How can I return to a place that don’t exist?

How can I return to a place that don’t exist?

Monday, 10 February 2014

Black Friday had a catastrophic effect on the poker industry but there are still reasons to be cheerful for all you grinders out there, says Alex Rousso.

Being a cheapskate, I only got around to watching Bet Raise Fold when the download price dropped to $5. So this isn’t a review – I guess I’m a bit late for that. Nevertheless, for those who haven’t seen it, I recommend it highly. Quality movies are a rare thing in poker and Bet Raise Fold is a slick and engrossing feature length documentary. It’s essentially the story of the rise and fall of poker, the fall being Black Friday.

The filmmakers have been criticised for being too Americocentric, for not covering how it was largely business as usual in Europe. In my opinion that’s wrong. Black Friday marked the watershed point in poker; almost three years later, we’re still wondering whether it was a point of no return. Sure, the money from woefully bad players had begun to fizzle out years prior to that, but on Black Friday the silly money being thrown at the game in the form of marketing dollars evaporated.

Overnight, the market mentality in the poker industry went from sky’s-the-limit land grab to defensive consolidation. Sponsored players dropped like flies. TV shows were shelved. Global liquidity dropped by a third. Marketing revenues for magazines plummeted, and some bit the dust.

Bet Raise Fold is a heady dose of nostalgia – back to the times when making money in the game really did feel like shooting fish in a barrel, when players were getting sponsorship deals simply on the back of winning a major. It encapsulates the zeitgeist of that period perfectly. Producer Jay Rosenkrantz wrote in this very magazine “we hope you enjoy the trip down memory lane”.

That’s precisely where I was at after watching it. I loved every second of the film. But afterwards, I couldn’t help hearing in my head a line from a song by The The: “how can I return to a place that don’t exist?”
Personally, I’m in no position to gripe. When the poker boom started, I was 32-years-old. I had a postgraduate degree and was running the family business. My bankroll was money ring-fenced from my savings which, if lost, would not significantly affect my net wealth.

By comparison, for those players who started their working lives playing poker – either by paying their way through university or straight from school – the situation is markedly different. Twentysomething players now tweet about the hole in their CVs. In applying for jobs, they are faced with an unhappy question: do I tell the truth about what I was doing all those years? Poker may have come out of the shadows in that time, but the prejudices against it are still rife. I would imagine finance firms appreciate the skills of someone who has years of experience making thousands of risky decisions per day, but what if you don’t want to be in finance?

Worse still, big businesses are not taking the risk of hiring many people right now. Since the beginning of the financial crisis, large corporations have actually performed better than small ones on average. They have achieved this through shoring up their cash and cutting jobs. While their profits may look good for the economy, they are not necessarily helping the general population.

By contrast, small businesses tend to inject more cash into the economy because they spend more in their local area (think about big corporations outsourcing call centres, accountancy, etc.). However, for the last few years, market conditions have been far from perfect for starting a small business. The average consumer is feeling the pinch: real earnings are falling. Money is more difficult to borrow than at any time in the last 25 years. It’s the businesses and people who are not cash rich that the financial crisis has hit most hard because expansion or start up is difficult without extra finance.

That said, I believe there the next ten years or so represent fantastic opportunities for small businesses. The Government wants to make it easier for individuals to start businesses. Check out for an example. With virtually nothing in the fiscal coffers, the Government has little choice but to try to help people to help themselves.

The good news is that if you’ve spent the last five or so years playing poker successfully, you are already a business person. You know how to make risky decisions; in fact, you excel at making them under pressure. You know how to suppress negative emotions and “keep your customer happy”. You know how to analyse the market for moneymaking opportunities. If you’ve played online poker professionally for even a year, you’ve probably suffered as many bankroll swings as a small business suffers in an entire lifetime.

Before the internet boom, poker was a hard way to make an easy living. With hindsight, it was only the heydays of 2003 to 2008 when the money was bountiful. If you’ve grinded your way through the last few years playing poker, you are more than qualified to undertake the grind that is starting a small business. No, it’s not an easy way to make an easy living, but nothing ever is for too long. And of course, poker will always still be there. Even if it no longer provides you with enough revenue for a full time job, it can always be a fun way to make money on the side.

Tags: Alex Rousso, Pickleman