Poker Careers, Revisited

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Not sure if it was a new article or not, but I saw a Tweet from Red Chip about the Top Poker Careers, and checked it out. The list is no doubt a good one, but here’s a few clarifications from my grubby vantage point in the low stakes:

  • Entrepreneurs: the reason an entrepreneur can be good at poker isn’t only because entrepreneurs are self-starters, ambitious, and will seek to improve as a matter of course. Businessmen often share characteristics with the basic poker phenotype, tending to overvalue their own place and contribution in the world, which is an excellent match for the narcissistic nature of the poker player pool and one that allows them to blend in with the herd. Otherwise, like many of these professions on the list, the real reasons poker might be for them are social, and the fact they will often have the money to play poker, regardless of result.  The example the writer gives of Bill Klein, who in fact can yuck it up and have fun as much as he wants without consequence, and has no worries about what niche he is carving out, makes my point as much as his own.
  • Two – five are all good for the same reason: math and analytics inclination. However, unless these types also have the spirit of the Entrepreneur, a math inclination won’t get you everywhere in poker, because the math is too simple and everyone can do it, even me.  Coders and finance guys, for instance, comprise the primary pool of fish in my games. (It’s really logic and thinking about patterns, which a knitter can do as well as an engineer, that defines the winning player.) Thinking in black and white terms will get you far in the corporate world, but poker is too nuanced for these guys to just drop in and do more than break even without real work on their weaknesses. These professions, are however, especially good for people who aspire to not only play poker, but do something related to poker as an extension of their career, such most of the Red Chip pros.
  • Six – Lawyers.  Once again we see an example of a career where plenty of money will allow for plenty of play, yet the reality is that most poker playing lawyers I know lack the sense of FU that the Entrepreneur type uses to motivate his own improvement, and are thus content with their poker lot. Contrary to this, there is a top poster in the 2+2 forums who is a good example of a lawyer doing very good due diligence and who obviously possesses that magical combination of intelligence, training, and humility. Moreover, several famous examples of lawyers or law students winning in poker exist. In my games, however, several of the biggest fish I know are lawyers. An interesting bit about them is that both always have reasons for what they do – logic is very important to the trade – however wrongly they employ it. They seem to have great attitudes at the table, probably because of the hard work they have done, and seem not to tilt as much as the business types. That is the basis of a potentially winning game.
  • I like this one, Politicians. The ability to think on your feet, interact with people, think clearly about money, while possessing a passable familiarity with the law is a great combination. And indeed, the two politicians I know who play poker are definitely above average players and liked on the felt. They belong to poker.
  • Number nine, Psychologists, is a funny one, because it seems valid, but in truth I would doubt most psychologists actually would find poker pleasant for too long. It’s too directly applicable to their trade, yet instead of being able to research and diagnose, poker puts you square in the chair, right on the spot.  Poker is pain and rewards people who seek it, not to cure it. I think it is for this reason that I have only run into two psychologist regs in all my years of playing poker. Obviously there will be some, such as the one I was recently discussing, Red Chip’s Dr. Cardner, as well as those other performance trainers who see opportunity in the field.
  • Athletes are often very good at poker. It’s a competition, after all, and while there are obviously whales among them that drop in and out (I recently paused to watch Russell Westbrook placidly take on a contingent of anti-social PLO geniuses at 100/200), the culture of poker itself is very encouraging to athletes and suits them well. Critically, athletes often whine less and have better mental game from the very start, a real edge; not always, of course. Athletes, above all, even without any card skill at all, often understand the Poker Boss Mantra: Never complain, never explain.
  • Eleven, the Actor category, is another one that cuts both ways but is ultimately unlikely to yield good results. For the most part, having been affiliated with the theater for a long time, I can tell you that most actors are on the irrational side.  The downtime film actors enjoy lends itself to poker, so many play, but if Matt Damon et al are examples of good poker players, I will eat my one of my hats. Look for Directors, who must master moving parts, observation, and understand financial constraint, to be better at the game.
  • No one can explain it, but an unusual number of Poker Dealers are fish, even though it seems like such an obvious gateway to poker success. Sorry. I changed my mind: I think I can explain it: dealers observe the game from a very facetious and simple point of view, and are not able to focus on what is going on, consumed by their work. They mistake, in other words, quantity for quality.  The agony of a true poker player, who puts incredible pains into making simplistic appearing decisions, goes right over the heads of most dealers, who simultaneously become immune and hardened to the beats without going on the true journey that led to them through the oblivion of their hours and their indifference to the results. This is well demonstrated by the most annoying dealer I know: she is in fact wonderfully competent at the X’s and O’s of her profession, a real mechanical star, but has no sense for the rhythm and interior life of the game, being in complete oblivion as to why I might need a moment to reflect before acting, a hint about how she really thinks about the game.

