Poker poker poker. It's poker craze!
June 18, 2007 10:45 AM   Subscribe

Poker poker poker poker poker poker? It's poker craze!

I began playing online poker on February 2006 and have been doing so ever since. I have invested a grand total of $50 in the game and managed to go up to $1000, swing down to $200 and now back to $500. Although I do not play for the money, I take poker seriously (as every other hobby I have), so I study the game, read a lot of books, analyze my plays, watch the pros play, etc.

And that's where the problem lies.

I can't stop thinking about poker! Odds, hands, bluffs, strategies, the thrill of the victory and the anger of the losses. Everything I don't have in my day job, I can find it in poker. I have some friends who became professionals and honestly I envy their lifestyle: they're in Vegas right now playing the WSOP while I'm at an office doing non-challenging work, though I have a very good and stable job who earns me good money.

I love the game, I don't think I'm addicted, as I usually quit during my losing sessions and don't stop doing other stuff (girlfriend, dogs, beer, beer, beer) because of it. However, poker seems to bring back to my life the thrill and motivation I had back in my early 20s when I started programming computers for a living. I was the king of the world back then.

Should I play more, and try to do it for a living, or I'm just another pro-wannabee who should quit and get back to work?
posted by dcrocha to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Should I play more, and try to do it for a living, or I'm just another pro-wannabee who should quit and get back to work?
posted by dcrocha to sports, hobbies, & recreation

You are, statistically speaking, likely the second, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't attempt the first. You have to seek out your own happiness, because for damn sure noone else is going to deliver it to you.

I personally thing this poker thing is just a fad, and it already appears to be slowing and waning in popularity. The only reason this matters is because it depends on demand for anyone to be successful, and relies on a continuous conveyor belt of "newbies" coming in with cash.

Also, I think you are at decidedly "small stakes" to be considering this for a living. Professionals, from what I understand, have cashflow swings of tens of thousands of dollars, and sometimes hundreds of thousands.

If you are serious about it, I think you should gather up some money from your good-paying job you have now, take a 2 week vacation, and go out to Vegas and give it a whirl.

Worst case scenario, you get taken to the cleaners, and still have your job to come back to.

Best case scenario, you're a natural, get up a couple hundred grand, and call work to say you're never coming back.

This is assuming you are single and have no other responsibilities. If not, then my advice may be tempered a bit.

Also, if you have some friends who have gone pro, then surely they would be better sources to ask this question to?
posted by Ynoxas at 10:55 AM on June 18, 2007

By all means, try out a local tournament and improve your skills, but don't expect much.

If you've been playing online for a 16 months and are only up $450, that's not much of a return (unless you've only played 10-15 hours total), especially compared with people who make a living off of it (tons of stories out there).

How does your in-person play compare to online?

Honestly, my advice would be to find a good, private game with the stakes that you like and improve so that you're the best player at the game.

Professional poker seems like a dream job, but I think most successful players spend a *lot* of time at it, much more than what you've put in.

Then again, you might get lucky. Any game that lets an unknown win its "world championship" offers hope to all comers ...
posted by mrgrimm at 10:58 AM on June 18, 2007

There's a false dichotomy in your question - you can play more without trying to do it for a living, and you can continue to work a day job without quitting poker.

Going pro (and not going broke) is generally considered to be extremely difficult. If you're not yet at the point of beating a $5/$10 limit game, your odds of succeeding as a professional gambler are essentially zero. You should look at some realistic calulations on what size bankroll is required to play professionally and notice how many digits are missing on your current figure.

Also consider the psychological aspects of what happens when it's your rent money in the middle of the pot instead of just disposable income - putting yourself in a situation where you have to win makes the game a lot different.

