Why Play Poker?

The Reasons for Playing Poker

Play Poker for Money"You don't have to be a fantastic hero to do certain things, to compete. You can be just an ordinary chap, sufficiently motivated to reach challenging goals."
-- Edmund Hillary

Aside from enjoying the game, why should anyone play poker for money? The answer is a blank for most people, and in a nutshell that is the reason some other people should play the game. Poker is a game where deliberately studying to improve and hard work pay off. There is no poker equivalent of taking golf lessons that make some aspect of your game better but that screw up those few things you currently do well. The only close parallel in the cumulative learning process involved in poker is something like once you learn how to successfully bluff you have to still maintain patience and not try to bluff every single hand.

But beyond the most basic levels, improving as a poker player is usually quite difficult. Evidence of this can be found by observing the mass of players. It is really easy to say "going on tilt is bad, so don't do it." But not one player in ten manages to keep tilt to a trivial level. Somehow in the rest of their lives people are able to handle equally obvious concepts: don't lick frozen lampposts; don't put your hand on a stove burner; don't wear your clothes inside-out. But when it comes to poker, they simply can't prevent their anger, machismo and stubbornness from governing their play.

But more to the point, most players simply refuse to accept that poker is a difficult, complex game that requires much from them.

Believing in ghosts and fairies is easier than doing the hard work needed to win. Saying "change the deck" is easier than studying opponent's tendencies and adapting your play to their strengths and weaknesses. Crying, whining, blaming dealers, flinging cards or saying the game is rigged, these exist in the poker world because they are easier to do than studying and having patience.

Even among somewhat more thoughtful players, the lust for shortcuts overwhelms them. They crave easy answers to complex problems. They want to be told an answer rather than learn it -- despite the fact that phantom knowledge does not bring success.

A common question shortcut players ask about Texas Holdem or Omaha is: "what percentage of hands should I play before the flop?" This is akin to asking: "what should I wear?" Well, for what? Are you going to a wedding or a digging a ditch? Are you in the Amazon or the Antarctic? The question alone isn't just pointless, it's ridiculous.

Some games are loose and aggressive, others tight and passive. Some games feature seven solid opponents and one looney-tune donator. Then you get to more specific circumstances. The percentage of hands you play third under the gun with a super-tight rock in the big blind will be different that the percentage of hands you play when an outstanding loose-aggressive player is in the big blind.

Don't misunderstand. I'm not talking about "it depends." I'm talking about the process of poker. Each circumstance and judgment you face in a game is an opportunity to exercise thoughtful decision-making and data processing.

And so, you should play poker for money if you like to do that!

Players who want to follow the rules or thought-processes set out by others, even outstanding players, are not playing poker so much as pretending to play poker. Poker is a battle of wits, intellects, of nerve. In short, winning poker is a challenge. Play poker to win if you like a challenge (and not coincidentally, money).

Players who seek to avoid challenge do not succeed. Sir Edmund Hillary did not take a helicopter to the top of Mount Everest. Great explorers explore, and so do great poker players.

See also Playing Poker to Win, Sponsored Poker Players and Poker Ego.