Overall, it’s rather easy to like the Entrepreneurs category this article provides; it’s number one for a reason.  However, truth is, these categories overlap quite a bit, and if you have the entrepreneurial spirit, whoever you are, poker is yours for the taking. Anyone with a streak of competitiveness also has a good shot at being great. If you are a Politician, though, I think this is your game as much as anyone’s.

The question then becomes, what careers are missed?  It’s an important question, because there are two or three sure things I know about increasing the player pool, and one of them is a category omitted from this list.

It’s a profession/field which spends incredible amounts of time studying, sitting in one place, and all its adherents do is identify patterns.  It’s filled with women, so it hits one of the other talking points about growing the games. Yet because we are routinely subjected to lists like this one which perpetuate clichés about poker ability, (after all, is it not amusing that we encourage the entrepreneur to play yet he is routinely zeroed in on as the fish) this entire field remains unencouraged and untouched by the game.

But I’m not telling what it is. No one pays me to write fluffy articles!

10 thoughts on “Poker Careers, Revisited

  1. Commercial fisherman seem to play big. It must be like a vacation to be the fish for a night… Like they are going under for a breather and eating a few hooks of their own.

  2. I think dealers suffer from statistical hallucinations. Because of the volume of hands they observe they see more bad beats (as well as hear more whining about bad beats). Bad beats are notable because they are statistically infrequent. However, when observed they are given more significance in our memories. Seeing the higher number of bad beats dealers become convinced that they happen more often than they do and adjust their play to either avoid or take advantage of their statistical illusion.

  3. I agree, the best players I meet are super type – A players who hate losing or hate getting second best. I played sports in college, and used to go the casino on my way home from my friends and play (I always loved the game). However, after being a relatively small losing player I just decided if I was going to play, I was going to do it right. The move I delve into it, the more I realize just how bad I was, and how bad I honestly still am (I’m up 1500 bb’s year this) but that doesn’t really say anything as after every session I go back and can name at least 5 instances if I really stopped and though I wouldn’t have fired a mindless c-bet into 2 players just because they checked and I was the PFA, I would have made the call on the river, I should have folded my flush draw as at best it was a break even play. Just like my career (sports strength and conditioning), the moment you start to think you getting a good grasp on it (and don’t get me wrong I think I’m very good at my job) you meet someone or read something that makes you realize how much more you have to learn and how far you have to go to get to the top. I have no interest in becoming the best player in the world, or even making it a career. I just figure if I enjoy something and this something is going to cost me a lot of money potentially, then you damn sure better be good at it. Great posts.

  4. I recall the RCP article that prompted this post. My feeling was that the inclusion of “entrepreneur” simply reflects that the poker-playing founders of RCP are, by definition, entrepreneurs. But based on Las Vegas conventions, my experience is that entrepreneurs are low on the poker-ability scale, largely, as you suggest, because they over-estimate their ability.

    1. Nothing like a good bias to provide the foundation of a piece. Coming this month, the intrinsic relationship between MS Paint, Hats, and Poker Excellence.

  5. Spies are good at poker. Some are scary good. Not the James Bond types; these guys (and they are almost exclusively male) are mid-level NSA analysts, bespectacled and bearded single 30 somethings with genius IQ’s and federally subsidized bankrolls, like a bunch of introverted and subversive Ed Millers. Fort Meade/NSA (Maryland’s largest employer) is adjacent to Maryland Live, and excluding those who view the game as a puzzle to be solved (good post on this topic, Chris), the occasional savant will sit in the smaller games.

  6. I believe you. On the other hand, Limon got his bankroll by creating a home game around his fellow Mensa members. Poker takes many gifts.

  7. Perhaps it’s their training. These cats are professionally evaluating large amounts of data from multiple perspectives, especially the enemy’s perspective. They are level 2 and 3 thinkers right out of the gate.

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