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Here now are three essays which won’t help your poker game, but which will make interesting reading nonetheless. With the increased popularity of tournaments, a notable percentage of poker players now prefer and specialize in these events rather than in live games. Players like to debate the merits of one versus the other. Since I have some thoughts on this too, I decided to share them with you here.

If you are a devoted tournament player please do not take my comments as a personal affront. I respect the skill of the accomplished tournament player, and am not critical of tournaments in and of themselves, but, as you will see, I do have some concerns. The other two essays here touch on risk-reward ratios outside poker, and the effects of poker books and articles on the games. Though few would argue that the former deals with the more important topic, I’m sure the latter will draw the most dissenting response. Perhaps I could have fused the two topics; for as you will see, I view the risks and rewards of poker writing in a different way from many serious players


Poker tournaments are quite popular these days. Entries in the larger tournaments run well into the hundreds. There are players who specialize in and make a living playing these events (though fewer than it would appear).You can win tens and occasionally hundred of thousands of dollars if you win a poker tournament event. But for as long as I’ve played poker I’ve hardly ever played in them, preferring instead to stick to live games. Here’s why:

Punching the Time Clock

Partly, it’s for the same reason that I currently choose to devote most of my time to poker rather than to a traditional job. When I first became interested in poker I was drawn to the freedom to set my own hours, to come and go as I pleased. I liked the idea of making my “office” here one day, somewhere else the next, depending on game selection factors, or just my mood. I still like these things. With poker, I have a sense of freedom, an ability to create my own lifestyle, which I think is not as easy to achieve in many other fields. Much of that would be taken away if I were to focus seriously on tournaments.

To play a tournament you have to be at the casino at a certain time. You have to stay until you bust out or win. If you’re serious about it you have to travel to go to the bigger tournaments.

These things are not at all attractive to someone who, when he first saw the title to John Fox’s book, Play Poker, Quit Work, and Sleep Till Noon, said, “Hey, that’s for me!” To be independent from the constraints of mainstream work structures, yet to feel the gratifications of work performed expertly – these are the things sought by many a serious live game player. To play the tournament circuit is to take one step back toward the structured, scheduled ways of the conventional working world.

Are Tournaments Poker?

On a technical level, there are serious differences between tournament and live game play. While it is an exaggeration to say that tournaments are not poker, I do see the point made by those who hold that view.

Tournaments put much weight on a small set of skills which have little to do with success in live games. Often, for instance, they reward a level of aggression which would lead to disaster in live games. In tournaments such play takes advantages of opponents who are playing extremely tightly at the wrong times. They further require adjustments of strategy as a function of stack size, the stage of the tournament, and the number of players left. Expertise in these areas is evidently so important in tournaments that at times it appears to almost supersede knowledge of the game itself. (*Note that I say “evidently” so important ). I believe this, along with the greater short term luck factor of tournaments (see below), helps explain the not so rare phenomenon of the experienced tournament player who, has rarely if ever played a certain form of poker, entering and winning a tournament event in that game.

Risk (of Death) – Reward Ratios

Thoughts on the Effects of the Poker Literature