Raise or Fold:  Learning (From) Poker

Writing and playing poker as if they were activities worth doing well.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Joy of Poker

Those of you following along on my tweets already know the outcome of my trip last weekend to Atlantic City: a big steaming pile of break-even.

And you know what? That's just fine with me.

I had a little mini-revelation on this outing. Despite my decision to let go of the pro-poker dream, I was still playing as if my livelihood depended on it. Now, generally, one might think was a good thing. Discipline, etc. And that's undoubtedly true.

But playing professionally is also notoriously a grind. It's especially a grind when things have not been going one's way for a protracted period of time: the bad results are depressing, and bad results often lead to bad play, which leads to more bad results. It's the most vicious of vicious cycles.

My first day was a downer. Lose lose lose lose. Bleah. No fun. Lots of folding, discipline aplenty, then one dubious decision and buh-bye stack. At day's end, I vowed to myself that I would play my A game in the Circuit tournament. My one and only goal was regret-free poker.

And I did. I played for six hours without making a single error. I watched glumly as the correct folds I made would have turned into table-stacking monsters, but I made the right choices. I was colossally card-dead most of the time, and was presented with very few viable stealing opportunities. More than six hours in, I still had a starting stack, and it was shove-or-fold time. I won a few blinds and antes. I folded KJo to a raise and re-raise in front of me and missed the flopped boat (d'oh!). I finally shoved with pocket 8s and lost to AK behind me.

I was now $700 in the hole for the trip. But I was feeling pretty good about the way I'd played in the tournament, and I wasn't especially tired. I decided that, since I was unlikely to be back in AC in the near future, I might as well mix it up in the cash games again and this time try to actually enjoy it. I took $1000 to the table and promised myself that I was going to play well and have fun: no scared money here, no ubernitiness. I brought out my cheerful, social persona. I was going to have a good time no matter how the cards fell.

And I did, oh yes I did.

My hand selection criterion became: will I have fun playing this hand (in this position, for these stakes, against these players)? My folding, calling, betting, or raising criterion: which action will be most fun?

And because I consider winning money more fun than losing, this didn't change my gameplay a great deal. What it did change was my attitude.

I proceeded to play for six more hours, during which time I completely recouped my loss and made a few bucks to boot. I began to remember why I got hooked on poker in the first place. I rediscovered my inner recreational player.

So that's me, now: I'm a recreational player, and that's okay. In fact, I like it! A great psychological weight has been lifted. My little hobby more than pays for itself, plus I get free hotel rooms and food too. And I now have license to play JUST FOR THE SHEER FUN OF IT. Wheeeeee!

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