Poker is a lazy man's way to make a living. There, I said it, and it's hard to deny the validity of that statement. I took (at least) a year off of working in the real world to travel the tournament circuit and play at home online to report on what it's like to take the plunge of playing professionally. I think I can sum it up in two quick thoughts:
1) I can make a living playing poker
2) I don't like the way it makes me feel
I had lunch with a former boss today and we talked about this in some length. I can make two strong arguments against playing poker for a living.
First, it makes one feel unproductive. Let's be honest here. Most of us are raised with the thought ingrained in us that we must contribute to society in some way. Now while there are a lot of poker players who would respond with, "Fuck that," there are still many who probably feel like I do, but won't speak up. When I'm at home playing poker online I feel like a slug. Sometimes I wish someone would just pour salt on me. Our waiter today told us his wife at home just had a child and he waits tables at Lone Star and bartends at a couple of watering holes in town to support his family.
I could have told him this. "Hi, I'm Johnny, I sit at home and play poker on my computer. I work a lot less than you (not at all, really) but make a lot more money than you. Hell Ben (that was his name), if you play poker recreationally online, you might be one of the people whose hard earned money I take on a daily basis."
Which brings me to my second point, to win at poker you must prey on the weak -- both the weak minded and the emotionally weak. The worst players are the dumb ones who don't know proper game strategy, yet hop in a $10-$20 limit game anyway and the ones who can't control their emotions and play on tilt, bleeding chips in the process. It's those two sets of players from which we make our money.
Michael (that's my former boss) made the argument that businesses have to prey on people to make their money. He said if he walks into Lowe's and buys a sledgehammer, he doesn't feel he's being taken advantage of. My counterpoint is that we all make our money from other people, the difference is the manner in which we take it. As long as you're not price gouging, operating a business is an honest way to make a buck. People know what they're getting into. Many people playing poker don't realize what they're getting into because they are too weak. The rising popularity of the game has made poker akin to a black hole, it sucks people (and their money) into a place they cannot escape. I wonder how many more clients Gamboholics Anonymous has now after the poker boom.
I had my best session of poker ever last Tuesday. I played my regular shorthanded $10-$20 limit game for three hours and won almost $2,000. I hit everything. But I wondered later about the people I took the money off of. A couple of guys probably lost $500 to me. Could they stand to lose that much?
How can you be a successful gambler and have a conscious, Michael asked me. I may have a consciousness talking to you now, I replied, but when I'm at the table or on the computer I'm all business. I never softplay anyone at the table, but there are some people I wonder about later. I wonder if they can really afford to be losing that much money and why they don't stop. I think the answer is simply because they can't.
A poker player with a conscience? Weird, isn't it?
So does this mean I am quitting the game? Nope. I'm still holding to the game plan. I'll go to Reno in March and to Las Vegas in the summer. I'll play some tournaments and try to win a bundle. I'll interview some pros. I'll write a book.
I just don't see the game of poker quite as I did a year ago. I don't see it as my ticket to riches and the way out of a life I thought I was bored with. Sometimes if you run away from something long enough, you forget why it was you were running in the first place. Sometimes you wonder why you were running away at all.