Photo by Melissa Gray
Prior to 2009 I had very little experience with gambling. This changed, however, when one night in early 2009 I was invited to play Texas hold’em poker with some friends. I had no idea what I was doing, and unsurprisingly came away little bit poorer (say $20). Despite this small loss my interest in poker was sparked.
In the middle of 2009 I was invited to celebrate my brother-in-law’s birthday in Las Vegas. While I had now read a couple of books on Texas hold’em, I had very little experience actually playing the game (just two subsequent occasions with the same friends). Not wanting to be seen as a donkey (that’s a poker term for a bad player) in Vegas, I decided to gain some experience by playing online.
While you can play online poker with pretend money, it is basically a waste of time because people don’t act as they do when real money is at stake. This hints at the major reason I enjoy poker – there is a good deal of psychology involved. Because poker is a game of incomplete information, players must make educated guesses as to what will happen next and what their opponents are holding.
After a month or two of regularly playing online poker, the time finally came to head to Vegas. I was the only person in our group interested in poker, so most of the gambling I did in the first night/ day was at the blackjack table. I didn’t have much luck playing blackjack, but I found it a fun and sociable game to play. On the second night I decided to split from my group and hit the poker tables solo.
The first sit-and-go tournament (that’s a one table tournament) I played was fairly uneventful and I was knocked out early on. The second tournament, however, was an experience I will never forget. I received some good hands, and every decision I made just seemed to turn out right. Gradually other people at the table were knocked out, until finally it was just myself and one other guy remaining. At this stage I was unbelievably excited; even if I didn’t win I was guaranteed a nice pay-out for second place. After a few hands of limited action I received Ace-Queen off-suit, a strong hand in heads up hold’em. My opponent liked his hand as well and we both ended up all-in pre-flop. When he turned over his cards I sighed; he had Ace-King off-suit meaning I was dominated and my chances of winning the hand were only around 24%. Thankfully, however, I caught a Queen on the flop and this was enough to win the hand. I had handed my opponent a bad beat, but I didn’t care; I had won in Vegas!
Initially I had started playing online poker to prepare for Vegas, but on returning home I found the game hard to give up. Almost every night after the kids had gone to bed I would play for 1-2 hours. While I was enjoying myself, I became aware that playing this much was having some negative consequences:
- It was annoying my wife (and as they say, “happy wife, happy life”).
- It was distracting me from activities I consider to have lasting value (eg maintaining this blog).
- While I was only playing after the kids were had gone to bed, I was so keen to start playing in the evening that I was less tolerant with the kids as I put them to bed. My older son Xavier (at the time around 2.5 years) could be particularly difficult, and I found myself frequently losing my cool with him.
- As I was going to bed later than normal, I was tired the next day and my work performance suffered.
I was aware of these negatives for awhile, but still I found it hard to stop playing. What finally did it was one night when I found myself back at a point where I had neither won nor lost money playing online poker over the preceding months. I realized I had nothing to show for all those nights I had stayed up late, staring at the computer screen. I subsequently cashed out (the site sent me a cheque in the mail) and then uninstalled the poker software from my computer.
Thoughts On Online Poker
I experienced the high of winning in Vegas and the low of a mild online poker addiction that was interfering with my life. So what do I think of gambling and, in particular, online poker? The following are some of my thoughts:
1. Online poker can be fun and exciting.
“The urge to gamble is so universal and its practice so pleasurable that I assume it must be evil.” ~ Heywood Hale Broun
It is human nature to feel excited when taking risks and the positive feeling gained from gambling is no different. The sense of anticipation creates a natural high, an adrenalin rush, a feeling that very many of us seek when looking for fun and entertainment. Also, gambling provides an escape from everyday life.
2. Online poker can be addictive.
“You don’t gamble to win. You gamble so you can gamble the next day.” ~ Bert Ambrose
For many people gambling gets out of hand, resulting in a compulsive gambling problem. Compulsive gamblers are characterized by their inability to control their gambling urges to the point that all they think about is gambling and ways to support this habit.
Interestingly, as I was writing this article my blogging friend Daniel Richard sent me a copy of his first e-book, Breaking the Gambling Addiction. In the book Daniel tells of how winning his very first bet at the age of 16 led to a 5-year gambling addiction. This addiction escalated to the point where he was stealing from his employer to support his habit.
3. Online poker can cost you a lot of money.
“There is a very easy way to return from a casino with a small fortune: go there with a large one.” ~ Jack Yelton
This is not a problem I personally experienced, but it is obvious that gambling costs some people a lot of money. If gamblers start to losing they may keep spending more and more money in the hope that they will win again soon. Often this can result in them getting into debt in an attempt to win back the money they have lost.
4. Online poker can give you false hope.
“A gambler is nothing but a man who makes his living out of hope.” ~ William Bolitho
In 2003 Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker. According to Wikipedia, this win “revolutionized poker because he was the first person to become a world champion by qualifying at an online poker site.” Since Chris’ win there have others just as Peter Eastgate (2008) and Joe Cada (2009) who have won the World Series of Poker after learning to play poker online. For their wins, Eastgate (22 at the time) and Cada (21 at the time) pocketed $9,152,416 and $8,546,435 respectively.
This clearly shows that some people make good money, strike it rich even, from gambling. However, such people are in the minority (just think, those millions have to come from somewhere). It follows, then, that for most people a hope to strike it rich playing poker will go unfulfilled.
5. Online poker can interfere with the important things in life.
“By gaming we lose both our time and treasure – two things most precious to the life of man.” ~ Owen Felltham
The other day I was talking to a co-worker who plays online poker. He mentioned that many of his friends no longer play online. “Why?” I asked. “I guess they just have better things to do” he replied.
“Exactly” I thought.
Given that poker can be fun and exciting I’m ok with it playing it on the odd occasion. But it’s not an activity that nourishes (in fact, after a couple hours playing online I would often feel a certain emptiness). It doesn’t provide any lasting value (unless you win some serious coin, of course, but see my previous point about false hope). Instead I could be devoting my time to a legacy project – that is, creating something that will outlast me. Doing something amazing. Something EPIC (as Daniel says in his e-book).
* * *
Epilogue: it’s now approximately 4 months since I uninstalled the poker software on my computer. Having not played for 3 months, a month ago I decided to re-install the software and play some poker. I was bored, and I guess I figured I was over my addiction. I played for a few hours over two nights, but I suffered some bad beats and just didn’t have the patience required to do well. I uninstalled the software again and decided to get on with my life.
These are my thoughts of online poker/ gambling. What are yours? I would be interested to hear your experiences and stories.
- Breaking the Gambling Addiction by Daniel Richard. Recommended for anyone who is addicted to gambling, or who has a friend or loved one who is.