How to Keep Poker from Becoming a Grind
There's an interesting stage in the development of a poker player that usually results in a decision to increase the volume of hands played.
Picture this, you used to suck, but now you're sucking less and less and finding that you are actually one of the best players at your limit. You might even find that you're making some money, sweet!
Then what happens to most players (including myself) is that you do some theoretical calculations, which turns out can be really dangerous.
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Why Poker Players are Dreamers
Let me provide an example: Bob Bobberson is a no-limit hold'em player and has moved up the limits and doing fairly well at 100NL; he sees that after 100,000 hands he has a winrate of 3.0 big blinds per 100 hands (bb/100). He then goes on a nice run over a few sessions and wins at 10 bb/100, and this is when he overestimates his ability.
He now figures that he has improved, and maybe to a point where he's winning at 8 bb/100 (thinking he's being modest with this winrate). Doing some quick and dirty calculations, he figures that if he moves up his tables from 4 to 8, he can play about 500 hands per hour, which is $40/hour at 100NL. "Wow!" Bob exclaims, as he starts to get thoughts of making serious money playing a "game". Even a solid 50NL player could foreseeable be tempted to try to make a living.
So Bob is really motivated to pad his bankroll and make some real money. He cranks up not only the amount of tables he is playing to 8, but also plays a minimum of 3 hours a day. Then two things happen:
1) After the first week Bob isn't really motivated to play - it's kind of boring now
2) Bob isn't winning at 8 bb/100, in fact he's only winning at 2 bb/100
Bob has essentially become what players call a "grinder". His winrate has suffered for multiple reasons:
* He can't table choose as well because of his hours and amount of tables
* His focus is split over more tables - less time for decisions
* He's not always motivated or focused to play
So now he's in a situation where he doesn't want to play but feels like he has to, even for a lousy $10 an hour. I used to be Bob, and most players have been at one time or another.
Why Poker Needs to be Fun
Maximizing your winrate is great. Not only do you make money, but the higher your winrate is, the smaller your swings are in general.
In order to maximize your winrate you need to enjoy playing. It has been proven in many other fields that people who enjoy what they do and are intrinsically motivated are much more successful than those driven by grinding out a paycheck. This doesn't mean you can't enjoy winning money, you can! What it means is that your main motivation needs to come from something else.
You need to begin by really thinking about what aspects of the game you enjoy. Some of the most aspects are:
* Competition: Taking on and beating others in a battle of wits
* Winning: Even though it all evens out over the long run, some people enjoy the uncertainty; the thrill of victory and the disappointment of loss, even if it's only temporary
* Problem Solving: Some people like myself enjoy taking a good problem like a tough poker hand, breaking it down and thinking it through until they can figure out the best solution
What you'll most likely find is that all the things you enjoy aren't possible if you approach the game in a way to maximize your hourly earnings. Additionally, playing to maximize your hourly earnings can reduce that amount over time as you burn out and lose motivation.
Focusing on long-term improvement will not only result in more success, but it will be a lot more fun and fulfilling.
A Happy Compromise
There is a way to get the best of both worlds here, and that's by making a few simple compromises. The true way to maximize your earnings and success as a poker player relies both on playing a decent amount, but also keeping it fun. There are three fundamental things you should keep in mind.
1. Take time off
The worst thing for your game is feeling like you have to play. When you are putting in more volume (either by playing more hours or tables), it will wear you out. You need to give yourself the freedom to evaluate before a session if you truly want to play or not. If you don't want to play take a break and do something else.
2. Vary the number of tables
If you end up increasing the amount of tables you play to increase your volume, consider having other sessions where you limit the amount to four or less. This lets you spend more time on the 'fun' aspects of the game and really think through your decisions.
3. Mix it up
Remember that one of the things that can make poker a grind is the potentially monotone feel of playing the same game time after time. Simply mixing things up and having a 'fun' day once in a while is great for your motivation levels. You could have a poker night with some friends in real life, or simply switch to a different poker game like Omaha or Limit (if you typically play No-limit), or even switch from cash games to tournaments or vice-versa.
Poker is a great game that is not only fun, but can teach you a tremendous amount and can also provide you with some winnings as well. Remember why you started playing in the first place and why you enjoy it. Doing so will be the key to a long and successful poker career, regardless of whether you just play on the side or if you take it to the next level at some point.