Thursday, May 30, 2013

Day 18 - Playing Poker for Money

I have never played poker for real money. Although I previously learned to play the game and I've spent some time playing a hand online for fun, I have never played cards in person with real money at stake. My avoidance of such a scenario was largely the result of inexperience and an aversion to gambling that has been with me for most of my life. As someone with a historical tendency for little-to-no luck, I have never been one to accept the idea of accepting the risk of losing money on a whim. While I understand some skill is required to play poker successfully, the idea of betting on an unknown hand has never appealed to me. Despite these perspectives, I chose to give the idea of playing poker for money a chance tonight. As I expected, the experiment served only to leave me with less money in my pocket and more reasons to avoid gambling altogether.

The night began with an invite to play poker at the home of my friend, Justin. Upon arriving around 6:45 this evening, we chatted and waited for a few other people to arrive. In time, the room filled to around seven people, and we began to make plans to play some hands of poker. A few of the visitors were not interested in playing, so we narrowed the crowd down to four players and headed to the poker table in Justin's garage. I sat down on the near side of the table and quickly ran through what memories I had of the poker rules I acquired years earlier. I handed over the obligatory $20 buy in as chips were cast across the table. Once I received my share of the chips, I gave a quick count to confirm my holdings and stacked the chips in a manner that seemed most appropriate. I was fully aware my efforts to do so revealed my inexperience, but I was committed to playing the game regardless of my more apparent weaknesses. As such, I centered myself and prepared for what was likely to be an undesirable gambling experience.

Just as I found an appropriate balance in my stacks of chips the cards started flying. Before I could recognize what was occurring, we were in the middle of our first hand. As I tried to gain my bearings on the game before me, chips were striking the table as bets were being made. Turns moved quickly, and caught me off guard as I was still trying to make decisions on my next move. I immediately felt as though I was in over my head, but I remained focused on trying to make the most of the experience.

Taken by Justin's four year old son: The poker crew

The first few hands of the game were uneventful. There were no big bets and no surprises as the cards fell from one dealer to the next. Nervous, I sat waiting for the first big bet, which came shortly after I dealt for the first time. Playing cautiously, I folded on an unfavorable hand while the rest of the players bet higher. Money was trading hands rapidly, which reinforced my feelings on gambling and made me feel altogether uncomfortable. On the next hand I decided to follow suit, and I made large bets on two pairs of eights and tens. The hand carried on for some time as the other players increased the pot and challenged my position. Finally, it was down to me and one other player, Jeremy, who seemed aggressive in his betting strategy. Mistaking his enthusiasm as a sign of weakness, I went all in on my two pairs. The river proved to support my opponent as he showed a straight, which wiped me out completely. My first buy in to a real game of poker resulted in me losing all of my money in the first 15 minutes. I was green, and my game showed it. Disappointed, I sat out the next few hands and contemplated whether I wanted to buy into the game for a second time. The rest of the crew continued on, providing me pointers and encouraging me to give it another try. Resistant at first, I began to analyze the method used by each player as they played their hands. They made it look easy, which bolstered the idea of reentering the game. These thoughts led me to the local ATM to gather more cash for a potential second buy in, which I knew in my heart of hearts was a foolhardy move to make.

Cash in hand, I ultimately bought in for a second set of chips. I reassessed my approach as my holdings were doled out to me by another of the players, Colin. Hopeful I would redeem myself, I began to focus less intently on the cards I held and more on the signals and mannerisms of my opponents. Doing so proved beneficial in preventing me from losing any substantial amount of money on any given hand we played, but I eventually found myself with a dwindling stack of chips that had been slowly eroded away by my opposition. As my money ran out, I became less and less interested in the game before me, and I found myself looking for an outlet to end my gambling misery. As I expected, I was at last stripped of my last chip from my second buy in, which led to my exit from the game and my indefinite exit from playing poker for real money.

Tonight's blog post is brief and somewhat undescriptive. Perhaps it is a result of my losing $40 in a matter of three hours, or perhaps it is because the idea of gambling has always made me uncomfortable. Regardless, I took one important lesson away from tonight's experience: I will never gamble my money away on a poker game ever again. While I believe I may be able to become a more effective poker player with time and practice, my first experience playing poker for real money only fortified my perspectives on gambling. Mainly, the lessons gained about the apparent physical and monetary sacrifices necessary to make playing poker a profitable endeavor showed me gambling is no more than a loser's game.

Like my effort in playing poker tonight, my "I have never..." event for today proved a complete bust. As a result, I'm doubtful gambling of any sort will appear again in my "I have never..." events over the next 11 months. To me, it would be foolish to throw good money after bad when there are so many other things as yet undone that would prove a better use of my time and money. I learned a lot from today's experience, but unlike other days in the "I have never..." journey, I have no intention of giving today's "I have never..." event another try. This one simply wasn't for me. Unfortunately, $40 was a lot to spend to learn that was the case...


  1. Well, I still believe anyone can be good in poker without having to play the table with real money. I try to see the cash as a motivator for some players, but it's not really a defining factor of your skill on the poker table, or luck for that matter. I understand your reservations about gambling. I have some of them myself, but it hasn't stopped me from taking on a bet once or twice. I think it's just for the thrill or anticpation of the outcome that's the main deciding factor for me. As for you 365 day adventure, your daily encounters with new experiences are inspirational and someday, i'd like to try this myself. Good luck with the remaining 60+ days!

    Albert Andrews @

    1. Thanks, Albert! I think my biggest flaw in this experience was thinking too hard about my decisions during the games. I'm sure with time and practice I would get better, but the thought of putting real money on the line each time I played would be hard for me to overcome.

      Thanks for the kind words and encouragement!