Certainly playing more isn't a bad thing if it's something you enjoy - a friend of mine made a sizable down payment on his house and lived a very nice lifestyle when working his day job + playing poker online and B+M on the side. But he did this while being realistic about what the limits of his skill and requirements of maintaining financial solvency were.
posted by 0xFCAF at 11:03 AM on June 18, 2007

Both this phrase:

the anger of the losses

and this phrase:

I usually quit during my losing sessions

makes me think you're not currently cut out to be a professional poker player. Losing is as much a part of the game as winning and if you get frustrated and quit when you lose, there is no way you'll make it through a month-long 300BB downswing.
posted by turaho at 11:15 AM on June 18, 2007

A two week poker vacation sounds like a great idea. Have you ever played live with strangers? I assume so, since some of your buddies went pro. Playing live is a totally different game than online, and in my mind, more "thrilling." And it sounds like that's why you like the game.

What would you regret more? Getting together a bankroll and ultimately blowing it all over a couple of weeks (months, years, decades?) or slogging it out in the office for 20+ years and never giving it a shot?

Too, I find nothing wrong with being a serious amateur. Amateur meaning not doing it as a primary source of income. Serious meaning knowing the game inside and out and in it to win money -- not just to piss away free time. (on preview, oxfcaf's first paragraph)

If you haven't already, check out the 2+2 poker forums. I enjoy them.
posted by GPF at 11:15 AM on June 18, 2007

Response by poster: @GPF

I played live only once, in Reno, Nevada. I played 4 tournaments ($50 each) plus 2/4 No-Limit. I finished the 10-hour playing day up $250. I felt fantastic about my game, much more than online, because people seem to respect your aggression much more, so I was able to dominated the tourneys. In the cash game I was card dead all the time and only broke even.


A poker vacation! That's a great idea, indeed. I may give it a shot next time I go to the U.S., in August.

As somebody noticed, I may not be able to go pro due to my low tolerance to financial swings, but I think trying it out as a second job could be a perfect solution.
posted by dcrocha at 11:25 AM on June 18, 2007

Best answer: Poker is like art in that many envy the lifestyle of those who do it professionally. A lot of the time their interest in it is confined to the lifestyle.

I've been interested and involved in poker for a long time, since 1995. It's not just a fad, poker isn't going anywhere. Betting money on pseudo-random events is a long time favorite of the people. It's not exactly the latest thing.

It sounds like you love the game. Cool. Your results suck. Yes, you're not a loser and that's better than the vast majority, but for over a year's play that's not much.

There is a huge legislative battle going on right now. Before you make any decision on how deeply you are going to get involved in the game you need to familiarize yourself with the legal climate. The FBI website has a page where they state that in their opinion any form of online gambling is illegal and that one of the penalties is confiscation of funds. Now the FBI is wrong but trying to get your money back from the government is no fun. I've got 5 figures in the whole NeTeller mess that I haven't had access to for going on 6 months. It sucks. Again I stress that poker is still legal to play (depending on your state) but how the regulations are enforced could change that. Go to the Poker Players Alliance web site and register with them, send some email to your congressmen. Then go to the 2+2=4 forums and browse the Legislation forum. Pay attention to the posts by The Engineer and get involved.

Now I haven't said anything yet about your goals but if we don't get the march against online gambling halted and possibly reversed you won't have anything to dream about unless you move to Las Vegas or Los Angeles.

"Pro-wannabe" is just name calling. If you enjoy it, do it. I do think that those who have a job and play poker as serious amateurs have the best of it for a couple of reasons. First, through their work they are involved in honest to God production. You might not think that means much from where you are at now, but five years of taking money only because you have a better idea of how to play a flush draw might change your mind. Second, steady income is very important for psychological stability. This can be overcome by having a large enough roll but most (like way more than 90%) play too large. The higher up in games you go the more your opponents will be approaching optimal play. This means there is less money to chop up. Smaller win rate plus aggressive play means wider fluctuations. Wide fluctuations plus high stakes means bigger emotional swings. Now equanimity varies from person to person. Some can handle 6 figure swings calmly, perhaps you are one of those. Whatever the case may be I believe that everyone is helped by steady income when a 40% dip comes your way. Understanding how huge variance in poker really is will do you a lot of good. It will help you psychologically, you will be able to make prudent and realistic plans for the future and you will minimize the possibility of going bust. Unless you have a huge edge relative to the field, tournaments increase variance. The best opportunity for steady money is in cash games.

