Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Loneliness of the Sit 'N' Go Player.

A while back, I studied a couple of books about single table tournament poker. I am actually a long-term winner at these. It's probably the only gambling endeavor -- aside from thoroughbred horse racing and Nintendo Ice Hockey -- that I'm in the black with. And the only reason I'm ahead at the track is that I've been miraculously lucky in cashing some huge tickets. If I were to continue betting horses, I'd eventually go broke, I'm sure. But not so with single table no-limit poker tournaments. If I were able to play them in isolation, I'd win money. Of course, I've yet to find an online poker site that allows one to only play tournaments and restricts a user's access to the cash games.

Buoyed by my charts (I had tracked my profit over the course of about 300 tournaments -- not nearly enough for statistical persuasiveness but plenty for irrational exuberance), I set out to play tournament poker as much as I could. For income. For a living. I'll never really know if it would have panned out for me, because I ended up blowing my entire bankroll at some stupid 10/20 limit game. A mega-tilt fest. Here's to my lack of self-control! People familiar with poker will know what I mean. Stuff like capping the action preflop for $40 with hands like 9-7 offsuit, just because.

Committing these types of atrocities doesn't even occur to me at a tournament poker table. Usually with tournaments, the hand that would put me on tilt is the very hand that knocks me out of the tournament altogether. No harm done. Any residual effect is muted by the fact that you can always "start fresh" with a new tournament, which makes all the difference in the world to an obsessive-compulsive. But in cash games, it's a different story. There's just a vast expanse of card playing. It's not organized around any kind of extrinsic goal. "Winning" or "getting knocked out" are much more subjective in cash games. You could conceivably play forever. With tournaments, you have to stop at some point. The interruptions are built into the game. You can be eliminated. Or you can win. Either way, though, you're forced to leave.

I was talking to the psychiatrist about this pipe dream of playing single table tournaments to grind out a living, and she accepted the premise that I was good at it. She then asked me, "But even if you could do it, which maybe you could, is that the sort of life you want to live? Cooped up by yourself, huddled over an overworked laptop computer? Playing what is essentially a computer game robotically for hours at a time? Having no interactions with the outside world? Seeing cards flying around in your head when you aren't actually playing?"

I waited for her to finish her stirring rhetorical litany, then sat up in my chair.



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