I had written previously that it seemed as if everyone you speak to these days in a poker room is a pro. But seeing as how that is statistically impossible, I thought it may be cogent to discuss what it actually takes to be a professional in this game. The obvious disclaimer is that I myself am not a pro. But I still put in a significant amount of volume each year, have a positive win rate and have discussed this issue with a myriad of others who do play for a living. And I fully admit that I do not do everything that I am about to list off here in this article. But the best advice often comes from those who do not follow it themselves and perhaps this is one of those situations. I have played this game for 17 years, many of them for a living, and I have seen just about everything one can see in this game. Becoming a professional is not something I advise anyone to try normally, but let us forge ahead since this topic seems to be the obsession of even the most recreational of poker players.
ABSOLUTELY NO BOOKING WINS!
If it is one thing I hate hearing is when players tell me they only played a short session in order to "book a win." I would go on to define what this phrase means but I am still not exactly sure myself. You often hear this term from live players and this is the one area in which they are completely different from online players. In the mind of the online player there is no such thing as today, tomorrow, this week, month or year. This is just one long game that goes on seemingly forever until the day we die or go broke. For live players it seems to be all about this day, this session or this hand. The thought of losing even one big hand repulses them to the core, even if the truth is that they played it correctly. Just ask a live player to tell you a story about any time his aces got cracked and you will know exactly what I mean. Any online player who multi-tables has aces cracked multiple times in a session and for us it is no big deal because it is simply supposed to happen. There is no such thing as a hand that has 100% equity preflop and that includes aces. If you are a losing player and book a win, all that means is that you are delaying your losing by one day. If you are a winning player and heaven forbid you book a win, all you are doing is missing out on a chance to win more that day and delaying such winnings for one day. If you win you play and if you lose you play. The whole point of beginning an endeavor to play poker for a living is to find out if you can actually do it, to know whether or not if you are truly a winning player. And if you are one of the lucky few who knows that you are a winning player you should take every possible opportunity to play and continue on in games where you have an edge.
BUM HUNT UNTIL EVERYONE HATES YOU
There is so much hatred centered around this word and I have never understood it. If you are reading this article and are considering becoming a poker pro but do not know this term, perhaps you should reconsider. Bum hunting is the practice of following terrible players and only playing in tables they are on for the purposes of winning their money. It mostly applies to heads up matches online in which those who practice this refuse to play anyone not weaker than then they are but I think it could easily apply to those who play in regular 6-max games as well. The entire purpose of this game for those who endeavor to play it professionally is to win money and to win as much of it as possible in the shortest amount of time. The notion that one should play stronger opponents as a regular practice sounds rather ridiculous when said aloud, but there remains an immense amount of vitriol surrounding this practice. Much of it has to do with some sense of machismo I suppose, a belief in the idea that you are only the best if you beat the best. I could care less about being the best player in poker and while there is a certain amount of arrogance and confidence needed to play this game, the end goal simply remains to win as much money as easily as one can. Poker is a predatory game and concepts that include the word "hunt" or "hunting" should be entirely appropriate towards how one approaches this game. If we consider the world of actual predators in the wild, a pack of lions after killing their prey will not then turn on one another. They will simply wait for the next opportunity to hunt another weaker prey. In much the same way the notion that good players on a table should battle it out against one another after a mark has left seems ill advised at best.
This is a word often used when discussing this game, but one that is hardly practiced. People underestimate just how much discipline is needed to play this game, especially for a living. If you are reading this article and are the type of person who already has their life in order and practices a great amount of discipline in areas of life, health and love then playing poker for a living is probably the furthest thing from your mind. The truth is one has to be at least a little "off" in order to consider doing this for a living. Those attracted to this notion are usually those that are more attracted to the lifestyle more than anything else; the late nights, the money, baller lifestyle, hookers and blow and all that. And in truth those elements do and should exist in the poker lifestyle to a certain extent. After all, what is the point of doing this for a living if you cannot enjoy it like a true baller. But all of that should come after your session and only up to a point that it does not bleed into your session the following day. However f'ed up your life is for the majority of the time, everything better come together in the right way for those 6-8 hours that you are seated in front of your computer to play because if it doesn't there are plenty that will gladly be on the other side of the table waiting to relieve you of your funds.
