Thursday, April 12, 2007

Poked Out

Lately I've been obsessed with poker. I close my eyes at night and see flops, turns, rivers, pot odds, implied odds, all kinds of poker jargon and equations. It's probably because I'm addicted to playing online; no, not for real money, just for play chips and the occasional World Series of Poker seat giveaway freeroll.

What I play is not really poker. The chips have no value. People tend to go all in at far less than the drop of a hat, so I'm sure my actual poker skills are probably wrecked right now. I've been "successful" in that I've turned 1K of play chips into 300K over the last six months. I've also final tabled three times in the World Series of Poker freerolls (beating out 600+ other people for a shot at entering another tournament of 5000 people where the top 9 get to have ANOTHER tournament, where the two top finishers get 10K of real money to enter the World Series of Poker Main Event. Whew!)

Any kind of success, even phony success, can be pretty addictive. Many a time I've been playing after midnight, on a school night no less, and have to listen to the wife complain and cajole me into bed. So I try to go to sleep, again, with visions of bad beats, miracle cards and mountains of virtual chips filling my brain.

During the work day, when I'm rendering or find myself with a light work load; I occasionally slide over to the web for a bit of light reading about, gee, can you guess? Poker. There's no shortage of information on the subject. Most fascinating of all I find, is reading other peoples blogs about poker. Yes, there are journals upon journals dedicated pretty much soley to America's favorite game, on both real and virtual felt.

Over the past couple of months, I've noticed an inescapable trend in these blogs. Google "Poker Blog" and you can read for yourself. A sizable majority of these web journals about poker, are decidedly downbeat. In other words, there are heaps of tales about - losing money, bad beats, losing interest in the game, going back to a "real" job, bad luck, and just generally bad times. It seems the luster is off of the poker boom, and many of it's players are finding it extremely hard to maintain the level of success, or for that matter any success, that they've had in the past.

I find this fascinating, because I've also been following poker news. Of course the big story is, the US Government tacked on a proviso in a port security bill that bans online gambling - including poker! (Of course lottos, horse racing and sports betting are exempt - because everyone knows there's a lot more skill involved in those activities than poker. Durrr! But that's a whole other topic for another rant.)

The impact of this law, isn't that individuals can be prosecuted for playing online, the Department of Justice isn't bothering going after Joe-Sixpack; but that banks and credit card companies CAN be prosecuted for dealing with gambling funds. So now if you want to play online you have to deal with a third party money transferring organization that is based overseas. Long story short - you can still play poker online, but it is a major logistical pain in the butt to get your money to and from your account.

Consequently, most of the casual players, have stopped playing. The "fish" (as losing players are called) have left the pond. Fish are what drive the poker economy. Online poker statistics reveal that only 10% of ALL online poker players make a profit. As recent as a year ago when online poker was more accessible, there were more players than ever. With this recent law, the poker population as a whole has dropped significantly.

But the ratio of winners stays the same, so this group of profitable players (10%) is now much smaller. That means, WAY more losers. Many of which used to be successful.

And their tales of woe are fascinating to read.

I think these tales are a blessing for me. They remind me of the potentially addictive nature in the game that I love. I have read story after story of not only players who have lost their poker bankrolls, but who have lost their bank accounts, homes and spouses. Yikes!

Only a year ago I was seriously contemplating opening a real money poker account online. Now I know better. I play for fun. That's it. And like I have done with video games and television in the past, I now try to limit myself to only two nights of online play a week. I get great satisfaction from playing, and I hope poker will be part of my life for the rest of my life. In fact, before I leave this earth I would love to sit down at a World Series event (not the 10K buy-in main event, just a 1K regular bracelet event) just to be able to tell my grandkids that I did it. But even then, I'm going to do it strictly for fun and for love of the game.

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