Monday, May 09, 2011

Playing in Fear

Fear, 'The Record' (1982)Still pretty much sitting on the sidelines when it comes to poker these days. I mentioned last week how I’d won myself a whole dollar over on Carbon Poker. I finished 23rd in a freeroll in which 2,600-plus played, earning me a ticket to play in exactly one event and no other -- a $2.20 buy-in, six-handed SNG. There I finished second, which got me just a buck.

Not a lot to be done with $1.00 on Carbon. Too little, in fact, to sit down at the lowest NLHE table they have. I probably should’ve weighed my options more carefully before hastily grabbing a seat at the lowest limit LHE table ($0.02/$0.04) where the play uncannily resembles $2/$4 live. There I ground my one dollar down to just 20 cents before I skedaddled. I suppose after losing the first hand or two I was playing not to lose -- with “scared money” (so to speak). I think there’s a six-cent tourney on the schedule listed somewhere which is where my silly little “zero-to-hero” story will next go.

I imagine I’m responding here like a lot of recreational online players who aren’t yet rushing to deposit again. I do miss playing, and am reasonably certain I’ll try to get a smallish roll back online again soon, probably either on Carbon or Bodog (where I already have an account). But I suppose the trauma of getting suddenly shut out, never mind the slight uncertainty over future cash-outs should I deposit again, is causing me to act more prudently with this decision than I did when sitting down to play LHE for pennies last week.

(By the way, for the mathematically-inclined, check out this interesting post on Quantitative Poker analyzing and weighing all of the new factors faced by U.S. players like myself who are contemplating whether or not to join a new site: “To play or not to play: Optimal game selection with risky operators.”)

Since April 15 I’ve been occasionally searching back through old UIGEA-related posts to revisit various moments in its almost five-year history. In one such post, dated October 12, 2006 (the day before President Bush signed the bill into law), I found the following sentence: “I envision very little (really, no) recourse for the online player who suddenly discovers he cannot access his favorite online site.”

Just days later PartyPoker -- a favorite of many at the time -- would no longer be accessible to Americans. And it kind of felt at the time like most of the other sites would soon follow suit, although as we know that didn’t quite happen. Now it has, and while the unexpected unsealing of the indictments and civil complaint wasn’t necessarily the way we’d thought it could happen, we all sort of knew for a long time now that it was always possible that the games could go away.

I was chatting with a friend last week, an older fellow who has told me the story before of his immigrant parents running an illegal gambling operation out of their home when he was a child. I don’t remember all of the details, but there were poker games. I think there was an elaborate, ongoing bingo game, too, in which he might’ve had to participate in its running.

Whenever he and I talk, we almost always talk about poker. And when we do talk about poker, he always takes an interest in what I have to tell him about my own experiences, as well as what I have to say about the state of the game, generally speaking. But he’s always made it clear to me that he has a kind of a personal distaste for poker and gambling, primarily because of his experiences growing up.

His aversion to gambling games -- including poker -- is absolutely reasonable. Such games were never much fun for him. In fact, they introduced enormous stress into his childhood, since his family lived in constant fear that their lives would be utterly disrupted should the cops ever catch wind of what was happening under their roof.

As I was thinking over the weekend again about my friend’s childhood, I realized how his personal story was somewhat analogous to the larger story of online poker. Could have been those raids last Friday down in Costa Rica by the OIJ that triggered this line of thinking.

Certainly since 2006, but really even before, I imagine anyone who’s played online poker has always done so with a vague apprehension that the game could suddenly go away at any moment. And I mean that in all senses -- from the simple, temporary loss of internet connectivity to the sudden shutdown or unavailablity of sites we’ve now experienced on multiple occasions.

No one wants to live in fear. And we all know in poker that playing in fear -- with “scared money” -- is hardly recommended.

In fact, “playing in fear” seems kind of paradoxical, doesn’t it? I mean, why do we play games? To experience pleasure. To enjoy ourselves. To feel good, happy. To relax. And to escape, to some extent, the worries or anxieties we experience when not playing.

No, I don’t want to play a game in fear. However, I do want to play Fear:

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