Sign Up For Card Player's Newsletter And Free Bi-Monthly Online Magazine

Poker for Pleasure

Play for enjoyment

by Steve Zolotow |  Published: Dec 25, 2009


A great deal has been written about how to win at poker. Hundreds of thousands of pages have been devoted to teaching players odds, strategies, and tactics — not to mention all that has been written about reading your opponents and making yourself hard to read. There has also been a lot written about maintaining discipline and avoiding tilt, moving up to the next level, and beating ever tougher opposition. You can read unlimited amounts about the best way to play in tournaments and in cash games, and what the differences are. I know, because I have written my share on these topics. All of these words are devoted to making you a better player. Authors dedicate themselves to helping other players make money, maybe even a lot of money. But the sad truth is that most players lose, some break about even, and only a few win consistently. And of those few consistent winners, only the tiniest fraction of a percent ever have the astronomical wins you see on TV or read about in books and magazines. Remember that there are millions of players who play all the time and never come close to having the huge financial successes that players dream about. That is why I always tell young players to finish college and get a degree. There are a lot of mediocre doctors, lawyers, stockbrokers, and accountants who grind out a comfortable living. There are no mediocre poker players who do. In fact, there are some great players whose egos force them to bang their heads against even greater players, and keep them from ever making a comfortable living.

So, am I telling you to quit poker and give up a game that you love? Not at all. I’m telling you to change your poker goal. Play for enjoyment. If you make a little money doing it, fine. If not, you merely spent some money on entertainment, exercised your mind, and had some fun with your friends. When you decide that your primary goal is to have fun, not make money, your perspective will change completely. If you treat playing poker like a job, you will feel obliged to play, especially if the game is pretty good. If it is entertainment, you won’t feel obliged to play when you’re not in the mood. A lot of players enjoy mixed games like H.O.R.S.E. or action games like Omaha eight-or-better, deuce-to-seven triple draw, and badugi much more than they enjoy hold’em. A nine- or 10-handed no-limit hold’em game with deep stacks can sometimes seem like watching AstroTurf grow. There may be only one serious confrontation an hour, while some of the limit variations provide lots of ramming and jamming. Have you ever ended up at a table packed with players with whom you didn’t want to spend time? That’s not much fun. Isn’t it more fun to find a less serious game for smaller stakes, in which everyone is talking, laughing, and drinking? You bet it is.

Some of the world’s most successful people play poker and other games, like bridge, purely for enjoyment. Guy Laliberte, founder of Cirque du Soleil, occasionally plays in some of the huge-stakes games at Bellagio. A few years back, Bill Gates, then the world’s richest man, played $3-$6 at the Mirage one night while taking a break from the Consumer Electronics Show. Legend has it that Doyle Brunson offered Mirage Cardroom Manager Donna Harris a $50,000 tip if she could lure him up to the big game. Actors like Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Toby Maguire, and James Woods are frequently seen at tournaments. Famous figures from sports, like Yankees star Alex Rodriguez and Lakers owner Jerry Buss, love the game. It is, of course, easy to play for the challenge and enjoyment of the game without being either rich or a celebrity.

If you are a dedicated poker professional or up-and-coming wannabe professional, you should try to work in some sessions in which your goal is to have fun. Play a lot of hands, many more than you know that you should. This is not only entertaining, but will help you learn how to handle situations that you normally wouldn’t encounter, by reading your opponents, maximizing gains, and minimizing losses. Even more important is the fact that you will develop a sense of what makes a game fun. The typical “live one” is playing for enjoyment. If you are capable of entertaining him, he will enter your game and stay there longer. And finally, you will recapture the sense of awe that made you love poker in the first place. If playing poker gets to feel too much like a job, quit playing and get a real job. Unless you are one of the very rare elite players, you almost certainly will make more money, more steadily, in a normal profession. You should be playing poker only if you love to play. Spade Suit

Steve “Zee” Zolotow, aka The Bald Eagle, is a successful games player. He currently devotes most of his time to poker. He can be found at many major tournaments and playing on Full Tilt, as one of its pros. When escaping from poker, he hangs out in his bars on Avenue A — Nice Guy Eddie’s at Houston and Doc Holliday’s at 9th Street — in New York City.