Being a professional for over 2 years has definitely changed my perspective on some things.
Wow, has it really been four months since I’ve done one of these? I swear that the layoff didn’t feel anywhere near that extensive. During my apparently lengthy time away from my keyboard I’ve done a great deal of reflecting on my own ambitions. My attitude regarding the poker industry has changed since I first started this journey 27 months ago. Simply put this is not what I thought it would be. I had the naïve ideas about this game that run rampant in the minds of casual dreamers who see poker in ESPN and think that’s their ticket to greatness. This game is more complex, more difficult, more tiring, and more emotionally challenging than I ever thought possible, to say nothing of the fact that progress can come painfully slowly when it comes at all. All this noise has lead me to an interesting point of self-observation and awareness. My trek has made me wonder what specifically it is that I’m after. What exactly do I want out of this industry?
Ask any casual poker player what his or her goals are and that person will likely rattle off some commonly held benchmarks. Win a bunch of money, play in a big tournament on TV, travel the circuit and become famous, these are all worthy pursuits yet the best method of execution to attain these standards is incredibly vague. Should you just start playing tournaments at your local casino? Well you can, but there’s a decent chance you’ll never have any real success because of poor structures and too few tournaments available to play in to counteract the variance of the game. Do you just jump in and travel the circuit after you’ve built up a bunch of spare cash from your job? Tournaments get expensive very quickly, particularly when it’s going to cost you a couple thousand just in hotel, food, and travel expenses to be around for a tournament series. Plus it’s going to take you quite a while to build up the kind of money you’d need working almost any regular job. So should you just forget the whole idea? I’ll never be the one to suggest that, but I think it’s important to understand the limitations of setting goals for yourself in poker before you try and take the plunge on any level.
The reality of this industry is that goals aren’t achieved in a set fashion. You can’t just say something like, “I want to make X amount of money by the end of the month.” Poker doesn’t happen in a set pattern, it’s a game with profound stretches of statistical noise. Live poker in particular is like this because you get to play such a dramatically smaller number of hands than is possible online. People who want this to be their job start treating it like it’s any other industry. They start thinking about how much money they will make and then start planning outwardly from there, just like you would with any other job. The difference is when you’re working a traditional career, you know how much money you are going to make. The terms of your pay are agreed upon prior to you taking the job so you can plan your life around your salary or hourly rate. You know how much money you’ll be pulling in on a week to week basis and you can build your life around that number. Poker happens in the exact opposite order. There are no guarantees about what you’ll make. The planning has to start with how much money you’re going to need on a monthly basis and putting yourself in a game where you have a chance to earn what you need and more so you can eventually “give yourself a raise” by moving up in stakes. There is not set amount of time that any one task is going to take.
Poker goals can be achieved in a logical fashion, the problem is that it’s a form of logic we aren’t as familiar with. Your ability to achieve anything in the poker world is most reliant on your bankroll. If you don’t have the proper budget then no amount of skill is going to get you to where you need to be. You need to have enough money to give your skills an opportunity to grow and to allow your situation to be governed by those skills rather than just a good run of cards. Poker goals operate under the same kind of logic as basic computer programing. When your bankroll is at a certain level, you need to be playing in games that correspond to it. When your bankroll grows to a point where you can move up in stakes, then you should. It’s like a basic “if…then…” statement in computer programing. If my bankroll is only big enough for 1/2NL then that’s what I’ll play. If my bankroll gets big enough to play 2/5NL then I’ll move up. The amount of time it takes to get from one goal to the next has no bearing on the equation. However long it takes someone to play themselves up in stakes, the goals themselves don’t change.
This little analogy brings me to an interesting crossroads. Taking my logic one step further, what are the variables I want to focus on for my “ifs” and my “thens?” When I started my career I had the casual player’s mentality when it came to goals for this business. Now that my innocence has been stripped from me (which I think is definitively for the best) what comes in to replace the void? What is it that I want to do? I don’t have as long term of a plan as I once did. I more just have a list of things that I enjoy doing. I enjoy playing poker, even though right now it’s for low dollar amounts that aren’t going to put me on the cover of any magazine. I enjoy writing. This blog is fun for me to do and I’d like to be able to continue along with it even though it isn’t leading anywhere in particular. I love my schedule. I like being able to go to the gym 4 days a week, I like being able to fly out to California and stay with my friends up in the bay area as well as my friends down around LA. I feel like I get more value out of my time now than I ever have at any other point in my life, whether we’re talking about high school, college, or my brief stint as a traditional working man. What I’ve gotten out of these first few years is more than just money (which is a good thing because I’m not exactly breaking the bank with my hourly win rates from the past two years). I don’t really have any idea what I’m doing long term, and to be frank I just couldn’t give a damn less. No one’s life is perfect, and certainly mine is far from ideal, but happiness and peace of mind are hard to come by in this world. I’ve got some, and that’s enough for now.