MAKE TOUGH CHOICES
This leads to my next point which is that sacrifices need to be made if one is to pursue poker as a profession. The truth of the matter is that poker takes up a lot of time, both in the amount of time actually seated on a table and also the devotion towards studying the game in order to constantly improve. I have already discussed limiting one's baller lifestyle and practicing a certain modicum of moderation in one's social life. But apart from having fun and enjoying one's "poker life", sometimes other realities and responsibilities of life may intrude upon one's ability to focus on poker. I would like nothing more than to spend every waking moment of my daughter's life playing with her and enjoying her company. But I also realize that in two years I will have to put her in a private school and that she requires food, milk and a suitable place to live. I try to confine my playing hours to ones in which both my wife and daughter are asleep. And if I have to play during hours they are awake I will tell my wife that I absolutely cannot be disturbed and will lock the door. If she cannot follow these guidelines, I will simply leave and play somewhere else on my tablet. In the end the actual responsible thing to do is to sacrifice time with loved ones in order to devote yourself to a game that can potentially pay for all the things that they need. Or perhaps the toughest choice of all is the decision to leave the game altogether if it cannot provide for those that are in your care. I cannot think of anything more irresponsible than continuing to play a game in which one constantly loses when they have mouths to feed at home.
THAT DREADED WORD "BANKROLL"
During my time in Las Vegas I had a bankroll of about $70,000 during my peak. I divided this in several ways:
• $3,000 per month living expenses * 6 months = $18,000
• $12,000 in online poker accounts
• $40,000 to play live $2-$5
Regarding the last point I usually bought in for $500 for the $2-$5 game at the Venetian, meaning that I had 80 buy-ins for that level. I will readily admit though that is the last time I practiced such bankroll management and in truth most players I know are exactly the same. But this sort of strict management is exactly what is required and perhaps this is the primary reason that I do not play for a living anymore. To play your best game, one needs absolute freedom from the worries of life in order to make every right decision during a session. If you cannot stick in that 4-bet because you have to pay rent the next week or cannot shove all-in with air against a player that you have proper fold equity against, then you should not be pursuing this game as a profession. This sort of idea also applies in-game as well as one should be mindful of what stakes they play against the amount of money they actually have. I realize it is more impressive to tell others that you play $2-$5 live or $2-$4 online, but to play above one's means is a recipe for disaster. Poker is a game of mistakes and I can guarantee that your game will be riddled with them if you play above your means. There are those that actually play for a living who will be waiting on the other side to capitalize on every single mistake you make. If you cannot make the correct decisions in a game due to money concerns, then the proper thing would be to step down in stakes or have another revenue stream until playing higher is more comfortable.
KNOW YOUR SURROUNDINGS
Studying the game of poker does not have to be confined to strategies. One should also be aware of where they are playing and the conditions of their environment; how much rake does the room charge, how much are they dropping for the bad beat jackpot, how much do I spend tipping dealers, etc. It is the popular thing to say that only nits care about such things or as I like to call them, winning players. To be mindful of all these things means that one needs choice and options on where to play. If you are playing live then you should be living in a city where there are a multitude of rooms and tables at every stake level. And if you are playing online then you should belong to a high traffic site or belong to several sites and/or clubs in order for you to table select. I have players in my online agency that have an account and money in each and every one of the 16 clubs I offer. Every day they simply open up each app, look for the softest games and then commence printing. There is no point to pursuing this if you are going to play the same 10-15 people every single day as even the most terrible of players get better over time. And if you are to play online be sure to get a good rakeback deal, but do not sacrifice the quality of the games just to get a slightly higher percentage. I cannot overstate the importance of rakeback when going through a bad down swing.
