When I first started playing, I had the game "figured" out. Now I'm not so sure.
At the end of 2002, a new show hit the airwaves that would change the poker landscape forever. I was one of the new players that this television show introduced to the world of NL Hold Em. And I fell in love immediately. The game required concentration, perception, situational awareness, guts, skill and a whole lot of good fortune. This kind of activity was right up my alley.
I started playing in regular home games in 2003, and couldn't get enough. When I played poker, I forgot about pressures at work and home, and could fully devote myself to the game.
The feeling I got was not unlike flying an airplane. When I got my pilot's license in 1996, I discovered what a joy it was to climb into the cockpit, taxi to the end of the runway, push the throttle forward, and rotate. When the wheels lifted off the ground, I forgot about everything else in the world. It was surprisingly peaceful.
Poker was the same way for me. It was a social activity that was a lot more challenging than Golden Tee at Little Woodrows. I enjoyed "coffee-housing" with my friends the most, and looked forward to the time I would spend with them around the table. It was a chance for guys to get away from the house and have fun with buddies that were unfortunately becoming too distant in the face of the daily grind.
Our first home game was some weird derivation of $3-$6 limit. We didn't understand blinds and antes, and I'm pretty sure we screwed up all the betting rounds. But we had fun. I had been reading my first poker book by Ken Warren, and I was trying to play only premium starting hands. I thought that was the secret to winning poker.
At around the same time, I discovered internet poker. First Paradise Poker, and then Party Poker. I never played too much, but certainly enough to learn more of the nuances of the game. I also learned what a bad beat was.
I read every poker book I could get my hands on. My appetite for poker knowledge was insatiable. To date, I have probably read over 20 poker books. Each one different that the last, and all of them interesting.
Over the next 2 years, I was a consistent winner. Of course, I had my ups and downs, but I was a winning player. I was fearless. I learned some new moves (like raising to get a free card; leading out when I'm in the middle of a 3 handed pot; calling on the flop so I can take it away on the turn; etc.).
I was pretty successful too. I cashed in a tournament in Lake Charles, and won first place in a 50 person tournament (pocketing ~$2,600). I made the final table in Dr. Fro and JohnnyMac's annual tournament 3 years in a row.
I also played in various poker games around town. The games used to be $1-$2PL or $1-$2NL. Then $2-$5 PL became popular. Now it seems, every game is $5-$5 NL. Sure there are bigger and smaller games around, but this game has evolved to be the linchpin of the Houston poker scene.
I have just about seen and heard it all. I've seen fights at the table as well as couples making out during a game. I've seen 1 outers hit, and I've seen 30 outers miss. And arguments. I've seen more arguments about rule interpretations, collusion, string bets, etc. than I care to count.
I've played with lawyers, accountants, cops, truck drivers, lawn-men, bookies, retired millionaires, broke ex-millionaires (e.g. "Don"), web designers, high school kids, radio talk show hosts, restauranteurs, and professional gamblers. One guy even played with a dog in his lap.
Most of the people are nice. Some are douchebags. I am a happy-go-lucky guy and have a very non-threatening demeanor, so I've always avoided trouble. If I'm playing at a table with strangers, I keep to myself, and try to stay under the radar.
Beginning in 2005, the home games began to die out. I got married, and found it too difficult to host my regular game. Frankly, I'm not even sure if there is still interest. And the friends who did host the game, stopped. In the past 8 months I've probably played in less than 4 home games.
In 2005, I took a sick beat in one of the largest poker games I've ever played in. I had top set of Aces on a board of AQT. The pot was $900, and a guy bluffed into me for $2,000. I moved all in for approx $6,000. He called with K2, and caught a J on the turn to make a straight. The board didn't pair on the river and I lost a pot worth more than $12,000.
I'm not sure if that hand ruined me forever, but it certainly didn't help. My game has never been the same. Since then, I am no longer a winning player, and the card rooms seem tougher than ever. For all the books I've read, I've forgotten what it takes to win at this game. I no longer have the concentration, perception, situational awareness, guts, skill, or good fortune. Although, I know how to count outs, and I can calculate insurance pretty quickly (5 outs = 5:1 or $250 to $50), I can't figure out how to get back to my winning style from 2002-2005.
I've tried playing tight and waiting for premium hands. When they come, I usually miss. For instance, in a big $5-$5 game I was playing tight as a drum. I get KK on the button, and raise to $100 preflop. I get 2 callers. The flop is TTT. You guessed it: some toolbox has a 9To. The same game 1 week later, I have TT against a flop of 888. Yep: someone called $75 preflop with 83o.
Those situations annoy the hell out of me. I know that, in long run I'm going to win in those situations. But I'm tired of "investing" for the long run. When does the long run ever happen?
I've also tried playing loose. I'll try limping every flop in hopes of catching something surprising. It's usually me that's surprised when my bottom twp pair gets counterfeited.
And I've mastered the art of going on tilt. Although there aren't usually any outward signs, I will begin to get frustrated that I keep getting Q4 when some donkey hits his 4th full house for the night. I start playing QJ like it's the stone cold nuts. Of course, I usually have to rebuy. It's sick how much money I have "called off" with the worst hand.
Also, the quality of players has definitely improved. The players are mostly "regulars" and it's becoming harder for me to find the sucker. I have no doubt, that some of the regular players probably consider me a sucker. And they're probably right. I think most anyone will agree that NL is tougher now than it was in 2003-2005. More people know what they're doing now.
I'm tired of losing. I'm starting to realize that I'm not the poker prodigy that I once thought I was, and I'm accepting the fact that I'm mediocre at best.
I haven't been enjoying the game for some time. And some of my friends who played with me regularly, are usually too busy (or broke) to play now. For the past 6 months, I haven't played very often (2-3 times per month). But even that doesn't appeal to me anymore.
I going to stop playing for awhile. I'll still play in home games, or the occasional tournament. And I might even play in a card room every now and then. But from now on, it's just for recreation. At least until it becomes fun again...
I agree with everything. A while ago, I stopped playing with the goal of making sick amounts of money. I just play to have fun, and I never play for more money than I can easily lose without caring. I have limits on what I will do, and I don't mind walking away from a game I'm losing (even if it is juicy).
The ultimate (and predictable) irony is that when I play for fun, I play better. I didn't say "well", just "better."