Gambler, or Investor?

by ~ May 2nd, 2008. Filed under: Goals and plans, Philosophy and approach.

* Modified June 15th, 2010 *

If there was no internet poker, I wouldn’t be a poker player. The first time I played was with friends back in post high school days, with beer and cigars, usually dealer’s choice with nickel bets. There definitely was an interest for me then. I could sense that the must be some optimal strategy, (even in the game where you put your hole card on your forehead so that everyone else knows what your hole card is), but that it would take a lot of thinking to figure out what that strategy might be.

But I didn’t have many opportunities to play. These were high school friends that I would get together with during Christmas or summer break. I had no idea where regular live games might be back then (I’m old, btw, even older than the internet or PCs) and even if I knew I think I would have been 1) too intimidated to play and 2) too busy with other things to do it regularly enough.

Poker on the internet makes it possible for me to play. I can do so any time, without leaving my home, at any stakes, and I even get chances to play with internet friends that I’ve met via my poker studies.

I’m not much of a gambler though. If you watch Sammy Farha on High Stakes Poker you see him offering deals; side bets, chopped pots, all kinds of other action or variations on the action. Sammy’s poker style reflects his personality. He’s very LAG, in lots of pots, raising preflop with a variety of holdings, leading at all kinds of flops to put pressure on his opponents. Sammy’s a true gambling man.

But gambling in and of itself doesn’t do very much for me. I don’t buy lottery tickets for the fun of anticipating what I might do if I won, or for the fun of checking out the numbers to see if I did win. The only time I buy lottery tickets is when it’s a group buy at work. In this case I view it as insurance ’cause if the group wins and I didn’t buy a share not only will I be kicking myself afterwards, but I don’t know how secure my job/company will be if half the people in the company are suddenly millionaires.

I do play in office sports pools. That used to be because I thought I knew more about the sport than most of my co-workers and overall I could come out ahead. Nowadays I view it as a price to pay to participate and to add some fun to following the sport. I just hope to win some money once in a while to reduce the overall cost of my participation.

Sports betting should be different than lotteries or slots. A good bettor should be able to come out ahead by being a significantly better bettor than the average person who places bets. A university statistics prof I know of says that one of his ex-students makes a living betting on sports, but won’t tell him exactly how he does it. This is different than a roulette player who relies entirely on luck and is competing with the house to win. The sports bettor is competing with the other sports bettors to come out ahead.

Poker is like sports betting. Overall the poker playing crowd loses money to the casinos and on-line sites, the same as the lottery ticket buyers, the blackjack players, the slots and roulette players. But individual poker players who are significantly better than the average person at his table will win more money from the opponents’ than the house will charge in rake and will be able to come out ahead.

People compare poker to the stock market. A good investor, like a good poker player, knows when to put money in because there is a good chance that in the short run or in the long run he will get a positive return on his investment. I never got much into the stock market either because doing the analysis of the corporate world never appealed to me the way sports or poker does.


It took me this long to get to my point, which is that this conservative/investor attitude as opposed to a gambler approach affects my game. In particular it makes me less interested in big wins, less interested in playing large field tournaments. When I win tournament dollars I unregister and play Sit and Goes rather than taking a shot at a big prize against 2,000 others. I don’t look at the prize pool and think, oooh if I could pull off a good finish, how great would that be?

I mention this because I’m sometimes aware of the fact that some of the other poker players that I know are gamblers. They like to have action, to take risks, get big wins.


June Cotte writes that “motives for consuming gambling experiences include learning and evaluating, seeking a “rush”, self-definition, risk-taking, cognitive self-classification, emotional self-classification, competing, and communing.” But as a game-player/investor, the risk-taking and rush aspects are not what I personally am seeking. Competing, communing, and learning/evaluating are certainly part of what I’m after, but maybe I’m old and pessimistic. I know that for every winner in a 2,000 person field there are some 1,900 or more who fail to cash at all, and I don’t believe that I am good enough to consistently beat 19 out of every 20 runners to make it worthwhile for me to try.

I’m also simple enough that I like to win often. In my blog entry on Islewars and the followup entry on Pokemon DS Silver I wrote about how I like to be in a situation where I win often enough. When you play against the computer, it’s possible to adjust your setting so that this happens. Against other humans, I have to play at a low enough level that I’m sufficiently better than my opponents so I win regularly enough, or so my bankroll steadily increases.

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