I am sure there is much more that can be said regarding this topic, especially concerning the actual play of the game. But for this article I only wanted to cover over arching principles and issues of mindset rather than strategy. I realize that I am knee deep in a sea of hypocrisy in discussing this topic as there are many points that I just wrote about that I do not follow myself. But then again that is why I made the choice to no longer to play for a living and gain other modes of making money. A better way to state it may be to say that the game made the choice for me. I am still in the field of the poker industry, but I no longer rely on having to win in order to survive. Having said all this, I will admit that I do miss solely playing poker for a living as there is no other better feeling in the world. I may sound as if I am overstating it a bit, but there is something to knowing that you can successfully do something that so few can. For those that come across this article, I wish you good fortune whichever road you may choose.
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An interesting thing happened recently in a live game here in Phnom Penh. A friend of mine walked into a game that was near full and took the only open seat. Upon sitting one of the players exclaimed that he did not want to play with another "professional" and cashed out. Other people did the same and over the next 30 minutes what was a full game was now finished. For the record my friend is a winning player and the assessment of the first exclaimer was correct. This was not an issue in the past as since the game of poker was more popular it was easier to maintain a balance between pros and recreational players. But with the waning popularity of the game and the shortage of new players, one can reasonably understand why some of those who play for fun may not want to play on a table with multiple players who are doing nothing else but looking to make money. This puts the poker room in an awkward spot as theoretically speaking they should be welcoming of all players who are willing to buy in with cash and follow the rules while playing. But they also face the prospect of losing those players that keep their game fun, friendly and more conducive for action. There are two solutions to this quandary that poker rooms, both live and online, have employed in recent years to varying degrees of success. In this article we will endeavor to examine both sides and try to reach a conclusion as to which one, if any, is the most viable solution going forward.
One solution and the one employed by many online poker sites recently is to simply ban those who win too much. This is exactly what the GG Network did in confiscating $130,000 from one Tobias Duthweiler. This player had previously been on this network before and had been banned for winning too much. Years later when he came back unknowingly through a different skin he ran up a profit of over $100K before the network noticed that it was the same player they had banned years back. They ultimately returned his initial deposit, confiscated his $130,000 in profit and dispersed it back to the players he had won it from. In their press release regarding this incident, GG cited Duthweiler's "bumhunting and predatory behavior" as the reasons for why he was banned and his funds taken. They further went onto state that he had only played on tables with the worst players, only giving action to said terrible players and would leave the table as soon as they stopped playing. Unfortunately such a practice is fairly commonplace in the online poker world and is not a recent phenomenon. The same model has been used by online sports betting sites to combat huge winners that use online computer modeling to give them an edge in placing wagers. Players on these sites are limited in how much they can bet, sometimes as low as $5 per wager, or they are banned altogether outright.
The other solution has seen its employment in the live poker scene as well as online sites. In this method rooms do not kick out nor ban winning players, but they rather adjust the rake and/or their rewards system in order to detract professionals who are more likely to play on low rake, high rakeback sites. There is no better example of this than what has occurred at Poker Stars and the changes they have made to their rake and VIP system over the last few years. Stars was at one point the friendliest site towards regular players who put in a high amount of volume. Their VIP system was well known in the industry as those who generated the most rake were dubbed "Super Nova Elite." I had a friend back in Las Vegas who had obtained such a status playing 20+ tables of $1-$2 NLH daily. When the calendar year was done and he had put in that much volume over the entire 12 months, he had amassed over $100K in bonuses alone. But seeing as how he had generated at least twice that amount in rake, it seemed like a mutually beneficial arrangement between both sides. But just as with other things being discussed in this article, all of this was during a time when poker was a much more popular game and there was no shortage of new players. But as this situation changed so did Poker Stars and a couple of years back Daniel Negreanu infamously stated in his defense of Stars' change in policy that higher rake was actually better for players. In his YouTube video Negreanu stated the logic of this action declaring that higher rake and a near non-existent VIP system would deter grinders from playing on the site and would make their games much softer. And while they did not outright ban winning players, their desired aim was the same namely to get these players off of their site.
