I'm often accused of putting down new players, and/or recreational players. Nope. Both are necessary for a balanced poker world. Everyone was new at some time, and recreational players serve their purpose to keep the games good. Sure, my personal preference is to read
about serious poker, but that doesn't mean I think badly of new and/or recreational players.
Sometimes a new player, one who is playing for very low stakes or for play money will incorrectly think he cannot play seriously. After all, since the stakes don't matter, or he will win nothing more than play money, he can't or shouldn't play seriously. This is not the case.
Also, the flip side may occur. A serious player thinks he has to play correctly in a game because he is in a casino, or he is sitting with other serious players, or for any other number of reasons. This can also be incorrect.
I will attempt here to tell you the difference between when you should play poker seriously, and when you should play poker recreationally (please disregard this post altogether if you are only interested in recreational poker and have no intention of ever playing seriously).
Many readers are right now thinking to themselves, "Wow, easy, I don't need a post to tell me which games are serious and which games are recreational! If it's play money, a freeroll or very low stakes, it's recreational. When it gets beyond that, it's serious." No. You couldn't be more wrong. Please open up your mind right now, at this very point, and read on with a new attitude.
I remember back in June, 2005, when the Bloggers had their second get together and we arranged a private game at MGM. HORSE or mixed games, I believe. This was right before I started chemo, so some of my memory may be faulty, but the details don't matter as much as the gist of the story I'm trying to get to. We were there to have fun, relax and for some of the newbies to play games they'd never tried (Omaha, Stud games).
The game was rocking. We had a full table, another full table downstairs and a list. We were drinking and laughing it up. Even I was drinking, although I don't really drink. I was tipping dealers just to tip them (somewhat overcompensating for the lack of tipping by a few newbies who had never played live poker and had no idea what to do). I was exposing cards, trash talking, showing my complete hand with two cards to come and all other kinds of BS that some drunk, loose, idiot would do.
After the blogger weekend was over (and we had a fabulous time. While I may not like reading their blogs very much, I truly enjoy being around most of these people), I heard from several confused and/or disgruntled bloggers. They said I played against every principle I've ever taught. I thought it was obvious why I played the way I played, but I forgot one important thing. Most of this crowd had never played live, or played seriously. They simply had no idea how to spot the difference between a serious game and a recreational game.
It all comes down to one thing: "Can you beat the rake?"
If you can, with ease, in general it is a serious game. If you can't, you may as well drink, overtip, expose cards, and do everything else in your ability to lessen your expected value!!! After all, if you can't even be expected to beat the house take, you may as well have fun blowing your dough. And that is exactly what I did (although in this instance I made a few dollars, like $8, lol, but that isn't the point).
So when does the line get blurred at all? Well, it certainly can. Let's bring up some examples of when the line is blurred between serious poker and recreational poker.
1) Play money games
If you are playing to learn the mechanics of a certain game, ie, you've only played flop games and aren't sure how Stud games are dealt, you should probably pay attention and play seriously.
If you are using play money games to blow off steam and tilt, you should play just as crazy as you want to play. Sure, goof it up, cover the monitor with your hand and just keep your mouse on the raise button if you want. Chase anything, never fold, make it four bets with a scary board. Have fun!
2) Micro-Stakes Online
Are they letting you get your feet wet for free, like Stars? Or are they pinching every penny and struggling to survive, like Pacific?
If you are playing for free, it is not a recreational game anymore. Play for profit, play seriously. If they are raking 10%, you may as well have a field day. Drink it up, go for those one-outers. Put others on tilt for a change.
3) Home Games
Does the home game you attend take a rake or house charge? If the rake is so high compared to the stakes, you may as well drink all of the free drinks they hand you and have a ball.
If it is not raked, in general play seriously for profit. There is, however, a time not to follow this advice. If you are too serious will that mean you won't get invited back? Then loosen up a bit. Giving up a little EV now, for more EV later, is in your best interest.
4) Some Foreign Casinos and/or Non-Regulated Cardrooms
Some of these guys take such huge rake that there is absolutely no reason to play seriously. On some cruiselines (Royal Caribbean), I have heard of rake at 10% up to $20 per pot.
In some cardrooms in Australia, I have heard of $1 per hand, per player, no exceptions.
Someone posted about a cardroom in Finland that had 10% rake with no maximum. So if you are playing a Pot-limit or No-limit game, you could potentially win a 5k pot, and give $500 to the house for ONE hand.
Suffice it to say, the only way you can get through something like this is if you get completely bonkered. If not, rage will drive you so insane that you'll need mental health care, lol ;)
5) California Games
Some casinos in California take a drop even with no action. They take a drop for the city, the state, the gaming commission, the waitresses, the floorman, the food, the Terminator and just for the heck of it, haha!
Seriously, though, if the rake is so prohibitive, either move up in stakes so that you can beat it, or play for fun.
