Professional Poker

Very interesting post here from Doug Hull, almost out of the blue in a thread where the poster is really just looking for permission to move up a stake.

Virtually every working pro I know is semi-retired, has a wife with significant income, has a side business that affords a lot of flexibility or is getting by with a low stress life with low income.

The purely professional poker player, and by that I mean, someone whose sole income is derived from winnings on the felt, is quite the rara avis.  Consider the reasonable estimate that one in ten players makes money at poker (the vast majority are small losers, victims of the bell curve of skill minus rake. This fact of poker suggests how being a brave loser is more honorable than being a scared break evener, but that story is for another day.)  That leaves some percentage of reasonable winners and strong winners, both categories including pros, who might comprise the highest win rates but not necessarily.  After all, a true pro has a real need for steady income, not the highest income.

This sort of pro, the sole income pro, must be, by these simple estimates, even more of rare bird than thought.  I myself can think of three, possibly four players at my current stake, in a pool of probably a thousand quasi-regulars, that eek out such a living. Go higher, and there are more “diversified” pros, which follows Doug’s understanding of these players having other incomes, as well as a few other factors: let’s start with tournaments.  At a certain critical mass of bankroll, you get to participate in the lucrative if high variance tournament scene, where mediocre players pump millions of dollars into the poker economy as an exciting hobby fanned by television coverage.  Tournament poker truly is the enemy of the small stakes cash pro, as a few smart commentators have pointed out. Yet the sword cuts on both edges, and if you are a brave cash player, you are incentivized to jump in and ride the variance train.

Another factor for the low stakes professional or talented poker player on the edge of true success is that the games are juicier the higher you go, a counterintuitive fact of poker. To see this in action, spend some time watching your local 5/10 game, or more comfortably, watching the Poker Night in America stream, Live at the Bike, High Stakes Poker, or whatever. With enough money, the game becomes a game again, and players want to win as much as win money, two very distinct things, but a distinction easily lost to those who mistakenly worship skilled big game players, big games themselves, or are lost in the Tron of online poker.

starvingThe toughest game in the world, in any format, to beat is a short stacked game full of regs who all know the same things and creativity is punished in the name of curtailing swings and maintaining rake. The game, in other words, that “protects” the players is often the worst game to be in. Yes, the low stakes sharks on a Tuesday afternoon are a bunch of “donks” in some cosmic sense or by the narcissistic standards of the forums or apron tugging Twitch braggarts, but the game really is limited, and variance will never let anyone without a severe personality problem, such as Gargamel or that weirdo Calgary Poker Dude and his f’ing Corolla theory, really make much of splash in a 40 bb clam bake.  Just as in life, institutional interference is the first impediment to excellence as well as its own incentive to overcome it.

You’ve gotta move up, in other words, to where they don’t respect your raises.

Get out of 1/2 capped, buddy: the tougher the game should be, the more lucrative it actually is.

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