Much of what we have discussed thus far lies in the world of online poker. That being the case it might be easy for some to conclude that the solution is to simply play live. But live rake is already worse than their online counterpart and is also trending upward. Outside of a few places such as Vegas where rake has remained largely static throughout the years, other parts of the world are employing systems of commission that seek to increase the amount taken in by the house. I have already discussed in past articles how in Asia the rake cap has steadily increased over the past 2-3 years. Factoring in the other costs of playing live, bad beat jackpot drops and the lack of rakeback live poker at many blind levels basically becomes unbeatable. Once again they are not banning players nor preventing anyone from joining their tables. But many live operators are now manipulating the rake in a manner that would deter any professional from playing and creating an ecology of those that play in a game they cannot possibly beat. Casinos and online operators are of course private entities and are free to run their businesses in any legal manner they see fit. But are these sites and rooms benefitting themselves in the long run or are they rather creating an environment in which the game cannot possibly survive in the long term?
Let us first tackle the issue of banning winning players. I think that sites overplayed their hand a bit on this issue with the recent worldwide corona pandemic. The truth of the matter is that online traffic soared during this time as players were forced to stay home and live venues remained closed. It was only natural that more would play online and this could have inflated the confidence of those that run these sites. It is easier to ban certain types of players in such an environment in which the player base is growing. But corona will not last forever and many live venues have already reopened with numbers once again taking a dip online. If the logic of banning winning players is that the operators would prefer an ecology of recreational players, the simple truth is that there just are not enough of the latter to justify such a strategy. Winning players are beneficial to online sites because they generate the bulk of the rake and because they can sustain themselves they continue to play. Losing players by nature are transitory and do not sustain the same consistency when playing online. In the end such players have to be constantly replenished in order to maintain the aforementioned balance between those that win and those that lose. But outside of a system in which a pandemic is forcing people to play online, these types of player are lacking in number in a manner that will not allow for such a replenishment.
For the same reason any manipulation of the rake in order to deter winning players will not work either. Any solution that seeks to eliminate or highly limit one important segment of the playing population will not work simply because there are not enough of the other segment. But beyond this there lies a fundamental and philosophical reason for why these solutions go against the very nature of the game of poker. The reason so many of us play this game is that it is supposed to be different from all the other games in a casino and the gambling realm. Whereas the house always has an edge in all pit games and players cannot win in the long run, poker is played against one another and potentially can be beaten by those who know the game well. But if winning players are being banned outright and systems are being put in place that make the game unbeatable, then poker degrades into a game that is no different nor better than any other casino game such as Black Jack or Baccarat. In fact I would argue that is exactly the point of these changes and implementations, namely to transform the game of poker into a casino game. I had the opportunity to run a game in the city of Sihanoukville here in Cambodia and there the casinos did not even hide the fact that this was exactly what they were doing. Unlike casinos in the West, venues in this city did not run their own tables. Rather they rented the tables to outside third parties and charged them rent in order to generate revenue. The casinos were nothing more than glorified landlords and it was those that rented these tables that really ran the games and dictated policy. The rents on these tables were often high but still appropriate for games like Baccarat as players had no chance of winning in the long run and thus they were able to generate a high revenue stream. Poker was often treated by the casinos in the same manner, as if they were just another table game. And so the rent on these tables were also exorbitantly high but revenue is generated much differently on a poker table. But in order to meet their monthly rent live room operators in Sihanoukville were forced to charge a very high rake to have any hope of making any money for themselves. Recreational players are not expected to beat the game of course, but in this scenario neither could a professional given the high amount of commission they were being charged. The fundamental problem with this is of course that the house, whether that be those that actually run the table or the casino that rents the table, are the only ones that generate a true revenue. And that is the very definition of a house game, where no one can win regardless of ability. Both good and bad players are melded together as one entity and the only one left standing to make money is the house.
