Lesson #6: Have Fun

Social PokerThroughout the first five lessons, I've been working hard to get across the idea that playing poker isn't, for all but the most talented and lucky people, a fast track to riches and glory. I've stressed how much work is involved, the importance of setting goals and having discipline. But goals, discipline, bankroll management and extensive studying will not do you much good if you have to every day force yourself into doing it. Working purposefully and intensively can take some time to get used to, but it shouldn't be a painful and boring experience every step of the way. Quite frankly, very few people are so discplined that they will do something they just don't enjoy, day out and day in, when they're their own boss.

I don't want anyone to do that, and I don't expect anyone to do that. I hope that you'll do it because you will see results and reap rewards from it, and that that in turn will make what may seem like tedious timesinks into something enjoyable. I've kept repeating that setting goals is an important way to motivate yourself to work hard, but there's no motivator as powerful as having fun.

You should want to keep track of your bankroll, you should enjoy studying and you should have fun while playing. Why would you bother doing this, otherwise? If you're a discplined and intelligent enough person to be successful at poker, you're very likely to be able to make more money working for a company from 9-5, because people like you are highly sought after in the job market. Playing poker in order to make money is only worth it if you enjoy it, because it takes extreme talent to make it to the highest echelons where the big money is at. I suppose extreme and ridiculous luck will do the trick as well, but no article series is going to help you in getting lucky.

So remember to have fun. If you find yourself constantly frustrated at the poker table, ask yourself why you're playing to begin with. Anyone and everyone will feel frustrated in the course of a longer downswing, that's inevitable, but if you find yourself swearing and getting enraged at bad beats even when you're winning, you're either thriving on the rage (which I'm not sure is psychologically healthy) or you're not actually enjoying what you're doing and you're caught in a gambling addiction problem. You don't have to feel sincerely chipper about having your set cracked by a runner-runner flush, but if you find that you spend most of your time playing feeling angry or frustrated, something's wrong.

It's difficult to force yourself to enjoy something, if you don't already, but there are things you can do to at least get more out of it. Here's a psychological trick I've picked up in a book (a book that had nothing to about poker): Try to smile a little while you're playing. You don't have to sit and grin, but try to at least keep a somewhat happy or relaxed looking facial expression - even if you're playing online. See, the body is a weird mechanism, and there are actually relationships between facial expresssions and state of mind. If you're happy, you smile. But if you smile, your brain will subconciously be a little happier! For more on this phenomenon, check out //psp.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/30/2/237 There are other psychological tricks you can employ to strengthen the sense of confidence and happiness, but this one is so simple that I had to share it.

Also, making friends among other poker players is a good thing. Doing so will bring a social side to what's otherwise a loner's game. Post on online forums and bring some humor into the mix, it can't hurt. Be nice and notice how others are nice to you. These friends will be there to support you through the bad times, and there to help you develop in the good runs.

And try to not see studying as a chore, but as a challenge. Try to figure out the pattern, like a riddle that should be solved. Reflect on why you played a certain why, and if you could have done it differently. What would have happened then? Was top pair a likely enough holding for your opponent that re-raising would be profitable in the long run or did he play the hand weirdly? Why does Sklansky recommend sometimes raising with hands like 98s preflop? This is not high school, and no one will grade you on your knowledge except you yourself.

If you cash out some portion of your winnings, do something fun for it. Go out and see a movie, buy some new toy. I bought a DVD player with a hard drive, which has an added benefit: It allows me to record shows I want to watch so I can catch up when I'm at a particularly juicy table. Or maybe, if you're doing well, a trip to Vegas? The money that you've won and that you've cashed out are yours to do whatever you want with.

I don't know what works for you, but there are ways to get enjoyment out of the game that aren't solely dependent on dragging a big pot. Ultimately, you'll have to figure this out for yourself. Just don't neglect the fun sides of it, and don't think that I recommend that you turn into a machine who works without pause or emotion. Being at a good state of mind will make everything easier, and it will allow you to keep it up.

No job is worth being miserable, and poker is no exception. "Being your own boss" can hardly be such a great thing if you walk through life unhappy about what you do. So remember to have fun.

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