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Joana Fontes

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About Joana Fontes

Biography

Joana is the only child that is not spoiled. Ninja is the nickname that emerged in the second first year of university adventures from the exclamation "let's do a themed dinner! Dinner A ninja!" Is vegetarian because she "have pity on the little animals" as they say, but eats music like nobody (spends all her savings in concerts and film photography). At the age of ten she put her foot for the first time abroad and never wanted something else. Everywhere she passes by she finds objects and things alike, thanks to her hawk eye. She studied graphic design at Escola Superior de Artes e Design (Caldas da Rainha, Portugal), where she developed her taste for analog photography and illustration / printmaking. Dream of one day live on it. She considers herself as a person eager to learn and to experiment.

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For 9 years I've made a good living playing cards professionally

 

I've had my fair share of success, luck, bad beats, disappointments, excitements, heart breaks and surprises in general. I've gone through an incredible journey that shaped my life, my character, and my future. I've fought for pots for a living from the time I was a graduate student to a proud husband and now dad.


Today I want to tell you about a hand I played a few years back that enlightened me about the power of attitude and psychology at the table:

 

It's EPT London, end of day one. My opponent is a Spanish pro that has a lot of leaks and ego, a deadly combination even for thinking players. We both have good stacks late in day 1, around 45k effective at the 150/300-50 level.

I open the cutoff preflop with 5♥ 5♦ and he reraises to 1600 from the big blind. Since we're very deep I make the call, counting on position to defend myself against a very aggressive opponent.


The flop comes 3♠ 6♠ 7♦.

He bets 2000 quickly, and I know he's not the type to slow down easily. He's representing either a draw or a big pair and could intend to bet 3 barrels no matter what (I told you he had leaks). This type of opponent is very tough to handle because mistakes are potentially very costly. My 5s could be in front and every street will make them worst unless I hit a gutshot, not a very good prospect. I consider folding but I know my opponent very well. He plays poker for many wrong reasons, including proving he's the best both to himself and to his rail - who had just turned up. He also has lost a few pots against me today and his ego can't take it anymore. He's probably betting everytime on this flop even though he probably shouldn't. Given how many hands he can reraise preflop I'm in front very often, and many turn cards are blanks. I decide to peel one card. There is now 7,800 in the pot.

Photo: Gregoire Camuzet

 

The turn is a beautiful 2♥, putting two flush draws on the board. He thinks for a while and bets very small, 2000 again. It's a terrible card for bluffing and even he can recognise that, but that little bet is too small to protect a really strong hand. If I call I'm basically telling him that I don't want to play a big pot and he will for sure put me to the test on the river with a big bet. I decide the strength of my hand is not the key factor here. He looks weak, he has either a pair or a strong draw. Either way, a strong raise is perfect to cut his odds or make him fold a small made hand out of position. I rule out a trap because he's not a cute player like that. I raise to 17k.

What happened next took me completely by surprise : after 3 minutes of what seemed like torture for him, he ended up going all with an angry face, for an extra 23k.
Inside my head I'm feeling "Wow". Doubt. Fear. Excitement. Should I put my whole tournament on a hunch?

In this kind of situation where analysis only won't give you an answer, you need to be strong in your head to make a good decision and the good news is you can put fear in your opponents without risking any more chips in the pot if you act right. Let's pause a little and talk about how to achieve focus under pressure first.

 

Emotions are the noise that stops you from taking the best decision. One of the most powerful emotions is the fear of losing - and the shame that comes with it. You need to get past that fear. Poker is about handling losses. If you play or desire to play the big tournaments, then you will end up losing 80% of the time (at least). When you win something you will perhaps be more disappointed than if you busted earlier, for your hopes will have gone up exponentially. That's just a fact, I don't care if you are @Phil Ivey@Davidi Kitai or SuperWoman (I wonder who would win).

It may seem trivial, but the sooner you realise that the better. Time and time again you will travel to the tournament full of hope, dream about victory, have a shower (please do) while telling yourself motivational things. Heck, you might even go to the gym before the start to feel energized (good for you, remember to take said shower AFTER rather than before the gym. Thanks!). And then you will play against opponents that you will think are worse poker players than you (they feel the same way about you). After many hours or even days you will lose and likely will think that the whole thing was unfair. You then have to do the traditional walk of shame which sometimes involves the packing-your-bags of shame and the taking-the-plane of shame until you're home.

Losses make many players - even top winners - so miserable that they would be better off doing something else, even if they make money overall. The point of life is to be happy and poker (or money for that matter) should just be a path towards that. If losing affects you too much, then you've picked the wrong hobby/passion/job (delete as appropriate). Life's a journey, guys!

 

Keeping fear of losing at bay is easier than you think. Ask yourself the million dollar question: Why do you play poker? That question is central in the book "The Psychology of poker" by Dr Schoonmaker, and your answer won't be the same as mine. It can't simply be 'To Win'. Leave your ego aside: different parts of you will look for different things and it's your job to listen to them! For me money is a nice bonus but I 'm really looking for social interaction and the intellectual challenge of learning and defeating randomness. I am also keen on the freedom poker offers. Competition, and freedom. Knowing this helped me set goals and a style at the table. It helped me choose the right games, come with the right level of preparation, and made me confident in my abilities while reducing greatly the fear of defeat. On a side note you should also analyse your table that way. Knowing why my Spanish opponent played poker was also a tremendous help, but we'll get back to that soon...

