Despite poker being a complex game, even for the most talented players finding a balance between poker and life can be intricate. Because of the time many of us spend engulfed in poker recreationally, or worst yet our careers, it can come with the neglect of other important areas. While for each and every one of us our situations are unique, we all share the ambition to progress towards our peak – a major catalyst of our division between maturity as human beings, and our poker evolution. It’s a juggling act; one that requires our undivided attention and an effort similar to that of which we apply to our poker development.
For some of us, the distinction between poker and our everyday lives is utterly transparent – we haven’t made poker an occupation so there’s a vast amount of separation between the two variables. However, for those of us who play poker less recreationally or better yet to make a residual profit, deciding how much time you should delegate to poker and your life outside of the game can be tricky. While my financial security once depended exclusively on poker, I found that this form of play caused me far too much stress on both my mind and external foci. It’s likely the same for other individuals as well, which is why I’m going to talk a bit about my own experiences, and later get into ways for us to find a better balance between the game we love and the things we cherish.
For me at least, finding little to no inspiration outside of poker just wasn’t for me. While I was making a reasonable living by most standards, the absence of rewarding experiences with traveling, social gathering, family bonding, school and love were just too essential to overlook. It’s obvious that every person is different, but I believe that even for those of us who prefer a more introverted lifestyle it’s detrimental to continuously play poker with little outside interaction. You may be thinking… sure, when I’m at the table I chat up a storm, I engage everyone and still manage to rake in huge pots and sweep women off their feet. Well hats off to you, I truly think you’re the minority, and poker players like you make up a very modest percentile. Instead, the nature of the game is centralized around emotional emptiness, robotic decision-making and the relentless pursuit of monetary gain. These characteristics are not susceptible to a complete and satisfying human existence. Giving up your nights and weekends because the best games are running can’t be beneficial to your life as a whole, but they are unmistakably useful in boosting your win rate.
Although somewhat embarrassed to admit, I fit in the introverted category (as you could probably tell). But despite my natural preference for privacy, I think that poker doesn’t help those of us who desire something different. I still enjoy life outside of poker, and I still consider myself outgoing, but I also recognized that certain expectations couldn’t be maintained given my poker schedule. Being in my mid-twenties, initially it’s not hard to change your sleep schedule or be painfully realistic with your availability in regards to relationships. But these weren’t changes that I welcomed. Instead it caused (or nearly caused) a huge loss for me – one greater than any hand I could’ve lost at showdown.
Without getting into detail (after all, I did say I was a private person), this was a big wake up call for me. I realized that although I still wanted to play poker, I was going to have to re-prioritize. My hours ended up being reduced, and I decided to play at less profitable hours so that I had time for the things and people I cared most about. At the same time, because of bankroll restrictions and my desire to step foot into a wider social circle, I found another side vocation. Purposely unrelated to poker, it’s become an exciting way to reinvent myself and evolve as a person. Also, as you may notice, I write about poker and its nuances for a living too, a task which serves the purpose of staying connected to the poker community without the monetary risk.
But I want to make sure it’s clear – giving up poker as a whole would be a monumental mistake. Poker is immensely profitable for players who are capable of playing at a high level. However, in order to stay ahead of the learning curve and become an elite player you need to put in a lot of hours. In all likelihood, these will be hours that you’ll have to force. In my current situation, I don’t have too much wiggle room for long, strenuous hours and uncertainty. I know it’s lucrative this way, but I haven’t compromised monetary benefit by reducing my time played because I’ve subsidized this income with other resources.
While finding another position was very beneficial for me, I understand that my approach isn’t suitable for the entire population. Instead, maybe I should suggest a few other less time consuming strategies for making sure you spend quality time away from the poker table.
To be general, just get away from your local poker venue or your computer screen. I know it’s easier said than done, but turning off that 27” monitor or not smelling that funky, old gentlemen who refuses to bath may do you some good (and not just so they don’t think it’s you.) Even if it’s not directly correlated with an outside activity, just being away from the game can give you a fresh perspective when you return. Especially during bad stretches, I can’t begin to compute how valuable it was to look at my mistakes analytically, with other viewpoints, and not in 20/20 hindsight. I’ve stressed to a few players I’ve tutored that the time you spend outside of poker is your most important. Once you reach a certain plateau, I think one of the thinnest edges players need to exploit and use to separate themselves is their mental sharpness. Think about everything you do – both at the table and away from it – and you’ll detach the stigma of the average poker player.
Spend time with family, or find a love interest. Ok, so these tasks were a bit harder for me. While I love my family, like many of them mine is particularly annoying and will constantly beg me to stay at home for longer periods than I would like or visit more often. To say I don’t have fun would be an understatement, but I advocate that you proceed here with caution (kidding of course).
In the other category, while I’ve had opportunity, poker can be one of the toughest careers to explain to your significant other. The swings can be volatile, the hours long, and the money inconsistent (at least in the eyes of a newcomer). Finding another person who is willing to accept this, and still appreciate you might be rare. Even worse, if you’re the type who has difficulty separating the emotions on the felt with those when you’re not playing, you’ll find yourself lonely in a heartbeat. There’s nothing worse than taking out your bad beats on your girlfriend because you can’t control tilt.
This was an area that I have to say was hard to adjust to, but I’m glad that I found a partner who is as understanding about the struggles as I am. She’s also extremely motivated to succeed, and that serves as inspiration to keep both of us moving forward. When you have the chance, find a person who you adore that gives you an escape from cards. Not only will they be uplifting, but they can also help provide objective insight into your good and bad habits.
Gather socially! Probably the easiest method for relieving poker stress, you NEED to hang out with buddies to regain your mojo. I do have a cool collection of poker friends that I can spend time with, but ideally you want this to be a group that’s more concerned with having fun. The less they know about poker the better, because your conversation won’t revert back to the sloppy hand you butchered or the ill-advised check-raise you implemented.
What your best friends can do is give you your confidence back, and the comfort of being around people who understand you inside and out can be a huge confidence boost. You’ll likely realize that no matter what happens with poker, you’ll have people who will be in your corner and support your every move. Friends are there for this purpose, use them!
For some of you, these alternatives may not be an option. Why is another story in and of itself, however. But if you need to make money playing poker, and you either can’t afford to find another job that’s as valuable, or more simply don’t want to, I can’t blame you. These options don’t suit everyone. Maybe you don’t have many friends around, and putting yourself out there in terms of relationships is easier said than done. It’s relatable. But for some of us post Black Friday, who maybe have a bit more time on their hands since then and would like to venture into other avenues, I inspire you to do so. It’s extremely rewarding to your own psyche, and you may even find a new love!
As always, I wish everyone happiness in all of their endeavors, and hope to see you soon at the poker table. Good luck!