Monday, January 21, 2008

Enjoy Poker

Paris: Do you love me, brother? Will you protect me from any enemy?
Hector: Last time you spoke to me like this you were 10 years old and you'd just stolen Fathers horse, what have you done now?

This past week held no poker for me, save for a very short 5 person SNG at a home that I came in third after not winning a pot, but I have already been given permission to fill my poker void to the brim this coming long weekend.

I am noticing a common theme among many people recently, that being a loss of love for poker. Not just the other blogs I read, but other players I know that are growing tired of poker or are not finding it the thrill it once was for them. There is no single reason for the group dissent, but there are a few broad categories that some, perhaps even the majority, of these people fall into.

Some are the early adopters of the poker craze. After Rounders, Chris Moneymaker and the World Poker Tour brought poker into the homes of more people, naturally the interest in poker grew. With any new trend, and I believe the poker boom has lasted too long to be called a fad, there are some that are in at the ground level when everything is exciting and new. Now there is poker in every single pub in Sydney, your friend’s grandmother has a favourite player, and each passing year brings the story of some other first timer who became a millionaire at the turn of the card. Poker is no longer the newest thing, and the early adopter who was once part of a niche culture has now lost the exclusivity of their involvement, which may have been half the appeal. All in all, poker is probably better off without these guys anyway.

Some others are finding that with the time past, some of the donkeys and fish have actually learned a thing or two, while they sat on their hands thinking “how awesome am I taking all these chips”. All of a sudden, it’s not so easy and a loosing streak hits. It’s hard to keep your passion up when loosing, especially when it was the monetary results that made poker attractive to you in the first place. As before, poker is also probably better off without these douches too.

Others have tried to make a living out of poker, and now find it boring. It’s not a surprise really, this happens. Even the biggest names in poker get bored with it some times – when it’s all you do day in and day out, you are going to get bored with it. I remember an interview in some magazine many years ago, and I think it was a big name quarterback at the time that said “(American) Football has ruined my Sunday’s”. The reasoning was before he went professional, he had a great time on Sunday with family and friends, having a few beers and a BBQ and watching a game of football on TV. Even after he had retired from the NFL though, he couldn’t watch football without it being work.

I kind of feel sorry for these kind of poker players. We’ve heard the old saying repeated many times over – “Poker is a hard way to make an easy living” – but few have really tried to understand what that means. It’s not only that it is hard to turn a profit and make a living playing poker, what with other people pursuing the same dream and a casino taking their cut along the way. It is also hard to discipline yourself to do this day in and day out, essentially turning poker not just into a living, but into “work”. And that is what it has become for these people, work and not fun.

If you think poker is not as fun for you as it once was, then you only have yourself to blame. You’ve tried to turn a hobby into a life, when the reality is very few people have the skill to do so, and even fewer have the personality and demeanour to live that way.

If you can not have fun while throwing chips around a home game with your friends, then either the game has been lost to you or you need to find some better friends. I’ve said it before, I’ve had massive loosing sessions where my wallet has been emptied and I’ve had just as much fun doing it. That should be what poker is about for the most of us. If you can’t enjoy it why play?

But you make money playing poker you say, that’s why you play!

That’s why you have a job. That shouldn’t be the reason to play. Sure, it makes things more interesting and it’s nice to pick up some money while pursuing a hobby. My other main hobby would have to be video games, and they cost me a stack. Especially compared to my poker hobby, which has paid either directly or indirectly for a lot of things around the house.

But that’s not why I play. Poker is still fun for me. I haven’t tried to treat it any differently than as a hobby. I’ve tried to improve, even kept results and records so compare different games. Which goes to prove my point. There is a poker room in Sydney that I have an amazing record at. My ROI for games at this place is somewhere in the 200% mark, while last year my overall ROI was just under 30%. But I hardly go there anymore, because the games are not that much fun, and over too quickly.

While making a profit playing poker is nice, and indeed one of the goals of the game by design, it can’t be the sole reason for playing – or even the main reason – unless this is your entire living. For most of us, this isn’t how we make a living. It’s beer money, or Vegas Trip money, or that 50” Plasma money – it’s not rent money and there is a difference, there has to be a difference.

I play online poker for money, there is no doubt about that, and it isn’t nearly as fun as the home games I play.

So if you are feeling a little burned out by poker, maybe it isn’t because you’ve been playing too much. Maybe it’s because you just having been playing it right. Slow roll your quads against your buddies, calling out “Two pair – sevens and sevens!” – it’s all ok amongst friends. Go rabbit hunting for the runner-runner straight flush. Offer to chop when you’ve got 5 high. Have some fun with it and make a bet not because it is +EV to do so, do it because it has a +FUN value too.

Poker is a game. Sometimes, you need to treat it as such.

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