Okay, I freely admit it. I’m a poker player, a professional player, defined as one who has played for money. I am now recovering, sort of.
For three years, I pretty much ate, slept and well, played poker. A lot of poker. I won because I was good. But I never won a lot, not even a little lot. The reason took a long time to untangle from all the possibilities.
I read perhaps 10-12 poker books. Most of them on low level hold-em, mostly fixed as opposed to no limit. I confess to not being very good at no limit, and that may be partly because I would leave the practice quickly when I lost.
I played odds, I knew the combinations, I knew all the lingo and all the rules and exceptions. I studied. I practiced. And I played, day in and day out. Often, I played multiple tables, four at a time. I played everything from .01/.02 up to $1/2 level poker. And I found that in the end, you can’t win.
Oh, I can say I won more than I lost. I certainly did that. I have the deposits in our bank to prove it. But my dream, of moving up with an initial ante of $50 to the big tables and real money never materialized.
I was told it would. The books, mostly written by poker champions, said that I would. And I believed them. Yes, I know, that’s why books are written, to get you to fall for the promise of getting something for next to nothing. I don’t fall for all the gimmicks in magazines, “make 20,000/month in only three months with our proven sales technique!” No I don’t fall for that, but I fell for this.
I had charts and odds lists taped to the computer. I knew them by heart in a short time. I knew that losing days happened, even to the best players. I bought the “scientific logic” that would win out in the end. And in truth I suspect when written, the books were accurate.
They did not anticipate the floodgates of poker players that would descend once poker became a TV event. Being told again and again that even you can do this, does tend to bring forth the lazy but hungry among us. Hungry for fame and fortune. I dreamed of being at the final table at the WPC, bluffing off all the big names. I would do it, because I was a student of the game–I deserved it.
Deserving anything means about zero in poker. It’s an ugly game of guts and patience, and extreme discipline. I could do that, but what the poker writers and I obviously missed is that none of this works but in a logical world where people act rationally. And at small stakes poker, most people don’t act rationally.
The reason is simple. The book writers usually called low stakes poker the vicinity of $5-10 or $30-60 antes. The presumed, correctly mostly, that at a table of 8, 5 people would be rational in their decisions pretty much, while two would be real idiots, and one, you, would be the killer player.
The problem is as you invite a few tens of millions more into the mix of player, you invite a whole slew of people who have a lot of disposable income to use for “entertainment” purposes. Thus at the baby tables, such as the $.05/.10, and certainly at my main table $.25/.50, there are simply too many people who can afford and happily spend $10-30 bucks a day having fun.
Sure, they win some days, and that’s the fun for them. But they are going to play pretty much every hand, which they shouldn’t and pretty much too far into every hand, which they definitely shouldn’t. So they are taking way too many pots from me, usually on the ubiquitous river card. On a table of 8, I’m playing against fully 5 people at least who are just playing stupid. The trouble is when that many are being stupid, the odds you had are gone.
I agonized for months about all this. I read more books, changed my style a dozen times, played other games like Omaha hi/lo and so forth. To no avail. I had weeks on end of blissful winning, but every time I attempted to use that to catapult me to the next level, I still ran into too many who don’t care about odds and that, but just want the thrill of making the upsetting win. At the higher levels, my stack of chips was soon depleted and I was back down in the basement again.
So I quit playing poker. The Contrarian still plays at Poker Stars. He’s amassed $6 million in play chips. I started playing again at Facebook, at a place called Poker Madness. It’s even worse than the poker sites. Everybody was raising to the max, “going all in” it’s called, even with putrid hands like a 4-2 off-suit. They call it “having fun.” I call it denigrating a great game of skill to a childish “rush” on taking a useless hand and lucking out against much better ones.
I went back to Poker Stars yesterday, and played a bit of Omaha. I had fun. There is some sense of trying there, at least more than I was getting at FB. I don’t have any desire to play professionally again, though. I’ve learned my lesson. You don’t get something for nothing. Mostly that’s a rule you can count on.
What hidden vice lurks behind your oh so perfect facade? I’d like to hear.