Translated from the original Cum devii un jucator de poker bun by Mircea Popescu.
Establishing authority, or the thing that should lay the foundation for all articles of this type : I am not the best Romanian poker player, there are certainly tens better than me and probably hundreds, though I sincerely doubt that there are thousands better than me, but hey, anything’s possible. I am not a professional player (that is, I don’t make my living from it), but I’ve played with tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars on the table and I’ve both won tens and hundreds of thousands, and also lost tens and hundreds of thousands. So I’ve won and I’ve lost a bit, and though I’ve never won millions, I also have no intention to – I like everything in moderation.
Yet of all the Romanian poker players who are better than me, I’m not aware of a single one that maintains his own blog (yet another example of domain dependence). It’s true that there are various “writings” strewn about, variously and deliberately preparing suckers for the shearing, and that there are still other blogs where know-it-alls talk about stuff they really don’t understand, nor will ever understand (thus preparing gullible suckers for the shearing). As such, my authority stems from a simple syllogism : that you’re willing to accept my authority based on where you’ve read an article on this topic in the Romanian language, and that you’re not willing to accept my authority as sufficient if you can’t read any other article on this topic in the Romanian language, given that such a thing doesn’t exist.
The situation is the same in the English domain, where there exists several blogs kept by guys better than me. But how honest and how serious they are is for them to establish, it’s not my bagi to discuss such matters in other languages.ii
Definition of terms, or the thing that should continue to lay the foundation for all articles of this type.
By “poker” we understand that there are many variants, even if people generally prefer to play either Texas Hold’em or some type of stud. However, for the purposes of this level of discussion, it’s irrelevant which variant of the game is played.
By “player” we mean someone who either wins or loses and who understands the rules of the game. Poker (like all games of chance for that matter) can easily be used as a tool for defrauding, but we’re not interested in talking about crooks who use poker as part their scam, we’re here to discuss the players.
By “good” we mean someone who’s able to win more often than lose, and by a difference that’s greater than the average income in that area for that demographic. So a Romanian middle school kid who plays poker and earns a monthly of a hundred leiiii is a good player by our definition, in view of the fact that net allowances are not yet one hundred lei per month. A Sudanese living in Sudan who wins an average of one hundred dollars per month is a good poker player, by virtue of the fact that wages in Sudan are somewhat under a hundred dollars.
Based on this criterion, to be considered a good poker player in Romania you have to clear 25`000 lei, net, every year, just from playing poker. To be considered a good international poker player you have to clear about one hundred thousand lei every year. Yes ‘every year,’ that’s the defining factor, the consistency, so we mean that in all years of life up until death you have to clear this much. Plainly, someone who clears this amount for a year or two in a row isn’t exactly going to go down in history as a “good player”.
There’s a theory (one I don’t credit) that a card game can be an addiction, like tobacco or something. Do you know how little sense this theory would make to someone who’s smoked cigarettes for the past twenty years ? From my point of view, only barbiturates
like and heroin are truly addictive substances. Not alcohol, nicotine, pussy, hashish, the Internet, cards games of any description and so on and so forth. The test for an addictive substance is simple: take one of the things in question, isolate the taker, and then withdraw the substance suddenly. If he dies (as opiate addicts die, quite clearly) we’re talking about an addictive substance. If he doesn’t die, it’s not an addictive substance, it’s simply bad pussy.
And now, after a seven hundred word introduction, we’re ready to proceed.
I. To become a good poker player you need about a decade of life under your belt. Ten years. That’s two-and-a-half universities, or a medical degree and a wrong turn. It is, in other words, a ton of work.
Sure, at that wonderful age of possibilities known as “adolescence,” the contrary appears to be true: playing cards would appear to be a simple and effective way to avoid doing any work whatsoever. But this simply isn’t the case and those deadbeats who are inclined to avoid work will never make good poker players, never, under any circumstances, and no matter what happens. The vast majority of them won’t even have the luxury of dying in their own beds, but that’s another discussion for another time. The objective reality of living on your poker income is similar to that of living off one’s blog’s income : those who can pull this off are few and far between and largely require the ability to be valedictorian in several university faculties simultaneously, there’s zero chance that they’re the product of a diploma factory.
This having been said, the life of a poker player is a really rather interesting one, certainly one that keeps you young (in spirit at least, it’s a bitch physically). You’re always meeting new people and you always have the feeling that you’re living your life to the fullest. The failed existence of someone surrounded by papers in an office, slowly counting down the years and decades until retirement/death, cannot compare to the card player who’s so alive in the moment that he rarely knows if it’s Tuesday or Thursday.
A very important note: the person with the talents and abilities necessary to become a good poker player also has the talents and abilities to become a good anything: engineer, lawyer, doctor, banker, anything they wish. Almost all these alternatives are paid better, as the unit of effort more readily converts to the unit of value. So if what interests you in this profession (because it is a profession, even if not according to the taxman, but we’ll get to that later) is the money, it’s really not the best choice.
So in short: professional poker isn’t for everyone. It’s not a way to avoid work (on the contrary, it’s a good way to work even more) and it’s not a way to make money (on the contrary, it’s a rather enjoyable way to make relatively less money).
II. To become a good poker player you need a partner. Ideally, your partner is a beautiful woman who’s passionately loyal, will encourage and support you, who makes enough so that you can both live comfortably even when you’re not bringing in the cake (ie. secretaries, shopkeepers and other unskilled workers are right out), who doesn’t want children, doesn’t want to learn to play cards, who isn’t bothered if she doesn’t see you for a few days, and who also makes a mean cocktail. In case this description makes you want to give up immediately, I can assure you that such women do in fact exist. I personally know three such individuals. I’d estimate that there are in the order of a thousand such ladies worldwide, which means that about a thousand lucky guys (within an order of magnitude) have the legitimate opportunity to become one of the best poker players in the world by taking advantage of, as they say, being on the button with pocket rockets.
