Well, that’s it folks, yet another year bagged, tagged and buried under the patio.
It’s at this time of year that many of us start thinking about resolutions, making changes, and becoming the person we have always dreamed of being etcetera, etcetera.
I’ve never been very good with New Year’s resolutions, and have noticed a tendency to swing wildly between not making any at all, and making some massively grandiose statements of intent that invariably evaporate from my consciousness by Feburary 1st whereby I return to my normal state of lying around in my pyjamas eating pizza and scratching my flange.
This year, I planned my New Year’s Poker Resolution at the start of December; the resolution was to play less poker.
Yep… less poker for me.
This seems a bit counterintuitive given that for the first time in my life I have the luxury of more time for poker, I write a blog about poker, and I am finally earning actual monies from writing articles about poker that real humans will read.
It would make sense for me to play more poker, not less, surely?
I don’t think so, and don’t call me Shirley.
Let me start by telling you where I was at the beginning of December 2015: I had a good poker year in a lot of ways, not so much in terms of profit, but I had made my way to a couple of decent live events, I had a sunny holiday out of it, my game was getting stronger, my understanding of Maths was going in the right direction, and I was absolutely loving playing the game whenever I could.
Trouble was that I was playing it far too much, too often.
After landing a good writing contract towards the end of November, I was forced to be a bit more organised with my time, and less able to enjoy a full “bum” lifestyle of writing when I could be bothered, and playing poker the rest of the time.
When I started to think about where my time had been going and where the new work was going to fit in, I realised that I had been playing 60-80 hours a week online and usually one live game a week in a local club.
I honestly had no idea that I had been spending so many hours playing, and it seemed like I’d been wasting my time, as I was $394 down over $5000 worth of micro-stakes tournaments between September 1st and November 30th.
I had been aware of a frustrating downswing, nothing too awful, and I’m bankrolled for my stakes, so it wasn’t a financial problem. I guess I noticed it was an emotional problem on November 30th when I sat down to play a session, lost with AA v JJ allin preflop the first hand I played and smashed my laptop with my electronic cigarette.
In short, it suddenly occurred to me that I had been playing too much poker, and that overkill had led me to have an unreasonable reaction to a very normal part of the game.
It’s one thing to get a bit impassioned if I play for 10 hours and bubble the final table with that sort of carry-on, but if I want to consider myself a thinking player, then in the first hand of a tourney, my first hand of the day, a beat like that shouldn’t really touch the sides. I should be able to shrug, suck on my e-cig and register for another tournament without giving it too much further thought. I should actually have felt grateful for players like the guy who wants to 3bet smash 150 big blinds preflop with JJ.
Something was wrong, and I felt a vein of hate for my favourite game in the world. I didn’t like that, and I knew I had to get a handle on it.
So I just stopped playing.
I decided on November 30th at 21:36 2015 that I would not play a hand of poker until January 1st 2016, and I was certainly very resolute, and for once, I have stuck to my resolution.
I dealt some poker, most memorably my annual family Boxing Day game.
I wrote about poker, I read about poker and I thought about poker… but I have not played.
At first, I struggled to fill those hours. I read a lot of books, (check out the WHS “fresh talent” section, it’s truly brilliant) I played a lot of computer games, (will I ever beat a Japanese infant at online MarioKart?) I watched a lot of Netflix (the 10 part series Making A Murderer will blow your mind) and I baked a lot of cakes (if you need a chocolate ganache covered sponge, hit me up).
The first week was hard, and my fingers itched to just fire up my laptop and steamroll into some of my favourite tourneys, but I stayed strong and did not play poker. After that, I found I settled in very well to not being a poker player, and really enjoyed having those hours back.
By week three, I noticed that I really started to miss poker. I wanted her back in my life; in her absence, I started to appreciate her in a way that I had not been able to in the weeks leading up to my decision to take a break at the end of November.
Tonight is the night that I play again, and I honestly cannot wait; I’m genuinely excited about it.
My mum asked me if I was worried that I would have “forgotten how to play” and I assured her I would not have. I’m hoping I may even play better, partly because I spent more hours studying the game, and partly because I feel very well equipped on an emotional level to deal with the beats. In a slightly masochistic way, I’m even excited about the prospect of getting a horrible beat, because I have missed poker so much, every single aspect of it.
In retrospect, I have to acknowledge that this was a risky little experiment, because it could have easily gone the other way, and I could have realised that I actually preferred reading, baking and watching porn documentaries. Turns out, I didn’t.
I love poker, and I need it in my life, although perhaps not for 60-80 hours a week, every week.
I have started 2016 with a new lease of poker life and, I hope, slightly more discipline.
I don’t intend to put a time restriction on my play, I think that would be quite difficult when I play large field tourneys, the length of each session is outside my control to a certain degree.
What I do intend to do is be much more selective about the tournaments that I play, particularly focussing my attention on formats that my HUD stats tell me I’m having the best results at, and ensure that I have a minimum of two days a week where I do not play at all.
I am not a professional poker player, I play because I love the game and it is very important to me that I keep that love strong.
I really believe that if I had not had a much needed break over the last month, I would have seen my results get worse, and my attitude become untenable. I may have damaged my relationship with my greatest love in an irreparable way, and I am proud of myself for being so disciplined over the last few weeks.
I’m going into the New Year with a very positive mind-set, and I am pleased about that. Whatever else 2016 brings for me, I think that I have given the poker side of my life the best chance possible to grow healthily, and that is all I can do.
Now to brush the dust off my game and get those virtual cards in the digital air, excited by the prospect of such an old friend feeling like a new plaything.
I hope 2016 is a healthy, happy and lucky year for you all, and if it feels like it isn’t going that way, I hope you can manage to find a way to take a necessary break.