Why do I play poker?
(Warning: Fairly long post)
I don't, actually. I've been on a short hiatus, although since I started playing it's the longest consecutive break I've taken from poker (about 2 months, no poker at all). I almost began playing again today. I sat down at a full ring LHE table on FTP, brought 50BB to the table. I was quite a ways away from the BB so I had some time to think. Before the BB got to me, before I played my first hand, I got up and left the table.
I realized in those few minutes from sitting down to standing up, I don't know why I'm playing. Now, brief bio. I've been playing since Nov. 2006, have fairly consistent results, and by many measures am a winning player (if you search my PTR ratings you'll notice I have negative earnings, positive BB/100, and an enormous tilt score). And I managed in these past 3 years to win about $150, nothing impressive but better than losing. In December 2009 I stopped playing poker and renewed my World of Warcraft (WoW) account for 2 months. And WoW is much more addictive than poker so the hiatus grew. Soon my subscription to WoW will end and I don't plan to renew. I'm already slightly bored so I thought I would start poker again.
But before I start down the poker road again (pun intended), I thought I should examine some philosophical queries I had.
Like many others, I had, at times, ambitions of making it big, moving to Vegas, and playing poker for a living. I graduated college during the 3 years since I started playing. I finally realized while I may one day become a pro (unlikely but not impossible), I will not make that a goal, but rather set a goal to get my PhD and do my own research. If poker should become a bigger part of my life, so be it.
Another question I encountered was the titular question of this post, why do I play? If I could only ever play poker again for play money, would I continue to do so? Is the money all that keeps me here? Well, in the past, I have played for only play money. It was indeed several months before I played freerolls
, and almost a year after that before I deposited my first and only time ($50 on PS). But now, knowing I can win real money
with a little bit of effort, could I turn back if I had to? Honestly, no. Sure, I might pop into a play money table if I missed it, but I probably wouldn't stay long. Like my renewal of WoW, I would get bored again.
But therein is another question, why did I renew WoW? To be honest, because I was bored...with poker. That boredom could have been fatigue of 3 years, or it could be a weakness that will prevent me from ever being more than a casual player. I don't think I will find much substance in trying to probe the boredom.
So, do I play only for money? I don't think so. I was never much good at sports, so the satisfaction of being able to win at something could be a reason. Or it could be the social interaction (less prominent in online play). Maybe it's the mental challenge. I obviously strive for challenging mental problems if I one day want to attain my PhD and do my own research (biomedical, for anyone that's curious, I have a B.S. in Molecular Biology & Microbiology).
What has been so far established is that I have and have had reasons for playing poker. But should I continue to? Can I really start playing again and not feel the pull to become better, to become a Vegas pro? Probably not, but I don't believe many can. The better question is, can I ignore that feeling? Can I not let that pull, that desire take me away from other goals? Should I let it? These are, I think, the first questions of this post I don't have answers to. There are many people on this forum alone who have long term winning results at high enough levels they could go pro, but they don't (please don't hesitate to reply, especially if you are in this category).
Another question is even harder to answer. The popularity of databases like PT3 and HEM have come under heavier criticism recently. I happened to notice a CardPlayer article (that must have been retracted because I can no longer find it) during my hiatus. It was about a FTP red pro who used hand histories from another pro to beat an unknown in the high levels that was making massive headlines (sorry, w/o the article I can't recall specifics). Anyway, the article talked about online trackers such as those listed above. It got me thinking, briefly then but more so today, about the nature of poker.
Poker is a zero sum game if two people with identical styles play together for an infinitely long time. But some people have advantages. Where those advantages come from is what sparks controversy. Doyle Brunson, Mike Caro, etc established their strategies decades ago, put them in books and now we have those strategies. Given hand histories, I can examine my opponents play and generate strategies from those. Given a database like PTR, I can look at the stats of my opponents before I sit down. 3 different ways to gain insight and formulate poker strategies. I don't know anyone who would call reading a poker book an unfair advantage, but there are plenty who would call HH tools and PTR unfair, although all 3 are at heart doing the same thing. All 3 methods are designed to give someone the upper hand, so to speak.
So, the unsaid question from 2 paragraphs ago: given that poker is about creating strategies to win money from other players, can an ethical line be drawn? Can you truly talk ethics when money (especially large sums) is on the line? Top pros, such as in Bobby's Room, often talk about hands they played. So if pro A asks pro B about hand Z played against pro C, pro B gains information about both pro A and pro C. But since pro C (or amateur C, for that matter) didn't consent, it's the same as something like PTR is it not? I don't know. It's why this is so much more difficult to answer. How do you define cheating when poker is a game of advantages? It's not cheating when one player reads a book and another doesn't. But it's cheating when one player marks cards and another doesn't know. As much as it may seem black and white, it's not. The two previous situations are very similar, one person has an advantage and another doesn't. So, can I play poker when I know that cheating is so poorly defined and so nearly uncontrollable?
I think I'll stop here. There is more to say, but I think this is a good stopping point. I would greatly appreciate comments on any section and will do my best to answer any questions. But I can't say I'll see you on the felt, I just don't know yet.