So what then is the solution? Mason Malmuth, one of the founders of the popular 2+2 online poker forum, said something interesting many years back regarding live poker room promotions. He declared that running a successful promotion was not that difficult. A room should simply look around town, see what other promotions are running well in other places and then simply copy them. For this we do not have to look very far as a working model seemingly exists in the realm of online poker apps that have rose to prominence in the last few years. These apps run very differently from traditional sites and for them the key element to their success seems to be decentralization. Instead of being a monolithic entity these apps are divided up into unions, which themselves are comprised of several clubs who then employ agents to recruit players. And while some may scoff at this structuring system as some sort of pyramid or Ponzi scheme, I rather look at it as a much more efficient system in which new players can be recruited and money moved much easier. I mention the latter because that is a huge issue in the world of online poker and often a hinderance to the growth of this game. If a recreational player cannot get money in and out of a site, that player simply will not bother to play. But with the agent system matters are handled on a much more localized and personal level. Money is often handled in person or in close proximity, thus facilitating the entry of new and recreational players by making the entire process much easier. There is some risk of course to this model as the more levels there are to a structure, the potential for fraud exists at each level. But much like how the money is moved, such issues and threats are localized in this structure and does not involve every player. If a club goes under or if an agent decides to run off with player funds, only those that are directly under those specific entities are affected instead of every single player. We have seen too many times in the past when a monolithic and centralized site such as Full Tilt and Ultimate Bet go under and are not able to pay out the entirety of their player pool. But under a decentralized system such as the one employed by the apps, the damage is limited to a certain segment only and the remainder of the base remains unaffected.
The most important aspect of the agent system is that it seems largely successful in the recruitment of new players as the playing population on these apps have exploded in the last few years. Whichever method is employed, the goal of any operator should be the entry and inclusion of new players, not the exclusion of current ones. Other than the solution I have already proposed, both operators and players should work together to seek out new and creative solutions. I am a big proponent of more players promoting both the game of poker itself and the lifestyle associated with it on social media outlets such as Facebook and vlogging on public and popular mediums such as YouTube. As I previously mentioned the relationship between operators and players should be a mutually beneficial one and I do not see the game prospering in the future for either party if they cannot work together.
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It is not difficult to pinpoint the beginning of what most call the poker boom. In the minds of nearly every poker player, the genesis can be linked to Chris Moneymaker winning the Main Event of the World Series of Poker on a $40 satellite back in 2003. But what proves more difficult is just when the boom ended. For some it never has and these people would say we are still in a state of growth. When considering tournament numbers pre-covid and the totality of those that now play online I can understand why some would say that. But if we are to consider the health of the game, I do not think it can be denied that the game has long passed its apex. Without doing a ten page dissertation on the subject I think it would be easy to associate the end of the poker boom with Black Friday, the day that the FBI seized the domains for Poker Stars, Full Tilt and Ultimate Bet. Ever since online poker was made illegal in America the game has certainly been in a state of decline in the States and such has had ramifications for the rest of the world. So will there be a second poker boom? I would argue that there has been already, or at least a preview of how another one can begin.
I would categorize the history of poker into several eras or ages. I would name everything prior to 2003 as the pre-boom era, 2003 to 2011 as the boom proper, 2011 to 2016 as the dark age and 2016 to present as the era of the mobile apps. We have already discussed the first era, bookmarked by Chris Moneymaker and Black Friday. The second era is characterized by the exit of America from the online market and the overall decline of the game. While many would argue that overall numbers grew during this time, I would point out that such was done at the expense of the overall ecosystem. By this time heads up displays (HUDs) were near ubiquitous and we also saw the beginnings of what would eventually become solvers in programs such as Poker Stove and Flopzilla. Also by this time high speed internet was near ubiquitous as well and in more homes than ever before. With this training sites, YouTube channels and generally a wealth of information were available to more prospective players. Although the game was continuing to grow in numbers, players were entering with much more knowledge than previously. With a vast population and the availability of online poker for most players, America previously served as a feeding system of recreational players into the poker ecosystem. With this system now gone, less recreational players were piped into both live casinos and online poker rooms and were replaced by those who studied the game for hours on end, making the game a much more hostile environment. There have been attempts during this stage to legalize online poker in America and reintroduce the game to a more recreational player base. And while some states have brought it back in some form, the ability to play is restricted to local residents of that state and has not been able to impact the rest of the world.