If you want to improve, the forums are good but there is a lot of noise there as well and it is easy to get sucked into that. Take a look at Cardrunners and Ed Millers blog as two good starting points that are content rich. Make sure you're reading the right books (Most of 2+2=4, a few others as well). Check out Expert Holdem. Go over your hand histories. Think in terms of hand ranges. Use Andrew Prock's PokerStove. You'll get better. Don't pay much attention to watching the pros. The play of one hand means less than many think.

Remember if poker can become legit in the states, really legit, not gray, there will be a huge boom once again, and it's not that bad right now. But now is precisely the wrong time to rush into anything. Online poker has some powerful enemies like Focus on the Family and Senator John Kyl. If you want poker to be an available form of entertainment for America, do your part.

Good luck.
posted by BigSky at 12:08 PM on June 18, 2007 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Just based on your question, you sound similar to me. I used to play online poker (when it was legal in the US) and I still consider it a serious hobby. Living in the northeast, I also play quite a bit at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut. But I would never try to become a "pro", because of the low limits I play ($2/4 to $5/10). It is very very difficult to support yourself on 3BB per hour (live) or 5-7BB per 100 hands (online) at those limits.

I would also recommend the poker vacation. Go to Southern California or Las Vegas and play poker in one of the many poker rooms there. Play at the limit that your bankroll will allow. That is, if you have 300BB for a game, then play it. I'd be hesitant to play at any limit above that because of variance. You never want to play at a limit where you could lose your whole bankroll.

For all the poker literature I've read, a very very VERY small percentage of poker players win consistently enough to quit their current life and "go pro." My suggestion to you (as well as the mindset I keep) is to keep playing poker (at limits where you feel comfortable with the financial swings) and enjoy the game. Continue treating poker as a serious hobby, read everything you can, and try to apply tactics in real situations while you are playing. But playing with a couple hundred dollars over 18 months is not enough of a sample size to know if you are "pro" material.

As for as constantly thinking about poker, try to schedule a weekly/monthly home game with your friends. My friends and I play a semi-regular game and it scratches my poker itch, while getting to hang with the guys and enjoy one of our other passions (beer!) at the same time.
posted by LouMac at 12:09 PM on June 18, 2007

I too am consumed with poker. I read about it constantly, I play live once a week, and I play online most other nights. I am pretty good, too -- last year I made more playing poker than I did at my day job as a database developer. In fact, I made so much that I elected to file as a professional. However, despite my success, I have no illusions about turning pro, and neither should you. As others have said, it's a hard way to make an easy living.

Frankly, if all you have to show for 16 months of play is a $450 profit, you are in no position to quit your day job and make this your new career. Same for $4,500, or even $45,000 profit over the same time period. A loose standard for turning pro should be about $10k/month profit. If you can't average $10k/month over 12-24 months, you aren't good enough to make it as a pro. Playing poker at a subsistence level, grinding it out for the rent and the groceries, is just not a good way to live.

As GPF suggested, please browse the forums over at 2+2. There are innumerable posts on the subject of "should I turn pro?", and the general consensus is that if you have to ask, you aren't ready yet. Your argument for turning pro should be so persuasive, so obvious on its face, that it's never really a question. At a minimum, you should have a bankroll of 1000 big bets for the limit you play (if you play limit poker), or 50+ buyins if you play no-limit. Tourney specialists have different BR requirements as well; Google that if tournies are your thing. You should also have 6+ months of regular living expenses set aside, completely separate from your poker bankroll, and honestly, a full year would be better. All that money is to give you cushion to withstand the inevitable downswings that all players encounter. It's so that you are never feeling the pressure of having to win to make the rent or mortgage, because it is hard to play good, aggressive poker when your case money is at stake. It's to minimize your "risk of ruin," to reduce your variance. It also assumes you are a winning player, i.e., a winning player needs to have a bankroll this large to absorb the variance inherent in the game. If you aren't a winning player, then it doesn't matter how large your bankroll is, because it will NEVER be large enough to cushion your losses.

