My Poker Life, part 2

This post follows on from a post I wrote a couple of weeks ago, My Poker life, part 1, where I talked about the nature and appeal of poker and how it relates to my days of regular gaming. I hope to have further articles in this series in the near future. There’s a good glossary of poker terms on Wikipedia, if that’s useful. Thanks for reading, and please question and comment!

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The big difference between the poker I play now, and the poker I played back in my 2005-8 heyday, is that then I played primarily for profit, whereas now I play for fun. In a sense, it’s always been a hobby, but a hobby that brings IN cash is always going to be a good thing, right?

Well, yes and no. Without doubt, I enjoyed winning sessions more than losing sessions (the mentality and approach involved in dealing with this is probably a whole other post). And profits – I made about $15,000 (net) during my three years of regular play – are always good, and bought me two laptops, three sets of plane tickets and handily bolstered my bank balance. Indeed, there was a time in 2006 where due to a combination of luck, skill, and the state of the online poker world, I was earning, per hour, the same as my wage at work, and was bringing in well over $1,000 a month, all for maybe a dozen hours a week of recreation, playing 4 tables at once, 400 hands an hour.

But, with such earning potential, my hobby inevitably became more than a pastime. When you’re making real money playing cards, there comes a point at which the opportunity cost of NOT playing starts to weigh heavily. I started feeling almost that it was my responsibility to play, to take advantage of these extra earnings (NB I was far from poverty-stricken at the time and in actuality, the marginal difference made to my life by the extra cash was pretty much irrelevant). And when a leisure activity becomes a duty, it becomes a lot less fun.

Combine this with the psychological blow of the inevitable losing sessions (which, as I explained in part 1, are absolutely to be expected, and as long as they don’t drive you to tilt shouldn’t even register as a negative, but which still sting, every single time), and the game wasn’t such a positive element any more. This was reinforced as the nature of the poker world gradually changed. Inevitably, as the noobs, drunks and idiots lost their money, fewer and fewer returned to the tables; simultaneously, the new wave of online players at fairly low stakes, including myself, were improving our skills to a level of low-risk competence.

Many evenings, we’d find ourselves essentially circulating buyins, no-one obviously more skilled then the next man (unless an obvious mark turned up, in which case there’d be a brief feeding frenzy), and the house being the only one to take away decent bucks. As a result, my profits went down, the number of losing sessions went up, and the game lost a lot of its appeal – how could it have been otherwise, since it felt comparable to being given a 75% pay cut in your day job. Motivation is bound to suffer.

My reaction, after a while, was to start playing tournament poker (the form I described in part 1); previously I’d been playing cash (or ring) poker, where you can sit down at an empty seat at the table, buy in up to a set maximum, and play for as long as you like, maybe doubling, tripling your stack, maybe losing it all and buying in again. It requires a slightly different skillset from tourney play, and a stronger sense of discipline – it’s all about playing the percentages, not making mistakes, because the format means there’s seldom any need to go for broke.

Tournament poker, on the other hand, is less patient. Every so often, the minimum bet size is raised (this is necessary, because as people go out of the tournament, average stack sizes increase, so bet sizes must increase as well), and this puts pressure on players to take more chances – you can’t simply sit back and play only your best cards, you have to use other, more intangible skills, taking advantage of table position, relative stack sizes, and making reads on opponents. So in this sense it’s a more fun, faster game, with the added benefit that you can only lose one buyin rather than, theoretically, a limitless number as you can in the cash game.

The flipside of tourney play is that luck becomes a much bigger factor, and it’s much harder to know with any certainty just what your profit expectations are (by and large they’re slightly lower than cash play, as a result of luck trumping skill that much more often). And I started to find that this helped me focus less on my winnings and more on the game itself. Which was good for a while, but led to my by now fragile enthusiasm waning further, as I found that without the pressure I wasn’t fussed about winning or losing, which makes poker, in a vacuum, fairly pointless! And that’s why, about 2 years ago, I essentially gave up, apart from the very occasional game with friends.

These days, I am playing fairly often again, and much of that time is with friends – mostly online, but friendly live games are the best thing about poker, and I hope I can play more of them. It’s an utterly different experience compared to heads down, “professional” play – it’s about having a laugh, playing a good game, socialising with actual people you like, and, with a bit of luck, making a few $$ at the end of the night (though the stakes are so small, now, that it’s never more than a small bonus, or small annoyance, when I win or lose). And it’s the opposite of anti-social, an inevitable risk of spending hours slumped over a laptop.

When I do play online against strangers, I’m enjoying applying my tactical mind again. My mindset really works with the combination of strategy, perceptiveness and discipline it involves – I don’t mean to say I’m great at any of those things, but I’m decent – better than average, at the low stake games I inhabit – but I enjoy the thought process. And, as it happens, I am winning pretty consistently again – tens of dollars now, instead of hundreds, but on balance I think I prefer it that way.

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  1. wot wot biondino has a blog now wot?

  2. Anything that becomes too much of an obsession is not good, I think, but as long as you can walk away and interact with real life people too, then I reckon that must be okay. I am absolutely terrified of gambling.
    Beautifully written, Blonde one

  1. November 5th, 2010

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