I did something Friday night that I haven’t done in a very long time: played poker. It had been six months since I’d been in a game, and that was in a casino. This was online, where I haven’t played a hand in almost a decade.
An acquaintance texted me, told me he was getting together some other friends, and it would be a low-key online cash game (as opposed to a tournament) with blinds of just $1 and $2. One of the reasons I’d given up online poker all those years ago was that I was concerned about collusion — since the other players at the virtual table were strangers to me, I had no idea whether two or three of them were sharing information about the cards dealt, while I was entirely on my own. But, knowing the host as I do, that seemed unlikely.
The other reason was that staring at a game on a computer screen involved none of the social interaction that used to make playing poker fun for me. Since the game can be quite boring, having people to talk to (or listen in on others’ conversations) can really help pass the time. The lack of that was one of the reasons I didn’t enjoy playing in the World Series Of Poker Main Event in 2012 — on my second day, no one at the table said anything other than “raise” or an amount. Yes, we were in a big, pressure-filled situation, but the silence didn’t help.
Nonetheless, I told my friend I’d give it a try, and we started around 8:45pm. We were playing on a platform that doesn’t take a rake (a percentage of each pot), because we were allegedly using play money, but we had all sent the host some cash via Venmo. Next, because I hadn’t played on that site before, I had to get used to its idiosyncrasies, such as how to bet/raise/check/fold. Not a difficult skill set to learn, but it took me a couple of minutes. Oh, and it only worked as an app on my iPad — not on the bigger screen on my laptop.
By 9:05pm, I was already bored. It wasn’t that I wasn’t getting any cards decent enough to play, but the experience was about as un-social as I remembered it would be. Because these were low stakes, several players got involved in too many hands and started bleeding money, while the host pulled in quite a few pots and knocked out a couple of opponents. I tried to stay disciplined, playing a style called tight-aggressive, yet I wasn’t getting any opportunities. And when I did, things went against me and I ended up folding after putting 10-20% of my stack in play.
When you’re not having fun and you’re losing, poker can be an incredible drag, and this was. I rarely tell bad beat stories, but that wasn’t a problem Friday night. I just took a few regular beats with no drama, or folded my big pair to opponents who obviously had a straight or a flush (there’s virtually no bluffing in a game like this). Pretty soon my stack was really short, and I ended up getting it all in pre-flop with a pair of eights in late position. I was called by a player with a pair of queens in the big blind. The board blanked off, and that was the end of that. I won exactly two hands over the course of two hours, and though I had the option of re-buying to keep playing, I just said good night and turned off my iPad.
The whole thing served as confirmation for me that my poker-playing days are over. Sure, there are players showing up at a couple of local casinos, wearing masks and separated by plexiglass (one of them had 11 tables going Friday night). There are also games up and running again in places I used to visit often (e.g. Las Vegas, south Florida), but not only am I not going to expose myself to several hours indoors in close proximity to my fellow humans during the pandemic, I seem to have lost the urge to play at all.
I used to be a regular in a weekly home game, which was filled with lots of conversation, jokes (often at each others’ expense), and conviviality among friends who have known each other for years. I haven’t been back to that game since I began sheltering at home in March. I understand some of them do still show up and play, but as much as I enjoyed spending time with all of them and playing, I just can’t do it during the COVID crisis.
And now that I’ve corroborated for myself that online poker isn’t an option, either, you’ll just have to deal me out.