Certainly, you should continue to play and improve, but (speaking as a limit player) you should not even consider going pro unless you can regularly beat a 15/30 or higher game. And even then, you will often find that poker makes a much better secondary than primary source of income.

I am happy to provide you more details of my experience and thoughts on this if you are interested. My email is in my profile. Good luck!
posted by mosk at 12:26 PM on June 18, 2007 [3 favorites]

You have a hobby.

What's the problem again?
posted by desjardins at 12:34 PM on June 18, 2007

Before you even think about seriously playing poker for money instead of for fun, you need to keep records of all the money you've won/lost over your poker career. Being up $1000 seems like a lot right now - but if you divide that up by number of hours played (you've been playing for over a year), you can determine something close to an hourly wage.

Playing professionally means that poker is your job, and you have to put in the hours necessary to pay rent and place food on the table. Basic math. If your hourly wage isn't comparable to your day job, you need to start winning more hands or raising your limits.

I think the only advantage of playing poker in person is vastly higher limits, and possibly getting tells from your opponents. When I played online, I played three tables simultaneously, and each table played twice as many hands as a live game in the same time period. Six times as many hands tends to reduce risk.

I put in my hours (over 800 or so over a year or so) and I thought I was getting better. The numbers told me I was making less than minimum wage.
posted by meowzilla at 12:35 PM on June 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

I was once you, quite some time ago. My story is a bit different than many players I meet because I have a great job that I enjoy. I really never seriously considered quitting and becoming a full-time poker player. There is plenty of room to be a very serious poker guy and keep your normal job. I just spent two weeks at the WSOP and will return in few weeks for the Main Event.

I think it is possible to find a way to play poker at a very high level in the context of an otherwise normal life. I also think that this enables you to have a more healthy and relaxed attitude about the inevitable swings of the game. I'm very competitive and always want to win, but having a balance of other interests in my life makes it easier to handle the various trials of player poker for money. Don't make the choice turning pro or quitting.

Poker is a source of enormous satisfaction to me and I think my life is much better off for having played. It gives me great stories to tell and has provided me with a lot of disposable income over the years. But I'm glad I still live a normal life. The hassles of the UIGEA and the difficulties in moving money around these days (Damn you, Neteller!) have made me happy that I don't live and breathe poker every day. Based on your descriptions of your reactions to losing, you might find professional play where you could go on an extended losing streak to be too painful to deal with. You might check out the book The Poker Mindset for some good insights into the mental aspect required to play for a living (disclaimer: both authors are friends of mine).
posted by Lame_username at 12:55 PM on June 18, 2007

Winning $1,000 at poker doesn't mean anything, because it often takes a long time for skill to catch up with you.

What I mean by that is there are PLENTY of people playing poker who are losers at the game. That is, if they played100,000 to 500,000 hands, they would eventually lose all their money, even if they had a good deal of it. However, in the short term, it's entirely possible to make lots of money and be bad at poker. The reverse is also true.

Assuming you are actually good at poker, you will need a whole lot more than $1,000 to get started. The very best limit poker players are lucky if they can eke out 2 to 3 bb per 100 hands. Now online, you can make a lot of money by playing multiple tables. However, if you live in the states, finding a place to play online is tough. In a real casino, you will be lucky to get in 35 hands an hour. What does this mean? Well, if you are playing $10/$20 limit, you would only be making $7 to $20 an hour on average, depending on your skill. That's really not very much money, especially when you consider that sitting in a casino listening to countless idiots complain about their cards staying silent so you can take their money and not drive them away gets old after a while.

