Over the last three years since deciding to play poker full time I have been getting progressively more involved with the poker world and everything that comes with it. Some of that is by choice, and some is not. For a lot of players, poker can take over completely. It’s an extremely competitive game, if you want to get to the top you have to work hard, study a lot and play a tonne of hands. Sure you can treat it like a 9-5 job, just put in the amount of hours you want to and you’re done for the day, but when there are players who are thinking about the game 24/7, how far can you expect to go if you’re clocking out at 5 every day? The problem with this is that there’s pretty much no limit to how much we can let it take over. The more time we spend immersed in the game the more it becomes a way of life.
Last summer I was in Vegas for the WSOP for 7 weeks, around half a year ago. At the time, I felt I was peaking in my poker career, it was only my second WSOP and I was playing higher stakes than
I had before, and (in my opinion) better than I ever had. I was playing every day and just throwing myself full on into the game, I gave up drinking for the summer and started chasing bracelets.
Around 4 weeks in a friend of mine relayed a comment to me, a player I think is very good had seen a hand of mine and said he thought it was really bad (which in hindsight it was, so no hard
feelings there). The problem I have with this now is that I remember how hard I took it. It really felt like such a setback. I realised that poker had become so ingrained in my life that someone
insulting my poker ability actually had an effect on my self-esteem. It was then I realised I needed to take a step back and re-evaluate, poker is my job and luckily it’s a job I love doing, but
at the end of the day it’s a card game, a very complicated one and I’m impressed by the people at the very top, but it’s still just a game.
I think it’s important to dedicate time in our lives to things that are the ‘opposite’ to poker. In an attempt to achieve this I started putting a lot more time and energy into photography than I
had before (in the past I’d only ever used it to document my trips) and it’s restored some balance to my perspective. It allows me time to be creative, a quality that I think was slowly fading in
me as the pride we take in the logical thinking that comes with poker took over, and reminds me every day that poker is just one of the things I do. I couldn’t recommend highly enough finding
something similar. I know for some of you it will seem counterproductive, since you may want the edge that comes from thinking about the game 24/7, and it’s something I am still struggling with
myself, but I think that if we look at how our time is spent, we can set aside times which won’t noticeably lower our productivity in poker and use that time on other interests. For me at least
this approach seems to have also made it easier to focus when I do decide to study or play.
The other side to this is that it’s easy to fall into the trap of judging other players based on their poker ability. In the poker community, we’re forced to consider our opinion of other
players’ games relatively often, whether it’s when choosing to buy their action, thinking about how best to play against them at the table, or just being asked by a friend what we think of
someone’s play. I think this constant exposure to ‘rating’ people tells our brains that these ratings have some consequence, and we tend to forget that they are completely meaningless off the
table. I’ve noticed myself that other pros are generally a lot friendlier to me now I’m considered to be good at poker, whereas when I was just starting some pros would barely reply if I spoke to
them at the table. I’ve fallen for this way of thinking before, and it’s something I’d really like not to see myself repeat.
From speaking to other players about these things they seem to be problems others have had too, and I think it’s something we should all keep in mind. We all approach poker differently and people play the game for different reasons, but we all had lives before poker, and the majority of us will have lives after poker. It’s something that we’ve decided to do for a period of our lives, it shouldn’t define us, in our eyes or anyone else’s.