Friday, March 14, 2008

Legitimizing Poker

In his book, Ace on the River, Barry Greenstein says that if he won $10,000 one day and lost $5,000 the next, he considered himself making $5,000. He went on to say how his wife saw it as a $5,000 loss since they already had the $10,000. For tax purposes a judge weighed in saying that the $10,000 was taxable income while the $5,000 loss was a result of his gambling problem. These are three very different assessments of poker that resonate with me as I have come across the same myself, just with smaller stakes.

Of course, Greenstein was right. His wife was also correct in the fact that he should have stopped after the $10,000 profit, but with that attitude he wouldn't have won the ten grand to begin with, or the subsequent earnings that allowed for a very affluent lifestyle. The judge, I feel, was just looking out for the best interests of the state.

Poker involves gambling, so there will always be inconsistent results from week to week. I find that outsiders have a hard time accepting it as a game of skill. Just when my case for poker begins to make a dent in my nonplaying friends and family, a loss of any kind robs me of more than my money, but of my arguments legitimacy.

I remember how it felt to not understand how any game involving cards could have more to do with skill than luck. When I first started playing for nickels I wasn't just playing for fun, I was running an experiment. I played seriously to prove to myself that over time the more skilled player won at a higher rate. I didn't take long to prove. Once I was sure that poker was removed from the casino games of pure chance, my resolve to improve my skill was all the stronger.

Now that poker is on TV, the burden of legitimizing poker to my inner circle isn't all on me. They at least entertain the idea that some skill is involved; but more along the lines of 10% skill and 90% luck. Honestly, I've stopped trying to explain it. I proved it to myself, and they will have to do the same. I leave myself available to accelerate the process as mentor.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, the more people think poker is all luck, the more stupid plays people will make and thus the more the smart players will win. My parents didn't understand this concept and my dad's even a math major. I'm going to a school where the majority are engineers and most of them didn't understand the concept (one kid told me "at most you can say poker is 20% skill"). I wrote a brief piece on how even if poker was 1% skill and 99% luck, the better player would win over time, just as a 51-49 coin flipped a million times would be practically guaranteed to favor the 51% side. That logic along with my 10nl graph which included a few times where I dropped a few buy-ins but the overall picture was an upward slope convinced most of them. Luck is short-term and will even out long-term, skill is constant long-term. But people continue to think that part of a decision is if you're feeling it or not and that they don't want "donks" chasing with crap and playing badly against them, and I'm loving it. When everyone thinks they're winning players based on small blips of luck, I'm not going to try to convince them otherwise when they keep dumping money on me :).