Some semblance of online poker still did exist in America during this time, with some sites choosing to still serve the market. But these sites were not as reputable as those previously mentioned and would often fold without paying players out. Money also became very difficult to move as the depositing process was hard enough. But getting money out for winning players was even more difficult with some players having to wait months on end in order to receive a check. I remember playing on the Cake Network during this era and checks would sometimes take 4-6 months to arrive. One such check I waited for many months, only to have it bounce once I tried to cash it. The situation became so desperate that I resorted to selling my chips on online poker forums at $0.75 to $1. It was during this time that many players decided to travel in order to play from areas where online poker was still allowed. All of this is to say that those in America who still went through all this trouble just to continue playing online was not the average and casual player. After recs were basically kicked off due to the lack of availability, what was left was a less friendly environment in which fewer and fewer players won most of the money.
It was during this time when I started to travel as well, having moved to Cambodia in 2014. The original intent was to reopen my Poker Stars account and start grinding online again, but I actually started to play live near exclusively once I arrived. As online games became tougher more players also started to travel for the purposes of seeking out softer live games in foreign lands. It was during this time around 2016 when a new era in poker would be ushered in which I like to call the age of the mobile apps. New apps were being developed out of Asia during this time, especially out of China, that were designed to be played on smart phones and tablets. On the surface these apps looked like any other play money app, and perhaps they were. But beneath the surface an independent group of people started devising a system in which games on these platforms could be played for real money. Groups started to form clubs within these apps and would employ agents that would recruit players for games that were basically a virtual version of a home game. These agents were very effective in recruiting recreational fish and whales and soon enough a multitude of them were popping up in the live rooms of Asia trying to recruit every player possible. This is what led many players to believe that a second poker boom was imminent and that China was the key as these apps were being developed out of that country and also many of the players were from that market. But even though the apps and player base grew in number, and China certainly played a role in this growth, nothing close to what anyone would consider a boom truly occurred. It was not until a new development that such would even come close to fruition.
Two events would then occur that would change the landscape of poker and greatly increase the growth of these mobile apps. Around 2018 apps were developed with an eye specifically on the American market, spurring clubs to form in that country with agents that would recruit players starving for online poker. With this reintroduction of the American player base, other players started to join these clubs on the new apps in droves. But things would not reach a critical mass until a tragic event occurred world wide far bigger than the scope of the poker world. The corona virus originated out of China in late 2019 and began its meteoric rise as a world wide pandemic. It reached America in early 2020 and once shutdown orders began and people were forced to stay home, the landscape of online poker as a whole changed dramatically. With only a few options for online poker in America, the nature of the local agent model made it easier for players to deposit into real money games and play their favorite poker games online. And once again with the influx of even more American players, the rest of the world would join in. I would argue that this is at least the beginning of a second poker boom, or rather a preview and an indication that America is the key element for such to take place. It is no accident that numbers started to decline and most associate the end of the boom right around the same time as Black Friday in America and once again it does not seem coincidental that the numbers are on the rise now that American players are being reintroduced to the ecosystem via these new apps.
I realize that many would scoff at my hypothesis and point out that these apps exist in a legally grey area at best and that more than a few players have lost their funds to illegitimate clubs and agencies. To this I would like to point out that the first boom had many, if not all, of the same characteristics. The sites during the initial boom were never considered legal in the United States and players lost their funds many times when sites or payment processors folded. Bank accounts of these entities were seized multiple times and most of us are too familiar with scandals linked to Ultimate Bet and Full Tilt. But all of this was coupled with unparalleled growth in the industry and it is this same type of growth that we are experiencing today. I do think that online poker will be legalized in the fullest sense in America in the near future and with that will come what everyone can consider a true second boom. But I remain unsure as to whether or not it will the app model that will survive to see it as the first ones through the door always get bloodied. What I do know is that both the U.S and online poker will be at the forefront of what will propel this game into the future.
