shipitfish: (partly-cloudy-patriot)

This is my fourth and final post in my series about why I've reduced my poker time to only two or three hours a week, and why I likely won't be pursuing it even as a part-time pro in 2008.

Some people have a view that the point of life is simply to “have fun” or the “pursuit of happiness”. I have a number of friends — most notably W.D. — who hold this theory of life quite strongly.

Despite many debates with them, I simply don't believe this. I believe that human beings have an inherent obligation to make a life-long contribution to society. Perhaps I read too much Kant in college, but the fact remains that my fundamental philosophical life focus goes back almost completely to a single line in the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals I read on the bed of my dorm room my sophomore year: take every action, as if, by acting, that action were willed into universal law.

I realize that many modern philosophers reject Kant as overly simplistic and meaninglessly formalized. I know that some of Kant's work is sophistry to justify Catholic dogma that I've personally rejected. However, I ultimately remain compelled by this concept.

Frankly, I can only justify time spent doing something as frivolous as poker to the extent to which it clears my head from my day job which is focused on improving the world. When I talked about poker not being about the money, I discussed how I got deep into poker as an escape during a burn-out period in my life's mission. That burn-out is over, so I must again focus on it.

I do second-guess this philosophy at times. Once, a player that I met in Boston — a predatory businessman type — told me that he needed to play poker because it fed his preternatural instincts to be the alpha male and destroy his competition. I rejected his concept at the time, because he was generally opposed to causes to help others. Such motivations were deeply focused on his own success in a disgustingly Randian sort-of way.

However, years later, a dear friend of mine, who lives and works every day in the same world-saving movement where I do (and has been in it for even longer), told me something similar, saying: you and I need to play poker to feed our baser instincts since we spend our days focused on helping other people. I took this seriously, because this fellow is one of the people I respect most in the world, and, unlike that other fellow, this guy has the credentials of being someone who spends his days trying to make the world a better place.

So, maybe this “feed your demon” theory of poker is true. Maybe it is the case that poker serves to compartmentalize this kind of competitive focus for everyone. I've always been someone obsessed with competing with himself — comparing my own new results to my old ones and deciding whether or not I've done better. I always try to avoid lining my own accomplishments up against others'. Regardless, even if this theory is true, I still think I want poker to be a passing occasional activity in my life rather than a deep focus. If I have this competitive need, which I somewhat doubt is that strong (even if it exists at all), I am sure it can be served with an occasional game of poker rather than the near constant one I was in from 2002 until early 2007.

shipitfish: (cincinnati-kid-betting)

I had built a list of reasons that I'm winding down playing of poker. I mostly wrote them out for myself, and had planned to make proper entries and post them here. As you might guess, because my decision was that I'd wind down my poker efforts, I have been slow to roll out the posts that explore the reasons that I made said decision.

My first reason dealt with the changing nature of game selection, and the second dealt with the concept that I didn't actually start playing (nor is it worth continuing to play) poker for the money. In this installment, I talk about a somewhat controversial issue, which I have long called the “asshole factor”.

In my many years of playing poker, I've discovered that once you reach “real stakes” — somewhere around $10/$20 in limit and $2/$5 in NL/PL — the makeup of people who play settles to a well-defined group. At the lower limits, you find all sorts of vacationing people, friendly folks, and various people who are just recreational players who don't spend a lot of time in the poker world. It's even fun to meet these new people; I know that I met some interesting characters at River Street, for example.

But, rarely do these recreational-focused players venture up to the middle and high limits. Once you get there, there are basically two types of people: (a) semi-pro or pro players who are moving up in stakes, and (b) assholes. The semi-pros/pros might be great people, but if your goal is to be a pro yourself, you don't want your game filled with these people. So, you're left with everyone else — the assholes. It's a simple fact: in my experience, in these games, with rare exceptions, everyone besides the pros are just plain jerks. I have some theories about this.

First, it's a certain class of people who are drawn to higher stakes gambling (BTW, if you aren't over the idea that poker isn't gambling, you should get over it — you are a gambler even if you only gamble (as I do) when you have the best of it). Usually, these non-pros are going have some set of psychological problems. They might be problem gamblers, or at least have an unhealthy relationship with gambling. And, even if this isn't their primary defining psychological illness, but it's likely that the series of illnesses they have are going to make them not nice people to be around.

