Why Play Poker?

I think that before I get started on anything related to poker strategy a question that needs to be asked is why should you play this game in the first place? It’s not that I am trying to convince you to play poker. You wouldn’t be reading this book without a pretty serious interest in it. I want to talk about why we play this game more in the rhetorical sense. That is, to remind us why we play. Because this underpins everything.

There are plenty of other games out there from chess, to video games, to board games and so on. I think one of the biggest reasons why people are drawn to poker over these other games is that it involves money. And if you get good enough, lots of it. There is a direct financial incentive to get good at poker whereas that isn’t always the case with the other ones.

Now I don’t think that money is the end of it though. It does largely make the world go round’ and everybody could use some more of it. But there is also an excitement factor that intrigues people. Televised poker in particular, over the past 5 to 10 years, has really taken this game to new levels. There is a huge level of excitement in a massive all in pot with millions on the line that is just unmatched in almost any other sort of competition.

And this is no different for me. When I started playing poker I was immediately drawn to the challenge and excitement of the game. After all, I was playing for virtual chips which had no real value at all. My enthusiasm was definitely spurred on by watching WPT episodes and “Rounders” for the 14th time. I had an almost romantic connection with the game from the start. I was obsessed with it.

I think this story is pretty similar to a lot of other people’s. However, anyone who gets involved with this game for any reasonable length of time soon learns that the reality of it is quite a bit different. While poker is definitely exciting at times and offers plenty of new and interesting challenges, it can also be quite boring, monotonous and sometimes highly frustrating. That is, if you want to be a winning poker player. Losing poker players always have fun. As I often say, winning poker is simply an exercise in pain tolerance much of the time.

Well I hope you haven’t thrown this book in your trash bin yet after all that and are still with me. The truth is poker is a beautiful game as well. It is amazing on so many levels and has so many direct comparisons with events and situations in our lives. I have always thought that poker is really just a microcosm of life. Poker rewards things like hard work, level headed thinking under pressure, discipline, and risk management. These are all skills that will also take you very far in your other pursuits in life.

Variance

But it is important that we have a healthy and critical understanding of this game as well. I refer to this as kind of like knowing what you signed up for. I don’t expect very many total beginners to be reading this book so I don’t think I need to tell you that this game is full of ups and downs. And this won’t end, ever. There is nobody who is good enough at this game to be able to overcome the downs and only have ups. “Variance,” which is just a word that is used to describe these swings, is a constant and must be accepted by anyone who plays this game.

I’d like to be able to write some amazing, groundbreaking, insider look at variance after having played millions and millions of hands of poker. But I can’t. All I can do is just be completely honest. I do not understand the short run in this game. I only understand the long run. In the long run I win. In the short run I have no idea what is going to happen. And I just have to accept that.

The Short Run

I should mention that by short run I mean anything under 100k hands. I know that this may sound like a huge number for someone who comes from a live background and may not even see this amount of hands in a year. Or for someone who only plays a couple hours a week online and doesn’t do much multi-tabling. But unfortunately this is the way that it is. Winrates can be wildly off the mark with a sample size of less than this amount. The short run really isn’t so short.

In those 5 million hands that I have played, I have had several stretches of close to 100k hands, and even a couple over that amount, where I ran significantly below expected value (EV). So far below that it would be easy to conclude that I was a losing poker player. On the flip side, I have had several runs of this length that would seem to indicate that I am a god among men at the poker tables. Obviously neither of these conclusions are true. And that is why it is so difficult to try and make sense of the short run. .

Good or bad runs of this length won’t happen very often at all. But they can and will happen to you eventually. I feel like I could write a whole book on short term variance alone. But thank God I won’t. All I can tell you is that crazy stuff happens and sometimes for a long time in this game.

Sadly, there are a lot of potentially great poker players who worked hard but got unlucky for long stretches at the beginning of their careers and quit. On the flip side, there are scores of bad players who got lucky early on and either proceeded to give it all back and more, or got better and started winning. Whichever the case, they stuck around because of the positive reinforcement that they got from that early win.

But this is just the way it is in life in many areas, not just poker. The people who make it are usually hard workers and talented and all that. But they are usually the lucky ones as well. Think of the band who happened to be playing in front of that big record company executive, who happened to be very interested in signing some new talent, on that particular night. I could list other scenarios but you get the point.

The Long Run

But it isn’t all doom and gloom. There is this whole idea of the long run which actually has a very happy ending.

You already saw it before when I posted my results. Poker is a game of skill. Period.

Whereas the short run usually isn’t worth paying much attention to, the long run is something that you can critically assess and have some realistic expectations about. Once you have played a couple hundred thousand hands of poker and you are showing a profit, you are a winning poker player (at least at those limits) and there is no denying that. As crazy as the short run can be at times, your time is worth money at the poker tables.

And this should be the end goal of course for anyone who takes this game seriously. While there are some great rakeback rewards that you can take advantage of these days, which allow breakeven or even slightly losing players to still show a profit in the long run, who wants that? I am a highly competitive person and I would much rather quit and find something else to do if I couldn’t actually beat the games. I imagine that this is the case with a lot of the people reading this book as well.

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