Any poker players here?

by Rocket Finance

I have never played poker for money. I have played a half-dozen hands of Texas Hold ‘Em just for chips with no money backing them, but nothing more serious than that. I won a couple and lost a couple and pretty much enjoyed the experience. On the other hand (no pun intended) I watch poker on television whenever I get the chance.

I know, I know. What a complete waste of time, right? Watching degenerate gamblers fiddle with chips while the announcers make corny comments.

But it fascinates me.

I enjoy competitive sports of all kinds and poker includes all of the drama of traditional competitions except for actual athleticism. I enjoy the guy who can bluff well, the player who wins pots by betting at the right moment and especially the player who can tell what an opponent is holding by looking at his eyes. Further more, I am a math guy and the tension between odds and gut instinct keeps me on tenterhooks as plonkee would say.

And I have a lot of questions:

  • Do professional gamblers report winnings from cash games to the IRS?
  • How much of a tournament “cash” does the winner actually get to keep after taxes?
  • What does a professional gambler do for health insurance?
  • How many gamblers go bankrupt for every gambler that makes it?
  • Is it acctually legal to play poker for money in your own home?
  • How does one go about convincing his wife that spending $10K on a poker tournament buy-in is a good idea?
  • How much money do you have to win before you are considered a “professional poker player”?
  • How much money do the dealers make?

I was recently invited to participate in a home poker game where the buy-in is $5. I have not yet decided if I will play. The competitor in me wants to do it. My ego makes me think that I can be good at it, furthermore, and $5 doesn’t seem like a high price to pay for a little fun with the guys. But . . .

Do financially prudent people gamble? I believe that part of a good financial plan is to model your habits after successful individuals . . .

I believe that I might be susceptible to addiction. You should see me tear into donuts or a Whopper. It is one of the reasons that I don’t drink. Is it wise to expose myself to the temptation of gambling?

A $5 home game once in a while seems like something that I could handle, but what if my children know that daddy gambles? What if they start the habit at a young age and it ends up hurting them?

Is it simply a wise use of my money?

Should a newbie like me even think that I have a chance at winning anything? I can’t even remember which is a stronger hand: a straight or three-of-a-kind. . .

Photo by ian of leam.

  1. 7 Responses to “Any poker players here?”

  2. By plonkee on Aug 1, 2008 | Reply

    I never got the fascination with gambling. If you’ve got some money to spend and you’re prepared to stop playing when you run out, then I don’t think it’s a big deal.

    If it doesn’t bother you that you play small games of poker with friends then I don’t think it will affect your children. You could easily argue that for most people credit cards are more likely to get them in to trouble.

  3. By Taylor on Aug 1, 2008 | Reply

    I play poker often, both online and live with friends. I’d like to think I’m above average, though I’ve got neither the amount of money or the patience necessary to make a “real run” at being a pro. Over the last year and a half of playing, I haven’t really made any money doing it… but I haven’t lost any either. I tend to break even over the long haul it seems.

    I’d also make the claim that a skillful poker player avoids gambling whenever possible. A skillful player uses all the information at his disposal (his cards, the odds of getting what he needs to make his hand, his instincts about other players’ cards in some cases, etc.) to make the best possible decision time after time.

    That being said, $5 for a poker game is a great way to relax with your friends and just have some fun. Also, if you’re into the numbers you may really enjoy delving deeper into poker theory. Poker really is a lot of fun, and as long as you don’t go overboard and see it as a way to get rich quick because you’ve “got a system” or “just KNOW what Joe Shmo’s holding,” you should be alright.

  4. By Deamiter on Aug 2, 2008 | Reply

    First of all, if your children grow up thinking “my daddy gambles” and think that’s a negative thing, that will indeed be your fault, but not for playing poker.

    My mother was taught to gamble by a Native American who worked at a casino. He started by asking, “how much fun do you want to have.” Of course my mother didn’t understand so he pulled out $20 and said, “I want to have $20 of fun, how much fun do YOU want to have?”

    Gambling is inherently addicting as we respond particularly well to variable rewards. At the same time, it need not be negative. If you teach your kids that gambling is NEVER for making money and ONLY for having fun, it can become a fun activity like any other. If you go into gambling expecting or even hoping to win big, you’ll likely lose it all.

    It’s possible to make money playing poker, but don’t expect it to be easy. It takes years of training and thousands of hours of practice and serves some people as a full-time job. Of course, for most people that serious it functions as a full-time SECOND job.

    I say go for it, have a lot of fun, and expect to lose $5 to your friends for a good night. If you do it often enough, you might win now and again, and sure, it’ll be competitive, but as long as you’re doing it for fun and it fits in the ‘fun’ portion of your budget, I say have a blast!

  5. By hank on Aug 5, 2008 | Reply

    Yes, they report the winnings to the IRS, it is taxed like regular income and how it affects your AGI score. If you win 250k, you’ll likely be in a higher tax bracket the following year. 🙂 I’ve heard of poker folks going to court and saying that poker isn’t gambling, but I suppose to a non-poker player, gambling is gambling.

    I play poker whenever I get a chance to with my buddies. It most certainly is a good way to relax and just have a good time. We usually play for 20 dollar buy-ins and the games last well into the night (much to the chagrin of the Mrs.) 🙂

  6. By Deamiter on Aug 6, 2008 | Reply

    Hank — I think that’s a great point. Poker doesn’t have to be gambling to a professional who works 20, 40 or 80 hours a week at it. I view it a lot like investing in individual stocks — you can do well if you work at it, but if you just buy and forget, you might as well be playing craps.

  7. By Killer on Aug 7, 2008 | Reply

    I shall answer the most important, burning question your post seems to posit . . .

    straight beats three-of-a-kind.

    and if those cute little symbols near the numbers on the cards of that straight are all the same, try not to look too surprised.

    Unless you’re playing me. Then tell away.

  8. By rocketc on Aug 9, 2008 | Reply

    I’m going to remember that.

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