Many poker players are headed back to their university campuses this fall, and that can only mean one thing: Sick poker action.
OK, it also means getting back into the groove of studying, working on assignments, and playing your academic A game. But for many college-age poker players, the enticement of juicy college games and grinding online poker in the dorm are significantly more exciting.
Lots of players pick up poker seriously in college. When intellectual pursuits are the order of the day and there can be lots of time to kill on campus, it’s not surprising why. While the golden days of online poker may be behind us, the trend continues, whether it’s the explosion in popularity of “college home games“, or the diehard online obsessives who continue to grind it out on overseas sites, college and poker continue to go together like peanut butter and jelly.
There’s just one catch: While you’re running up your bankroll, you’re also trying to run up your GPA. And what you might not realize is that dealing with the academic challenge may affect whether you win or lose at poker… and losing’s no fun.
1. Time Management
We’ve all heard multiple stories of college poker savants who quit in their sophomore year to play the game full-time, with a bankroll the size of a first-year corporate salary.
That is probably not going to happen to you. It’s possible, but not probable. Don’t get so caught up in the fantasy of playing poker full-time that you start living that lifestyle before you have the means or the skills. Bankroll management is going to be key, but even more important is time management. What stakes you choose to play will not affect your grades, but when and how long you choose to play will directly cut into your study time. Every hour you dedicate to poker increases your academic variance. It’s critical to start short and work your way up to longer sessions, putting your education first in trying to find the right balance between play & academics. Jumping right into days of 12-hour grinding is not the way to find that balance.
How long you play is just as important as when. Many college-age poker players will tell you that once the poker site is open, it’s not going to get closed until you literally pass out. So for the love of your grades, try playing poker after you’ve tackled your academic responsibilities for the day, not before.
If you continue to struggle with time management, spend a week charting out exactly what you’re spending your time on. Make a spreadsheet or draw a table that breaks each day of the week into 30-minute chunks, and write down what you’re doing every 30 minutes (you can go back at the end of the day to fill in what you forgot to write down). This exercise sounds simple, but it will give you an incredible insight into how you actually spend your time, and areas where you can optimize both your academic and poker schedules.
2. Bankroll Management
Bankroll management is one of those things that poker coaches bring up all the time, but players rarely listen to. We know as well as you do that many players lack the funds to have 20 buy-ins at their level. We know that if a juicy game appears above your level, you’ll probably take a shot.
Nonetheless, we’ll say it again: Without bankroll management, your chance of going broke is high. With bankroll management, your chance of going broke is low.
Do you really want to go broke and be out of action, having to go back to studying all day?
Seriously though, play within a reasonable bankroll, and keep that poker money separate. If you truly want to play poker professionally some day, you should realize it’s a lot like running a small business. And businesses need to know how to budget. Having a few years of proper bankroll management behind you will work wonders for your game when you’re out in the casinos grinding out a profit against great players with razor-thin edges. Otherwise, the financial responsibilities of life after college can quickly decimate any sort of bankroll you’ve built up, putting you out of action at a time when you should be moving to the next level of the game.
3. Tilt Management
College is full of tilt. Forget about poker for a second. There is bad grade tilt, hangover tilt, romantic tilt, transportation tilt, no sleep tilt… the list goes on. Life is full of tilt, but in college it is especially abundant.
Pair the constant tilt with a lack of skills to deal with it, and your mental state can quickly tank any profit you were making from your poker skills.
At the risk of sounding slightly condescending, the emotional and psychological maturity of older poker players will edge you out of poker profits unless you work on your mental game. Look at it this way: They’ve had a lifetime of bad beats and busted bankrolls to hone their defenses against losing their mind along with the swings of poker. You haven’t. So you have to work extra hard on your mental game. Don’t ignore tilt, face it.
Are these tips fairly obvious to any thinking poker player? We hope they are. We wrote this article less to illuminate you and more to remind you that if you love the game of poker, time management, bankroll management, and tilt management will sustain your love of the game and your win rate. Too many poker players have made the mistake of ignoring these aspects as obvious and focusing on their game, only to be a talented player out of action and scratching their heads.
Consider the expected value of your college degree. It’s the whole reason you’re there, right? Poker is just another flavor of expected value. Yes, it’s way more fun and free than the corporate job you bet your college debt on. But it’s way more of a gamble to bet your future on poker. And without managing your time, finances and emotions, it’s next to impossible.
No time, no money, totally crazed? That’s college. Work hard and you will succeed despite all of that. But if you want to have a sustainable poker career, mismanaging time, money and emotions is not tenable in the long-term, or even the medium-term. You’ll simply be out of action and back to selling your meal card swipes to get back in action.
And therein lies the silver lining in all of this: These same three skills that are necessary in a long-term winning poker player will do wonders for your grades. The art of balancing poker and college, and many other things in life, is to develop skills that help in all aspects of your life. How to play AK vs. a 3-bet pre-flop is a skill that will have a huge impact on your poker game, but no impact outside of it. Learning proper time, money and emotional management will create a rising tide that lifts all boats in your life. Those skills will not only carry you through the inevitable downswings of poker, but the inevitable downswings of life. Become a great manager of your most precious resources, and you’ll win at whatever you try to do.