The Long, Long, Long Run

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On a recent business trip, I had the better part of a weekend to explore Toulouse, Carcassonne, and other areas of Southeast France. This area of Europe has some of the oldest and most varied history of anywhere on Earth. I toured a number of churches over 1000 years old, and saw castles dating back to the B.C. era.

I also saw a lot of concrete telephone and power poles. Eventually, I noticed how different it looked than wooden poles in the United States, and mentioned it to a colleague who has been in this part of France many times. He thought for a minute, and said, “Well, I guess these people planned on being here a long time.”

My friend compared this mindset to what he knew of the history behind his home state (Colorado) and where he spent much of his adult life (California). These were Gold Rush states, where the primary focus was to get “a home” in place immediately, make as much money as they could as quickly as they could, and leave the second they had to. Indeed, much of the United States has its history in rapid settlement.

The French have been here for thousands of years, through war after war, invading horde after invading horde, government after government. They understand what came before, and how to plan and maintain for future generations, regardless of what the current political trend may be. “Short-term” does not seem to be in their vocabulary (although it probably is and I just don’t know it…my French sucks).

The best poker players have the same mindset. Good cash game players talk about poker as being one long session, with a series of breaks between different tables. In this frame of reference, the results of one table, or even multiple sessions across dozens of tables, does not matter. There is only the immediate “did I make the right decision on this hand?” and infinite “will I be a profitable player moving forward?”

The scale upon which we weigh success or failure is greater than most people can wrap their heads around. We’d all be better off, however, if at least we tried to understand this philosophically daunting proposition.

Most online players are far too quick to freak out if they have a downswing, or worse, chase their losses at higher stakes to try to get back to even. Sports bettors who panic keep the casinos in business; the same is true for emotionally unstable poker players. No matter how good they think they are at the immediate, a poor grasp of the infinite will keep them donating to the bottom line profits of good players.

This doesn’t mean everyone has to be a bankroll nit. You can take all the risks you want. Many professionals, committed to the game for the rest of their lives, have put most (if not all) their box in play if they thought the opportunity was right. But the successful ones also have fallback positions, whether it’s being backed or borrowing money or stepping back to a stake that, while smaller, still allows them to support themselves.

You can’t treat your future in the game like a Gold Rush. Have some perspective. There will always be some way to play poker. The game now looks different than it did three years ago, and what comes three years from now will be different still. But I believe it’s too big to simply cast aside online with confusing and unclear laws. Live games are dealt in most of the United States, a list growing all the time as states look to increase revenue by any means available.

If you ignore bankroll management and game selection, hit the game like a tornado, and get lucky doing it…congratulations. You’ve hit a mother lode few others have. The early prospectors of the Gold Rush were looking for a resource they realized was finite, so they were willing to risk everything to grab as much as they could, while it was available to get.

Poker isn’t like that. The online game isn’t as easy as it was five years ago, to be sure…but bad players still populate most of the low- and medium-stakes games. The money is out there. Nobody has a reason to assume additional, unnecessary risk – only the lack of discipline in avoiding it.

The only way to make sure you can’t play anymore is by going broke.

You should want to grow your bankroll, obviously. That’s why all of us are here – to make money. We’d all have more fun playing poker, and sleep better at night, if we didn’t worry about variance and profitability and whether or not we played a hand correctly. Personally, I’ve always subscribed to the philosophy “the most fun you can have at something is being good at it.” So I’m out to be the best player I can be, and to win.

But the pursuit of profit must be tempered by reasonable expectations. Unless you desperately need the money tomorrow, don’t select games and play like you do. Approach poker like you plan to be here a really long time…and most likely, you will be.