What a way to make a living [Friday Editorial]
Friday, 25 March 2011
I feel I should preface this article by saying that I am not a professional poker player – by this I mean that I do not or have not played poker as my sole source of income. I did alright out of the microstakes in my first year of University and actually made more there than my part-time job in a coffee shop (handy if you’re only sleeping three hours a night after classes then grinding out twelve $0.05/$0.10 tables). However it has never been my full-time income.
That said, I still feel qualified to write this because I know a lot of professional poker players; I’m pretty knowledgeable about poker in general and also because it’s not too long until deadline and this is all I got. So, the three most common ways to make money are to grind either online cash games or tournaments/STTs or to stick it out in the live cash arena. Let’s take a look at all three:
Online Cash Games
The bread and butter of both online players and poker sites, playing cash games offers the most flexible form of poker income for professional players. The pros at these games are either short-stacking, mass multi-tabling to earn rakeback money or make SuperNova Elite, playing a few tables and a loose-aggressive game or just plodding along playing tight, solid poker. The most common games are 6-max but heads-up is very popular.
Play when you want – though weekends and late nights are your ideal times to log on, if you don’t want to you don’t have to. You can quit games at any time and you can work your own hours.
Low variance – you can go through ten buy-in downswings and run horrifically under EV for thousands of hands, it’s true. But cash games are by far the lowest-variance form of poker where a good player can consistently make money; many top grinders have graphs over millions of hands that are practically 45 degree lines.
Sick skills – deepstacked cash games are by far the most skilful form of poker with more play available on each street, meaning that a good player has an edge over a bad player that is multiplied in correlation with the size of your stacks.
Sick skills – the fact that cash games are more skilful mean they are the toughest to beat regularly. Especially at the mid stakes ($1/$2 NL) and above the games on US sites particularly are full of solid and aggressive regulars who are trying as hard as you, if not harder, to beat the games.
Swings and roundabouts – the cash games are low variance compared to tournament poker but still, it’s No Limit Hold ‘em. There are swings – it’s very frustrating to try and bring your A-game to the tables for 20-30 hours a week when you’re running ten buy-ins under EV and need to make next month’s rent.
Tournament poker has been perfected to an art form online with the best Sit ‘n’ Go players employing a near perfect, Nash-equilibrium-game-theory-Independent-Chip-Modelling-push-fold game. You have the options of playing either SnGs (single table to ten-table tournaments with fixed entrants and prize pools) or the big multi-table tournaments trying to bink a huge score.
Payday – if you are a winning tournament player then a big score is coming. You obviously need to run well to win a tournament but if you play 2,000 180-seat Sit ‘n’ Goes a month then you know this. Repeat the run of cards you have in 180s in the Sunday Million and you’re $250,000 richer.
Fun – while deepstacked cash game poker has nuances and intricacies that turn the competition into a chess match rather than a card game; tournament poker is a race against dozens of tables to accumulate chips. When you’re all-in for your tournament life and hold up – or hit that four-outer – then it’s an incredible rush. And +EV if you can consistently win.
Perks and benefits – are other words for ‘pros’, yes. By this though I mean the rewards you receive from the poker room as a winning – or even slightly losing/breakeven – tournament player. Say you play $11 and $22 tournaments for four nights a week. Get 2,000 a month in and you’re looking at GoldStar status on PokerStars for half a week’s work. Supernova beckons...
You are variance’s bitch – no form of poker has more variance than tournament poker where you can bubble the money; lose out in the first hand when you pick the wrong side of the coin in a flip; play for seven hours and min-cash for double your buy-in. As a true tournament grinder expect to see streaks of 30 to 50 tournaments without a cash; hundreds without a final table and dozens of losing days a month.
Time is the enemy – if you are a tournament player then you need to set working hours for yourself. The best tournament times for PokerStars grinders – in my opinion the best tournament site – are Sunday to Wednesday evenings, which gives you a Thursday to Saturday weekend.
However, you’ll be working 6pm until 3am or later. Since tournaments finish when they finish and you can’t control whether you win over eleven hours of play, cash over six hours or bust after one hour.
Get the specs on – tournament poker is largely mathematical. In order to become one of the players in the top echelon of the poker community you will need to bust out the textbooks and equity calculations. If you hate maths then, besides having picked the wrong hobby, you won’t enjoy the study aspect of tournament poker in the slightest. But seriously, maths is fundamental to poker. Learn some.
Live Cash Games.
Live cash games are the backbone of professional poker players, especially those who cut their teeth before 2003. Casinos and cardrooms all over the country spread No Limit Hold ‘em, Pot Limit Omaha and mixed games with the lowest levels typically £1/£2 or £1/£1 (Bluff @ Mint offers the lowest in London at £0.5/£1) up to £25/£50 or higher.
No poker chops required – sit there, wait for premium hands, value bet. Seriously, there are few words to describe how abominably, fundamentally, tangibly, horrendously bad live players are. Especially in those games in casinos... my God. The first time I played a live cash game I 3-bet the flop with J-J on J-2-A and shoved the turn, called by J-4 with a backdoor flush draw. Amazing.
Slow your roll, G – lower bankroll requirements are necessary for live cash games. Whereas online when you make marginal, high-variance plays to get an edge on your 4-betting, balanced ranged opponents; a live cash game basically involves you waiting for a big hand and betting the living heck out of it. You can get away with a £1,000 to £1,500 bankroll for a £1/£1 cash game if you buy in for 100BBs.
You look cool – OK, say you play £1/£2 and £1/£3 live with occasional shots at £2/£5 games. Your bankroll is about £10,000 but you can’t have it in a bank – not all of it, anyway. What if there’s a sweet game going and you need a grand to take to the casino on Saturday evening and the banks are shut? This just means you tend to have lots of cash on you... also a con, I guess, but damn would it be awesome to have a load of fifties on your person at all times. Girls like that, right? Right?
Business expenses – grinding online cash games, you may only be a marginal winner but your rakeback, VIP bonuses and the fact you play from home cuts costs immensely. If you grind it out live then you have to tip dealers, buy yourself some food, get to the casino and back, maybe a few drinks... a £150 profit can easily become less than a hundred with those factors.
People – I’m not a people person, in general. Let’s face it, if you’re spending thirty hours plus a week in the casino you’ll meet your share of unsavoury characters. Maybe a lower, tougher win rate online is worth it if you don’t get sat next to an obese man with B.O. all night?
Snail’s pace – play 12 tables online? You’re getting in a good 800 to 1,000 hands per hour. Sit at a live cash table and you’ll be lucky to see an hourly rate of 25 hands. In addition to meaning that you can easily get bored and lose focus, variance can be crushing when it takes you a month to play 5,000 hands. Ever had a 5,000 hand downswing online? Well, imagine that lasting for weeks.
Join us again on Friday when Matt Perry will ask the blasphemous question: who is the next Phil Ivey?