Tuesday, 13 March 2007

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For about a year, I considered whether or not I wanted to become a pro. Last month, I posted that I have decided not to do it, and I have basically quit poker, compared to my previous time investment. I was usually playing about 20 hours a week from around mid-2003 until late last year. I am now playing about 20 hours a month.

I have a number of reasons that I have abandoned this plan (and similar reasons have reduced my part-time play, too). It will probably now take me a few months to give all my reasons for this. I'll try to post a reason a week, at least, in no particular order.

A while ago, I linked to Ed Miller's speculations about whether the poker world keeps getting harder. I link to it here again as I think it's probably required background reading for what I'm about to say next.

Game Selection is central to any profitable poker strategy. As the proverb goes, if the seventh best player in the world insists on only sitting in a seven-handed game with the those six better players, that amazing player will be a lifetime loser despite tremendous skill.

I believe that game selection generally tends to ebb and flow. Take a look back over the fifty year history of professional casino-based poker play. (Ignore the roving gambler era since that lifestyle worked for very few.) There are periods throughout where the games were very good and not so good. Now, I'm not talking about the really big games, because I'm relatively sure there are enough stupid rich people in the world to make those games highly profitable forever. And, as the Dilbert Principle states, products that are the playthings of the stupid rich are the most profitable in capitalism.

But, few people will build the bankroll, temperament and the high skill required to play at the high limits. I've met about three people in my life that I thought could actually make it at $100/$200 limit (or $25/$50 blind NL/PL) for the long term. You need a tremendous amount of skill and ability to handle variance to survive. Few people have that.

So, let's assume that as a run-of-the-mill pro, I'd have to figure I'm not in that class of people that can play that high. So, I'm going to settle in at the middle limit grinding — right at that spot where all the grinding pros land. Right where the games are toughest, because it's right at the cusp of where someone can actually make a living. Thus, game selection becomes the chief determinant of success.

During the 1990s grinding it out at limit $15/$30 and $20/$40 was particularly difficult to beat. There wasn't a lot of gambling interest in the game, and there were a lot of strong players fighting over a small amount of dead money. We could easily reach that moment again.

Indeed, in online games, because of the rapid nature of game development and quick movement of dead money in NL HE games, we've found that many sites are almost unplayable at the online “middle limits” of $1/$2-$3/$6 NL. Part of this came from the UIGEA forcing out casual US players, but it was already starting to happen on some sites before that.

Casino games, by contrast, will stay pretty profitable long term, since the popularity of poker has caused one likely irreversible fact: many people who previously enjoyed general casino table games now prefer poker when they visit the casino once or twice a year. There is probably enough dead money at the lowest limits to make them profitable.

Note the emphasis on lowest limits: there will be great games at $1/$2 NL and up to $5/$10 and maybe $10/$20 limit. But, those aren't make-a-living stakes. They are make-some-profitable-extra-income stakes; the same stakes I've been beating all these years and netting amounts always less than $25,000/year for 20 hours/week.

Of course, if you are highly skilled and committed to improving your game, I am absolutely sure you could seek out good games and find them at the middle limits. But, I wholeheartedly believe it would require daily trips to multiple casinos; online poker is not really going to sustain many pros at the middle limits.

Thus, I firmly believe that, moving into the post-poker-boom world, a pro needs to live near a casino Mecca (e.g., Bay Area of CA, Los Angeles area, Las Vegas, or Atlantic City), where that pro can make daily visits to the casino with minimal travel overhead. It's a matter of fact, frankly, that without a wide variety of live middle limit games to choose from, the full-time pro simply won't be able to earn enough to make poker more lucrative than other careers. Certainly, to even match my current Real Life salary (which is a relatively low NGO wage), I'd absolutely need that level of game selection. Relying on what's available online for my daily income wouldn't cut it.

So, since I'm not relocating to those places (I would really dislike living in any of them), I think this is an important reason not to go full-time pro. That leaves the question of how this issue impacts my part time play. I have decided, first and foremost, that for any larger stakes, occasional trips to the casino are likely better than frequent online play for small stakes. The game selection at casinos is basically always good, and I can have a better time and hourly rate as a recreational player and part-time pro if I visit casinos occasionally for trips where I can play 12-14 hour days for a short period of time. It's clear that for the part-time player, online cash game selection is abysmal enough that it is probably not worth the trouble for many hours per week.

That sums up my first reason for not going pro. I hope to write the next installment soon.


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