Poker is a crazy game.
I’ve heard inexperienced players say that they “hate Aces and Kings”, usually because they’ve had their glorious starting hands beaten down by 8-9 offsuit. Ultimately, the resentment that they feel for the innate deck of cards is misplaced, but at least they still feel something.
After the 1000th bad beat, the heart no longer beats for every turn of a race. After a million, players tend to give up on caring about outcomes altogether and focus only on making the right move.
Cards are cruel, and variance is a fact of life. Understanding this makes poker (and life itself) more bearable. This shift of focus from feeling defeated every time a pair of Aces are cracked, to maintaining a technical approach to play, constitutes the maturity of the player to become a potential winner.
Yet something is lost in the process. If one cannot feel alive when Aces are cracked (or when they hold to bring a much-needed victory pot), then how can one maintain a passion for poker? It’s a battle between taming emotions enough to be able to make sound decisions and having enough fire left in your belly to really turn up for tournaments, wits and all.
Learning is the answer, as cliché as it sounds. Players who step over the invisible line, the line between caring about outcomes and not caring about outcomes, must dedicate themselves to a constant process of learning.
If a player’s satisfaction can no longer depend on their pair holding up against an opponent’s flush draw, then it must lie with knowing whether they made the correct move or whether they could have played the hand better.
Regardless of how the deck played out – an element completely beyond their control – they can find joy in confirming their own play and improving on it. On a practical level, this means reading, training and analyzing hands, as well as practicing the game through the lens of constant improvement.
Again, newer players are likely to feel spongier than those who have been on the circuit for a long time. At first, the mind can’t help but try to make sense of the game. It seeks to understand, then to expand and experiment. But whether playing guitar or poker, there’s always plateaus to overcome. After a while, even the most passionate of newbie will lose steam. Effectively, they have reached a point of “Can do it”, and they slow down.
The learning must continue indefinitely if the player desires to become pro or semi-pro, but now is also the time to broaden the scope of what it means to stay passionate. Doubtful you can sit alone in your room reading poker books and grinding online for too long and still enjoy poker. It really helps to get more involved with the scene, to meet and if possible.
You could also consider entering major events. I would never recommend that you play outside of your bankroll, but then again grinding $1 SNGs for an entire lifetime is hardly the definition of fulfillment. Do what you can to set goals, progress and get out of your comfort zone with Sunday MTTs, local casino tournaments and by keeping major events like the WSOP, which , firmly on your radar.
Passions are like cocktails. You have to stir them well, water them down, spice them up, or do whatever is needed to make the most palatable, pleasant and intoxicating mix. And like cocktails, passions require that you show restraint or take a break every now and then so that they do not taint your sanity or leave you p*ssed on a weekday. So, is it better to play poker with passion on the weekends, or to play with dull awareness every day?
Poker can be a lifelong love affair and is for some, but it’s not for everyone. It’s a rare breed who can play day in, day out for a living. Those who are happiest are, in my experience, those who have other hobbies and interests, or other ways to earn money. They are the mixologists of life, who know how to properly prepare their cocktails to their own taste.
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