Poker Essays

Poker - A Safe Hobby For Small Budgets
By March 2006

Hobbies usually require a certain financial input. Whether you keep bees or you travel around the world driving fast cars, you will need to invest a certain amount of money into your hobby. And you do it with a good feeling of promoting your wellbeing. This holds just as true for the hobby of poker - with the small exception that poker might actually turn out to be free of charge. If you do it well.

Applying the right philosophy
Making poker a safe and cheap hobby requires a certain attitude which, if you can acquire it, may be beneficial to other areas of your life as well. It's about a certain discipline, a mastery of your desires, controlling your greed. It's about exercising your patience.

Stick to your budget
First, decide how much your hobby is allowed to cost. Book this sum in your poker account every month. In this way, if you do well, you may build up a small poker capital, a very nice thing that gives you the opportunity to play with risk-free money. If you empty your poker account before the end of the month, you cannot play until next month. This is an absolute rule of discipline. When this happens, think of not playing as a test of character that will make you strong. Furthermore, being "broke" is no reason to ignore your hobby. The days or weeks until the next deposit are a time for studies. Read and re-read your poker books. Be active on poker forums. Analyze your hand histories to find the reasons why you went broke (see below).

Stay in your league
Always play on a level that suits your budget, don't sit down at poker tables where the stakes are too high. You will go between ups and downs like a yo-yo. This is true for all players, even the best. The result of a poker hand is always influenced by chance, which means that good starting hands will lose to worse starting hands time and time again. This is in the nature of the game. Therefore, it is important that you can take a number of losses before going broke. You might want to play on a level where your monthly deposit is big enough to buy in to, for example, 10 sit-and-gos, or make five buy-ins to a no limit or pot limit cash game, or post 100 big blinds in a fixed limit cash game. You will develop a feeling for the appropriate level for your wallet. From an economic point of view, you can never play too low. However, psychologically you may notice that playing with too low stakes may make you less motivated and lead to bad play. Since it happens so often, you need to take "unfair" losses without much emotion. After many hands, chance evens out! If you have the strength of character to continue doing the right plays despite these natural streaks of bad luck, you will be a winner. And then you may be able to move up to a higher level.

Watch the repeat
An important part of the poker hobby is to analyze your games afterwards. Analyzing games you have played may not be as fun as playing, but you need to discipline yourself. This is a test of character. End every session on the Internet by requesting a hand history from the site. Print it out. Read it on the bus or whenever you can find the time. Carry a sheet where you jot down the most important lessons from your latest analyses. Once you understand why you made a certain mistake, you can avoid it in the future. This of course will save you a lot of poker chips in the long run. As you gain more knowledge, your analyses will be more and more precise. When you start out, you may think: "I flopped two pair but he probably had three of a kind so my fold was correct." As a more seasoned player, your analysis may go something like: "I flopped two pair, but it was bottom two pair. My opponent raised my flop bet. He bet half his stack rather than going all in right away, which is a bad sign. After folding I had an M of 15. There were only a few places left to the money. It was a good fold."

Taking a shot
This low-profile approach to poker requires a lot of patience and long term thinking. It may not satisfy you if you need big risks to feel alive. But even if you feel fine in general, playing at a level that suits your budget, once in a while you may be overcome by an urge to spice things up. And why not? After all, it's about having fun in the first place, right? So by all means, take a shot at a table with higher limits, or buy in to a tournament that is too expensive for your budget, but where the first prize makes you all dizzy. This will probably blow up your small winnings, or force you to spend the rest of the month reading about poker, but it is no disaster - as long as you have the strength of character to step down to your level again.

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