For about a year, I considered whether or not I wanted to become a
pro. Last month, I posted that I
have decided not to do it, and I have basically quit poker,
compared to my previous time investment. I was usually playing about
20 hours a week from around mid-2003 until late last year. I am now
playing about 20 hours a month.
I have a number of reasons that I have abandoned this plan (and similar
reasons have reduced my part-time play, too). It will probably now
take me a few months to give all my reasons for this. I'll try to
post a reason a week, at least, in no particular order.
A while ago, I linked to Ed
Miller's speculations about whether the poker world keeps getting
harder. I link to it here again as I think it's probably
required background reading for what I'm about to say next.
Game Selection is central to any profitable poker strategy. As the
proverb goes, if the seventh best player in the world insists on
only sitting in a seven-handed game with the those six better
players, that amazing player will be a lifetime loser despite
I believe that game selection generally tends to ebb and flow. Take a
look back over the fifty year history of professional casino-based
poker play. (Ignore the roving gambler era since that lifestyle
worked for very few.) There are periods throughout where the games
were very good and not so good. Now, I'm not talking about the
really big games, because I'm relatively sure there are enough
stupid rich people in the world to make those games highly
profitable forever. And, as the Dilbert Principle
states, products that are the playthings of the stupid rich are the
most profitable in capitalism.
But, few people will build the bankroll, temperament and the high skill
required to play at the high limits. I've met about three people in
my life that I thought could actually make it at $100/$200 limit (or
$25/$50 blind NL/PL) for the long term. You need a tremendous
amount of skill and ability to handle variance to survive. Few
people have that.
So, let's assume that as a run-of-the-mill pro, I'd have to figure I'm
not in that class of people that can play that high. So, I'm going to
settle in at the middle limit grinding — right at that spot
where all the grinding pros land. Right where the games are toughest,
because it's right at the cusp of where someone can actually make a
living. Thus, game selection becomes the chief determinant of
During the 1990s grinding it out at limit $15/$30 and $20/$40 was
particularly difficult to beat. There wasn't a lot of gambling
interest in the game, and there were a lot of strong players fighting
over a small amount of dead money. We could easily reach that moment
Indeed, in online games, because of the rapid nature of game
development and quick movement of dead money in NL HE games, we've
found that many sites are almost unplayable at the online
“middle limits” of $1/$2-$3/$6 NL. Part of this came from
the UIGEA forcing out casual US players, but it was already starting
to happen on some sites before that.
Casino games, by contrast, will stay pretty profitable long term, since
the popularity of poker has caused one likely irreversible fact: many
people who previously enjoyed general casino table games now prefer
poker when they visit the casino once or twice a year. There is
probably enough dead money at the lowest limits to make them
Note the emphasis on lowest limits: there will be great games at $1/$2
NL and up to $5/$10 and maybe $10/$20 limit. But, those aren't
make-a-living stakes. They are make-some-profitable-extra-income
stakes; the same stakes I've been beating all these years and netting
amounts always less than $25,000/year for 20 hours/week.
Of course, if you are highly skilled and committed to improving your
game, I am absolutely sure you could seek out good games and find them
at the middle limits. But, I wholeheartedly believe it would require
daily trips to multiple casinos; online poker is not really going to
sustain many pros at the middle limits.
Thus, I firmly believe that, moving into the post-poker-boom world, a
pro needs to live near a casino Mecca (e.g., Bay Area of CA, Los
Angeles area, Las Vegas, or Atlantic City), where that pro can make
daily visits to the casino with minimal travel overhead. It's a
matter of fact, frankly, that without a wide variety of live
middle limit games to choose from, the full-time pro simply won't be
able to earn enough to make poker more lucrative than other careers.
Certainly, to even match my current Real Life salary (which is a
relatively low NGO wage), I'd absolutely need that level of game
selection. Relying on what's available online for my daily income
wouldn't cut it.
So, since I'm not relocating to those places (I would really dislike
living in any of them), I think this is an important reason not to go
full-time pro. That leaves the question of how this issue impacts my
part time play. I have decided, first and foremost, that for any
larger stakes, occasional trips to the casino are likely better than
frequent online play for small stakes. The game selection at casinos
is basically always good, and I can have a better time and hourly rate
as a recreational player and part-time pro if I visit casinos
occasionally for trips where I can play 12-14 hour days for a short
period of time. It's clear that for the part-time player, online cash
game selection is abysmal enough that it is probably not worth the
trouble for many hours per week.
That sums up my first reason for not going pro. I hope to write the
next installment soon.