On cannabis in poker (and on a small win tonight)

(Legal disclaimer: The author is in no way admitting to, condoning, or suggesting any illegal or criminal activity. The following is a philosophical discussion regarding poker play.)


I don’t quite have my thumb on the pulse the way I used to, but a few years back at least, it was pretty common for a decent percentage of online poker players to be stoners– for them to smoke all day, every day, including while working, as a matter of habit. I went through a stretch of time where I was one of them, too. Convinced either that I could play just as well high as straight, or telling myself it actually had beneficial effects on my game!  (All this despite the fact that my most successful run of my entire career came when I wasn’t smoking at all– granted, it was also pre-UIGEA and I was grinding an absurd amount of hours because I had nothing else to do, but nevertheless.)

The truth is, pot will help me from tilting if I have some when I start getting angry, but other than that, it’s an impediment for me, and probably is for some of those guys as well. Marijuana has its uses, but it’s an impediment to clear thinking and it saps work ethic. You can get away with it in tournaments because so much of tournaments is folding and staying patient, but it’s going to prove to be a problem if you have to do any deep thinking in a difficult pot. And while it may calm down a person on tilt, it also slows down our perception of time, so that it can actually make a player more impatient if they’re getting bored sooner.

(As an aside, the other problem with playing high all the time is– what happens when you can’t get high? Being dependent on anything external in a performance endeavor is bound to be troublesome. It’s better to play sober not only because you’ll play better, but you won’t feel dependent on that substance to play well.)

I was reminded of this tonight. I haven’t been able to smoke for well over a month now due to a combination of factors: First a dental abscess which required a root canal, then an upper respiratory infection. (I briefly tried using a vaporizer, but the infection reacted poorly to that as well.)

I always have solid fundamentals– I generally recognize when I can bet my hand for value and when I should fold. But when I smoke, my ability to read other people’s bets and reason out what they have is poor. I can win tournaments just by having a good idea of when to raise, when to bet for value, when to shove all-in and when to reraise– but I need to be sober to make good postflop decisions in tough pots.

It came up at least once tonight while I was playing (in a $5 rebuy that I eventually won– it wasn’t much, but winning is always nice). A guy bluffed the turn and river with fairly sizable bets and I called him down (and won). It was only one pot, but I mention it because it was the kind of pot where I would have had difficulty thinking about the situation if I were stoned– instead, with a clear mind, I was able to suss him out pretty quickly; my immediate reaction was that he was bluffing, a quick mental double-check confirmed that his line didn’t really make sense given the board, so I called and won.

I won the tournament because I got a bunch of breaks (4betting A6 into KK worked out; I caught a couple of other big rivers at the final table) but the most fun part was, into the money, I had a guy on my left who was 3-betting me relentlessly (somewhere along the range of 30% total 3-bet percentage– in a six-handed tournament) and was just being absurdly active. But I had a lot of chips, so rather than start 4-betting like crazy, I sat back and waited for my opportunity.

I got it when I had AK and immediately 4-bet him. He had QQ and I lost about 80% of my stack. I got a bit of a break building it back up, and then I was able to successfully execute my strategy, 4-betting him relentlessly when he came over me (I think I four-bet shoved on him four times in a row after the AK/QQ hand, and he folded all of them). I eventually busted him at the final table when I opened J7s and flopped Jx 7h 4h. He raise-called with Kh Jh. I held on to bust him and amass the big stack which eventually I was able to ride to victory (again, largely thanks to running good, and keeping the mistakes I made of the non-fatal variety).

I am winning small amounts now, but I am winning. One day at a time. Even though the prizes are small, I feel like my EV in these tournaments is just absurdly high, so I’m going to keep at them (while of course still playing some small-stakes cash as well). Small wins lead to bigger ones and bigger wins will eventually lead to my goal. There just aren’t many bigger tournaments available to me right now– hence my eventual goal of moving somewhere where there will be.


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