My friend Todd was visiting Vegas from Japan for the past few weeks. When I asked if there was any Vegas stuff he wanted to do while he was here, I was surprised to hear him say that he wanted to play poker. I hadn’t played in about five years and hadn’t really even thought much about playing in that time.
Our normal game was 10-20 Limit, which you’d normally buy in for about $400-500. We walked up to the podium and asked for the game. They looked at us like we were a little bit crazy and said, “we haven’t had that game since 2019. Do you want 20-40?”.
The buy-in for 20-40 is twice as much and the players tend to be a big step up from 10-20. I had played it occasionally in the past, so I knew it wasn’t too crazy of a game, but it was definitely jumping into the deep end of the pool.
The first thing I noticed was how fast the game felt. It reminded me of the first time I played poker in a casino, when it felt like I could barely keep track of what was going on and whose turn it was. When you play poker regularly the game changes to feel very slow. People sometimes even bring tablets and watch movies while they play.
Luckily, it came back quickly. It was interesting to realize that poker was still somewhere in the back of my brain. I found myself raising and check raising without really thinking about it. Layers of the game came back to me, almost like they were being installed in my brain as I played. I’d think things like, “oh yeah, I should know how much money is in the pot”, and the realize that I already knew if I just thought about it. Same with odds of making various hands. My hand reading wasn’t as good as it used to be, but the only times I was suprised at what someone had were when they played so poorly that no one could predict what they were holding.
I always tell people that they should play poker for the way it trains your brain, but not having played in so long made me forget exactly why it was so good. I don’t think that playing a few times in a week is enough to actually have any effect, but I could definitely feel it sharpening my brain in the same way you feel your muscles working out at the gym.
It was also really interesting to be immersed in a world that I had left for so many years, sort of like visiting a country I hadn’t been to in a while. I recognized some of the old regulars, and many of the employees. The hosts couldn’t remember our names, but they remembered us and knew we hadn’t been there in a while.
I was also a little bit surprised to see how bad the other players were. There weren’t any absolute maniacs like there would be at lower levels, but even with a thick layer of rust I caught many obvious mistakes even within the first 15-30 minutes of playing.
At the poker table you think about who you’re likely to make a profit off of and who is likely to make a profit off of you. When I played the $10k buy-in World Series of Poker game a few years ago almost everyone was a pro I recognized and I quickly realized that there was no one there I could expect to profit off of. At this table, though, there was no one I think could make money off me and a lot of people I could make money from.
Anyway, the point of all this is that in 2021 poker is still a totally viable thing to do. It’s really amazing for your brain, the sort of analysis you do in the game is directly applicable to real life, and it’s still very easy to be profitable (at least in real life in Vegas, which is generally not the easiest place to be profitable).
I’m not sure if there are better books these days, but I started learning poker with the book Winning Low Limit Hold’Em by Lee Jones, and it’s a really excellent book. It has just the right amount of information to get you to profitability without bogging you down in so much detail and theory that you walk away.
Photo is from opening night of Shin Lim‘s new show in Vegas. I expected that it would be good, but it was actually really excellent. It probably had more tricks that I couldn’t figure out than any other magic show I’ve been to.
I’m about to start Tea Time with Tynan #8 as I post this. I’m going to try to do one next week too, but I’m not 100% sure if I’ll be able to.