Poker? I barely know her!

OK, lame and over-used joke. However, it fits– I’ve played so little poker in the last year and a half that my skills have really been dulled. There was a time, before I took on a job at Microsoft, that I was a pretty decent poker player– I not only managed to come out ahead in home games and low-limit casino games, but I was earning the majority of my income from playing in middle-limit and no-limit games and online play.

Then, I started working full time at Microsoft.

To be honest, the work-life balance in my new position is actually BETTER than when I owned my own company– I work FEWER hours, not more. However, the percentage of my attention/bandwidth/brain power that is allocated to work is MUCH higher. I simply don’t have the bandwidth to read and re-read a half-dozen poker books a month, and when I was still playing online (which I can’t do anymore because of totally bullshit changes in the legal climate in the state of Washington) my heart just wasn’t in the game. My discipline is gone, as is my ability to calculate odds instantly– my brain is off thinking about other things.

Frankly, I really miss the game. I’m no longer good enough to play at the level I used to (i.e. middle limits) and I can’t really afford to hemorrhage cash at even lower limits (4/8, 3/5 NL, etc.) because of my suddenly poor play. This, combined with the sudden inability to play micro-limits online because it’s now a class 3 felony (don’t get me started…) has me seriously “jonesing” for some poker.

Not sure what I’ll do… it’s likely I’ll start reading up again, and try to get my game back to a reasonable level, and start playing locally in low-limit games. However, not only are the low limit games not challenging, but it’s tough to know when you’re ready to move back up because a 3/6 game in a casino is essentially unbeatable– despite the bad play from your oponents, it’s damn near impossible to take enough off the table to compensate for the “rake” and tips. (The rake is the money taken out of each pot by the house– it’s how the casino makes money.) At higher limits, the rake isn’t as much of a factor, but at 3/6, it’s a real killer. So even if you’re playing flawless poker (which nobody is capable of) you’ll still lose money over time at that level.

Another alternative is to play in some local tournaments, but you run into a similar issue: low buy-in tournaments are structured so poorly that they are essentially crap shoots– far more luck than skill. (The blinds escallate so quickly, and are so high relative to your stack that you just have to get good cards to win.) Higher buy-in tournaments tend to be structured better, but are too expensive if you’re playing as badly as I am lately, and are hard to come by in Washington.

I miss poker, but I don’t really see a way to get my game back up to a level where I’m not pissing away money… and I don’t need another expensive hobby.