Is it Wrong to Play Poker?

Is it Wrong to Play Poker?

Because it’s a zero sum game, I receive many DMs from people who struggle with the notion of playing poker to make money; in other words, they can’t reconcile with the reality that in order for them to win, someone must lose.

While it’s true that poker is a zero sum game, life is not. If you use your profits to invest back into society, build businesses of value, donate to charity, and the like, then you can use your money and freedom to make an impact.

The truth is I’ve always said that poker doesn’t define me, it’s just one slice of my life. Even when I was living in Macau, grinding 80+ hours a week, I still had a business on the side, shared what I learned with the world, and endeavored in other constructive projects. In short, I prioritize activities outside of poker, because in order for me to feel fulfilled, I need to connect, contribute, and give back to others what I learned.

Poker can feel lonely.

It can get you down.

It can seem like you’re in a tunnel.

What’s really made the difference for me, however, is creating goals outside of poker and aspiring toward motives bigger than myself.

Getting clear on what your why is will help make your efforts at the table seem purposeful.

For me personally, one way I’ve found that’s extremely rewarding—mitigating nearly all the downside of dedicating a large amount of time to playing poker—is donating money to those who weren’t dealt as good of a hand in life. That’s why at ConsciousPoker we donate a percentage of profits to REG Charity, which believes in effective altruism, essentially donating to the causes that have the biggest impact.

I’m not alone here, and many poker players have long term goals that do make massive positive impacts in society; Dan Smith, for example, pledges to match up to $1,140,000 dollar for dollar in his Double Up Drive.

Certainly, we have to look beyond the conventional method of measuring a job’s importance by its direct impact. In fact, the excellent website, 80,000 Hours helped me better understand the influence that one person can have. They estimate that the average doctor saves 5 lives per career. Using the latest data, they’ve also determined that the cost of saving a life in Africa can be as low as $3,500, meaning that Dan Smith is saving 325 lives in 2018 alone, or having 65 times the lifetime impact of a doctor in a single year with his charitable contributions.

You too can join in making a positive contribution with your poker playing by taking the pledge at REG to donate a portion of all your earnings to the most effective charities.

Taking account of situations like this one helped me redefine my outlook on what it means to play poker for a living. Sure, one can always argue that talented people can do more with their energy than simply channel it toward poker, but that begs a much larger question: do we all have the obligation to pursue the job that does the most good for society, as Elon Musk has done? If so, then one could argue that most people choose professions that neglect maximizing their impact on society, not just poker players.

These big topics don’t have a simple answer. Ultimately, we all need to find the right balance for ourselves. Be aware that your needs change over time. At the same time, we shouldn’t judge others for their actions but instead spread more love and understanding within the community.

What’s the right balance of poker in your life? Is playing poker fulltime wrong because it’s a zero sum game? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.


Alec Torelli
Welcome! I'm Alec Torelli, founder of Conscious Poker, a training site dedicated to transforming good players into great ones by providing the best poker strategy and mindset content. I've been a professional poker player for 15 years and have over $1,500,000 in tournament winnings and millions more in both live and online cash games. On this site, I share the lessons I learned during my poker career to help you crush the games, optimize your bankroll, make winning decisions and achieve your poker goals.

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