Playing Lots of Hands

philPlaying lots of hands in a month is frequently seen in the poker world as a negative thing for mental health. When someone shows off a graph of 200,000 hands played in a month on a poker forum, the responses are frequently along the lines of, “I’d stab my eyes out before playing that much poker in a month.”

I strongly disagree with that sentiment. Assuming that you are still maintaining a lifestyle that makes you happy and that playing that much doesn’t result in a large reduction in your winrate, that is. From the very beginning of my poker career I have been heavily into playing lots of tables and lots of hours per month. “Lots of hours per month” is still way less than most people work for jobs.

If I remember correctly, my hardest working month was about 220,000 hands in about 180 hours. That is a lot of poker and I would not recommend that much poker to many people. But during the times where I was really focused on poker, I could put in 100-130 hours for several months in a row without breaking a sweat, and this is certainly way above average for poker pros. Playing 4 hours a day is really not that hard for someone who has no other obligations.

It just comes down to motivation, which seems to always be in short supply for poker players. Beginner poker players with jobs, school and families won’t necessarily be able to play this much, but giving up some TV time to play some more poker is a very good decision.

So, why is playing a much as you can in a short period of time a good thing? Variance reduction. Don’t get me wrong, the cards have no idea how much you’ve played this month and if they did, they certainly wouldn’t care. The variance reduction is in your mind.

A truly rational individual would only consider sample sizes and confidences in winrates and other statistical proof and would completely ignore how well he did in a day, month, or anything else. You are not this person. Humans have a tendency to categorize performance over arbitrary time periods. This is an innate quality that everyone I have ever met has, and it isn’t going to go away anytime soon.

If you play 10,000 hands a month with a winrate of 2ptbb you will have a winrate distrubution graph showing that you have about a 30% chance of losing money that month. If you instead play 50,000 hands that month and win at the same rate, your graph will look more skewed. By upping the number of hands you played in that month, you have now reduced the chances of losing money in that month to less than 15%.

Let’s pretend that this isn’t one month and that I played 30,000 hands a month, making this graph about 7 months of my play. If that were the case I would have felt godly for three months and then would have had incredible doubt about my abilities for the next 4 months.

I would have felt like I couldn’t win and that there was something completely wrong (something might have been wrong with my game, but not necessarily). In reality, this 150,000 hand breakeven stretch was just a few weeks. Much easier to handle mentally.

Reducing the likelihood of having a losing month bolsters confidence and increases the likelihood of long term success in the poker world. Most people don’t like losing and poker players are no exception. Having four losing months in a year may not sound that bad, but what if they were four out of the first six months in the year?

Do you think you would make it to the end of the year, or would you quit? Most players would start to doubt themselves at the very least, if not become completely averse to playing. Fighting doubt and maintaining confidence while maintaining a realistic self-assessment of ability is one of the hardest parts of playing poker seriously.

There are no magic cures to this, but putting in the hours to reduce the likelihood of losing over arbitrary time periods that humans use as benchmarks for success or failure will make you feel much better. Winning feels good.