6) Low Stakes
This is where things get fuzzy. If you would like to play serious poker, and you are only capable of playing something like 2/4, you need to do some homework and/or investigation before you sit down at a table.
Do they take 10% or 5%? Do they use quarters, half dollars or chips only? Do they round up or down (most cardrooms overseen by gaming commissions are supposed to round down. You noticed I used the word "supposed," I'm sure). What is the total rake? Is there a max? A minimum?
Do they take a separate BBJD? If so, what is the max drop? How do they rake it, by percentage as the pot is built, or by counting the pot at it's conclusion? Do they drop for uncalled bets? Do they drop even if there is no flop (no action on the hand)?
The less likely you are going to be able to beat the rake, the more recreationally you should play. If you are in a big city like Vegas, call around. It pays to do your homework. Somewhere like AC or Foxwoods, well, you really don't have a choice, do you? But both are easily beatable if you want to play seriously, IMO. What makes them beatable? No BBJD (unless something has changed that I don't know about) and loose, passive players.
Another viable strategy if you wish to play seriously at a high rake game (let's say 4/2 instead of 3/1, or 4/2/1 instead of 3/1/1), is to play to lose less, or break even.
This is the one that gets players the most. How to play a freeroll. Let's start at the very bottom of the ladder and move up.
a) The total freeroll paying out pennies or prizes--If you can multi-table, you may as well play this one seriously. Yes, play just as seriously as if you were playing a million dollar event. You are making money on the side, so it is in your best interest to take the tourney seriously.
If you cannot multi-table, and your time is valuable, play like a monkey, have fun. Being the first out pays the same as the bubble.
b) The raked hands freeroll--You probably "worked" for this one, so play it seriously. Sure, the lowest payout may only be $5-10, but if you can multi-table, you need to go for the final table and then the win.
c) The Live Freeroll--Somehow you probably qualified for this. Either time spent in the cardroom, or winning some kind of qualifier (high hand, aces cracked, satellite). If you're there anyway, you may as well play it seriously. The payouts are usually very flat, so it isn't in your best interest to play recklessly trying to get to the top three spots. Even if the top three pay substantially higher, most often a deal is made long before you get to that point, and unless you have 90% of the chips on the table, it might be in your best interest to go along with the deal (negotiate if you have to). Why? Because you might be playing against these guys every day. Being overly greedy now might cost you a lifetime of grief later. Plus, hey, time is money. Go play a juicy cash game and don't sweat the $50 you gave up in equity.
d) The Satellite--Once again, this comes down to the rake. Did you pay points to enter this? Time at the tables? Did you get a total freeroll? How is the structure? How many players advance?
8) The Tournament
Most players mistakenly assume that all tournaments should be played seriously. Not the case at all. In fact, with today's structure, it usually pays to be the loose, aggressive, seemingly reckless player.
A lot of your decision of whether to play seriously or for recreation comes down to the structure and starting chips. The more "play" in an event, the more seriously you should take it, in general.
And then, the other all important factor which is ever present in the mind of a serious player, the rake. The juice, the vig, the highway robbery, whatever you want to call it, it all comes back to the rake, doesn't it?
I remember a couple of years ago reading about a tournament that I believe Casino Arizona offered. This was during the days where casinos were pretty much able to charge anything they wanted, because people were so crazed about poker that they just didn't care. Thankfully, although not many of you may have noticed yet, things are changing. Too many cardrooms, too many big events. Now CRM's are realizing they have to cut us a little slack if they want to keep our business.
Okay, so going back to CAZ. They advertised a $60 tournament. $35 went to the house, $25 went to the prize pool. Yep, they were actually charging more in juice than the percentage that went back to the players.
Ditto a tournament up in Seattle that I read about. It was to be televised, so the CRM told players that they were required to pay a "fee" to be on television. The buy-in was $100. $60 went to the house and the TV station, $40 went to the players. Yeah, that's fair ;)
My point is, if you find yourself in a situation where even if you win, you lose, you may as well monkey it up. In general, you should avoid these events altogether, but sometimes you find yourself going along to the local rip-off joint with a group of friends, and they want to play in a real, live "poker "tournament. Instead of gnashing your teeth and throwing a fit, you may as well just sit back and have a good time. Think of it more as money going towards a movie, or some other form of entertainment. You don't expect to get anything back, so anything you win is icing on the cake.
In conclusion, these are very general guidelines to help you decide what kind of game you are playing in, and to prepare you for finding the type of games you want to play in. My information may be dated, so always do your own homework. Also, I tend to write very quickly. Like whipping up some frosting for a cake, I write like a blizzard, then wait for it to "settle." This means sometimes I make mistakes. I may not even realize them for days, if ever, until someone points them out to me.
So be self-reliant and don't just "take my word for it." Do your own investigating, do your homework. Your bankroll and your mental health will thank you for it!