You really should be bankrolled for the $15/30 or $20/$40 game at minimum. Accepted standards say you need 300 to 500 BB at the level you play at, which means $12,000 to $20,000 for $20/$40, plus living expenses for six months so you don't have to raid your bankroll for everyday expenses when you're on a losing streak.

You could, of course, play no limit or tournaments, but the swings there are MUCH bigger than in limit poker, which means you would need more capital to start with.

I'm not saying it's impossible, it's just important to understand the facts. I quit my job last year after saving up $10,000, and spent the next 7 months playing online, quitting just before they passed that legislation making xfers to poker sites illegal. I pretty much broke even. If I had to do it all over again, I would have saved up twice as much money first. The month I lost $4200 was really devastating, and winning $3 grand in the preceeding two months didn't help me feel any better. Also, when you lose a grand or two in a day (which I have) it is REALLY hard to keep playing that day, or start work the next day. You tell yourself that poker is a game of skill, but when bad streaks can run 20,000 to 100,000 hands (and they can) it's hard to remember that.

If you want to read the story of someone who decided to go pro and is now fairly successful, I would recommend the poker chronicles.
posted by Happydaz at 1:09 PM on June 18, 2007

Response by poster: Hey guys of course I'm no crazy of quitting my day job because I had a profit of $450! :) Reading all those opinions makes me think that the actual question I wanted to ask was more in the lines of "should I invest more money in poker than the initial $50 and try to make it serious thing, eventually (if wildly successful) making it for a living, or I'd be dead money in doing so?
posted by dcrocha at 1:26 PM on June 18, 2007

BigSky: I disagree about the "fadishness" of poker right now.

Due to the television, poker is more popular now than it has been in the last 30 years, and possibly ever. Actually, the "peak" seemed to be about 2 years ago from my non-poker-playing vantage point. I know I had two trips to Vegas about 3 years apart and it went from "oh look they have poker tables" to "POKER POKER POKER!!!!"

When you have women's book clubs switching over to "Hold 'em Thursdays" and you can buy neatly packaged tablecovers, cards, and chips combo-pack at K-Mart, then you are in the midst of a fad.

Gambling will be with us forever, but there is nothing saying that poker will be the particular flavor everyone prefers the next 5-10 years. In all likelihood, it will be something else.

I would bet (ha!) that at your average local tournament a small minority of people participating had even played the game more than 5 years ago, and only a select few of the them had played before 10 years ago.

The reason poker is so popular right now for people considering "going pro" is because there are an inordinate number of amateur players out there. There are easier pickings than there have been. There's more easy money flowing to those with greater luck/skill.

Basically, when the fad is big gold pocketwatches, there will be more pickpockets. It's the way of the world.
posted by Ynoxas at 2:00 PM on June 18, 2007

The typical way to do this is to buy in small and win/grind your way up in stakes, basically ensuring that you have mastered playing at a given level before you move up, by which time you will have accumulated enough money to be able to afford to move up without having to put in any additional outside money.

Assuming you're an American, between the UIGEA and the demise of Neteller, it is very hard to move any real money around these days online, as Lame_username posted. On a site such as Full Tilt Poker, for example, it would be very hard to deposit more than $4,000 in a single month. That may sound like a lot of money IRL, but in poker terms it's barely a drop in the bucket, and doesn't give you a lot of breathing room if you want to play even some small-to-medium sized games.

To move from the general to the specific, it would probably help to know what games you play (limit? no-limit? Typical blinds?) and how big a shot you are considering. Nothing succeeds like success, so if you deposit $3k and run that up to a large sum, well, you have your answer. Same goes for making your move and losing - the answer will be in the results.

