How to get rich playing poker Part II: Exploiting the Matthew Effect

How to get rich playing poker Part II: Exploiting the Matthew Effect

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Last month I looked at how to get rich playing poker. I considered there to be two ways: 1) the Joey Knish way – of grinding, day in day out, until you’ve made enough to call yourself rich; or 2) the easy way.

The easy way was, I admit, a bit of a con in that I said that you had to get lucky. To be honest, this isn’t really what the easy way is about. The easy way is about putting yourself in situations where you’re more likely to be lucky, and then, crucially, knowing how to exploit your luck.

One of the key principles for this venture is the so-called “Matthew Effect”. This concept is sometimes framed as “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer”. I’ve equated the Matthew Effect in poker to getting sponsored, but it’s not that specific. In essence, what you want to do is to be able to play poker so that you remain successful whether you win or you lose.

The bottom line is to keep in mind the adage that those who made the real money from the Gold Rush were those selling the picks and shovels. If you can find some way of being paid to play poker, that’s the Holy Grail.

You could do worse than grind your way to sponsorship on one of the backing sites such as Black Belt Poker, Bad Beat or The Poker Farm, for example. But to do this successfully for an extended period of time, you will need to be a moneymaking player. Some of these sites may not seem particularly glamorous (in comparison with, say, PokerStars putting Liv Boeree in every EPT), but let’s not forget that if you are being backed, you are going about things the easy way – ie, putting yourself in situations where you’re more likely to get lucky. In short, you may not be able to put yourself into five $1k WSOP events next summer, but your backer can. And, if you don’t scrub up like Liv Boeree, that may be the best chance you’ll get of binking an EPT win.

To those of you who have read Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki, this may sound familiar. That’s no accident. I believe there’s a huge degree of crossover between success in the business world and success in the poker world, and reading Kiyosaki’s work will help tremendously.

If someone spots your potential, they:
(a) invest in you (employ you/back you in a tournament),
(b) hope to benefit by riding on the coattails of your success if you make it (through paying you a bonus yet netting a profit/taking a share of your winnings).
Moreover: (c) you can’t do this at the beginning because you’re not wealthy enough to go it alone (start your own business/bankroll yourself in major tournaments)

Kiyosaki created a board game called CASHFLOW 101. The game is supposed to teach people about how to gain wealth and become financially independent. In essence the board has two “tracks”. There’s the slow track to wealth – which runs around the outside of the board – and is the equivalent of grinding out a living doing a job day to day. Then there’s the fast track to wealth – running around the inside of the board. The fast track is the equivalent of being wealthy enough for your money to work for itself. That’s maybe in the form of businesses which you can get other people to run for you, investments which are large enough for you to live off, and so forth.

It seems to me that sponsorship in the poker world is somewhat like the fast track to wealth in CASHFLOW 101. In the grinding stage, you are trying to stay afloat while all the time satelliting into big tournaments to try to bink a big one. The aim, presumably, is to make enough so that you can bankroll yourself into big enough games that just the grind alone earns you enough to make you comfortably rich.

So, assuming you’ve got the bit right where you’re a moneymaking player, how do you make yourself attractive to a potential backer or sponsor?
For the above-mentioned stables of poker players, one really needs no more than to be a good player and put the hours in. Black Belt’s strategy is to take you on as a pro once you’ve grinded enough hours on their proprietary site. The Poker Farm and Bad Beat will, after an initial consultation, give you some money to play with on third party sites and see how you get on.

The less common but more known about route is to get sponsored through being a colourful character in some way. Plenty of examples abound, from the Poker Brat himself to his (admittedly much better at poker) pretender Luke Schwartz. But there’s also the Bill and Ted angle (Phil Laak), The Mad Gambler (Ilari “Ziigmund” Sahamies), the Likeable Maverick (Mike Matusow), and so on.

In these lean times it will take more nous than once was necessary to give yourself a high chance of success. That’s not to say that the money has dried up altogether. The Hendon Mob lost their sponsorship and went right back out there and got another one. True, their website is something that many an online casino or poker site will pay for, but they still have a tremendously strong sense of how they are marketable in an industry vastly changed from when they started out.

How are you marketable as a player? Are you Luke Schwartz? Phil Hellmuth? Why would people want to pay (in kind) to watch you play poker? If this all sounds a bit botox/marketing/California to you, you’re probably in the wrong business. I guess you could always go the Joey Knish route instead.

Notwithstanding all of the above, there are still plenty of players who are less than glamorous and still get sponsorship. All I can say is, the point still stands about why the site would want to employ you or back you. This may sound a bit “how to make it in Hollywood”, but still. If you want to make it, you’ve got to show flexibility and willingness to work hard. It may seem like a grind, but if you are there for people in the industry who need you enough times, eventually you’ll get a decent break. It’s funny because when you get that first break, a number of people will complain about how lucky you were to get it. Which harks back to the saying “the more I practise, the luckier I get.”

The metaphor with tournament poker is clear. Play enough tournaments and you will start making final tables. At final tables, with the exception of the odd superfish who’s 90%+ likely to get preyed upon until he’s spent, the fates of most players are down to the cards. However, make enough final tables, and eventually you’ll bink a big one. It’s all about putting yourself in the right situation enough times.

Does that sound like a grind? Well, it is and it isn’t. We’re talking now about a grind where (a) you’re doing what you want to do (so it feels like less of a grind to start with) and (b) your ultimate goal is to get yourself on a carousel where making money isn’t a grind at all. Like I say, there are dark times ahead of us, but I do believe there will be a second dawn. Best to prepare for when that happens.

Tags: Pickelman, Alex Rousso, staking, Phil Hellmuth, Luke Schwartz, Liv Boeree, Mike Matusow, Phil Laak, staking