everyone out.  That’s why we all play poker.  I’m not gonna beat Joe Cada to the top of the winnings lists.  But I might make a hero call at the right time when he misses his draw and take a pot off of him, like my buddy did. When I do, that’ll feel great.

As the famous Emily Dickinson poem goes:

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

But, in that moment, I was a little annoyed.  An experienced player would have chopped.  It was a $30 buy-in…so the difference between 1st and 2nd was like $100 bucks. I wound up finishing 2nd after I bullied her a little bit heads up.  She didn’t understand what I was doing and I closed the gap to the point where she finally surrendered a little equity and I was able to go home with my pride intact.

Around the bubble, There was some unpleasant poker dysfunction at the table, the ‘regulars’ were really getting on her to chop, and sending some stupid zingers about her poker play. They were short stacked and had just run into some fairly hilarious bad beats.

When I thought about it, I realized that I should have just been happy for her.  She’s gotta be able to win sometimes. Even if it’s very occasionally.  Because she’ll stop coming when she thinks it’s hopeless. She’ll stay home. Maybe her husband will too.  Sometimes she comes with friends, and they may stay at home too.

It’s easy to say this because I got out in 2nd place and was only very briefly in jeopardy of not cashing. But, the truth is, I gotta embrace it when someone that doesn’t get to win…gets to win.

Because those wins keep them coming back and those players keep the games going.

So let ’em suck out on you.  Tell ’em nice hand.  And continue to crush them 80% of the time.


2020 Poker Goals: Process Driven Poker

The Backstory

I’m a recreational poker player.  I don’t have delusions of going pro anytime soon.

I’m capable of playing great. And I’m capable of making major, obvious, stupid blunders.   Lighting money on fire.  On my worst days I’m as bad as anyone gets.

I really love playing and I want to get better as fast as I can.  But, with a full time consulting gig, it’s not possible for me to get the volume in that all the shades and hoodie crowd can do.

So I’m building the tools for efficient and rapid learning.  This is designed to create a self-liquidating hobby and have as much fun as possible.

Phase I: I Will Build A Process-Driven Game

When we are more efficient in our process, we can get more done, faster.

There’s no substitute for volume, but if we arrange our study and play correctly we can make the most out of the time we have and get a lot better a lot faster.

I’ve got to build a process that has improvement baked-in.

This means:

  • Record all of my efforts, from the $2.00 “screwing around” sessions on Bovada to the $200 buyin MTT tournaments I play in.
  • I’ll have a process for evaluating:
    • Hands
      • Play on each street.
      • Preflop Play
      • Turn Play
    • Game Selection
    • Opponents
    • Reads
  • I’ll have a curriculum for study with a “current project” and an “on deck” project.
  • I’ll do pre-game and post mortems for every session so I get less random.
  • I’ll have a curated study group with some better players, worse players, and peers.
  • I’ll collect all the hands I play online for analysis.

Phase I is about building fundamental habits and processes.  To have a self-improving feedback loop.

I’ve started building the Tools to do this.

Getting this rolling will be the primary focus of Q1, 2020.

Phase II: I’ll Go Deep On Individual Elements Of My Game

Once I build the feedback loop, the next phase will be to work to improve my play, one spot at a time. There are a set of decisions that I need to learn, and a level of nuance and depth that I don’t have. 

I can still get good results.

It doesn’t yet make sense to go really deep with PIO/GTO/SOLVER sort of work when my fundamental game (Frequencies, Odds, Outs, Ranges, and Turn Play) isn’t fully baked.  So, the second phase will be to bake those. I estimate that this will take about 200 hours of study. 

I’m going to work on a schedule and with a plan so I know where I’m at.  I plan on playing Hold ’em for a while and then probably migrating to some Omaha events in the fall of this year.

Some of the guidelines for my journey:

  1. I’ll play on a schedule, not randomly.
  2. I’ll record my results 100% of the time (before I leave the casino).
  3. I’ll prep before I play 100% of the time.
  4. I’ll do a post mortem after 100% of my sessions.
  5. I’ll build tools to share my progress and I’ll write about it the whole time.
  6. Every tool will have its own feedback loop.
  7. We’ll have a working process for every major aspect of the game, and we’ll roll with that process and improve it as we can.

Some Closing Notes

I know where I’m at. 

I have under 600 total hours of play under my belt with about 200 gained last year.  I’m not an automatic crusher.  Yet.

I’m building an improvement engine. I need to catch up to a lot of players who have a lot of advantages over me. For the most part, they have ground out their million hands or more and I’m never going to be able to catch up in a fair fight.

But if I build a better process, I can engineer an unfair fight and gain more skill faster. And if my process continues to improve I will be able to have geometric results and catch up to the field of 19-year-olds in hoodies.