Wednesday, February 08, 2006

An easy buck, but for what?

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.


Carla said...

This is my favorite blog entry of yours so far.

Even though you made a mean comment on my myspace account. :P

OneTrueRock said...

Wonderful to see others having similar thoughts.

Great post!

OneTrueRock said...

Wonderful to see others having similar thoughts.

Great post!

SirFWALGMan said...

Great post. I used to think id like to go pro.. but I am too emotional and tilt off my chips to guys like you too much, lol.

I actually have no problem with the not contributing to society part. I mean how much does 90% of the work done in America contribute to society? Me making a web page for $$$ sure as hell does not. If I want to contribute to society I will do something in my spare time.

Justin said...

The way I see it, if you're paying your taxes, you are contributing to society. How many people leech off society? Sure, poker may not be a meaningful occupation but you don't cheat or steal for your money. You just happen to be more skillful at a game than your oppponents. As for the conscience bit, they're trying to take your money as much as you're trying to take theirs. You have no obligation to feel bad for the losers. If they have addiction issues, then the onus is on themselves or their families to seek help. Who's to blame for the smoker with lung cancer: the smoker or the cigarette manufacturer? Whatever happened to personal responsibility and accountability? It's the law of the jungle: big fish eat the little ones.

Pokerwolf said...

I can understand having empathy for other people after "taking their money", but it is impossible to be emotionally or physically responsible for the actions of others. They have their own wants, needs, feelings, etc.

It's not your problem if they can't afford to lose the money their playing poker with. They'd play with it whether you gave a crap or not.

Understandably, playing poker for a living is a hard thing to deal with emotionally and mentally. But, try not to saddle yourself with the issues of others. That will only lead you to depression and dissatisfaction. Why let the actions of others control how you feel?