Asking yourself why you play poker should also unlock your other goals in life. Being balanced is very important and it's not easy to get right but if your goals are set right you will enjoy trying to achieve them, which is the entire point! When I discovered poker I was on such a learning curve for one year, all I did was eat, play, read 2+2, review some hands, eat, play, sleep. I'd wake up on my desk with the bowl of cereal from yesterday in front of me, the mouse still in my hand, and the sun already setting. The competitive part of me was excited and happy, but another part was dying and losing self esteem daily. Luckily I soon started making good money online while at the same time I heard the cry for help of my social self and hit the dancefloor again (sorry ladies).

Photo: Hugues Fournaise

 

Because I had a good life outside of cards, when I lost, my whole world was never crumbling. I was aware of the luck I had living from my passion and the money was good anyway. On the other hand being relaxed about losing has its own caveat: sometimes I wouldn't learn as fast from a beating as I should and also I didn't always do my best to come prepared at the table, since losing didn't hurt. I always felt like I had a foot on the brakes and it took me a lot of reading and exterior help to realise how to get better. As part of my deal with the Winamax Team I got coaching from @Matheu Cambas Stéphane - who comes from the tennis world and can whoop your ass wearing flippers if you're willing to bet big enough! Every case is different but I realised that not giving it my everything was a way for me to protect my ego from bruises, to always have an excuse ready, and I had been doing that my whole life! That was one of those truly eureka moments and it meant that not only I wasn't reaching my full potential, but also that the competitive me wasn't satisfied and that I could never be happy until his thirst was quenched.

 

So let's go back to the table. Should I call or fold?

I have a little trick to help me think rationally when the pressure is high and the emotions come running. I pretend I'm Phil Ivey (or Davidi or SuperWoman, your pick, your fantasy!). What would they do in this spot? I find this gives me immense clarity. It helps me be patient when I'm frustrated, and it helps me be fearless when I don't want to bust. It's not perfect, but it's usually a much better decision than what I want to do. Ideally you must be a computer that takes information, processes it into an algorithm, and outputs a decision as perfect as possible every time.

The stakes are high and rationally even if I'm right and he's semi-bluffing, I will have to dodge many outs, possibly 15 or more. I replay the hand in my head to see if he could have a set or Aces. Could he put me on a draw and have gone all in with a medium hand that crushes me? I don't fear losing, or looking ridiculous (I mean if he has flopped the straight and I call with two 55s here, won't I just look stupid now?). I don't let ego push me into a bad call just because I want to do a superb play (a problem I've been dealing with all my career). I just take my time to reach the best possible decision, right or wrong.

Not only that but I do what few people think about when facing an all in: I tank with style, not letting people see that I suffer. Another great mentor, Tommy Angelo, talks about "6th street" as the time from the moment the hand finishes to the moment the next hand starts. During that time poker players tend to relax and give away way too much information because "it doesn't matter anymore". I think sixth street starts even earlier, as soon as player believes his action is the last of the pot, for example when he's facing an all in. If I look annoyed, sweat, show people that it's a difficult decision, I will lose a lot of important credit at the table. Think about this: If I fold, people will think I'm on tilt, and they could be right! If I call after grimacing and moving in my chair, even if I'm right people will think I'm a station, can't make an obvious fold, and got lucky. In terms of table image and fear factor, it's not ideal in a tournament. People pick on the weak and I will have to fight harder for future pots. So I do what I always do: I stay totally steady. I slowly glance at the pot, eye my opponent carefully, count my chips very deliberately. It also helps me to stay focused and fight the emotions from within. I move as little as possible and show no emotion.

It's really close on paper, but as time passes my opponent sweats more and more. Eventually I decide that the balance tips towards a call, though there's no way to be sure. I slowly slide my stack into the pot and turn my hand over immediatly as if I know I have him.

Guess what? In this case I was right. He showed A♥ J♥ for a turned flush draw and two overcards. The river blanked and I raked in the chips without emotion as if this was totally normal and happened to me every time. The table was stunned at the scene.

This hand is interesting in itself: a small made hand first turned into a bluff ends up being a call all in... But the point I want to make is elsewhere: I was focused enough to take the best possible decision I could without fear of being wrong and ridiculous. By acting so calm under pressure to the table it looked as if I knew I had him and it gave me a powerful image: no matter how bad a spot you put me in, I will always come up with great decisions and you will never make me suffer. Had the river come a heart, had he shown a set or a weird hand like 69 turned into a winning bluff, I would have acted exactly the same. That attitude during showdown is just always optimal. As long as your opponents can believe you're a winning machine then it is true, right? And that's half of the psychological warfare won right there.

Later in that tournament, I busted. It felt unfair and it hurt, but not too much because I enjoyed the journey and I have great friends around me. I enjoyed their company that evening and didn't even tell them about the boring details of my bust out, for it was already in the past. The next day I took my plane-of-shame and got ready for more adventures...

 

See you soon on the circuit!
@Nicolas Levi 

 

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#nice article, keep it coming A♣

nice one

Thanks guy, I appreciate the good vibes!

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