I have now been playing poker for a little over 17 years, creating a near 2 decade black hole in my resume. And although not every one of those years has been profitable, it remains a passion in my life and something that I will continue to pursue in the future. Having said this I am very realistic about my results as for most of my years playing I have kept accurate and faithful records of my winnings. I have certainly performed better in the first half of the 17 years I have played than the second part. I am fairly certain at this point that I can no longer beat no limit hold’em online and I also realized that I was not winning enough in live games that I made the switch to omaha two years ago. And while I no longer claim to be a “professional” player, I can still look people in the eye with a straight face and declare that overall I am a winning player. This is not something many people can say and I hold it as a sort of badge of honor. The reality is that if we polled 100 random regular poker players, at most 10 are winning ones. And if we restricted the criteria to those who won enough to exceed their expenditures that number would most likely shrink to less than 5. And yet if you hang out at enough poker rooms and speak with other players it seems that everyone and their uncle plays for a living. This sort of thing is of course universal and not only relegated to poker. It would be too strong of a word to say that people were outright lying about their prowess as a poker player. People in other professions exaggerate all the time regarding how much money they earn. But in such cases, they still make something and are able to live. It is rarely the case that a poker player who oversell their results still wins but just at a lower rate as it is more likely the case that they are just losing players. So what is it about this game that allows so many to try and fool others or rather more importantly, themselves?
I noticed an interesting phenomenon a few years back here in Cambodia in regards to those who came here to play poker. For most that come here for such a purpose they start their play at one of the local card clubs instead of the casino. Such places get advertised more on online poker forums and there is a certain mythos to the whole idea of playing in an underground club in a third world country. For those that lost in this club, and this was the case with most players, they always had the option of trying their luck at a different location and playing at the casino. What I noticed was that of this group, they would almost universally report back with better results. Some of this can of course be attributed to the notion that the casino probably had better games. It is reasonable to think that a place with revolving foot traffic will have more recreational punters than a local’s card club. But having said that, with the passage of time I still did not observe anyone who was winning and saving any sort of significant money. As time passed, whatever these players won did not exceed their expenses and they stopped playing, started to play smaller elsewhere or just went home. I do not recount this phenomenon simply to malign these players as liars or speak of them in any sort of negative light. In fact I fell victim to the same thinking as when I first arrived I too started my play at a local card club, did not have good results, started to play at the casino and immediately saw better results and felt that I could sustain some sort of prolonged state of winning. This was during my first year in Cambodia and while I was fortunate enough to not go broke, when I did return home it was certainly with far less money than I arrived with. So what happened?
I should mention at this point that the caliber of the dealers in the two locations were quite different. In the local card club the dealers were more than competent and some were even on the level of the Vegas dealers that I had played with in the past. A few of them easily got out 20 hands or more in a 30 minute shift but the same could not be said of their counterparts at the casino, who got out about half as many hands. I can only conclude from this is that what all of us did not realize at the time was that we were simply losing slower rather than winning. In this one example exists the biggest issue with live poker in regards to trying to play this game for a living, namely its pace. To give a real life example, there was a week recently in which I played 12,000 hands online. Let us consider for a moment how long it would take to play these many hands in a live game. When I lived in Vegas the dealers in the casinos were of course of varying competence. But in a city such as this where poker is so important I would state confidently that most were able to get out 20 hands in a 30 minute shift. If we can assume a 40 hour play week then we arrive at the following:
By this calculation we can observe that it would take nearly 2 months to play the same amount of hands in a live game that I was able to play during 1 week. My point in formulating all this is to make the point that whatever happens in a live game can often feel like the norm, that such will always be the case or just feel like it will last forever. It is often said that the worst thing that can happen to someone who plays poker for the first time is win. Put that player on a 5 day heater and he will feel like he can quit his day job and become a full time professional poker player. Live players tend to measure the game in a manner that belies what is needed to develop a true sample size. If one plays in a live game for a week and absolutely crushes, that person tends to oversell in their own mind how much it is they truly played because they look back upon their week as 40-50 hours over 7 grueling sessions. All of this can seem like a lot to most reasonable people, when in reality it comes nowhere close to determining where one is truly in regards to winning or losing long term in this game. This effect can have many ramifications as those who win a lot in the short run can often deem themselves better than they really are, thus ignoring other important factors of the game such as studying and staying ahead of the curve and recent trends. Of course the exact opposite is true for those that play online as playing 24,000 hands over two weeks will easily enable most players to determine whether or not they are winning. It will also help them make adjustments and try to improve their game as results come in much faster, allowing more concrete conclusions to be reached.
