Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Why I Play Live Poker

The last week has been a little trying, but it has reminded me why I play live poker. The opposition that I'm consistently able to face is just beyond weak. They don't have a freaking clue what they are doing. They open limp the button and CO with all manner of hands, from crappy aces down to 65 suited. They cold call with AK, call the cap back to them, then raise the K74 flop, only to check back the turn because well their capping range is exactly {AA} and get upset when their lone opponent rivers a set of tens (your truly folded QQ on the flop in this hand when faced with two cold). I realized after the hand that the guy actually thought he was behind on the turn, which is why he didn't bet. It was a cheap showdown raise, a phrase Captain R has nearly brought into the lexicon of late. They defend their blind with J7o, then peel the flop of KQ5r (I checked back ATo on two more streets and won the hand at showdown). Your 5 card hand is KQJ75 with not even three to a flush. What are you trying to make? Your opponent raised like 4 or 5 seats off the button; you are behind every single hand in his range and often drawing to running cards. To quote Quantum Hoops, "I assume this guy calls the flop just 'cause". The seemingly reasonable among them spew c/r bluff with A7o on the QT6 flop. The same guy donked ATs Q65-9-2 river, and I cringe/called with the K9s. How did he get to the river? Did he think A-high was good? Was he playing WA/WB, assuming I'd call the river with less? They declare "just 'cause it's you" and cold call your UTG raise with 54s. They check/call, check/call, check/call JT in a blind steal on a J65-8-A board and simply can't understand how you, the CO opener, could possibly have raised A8o, bet the flop with air, bet the turn with second pair, and had the audacity to suck out on the river. To be clear from your point of view you had the stone cold nuts on every single street. And to be clearer again all these things are just from memory of YESTERDAY's 20/40 session, and were all hands that went to showdown. I can only imagine what these people are doing the times their cards hit the muck sometime before the river.

This got me to thinking about why it is that people play poker. I don't really have much of a plan for this post, but I'm thinking it should work out pretty well if I have the heart to stick with it for an hour or so, so here we go. Most people play for more than one of these reasons, and obviously they prioritize them differently, but I'll do my best to explain.

1. To Make Money

Of course almost everyone actually has the goal of making money (that is the objective of the game), but there are some players whom admit that they are losers in the game. One player from Commerce stands out, as he often argues with the floor man that he's "spending a lot of money trying to have a good time" and "shouldn't have to put up with this shit." But people like him are definitely in the minority. The real difference along this dimension is how important results are to individual players. There are guys like me who are doing this "for a living" or whatever, for whom sadly the bottom line really does matter. Babar is constantly harping on me to not check my results, to stack my chips such that I don't know how I'm doing, to cover my stack with my HUD when I play online, but to be honest some of this stuff just isn't viable. I need to make money playing this game, or I need to quit, and it's as simple as that. If I'm not 100% but the game is still fantastic I need to gut out another hour or two at three quarters impulse power. If I wake up and don't feel like playing a lot of times that's just too bad. So an important skill for me becomes recognizing when I'm not in tip top shape and adjusting my play to compensate. Do I really need to open KJo UTG at a full 9 handed table? Not right now. I do things to keep myself out of trouble by dropping marginal hands that have (probably) become unprofitable given my lack of 100% A-game.

2. To Get Better or Crush Souls

On the other side of the coin there are players for whom the money really doesn't matter. Captain R is an example of this type of player, someone who is in a sense a "recreational" player who happens to be frequently the best player in the room. The Captain has never played poker full time, but consistently logs 10-15 hour weeks while holding down an extremely respectable career. He has built up his bankroll starting as low as the games come, playing live 2/4 (and passing on 3/6 seats) years ago, progressing up through the green chip games, devastating the 20/40 and now playing as much 40/80 as he possibly can. The sick part is that he's really just done all this for the sake of learning to play the game. Now of course he would never have put this much effort into learning how to play Yahoo Euchre, but the fact of the matter still is quite simply that the money just isn't that important to him. He has truly learned to separate his results from his actions, and this has allowed him to thrive. He never plays when he's tired or not up to 100%. He also doesn't worry much about seat or table selection; he'll happily sit in a crappy seat or bad game so that he can learn how to deal with the situation. In short, his hourly rate is very low on list of factors he considers when he walks into the casino. All that matters is that he's 100% and ready to crush some souls, and therefore he more often than not does exactly that.

3. To Do Cool Stuff

KitCloudKicker comes to mind here. He's a very interesting poker player because he strives to think outside the box and discover situations in which he can deploy interesting and non-standard lines, usually in an attempt to exploit the living ba-jesus out of his hapless opponents. In a way this sort of falls into the previous category, but with some players you just get the sense that they're almost being contrarian just for the sake of it. Someone like Kit also abhors anything resembling a starting hand chart or anybody who responds to a question with something glib like "raise, you have top pair!" without providing any sort of justification. In short, he hates wrote memorization or any sort of situation in which he would play methodically or, dare I say, robotically. The players like me, for whom making money is a number 1 priority, have to embrace times that they can play methodically. If I'm in a super simple game with no players prone to fancy plays and random trickery I rejoice in my good fortune. For the next hour or so my brain will not be taxed. I'll be able to relax, make straightforward value bets and folds, and should show a tidy theoretical profit. A situation like this would likely bore Kit to tears, while Captain R would be basically indifferent to it, just like he always is.

4. To Make Friends, Be Social, or Simply Have Fun

To be perfectly honest, a lot of people (fish and otherwise) are at the casino specifically for this reason. Part of the reason I used to love live poker is the social interaction it provided, both with my opposition and friends that I made such as Pete and others in the Bay Area. I know lots of good players for whom the game really is just for fun. These players vary greatly in their desire to improve, and are motivated differently by different things. For some simply losing for a few weeks straight is enough to make the game no longer fun. For others losing is fine, but having to deal with a few real jerks in their game might make them take a few days off. I believe that if you ever lose this motivation completely you're not long for live poker.

Now there are lots of other (extremely bad) reasons that poor players play poker. The rush of gambling (which for me is actually a negative), to escape from their home lives, as an excuse to drink, etc, etc are all high on the list of reasons people drive themselves to the casino. There must be some other reasons that good players keep coming back as well, but those four seem to be germain (sp?) to me specifically. As I said, most players probably rank them differently, and to be quite frank the lower down you can place the "making money" goal the better off you'll likely be. For me poker is a constant struggle between the short, medium, and long term. The short term goal for the day is to play 8 hours of live 20/40. The medium term goal is watch a DC video, make some strategy posts on 2p2, and in general improve myself. The long term goal is to get enough relaxation and balance in my life that I continue to be happy with what I'm doing. It's a constant struggle, and just like any endeavor effort spent on the short term doesn't pay compounding dividends, but is an easy way to trick yourself into believing you're being productive.

I'm looking for a way to wrap this up, but I've got nothing. Good luck to everyone I know who's still in the ME, and well done to those I know who busted out yesterday. There, that was nice.

4 comments:

Oren said...

This is especially important to remember in NL games. Someone who is there for the rush and to gamble will never "I had the nut flush draw!" ever fold in some situations, basically no matter what you bet - which is a great thing obv.
So I always ask myself "why is he here?" when someone new sits down. And this of course brings us to the genius "How could you call that??" comments from the ego-centric players that think everyone there should be in the same state of mind that they are...

Captain R said...

LOL, I remember when I used to play 2/4 and the brush would be like "4 names on the list, but we have open seating for 3/6" and I would be all like "ohnononono I can't play that!"

jesse8888 said...

I would pay a lot of money for video of you turning down a 3/6 seat at Garden City because it was too big.

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