By the way, what were you playing when you won your $450?
posted by mosk at 2:00 PM on June 18, 2007

No one but you can really answer the question about the wisdom of investing more money in your hobby. The safest way to move up in limits is to earn your way up. That will increase your confidence that you know what you are doing with the least risk to your personal finances. If you have the cash and can afford to lose it without being heartbroken, feel free to put up more money.

The main thing I would caution you against is playing limits that are above your bankroll. Poker is a game where a winning player can experience significant downswings due to the quirks of probability and statistics. The only defense is to play at limits where your bankroll is adequate to withstand a prolonged dry spell. I often see players who have been on a roll take their entire poker account and sit down at the higher stakes tables with me. In most cases they are overmatched talent-wise, but even if they were not it is stupid. If all your money is on the table, you are going to go broke if you play long enough. If you have read a lot of books, you will have read this advice, but you may not have listened to it. I'm urging you to listen to it. I know so many famous poker players that you have seen on TV who are completely and totally broke because they didn't listen. Some of them would need to win major six figures to get back to broke.
posted by Lame_username at 2:39 PM on June 18, 2007


The total number of players is irrelevant. What matters is how good the games are.

Poker has gotten very big over the last 5 years and yes, it did peak about a year or so ago maybe even a little longer but these judgments need to be put into context.

Poker on TV is not that exciting and will get old soon if it hasn't already. There's definitely a limit on poker as spectator sport and my guess is it will shrink substantially over the next few years.

Poker as gambling needs to be considered in terms of online and live play. As far as live play goes the games if anything have continued to get easier. I'm going here by report because I live in a poker desert. But I haven't heard from a single strong player that the live action has gotten tougher.

Online poker is a different story. Because players can play 8-12 or more screens simultaneously, the few good players demand a lot more seats at the mid and high limits relative to the ratio of weaker players. The online games have gotten tougher. At some point that will stabilize and the games that you can make $100-200 an hour at (multi-tabling) will be as tough as those that you can make that kind of money live (one table). Although that's not exactly a fair comparison because the skill sets are slightly different. Still, for the money per hour, online is easier. Sure, since it is relatively easy to make money playing online, the growth has been explosive. It will level off, even more than it has. If it becomes legit, online will explode all over again and live action will get even softer. If it doesn't, online will continue to get harder at a slower pace and live action will stay where it is.

Now you probably aren't interested in my predictions, so let me answer directly. People like to gamble, poker is an absorbing, social game with depth. Intermittent, that is random, rewards have been shown in experiments to be the most addicting. Because it is a game of incomplete information and the variance is very high it is easy to think you are much better than you actually are. The amount of information out there actually helps the game. It educates the novice and gives them confidence to play.

Popular gambling games don't change that much. Blackjack isn't a trend, craps isn't a passing fad. Twenty years from now if you're in Vegas, more likely than not you'll be able to bet the hard eight. People have been playing poker a long time. I think you're confusing the social trend, people talking about it at the water cooler, poker being a 'cool' thing to do, with poker being profitable. There's a bit of a connection there but less than you may think.

Poker isn't just popular for people 'going pro', it is popular. Can the game support everyone who claims to be going pro. Of course not, but not all of the 'pros' are winning players, and when the winners are living under the stress of being a pro, some of them won't be able to fade it, and they too will lose.
posted by BigSky at 3:27 PM on June 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm not going to try to answer the question of what path you should take with your life. But if you're interested in finding out if you're a winning online player, Poker Tracker is a great tool. Play 50,000 hands or so. See your win rate.

You might do this already, but if you don't, it's a good way to get information about leaks in your game (if that's your goal) or assess your prospects for moving up (if that turns out to be the road you want to travel).

Also, if you're thinking about playing for a living, you should check out this guy's graph. You probably won't be playing that kind of stakes, but it's upswings and downswings like this that ensure I will never try to be a professional gambler.
posted by jeffmshaw at 4:25 PM on June 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

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