Of course the opposite can happen to a player in live games as they can simply lose during what they perceive to be a duration of time sufficient for a good sample size. But as much as good results are not an indication of anything significant in the short term, the same can be said for bad results. But the player may not see it that way and simply give up playing, reasoning in their mind that they had failed at the game. All of this is to say that if one were to solely play live poker, it would take a long time for them to truly realize whether or not they were winning players. But in this scenario time is often the enemy as factors that weigh in on the ability to win only magnify and have greater impact over a longer stretch of time. The most obvious issue, as with most cases, is the rake. I have already covered in previous articles how the rake in certain games can make it nearly impossible for players to beat the game. But there are other issues as well such as the cost of travel, food and of course tipping. Having determined previously that a regular $1-$3 player pays approximately $23,000 in one year in rake, if we add the cost of food, travel and tipping we can easily estimate that a player who sits regularly in a game as small as $1-$3 is paying north of $30,000 USD in one year.
Regardless of the title that I have given this blog post, I do not mean to say that the notion of a live pro is entirely a myth. Rather I am arguing that the whole idea is largely a myth and that it is much more difficult than how it sounds from seemingly every single poker player who claims to be a professional. There are of course live pros and if there are those reading this who would venture to follow in their footsteps, certain conditions and criteria need to be met:
To the first point I will just say now that in my opinion there is no such thing as a $1-$2 or $1-$3 professional. The money is too small, cost of living too high in most areas and the rake factors in too much to allow players to win at a rate that exceeds their expenses. One simply must play higher in order to not only win more money, but also to play in a game where the rake taxes them less. This is of course unless you play in many regions of Asia where rake goes higher the bigger one plays. This leads to the next point of choosing to play and live in an area where the rake is equitable to the stakes that are being played. I have mentioned in previous articles of how in cities like Las Vegas the rake remains the same going from $1-$2 to $2-$5 and are even better for bigger games such as $5-$10 that charge only a time rake. And playing in a city like Vegas will allow players to table select where even for games such as $2-$5 there are multiple venues to choose from. Minimizing one’s cost is also very important in order to play poker for a living. As much as I love the dealers that have worked for me in the past, players need to remember that tipping is completely optional. And while I am not a proponent of not tipping at all, still the task of paying for a suitable living for their staff should be on the casino or poker room and not the player, with tips serving only as a compliment to their salaries. In some rooms in Cambodia dealers are paid as little as $100 per month, meaning the onus of providing for their living is on the player via their tipping. As harsh as this sounds, players who endeavor to play professionally must worry about their own living as their primary concern before anyone else’s.
When contemplating the requirements that go into playing live poker for a living, there are really only a few cities that check every box. The reason that I have mentioned Las Vegas so many times in my previous articles is because they are one of the few places that meet most, if not all of them. I have not played in Macau but from what other players tell me it would seem they would fit the bill on most things, although it can be quite expensive to live there and their rake system is different from Vegas. Los Angeles is another great city to play with multiple venues, but the cost of living once again becomes an issue. I am sure there are many other cities that fit the criterias involved that I simply have not listed due to my limited travel experience. But it is cities such as these that one must choose if they endeavor to take on this grandiose task, because to become a live pro is a difficult task that requires commitment. One simply cannot play in an area where they play the same 10-15 locals every single day, no matter how bad they may be. All of this is to say that playing live poker for a living is a very big commitment. I remember an old interview once done with the famous movie director Quentin Tarantino. He had always dreamt of being in show business and so he made the decision to move to Los Angeles, even though that meant he had to work as a clerk in a video rental store for a few years before he got his break. He commented during the interview that this is what it took for him to make it in the business and that others should do the same. I often think of this interview when I think of poker players and playing live for a living. If one wishes to be on stage they must go to Broadway; one wants to be a movie star they have to go to Hollywood and if one wants to make it as a professional poker player they must go to Vegas (or a town just like it).
Life in the Third World
Just a collection of random and not so random thoughts from my daily life here in Cambodia.