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.


Sunday, July 30, 2006

Paint Your Wagon.

And we're back.

I am the Man of Steel. I returned from the casino in one piece. Pepper was left with plenty of food and water. There were no voicemails looking for me, worried that I'd fallen off the wagon. I swear, some people -- my ex-girlfriend, my parents -- have an ability to sense when it's happening. I believe in ESP. They call as soon as I take some step toward gambling again. Downloading PartyPoker software. Going to the pawn shop.

This time, though, no calls. No guilt.

I went with my friend from law school. Eventually he is going to fall hard because of his gambling addiction. But not yet. But it was strange to be in a situation where I was the prudent one. I was the person advocating stop-losses and sticking to them, keeping one eye on the clock so that we didn't miss the train home. Folding garbage like J8s preflop even though I was supposedly 'priced in' by the size of the pot. That's the darling rationalization of action junkies, by the way: "I had pot odds!"

I was pretty conservative on this trip and it paid off. I came away with a $50 profit. So the trip paid for itself and I had a good time. Being away from the game and then returning does different things to different people. But it would be a mistake for the reader to assume that falling off the wagon, as I undeniably have done, necessarily translates into going off the rails and embarking on a week-long bender of excess. Usually that comes later. The sickness is shrewd enough to start by relaxing my mental defenses. It assures me that I can control this. I can be prudent. I can manage my gambling.

The sickness is brilliant. Assuming I even have a sickness.