No amount of ideals and cheap tawk can support you for a decade, so many aspiring players will use their mothers as a surrogate partner. This solution is in no way functional, for reasons that we’ll discuss shortly, suffice to say that this arrangement can only be the result of it being socially acceptable for children to suck on their parents’ financial titties for 30 years, from which we have the second order effect of more people trying to become good poker players than there’s ever been in the history of humanity. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we end up with more good players than we had before, simply that it’s easier than ever to give it a run.
III. To become a good poker player intelligence is an entirely secondary issue. I know it seems hard to believe, mainly because movies and TV have created the convenient impression that hyperintelligence is essential in this pursuit. This is false, and merely a product of a larger and quite fashionable obsession with hyperintelligence. Besides, if we believed every convenient movie construction then even email would seem absolutely bizzare, don’t you think?
Discipline is by far the most important quality in good poker player. Intelligence is way down on the list and easily surpassed by intuition (which is an increasingly mystical force that I’m at a loss to explain, even though its existence has been confirmed first-hand and by other players I know). That’s also why the partnership with one’s parents is so toxic : a man dependent on his mother doesn’t have the maturity to develop real discipline, everything he constructs is superficial (and not, incidentally, linked to him, as our prior discussion perfectly illustrates : hyperintelligent people that lack discipline only suck because of their unhealthy relationships with their mothers). There is however a somewhat bizarre exception : an incestuous relationship between a girl and her stepfather can apparently work to satisfy the needs of both parties. As I’ve seen such a relationship with my own eyes, you’re not really in a position to deny the validity of this observation, no matter how, well, “inappropriate” it might seem.
IV. To become a good poker player you have to spend about four years (ie. an undergrad’s worth) memorising the numbers. If we’re playing five-handed, what are the chances that I get fives-full and someone else gets a straight? And what about if I have queens-full-of-kings but another guy has a straight flush to the king? What then? And now what’s the chance of another guy having a royal flush of hearts if I have tens full of aces?iv Every single number for every single situation has to be known off by heart. Off. By. Heart. Every last one of them.
A relatively intelligent way to prepare for this stage of development is by playing bridge. Bridge has the advantage of being much cheaper than poker while also offering you the chance to socialize with smart people and enjoy some face time with women (as I’ve seen many shop assistants playing the game). Bridge however has the disadvantage of teaching you both useful and useless things besides poker itself. Still, it’s an advisable path to take on one’s spiritual journey, since no amount of book learning could possibly bring you into contact with such comfortable, tolerant, and freethinking menv as the ones you’re likely to meet playing bridge. However, it’s inadvisable to only play bridge because you’re easily agitated and short-tempered, since playing poker offers the invaluable opportunity for beginners to learn from their own stupidity, an experience that (preferably coupled with some healthy beatings) will help immeasurably in their later lives, whether or not it includes poker.
V. After you’ve satisfied the entry-level requirements (but only after, and to be perfectly clear, I really do mean only after you have your numbers down cold) can you move up to the next level: the real deal. Now forget everything and focus on the opponent. What does he say while he’s doing his mental math? A good poker player can beat a table of amateurs without so much as looking at his cards, to which point there’s an old witticism: cartile proprii si le poate evalua statistic, cartile adversarilor le poate citi direct de pe ei dupa care compara un ce cunoscut (cartile alora) cu un ce probabil (cartile lui proprii), si per total iese in cistig. vi There is, in the end, a simple way to test your potential to excel as a poker player, and also your ability to succeed in a relationship: strip naked and lock eyes with your partner. That’s right, take it all off and play some cards. Quite frankly, all that clothing stuff is superfluous.
Because after all, there’s more to life than being a good poker player.
PS. With their stupid heads chock full of Puritanism, most states have ‘developed’ fiscal policies that in practise, if not necessarily explicitly, work on the theory that a professional poker player is a social evil to be repressed. Apparently, men marrying men is a good idea, but not playing cards. As such, all gains are taxed (often at astronomical rates) with no deduction for damages – so if I profit ten thousand today, then lose nine thousand tomorrow, instead of ending up with a profit of one thousand and paying taxes on that, I actually end up four thousand in the hole (given that the state wants half of the ten thousand).
This nonsense should be abolished, even if this seems unlikely given that we’re talking about the same (completely out of control) state that pockets nine-tenths of the price of a pack of cigarettes. The most practical solution is of course to avoid taxes, starting immediately and for absolutely everyone.
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- “Not my cup of tea,” if you prefer.↩
- Until now!↩
- ~USD$ 30 at the time this article was originally published in 2012. While the current exchange rate would make this sum ~USD$ 25 today, it’s unlikely that this decrease reflects true deflation in the Romanian economy. It’s altogether more likely that Fed printing and stage n Bitcoin have conspired to make this fx relationship entirely meaningless.↩
- Original footnote: This question hasn’t been pulled out of thin air, it’s the final hand from the 1965 movie Cincinnati Kid, and it would’ve absolutely destroyed anyone judging the hand on numbers alone (as the chances of this are something like one in fifty million). Only intuition could save you here, if only intuition existed…↩
- Original footnote: Yes, books and games have their own personality, just as dogs and horses do. Poker is a variable-sized cat, often unpredictable, and sometimes purring like a tiger.↩
- I can’t quite parse this bit of idiomatic Romanian. If you can, let me know!↩