When I was a kid, the first year that we had cable saw me in front of the TV watching World Series of Poker events on ESPN. I was always amazed by the way hands could change with the flip of a card, the amount of money being bet, and some players’ ability to read other people, and sometimes correctly guess what was in their hand. The game and the strategy associated with the gam were also interesting, but I never took a large amount of time to try to understand more about the flow of the game and how to play it well.
I’m a highly competitive person, and I don’t like feeling like I’m not in control of the circumstances surrounding a game. For these reasons, I really don’t like gambling. I don’t have a problem with other people gambling (except when there is a legitimate issue with that person’s habits or addiction), but having to put money into a game where I don’t have (or, more importantly, where I don’t feel like I have) control of the situation doesn’t appeal to me. On top of not having the amount of control I’d like, there is a very real, very high chance that I will lose my money in the process of playing. This was the main driver behind quitting fantasy football last year. When I didn’t once field the best possible team I could have in my last season, I felt like it was time to be done (uncoincidentally, my Sundays last fall were MUCH less stressful).
However, poker is still a fascinating strategy game to me, and I have played a couple of friendly, very low buy-in games with friends in the past couple months. I’ve done alright for myself so far (two 1st’s and a 2nd), and I think the only reason I’m into playing is because of the low buy-in (and, of course, the people I’m playing with). When we could be spending some ungodly amount going to a movie, paying five bucks to play poker and hang out for a couple hours doesn’t seem so bad (and it helps that I’ve at least made my money back in every game; not to rub it in, but I get very excited when I win things). Thanks to all of these factors, I’ve really enjoyed getting to play some poker.
As far as strategy goes, I will not share my strategy here (or probably anywhere), but I do have enough of a sense (I think) to know when to stay in and when it’s time to go out. Sometimes I stay in longer than I should, and even more frequently I fold what ends up being the best hand. The hardest time to fold is when you know that you won’t win, but you’re already heavily invested in the hand. In reality, many things in life are like this, but the immediate nature of finding out which poker hand wins (and winning or losing money) can make poker even more frustrating than other things.
I think playing with people who are very practiced in poker and know more about the strategy of the game would probably be a very different experience than the friendly games I take part in. Several years ago I played in a bigger game (more money and more people), and somehow survived to the final half. This group was a very different group to play with, and I found myself highly outmatched. Additionally, when not getting hands to consistently go in (and win) on, poker can make for a very slow, unexciting night.
In many cases, I don’t have fun when I’m not winning, especially when I get frustrated with myself and my performance. Being able to play poker for a small amount of money with a group of friends makes crappier hands or performances less of an issue on this front. Smaller blinds make for more decisions to stay in on hands that aren’t as good, sometimes leading to winning hands unexpectedly. Other times, it just means getting nickel and dimed out of more and more money.
One story before ending my thoughts on the subject. First, a brief explanation of Texas Hold’em: in Texas Hold’em, each player is dealt 2 cards, and the dealer flips five more in a succession which are shared among all of the players: the game starts with an ante round (paying to get to see the cards or folding a hand); after this, the first three cards are flipped first (called the “flop”); then the fourth is flipped after a round of bidding (the “turn”); followed by another round of bidding, the final card (the “river”); and the final round of bidding. The best five card hand out of the player’s two cards and the five community cards wins). Bidding starts to the left of the dealer, and a player can fold on their bid at any point during the game. The last time we played for money, I was having a fairly unsuccessful night. We were playing with 5 people, and while I had outlasted the first person out, I was quite obviously fourth in the chip count. The evening was coming to a close – we play with a time limit instead of to the bitter end with this group – and since I had dealt the first hand, I decided to deal the last one (it was also right at our time limit). I’d already decided to go all in because of how much I had, even though my 2/6 didn’t inspire much confidence. After anteing, I flopped two more 2s, and felt my pulse quicken. Trying to keep my face neutral, I watched bidding go around, the bet got to me at 2, and I raised 34 more all in. To my unending surprise, the chip leader and one more player followed me in (the other folded). After getting all of the chips squared away, I flipped the turn – a 6. I was now holding a full house, 2s over 6s. Checking to see if there would be a side bet (there wasn’t), I flipped the final card, followed once again by no additional bets. Neither of the other two had anything in their hands, and I won an all-in bet on the last hand of the game with 2s and 6s, subsequently winning the game by 2 chips. I still don’t know why the other two followed me in, but I was very grateful that they did once I pocketed my 20 bucks.