Poker is no longer an obsession. It's barely even a pastime any longer. It's just something I love to do.
I can't tell you how freeing that is.
There are many ways I love to pass the time, one of the sad and wonderful things about having children is it forces you to make severe choices about your life (and I know there are many other things that probably compare to children, such as a busy job, a demanding girlfriend or heavy drinking). Even when I was married, I didn't have such handcuffs. If I wanted to play video games, I could. If I wanted to climb mountains every weekend, I did. If I wanted to, say, play several hours of poker every night, I did.
In that glorious past, I had enough free time to do maybe two or three things every night. I could play two hours of poker, then watch a movie and maybe even read an hour before I went to bed. So because I run and hit the gym, which I'm going to do, now I'm lucky if I get to do one of those things every night if I still want my eight hours of sleep, which my lifestyle as a runner somewhat demands.
Well, a year ago, I took a hard look at what I was choosing to do with my time. And I didn't like it. I wasn't reading books any longer. I was barely watching movies. No, what I was doing was watching sports, playing video games and, of course, playing a lot of online poker.
None of that was making me a better writer, or even a better person. Online poker was almost boring, in fact, and if it wasn't for Omaha I would have yanked my money out of there already. Video games were extremely fun, but again, they're not helping me write. And I'm going to watch my Jayhawks.
So I quit the video games, and, one day, I decided not to play online poker. And then the next I didn't play, and then the next, and fairly soon, it was weeks without playing, and now it's been a few months.
And I don't miss it.
This is an incredibly long introduction to Sunday's trip to Black Hawk to play a long, extended session with one of my best friends. We'll call him "Donovan."
I remember voting for a measure that would increase the betting limits to $100 per bet in Colorado. Before the betting limits was $5, so the max any game could bet was $5, meaning they were the most donkey-filled games you could ever imagine and people were usually winning pots with 8-2 suited. You would basically get a hand, close your eyes and bet $5 to the river and hope you didn't get sucked out on. You've played 2-4 limit poker before. Yeah. It was like that.
Well, the measure was approved by voters two years ago, and I remember being really excited and thrilled that we would essentially have 1-2 NLHE in Colorado.
And I didn't make it up there. At all, in fact, until Sunday.
Having kids also means I've had to choose what days I take to do what I want, and training for a marathon last year (and something I'm doing again soon) meant not really getting a chance to take a full day to play poker without the threat of divorce.
(It also means taking one road trip a year, and helping some of my best friends do their first Ironman in Arizona was more important than going to Vegas for the WPBT. Sigh.)
So I was really excited at the chance to see Donovan, who had to move away for a job. But I also was excited to play poker again. It had been a while.
And now I had nothing to prove.
This is why approaching the game this way is incredibly freeing. I don't feel the need to build a bankroll (even when I still keep a little money set aside for poker) or make badass plays or go against the best players and BE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD one day.
I just think it's fun to play.
Given that, I brought $300 to Black Hawk and had no concerns if I lost it. It was entertainment, not a chance to make money.
That didn't mean I threw around money like candy at a parade. I quickly discerned at the table that the players were a little better than $5 poker but not much better, and so playing tight-agressive, with a bit more raising preflop to keep them unbalanced, was going to either earn me money or get me sucked out on.
I don't have many hands for you because, to be honest, I got my fair share of good ones, and I didn't get sucked out on. When that happens, you don't have to be good, you just have to be solid.
The hand that got me started on the right path, after about $50-$60 in losses in the first couple of hours, was QQ in early position. I had four callers of course to my $12 raise, and we saw a flop of J-3-8 rainbow. I'm first to act, and I check to see what others are going to do (it's a dry board). A guy on the button, a loose player who had just won a monster pot by cracking a player's AA with 5-2 sooted bet $30. It's folded back to me and I call. I check to him again on the J turn, because the pot's fairly large now and the J worries me a bit. He bets $50. I count out my chips. If I call it'll leave me with another $50. So it's shove or fold. The fact that another J comes means he may not have one. Plus I don't like the way he's staring me down. I shove and he insta-folds. I don't love the way I played the hand, but it did allow me to put pressure on him rather than me betting and him shoving on me and putting the pressure point on me. Anyway, that gets me past my $200 buy-in.
I had several huge hands, including winning a huge pot when I flopped a full house with 6-6 (the only hand the whole night I think I really slowplayed), but one other hand was really big, even if I think it played itself.
I have J-Q suited and I call a small raise to $7. So do five others, and the flop comes 8-9-10. Not bad. But there's two spades out there, and while I know this is not Omaha, I'm first to act and I don't want anyone drawing out on me, so I bet $30. The guy to my left raises me another $100, the maximum, remember, he can bet.
Predictably the other three fold, one of them mumbling about having to fold his flush draw, and it gets back to me.
Well, that's a nice pot, and I'm happy with it now, given the way the board looks. If he has a set I'm ahead, and if he has a flush draw I'm way ahead. I"m not fucking around, in other words, and I raise him back another $100. This leaves me $29 behind, but I have to follow the rules. He just calls.
OK, so an 8 falls on the turn. This does not make me happy, not in the least, but I'm obviously committed, so I put in my $29 and he calls and turns over....9-10. Whew. I essentially double up to $500.
When I'm up, I'm usually a lot more patient with my hands, and in the middle of the session several times I lay down top pair/good kicker to decent players in multi-multi-way pots. I'm almost always right, and even when I can't see if I am, I don't care. It costs me, at the most, $25 to lay a hand down, and I've already seen far too many people at our table blow their stacks with similar hands.
By the end of the night, the predictable douchebag sits at our table, which is another reason why I don't love poker as much as I once did. Only the douchebag was a woman. Can a douchebag be a woman? That would make her LITERALLY a douchebag, huh?
Anyway, she was snippy and all that, but my favorite part was when she was coaching/imploring the fish at the table to play better (despite her own mediocre play). Why do people continue to do this?
I left at midnight for my long drive home up $520. That's my best win ever.
I have lately approached running and other activities of mine as hobbies, that these things are supposed to be fun, and so far it seems to be working.
Apparently it's not just a good way to approach poker. It's a good way to approach life.