Having Fun Playing

Poker Underdogs"In a police state the police are always busy." -- The Wilby Conspiracy

Making money playing poker is a constant struggle against the impulse to have fun playing poker.

Let's face it, what is more fun, starting with the best of it and winning most of the time while losing to some godawful suckout some of the time, or spearing lightning in a bottle, making a miracle draw, making a circus catch that will be on ESPN that you can brag to your buddies about?

It's not written in stone or anything, but in general, bad poker is more fun than good poker. There are exceptions, but winning poker tends to be plodding. You show up, you get the best of it (one way or another), and then you do it again.


No fiery excitement. Little enjoyment from "being lucky". Few shots for the highlight reel. Instead we have KK beating J9 in the mathematically expected neighborhood, and running down KK with our J9 only rarely, and when we do it is for good reason -- maybe playing from the blind against a dealer button raise or calling a re-raise after we get caught trying to steal the blinds. It may be more exciting to make a gutshot with J9 when the board on the turn is KQ32, but if you are only getting five to one on your money, that "fun" is costly and the road to the poorhouse.

Poker will always have some fun at its core. Even professional players who punch in and punch out every day at the table will consider playing poker more fun than coal mining or pumping gas. But fun should never be an end in itself. Winning poker is about winning money. It's not about winning "fun units". Personally, the main fun in the game is in using the money made away from the table. Jobs can be fun, but you should always be doing the job the best you can do it, not focusing on how to make the job fun (or more fun).

If you want to play poker to make significant money, as a full-time or part-time job, there is nothing wrong with thinking that the job will be more fun than pumping gas, but approaching it as a fun or (heaven forbid) exciting thing to do is very wrong. If you want fun, then inevitably you will want to do the fun stuff: flashy plays for the sake of being flashy, "showing off", trying to suck out when the odds say you should fold because sucking out is a lot more fun than folding, etc.

There is something innate in people that makes them want to root for the underdog. It's more fun, more exciting, more memorable. But it is bad policy to make your money root for the underdog when the price is wrong.

Fortunately for those of us who know better, and unfortunately for those who fall into the trap of looking at poker as a thrill ride, poker on television inevitably focuses a lot of attention on the flashy and the fun, at the expense of the mundane. How much drama is there in AQ beating Q6 on a A62 flop? There is high drama indeed though when the Q6 outplays the AQ and wins the pot on a bluff -- unless you actually analyze what occurred. In the case I'm thinking of, the Q6 made a fairly routine bet that the AQ simply could not call -- and earlier in the hand the AQ misplayed the hand, twice. This was routine good poker, but it looked like an act of excitement. It looked like fun in the same way that riding a rollercoaster or seeing a scary movie is fun.

But that ain't what happened. What happened was a skilled bricklayer simply laid another brick, with mortar applied, onto a growing wall. That player discerned the mathematically and interpersonally correct move, which it is his job to do. Despite his hand being drastically weaker than his opponents', he was not an underdog. He made a bet that his opponent was extremely unlikely to call. He didn't do a fun act. He did the one that his job called for.

See also Poker Luck, Skill and Luck, and the Trinity of Poker