Such people are often rude, nasty or otherwise generally unbearable. I've found it worse in east coast games than on the west coast, but it's often generally true everywhere. (This might, BTW, be due to the fact that the recreational player on the west coast gambles a bit higher, and therefore you have to go to higher stakes for the game-makeup to settle.)

Even if I believed (although I don't) that the point of life is to do whatever you want, I'm not sure that what I'd want to do is spend my time around these gamblers. Even the ones who aren't unbearable and are instead actually somewhat funny, aren't worth being around either. They are funny in that sad, pathetic way that makes one sick to one's stomach to laugh with (at?) them.

So, when you see me vacationing for a weekend here or there at a casino, you're definitely going to find me at the low-limit tables. If I'm going to spend my time playing poker, I want to meet some friendly people who aren't complete degenerates or pros gunning for cash.

And, if I don't want to play higher, making myself a full-time pro would be silly, because I can't earn enough at those jovial, friendly games to make a real living.

shipitfish: (Default)

I had built a list of reasons that I'm winding down playing of poker. I mostly wrote them out for myself, and had planed to make proper entries and post them here. As you might guess, because my decision was more or less made that I'd wind down my poker efforts, I have been slow to roll out the posts that explore the reasons.

I've been listing the reasons in no particular order; the first I posted was regarding game selection concerns. The second is a bit more nuanced, and I'll begin explaining it by telling a brief story.

A long time ago, I was introduced to someone whom I'd been told was an avid poker player. I asked her what she liked about poker and her quick answer was: I love poker because I love money. I was taken aback. I then made my usual mistake when I'm well informed on a subject: rather than keeping my judgements appropriately to myself, I blurted out an analysis: You'll never be a good poker player if you love money that much.

Of course, this is a counter-intuitive assessment, but nonetheless correct. I first encountered this idea when reading Doyle Brunson, who has said in many fora: to be a successful poker player, you must have a complete disregard for money (or sometimes saying the value of money). Eventually I came to the realization that this was a big factor in my (albeit small-time) poker success as well.

The fact is, I never much cared about money. I have been extremely poor at times (well, “extremely” when consider in relation to my social class, upbringing, and education level — I make no assertions that at my poorest I'm always have it better than most people in the world; we don't actually live in a classless society). At times when I was “poor”, I (like anyone else would) noticed the lack of money to do basic things like rent an apartment without cockroaches, or to have enough money to afford real pasta sauce rather than buying tomato paste and adding water.

But once I had enough money that I could rent a relatively nice apartment, eat out when I wanted to, and own a nice computer (or, have my employers provide them, actually), there wasn't much left that I ever needed. I just never wanted things. I really always hated possessions. I'm known for hording junk because I hate throwing things away, but I found I was just as happy avoiding acquiring things.

When I started playing poker, it was mainly as a competitive effort with the side-effect of getting free pizza money while in college. When I started playing seriously in the early 2000's, it was as an escape of my “regular community” that I had temporarily become fed up with. But, it was never really about the money.

Money to me always seemed like a meaningless thing. In the late 1990s, while my friends ran off to cash in on the Dot.Com boom, I went back to graduate school to hide from what I saw as over-commercialization of the Internet that I loved. Now, I'm staunchly middle class, I've been lucky to get jobs that don't compromise my principles, and it probably will stay this way for the rest of my life. There's nothing I want in my life that a little more money can buy. I can imagine it would be nice to win so-called “life-changing money”, so that I wouldn't have to ask people to pay me to work on the social causes that I care about. (I'm one of these rare people who would do roughly the same job I do now even if I didn't need the money.) However, making money that doesn't instantly make me independently wealthy simply won't improve my life. I just don't have much interest in being a Ferengi.

I feel that I got into trouble when I started to think about poker as something I needed to do to make expenses. I did increase my expense footprint, and it will require some careful financial management to live without the $1,000/month I was pulling from poker. But I can surely figure out how to reduce my expenses enough to make things work.

But, that's somewhat beside the point. The point is that I didn't get into poker for the money. I did, however, get caught up in the poker boom (ironically, after I'd already explicitly avoided the Dot.Com boom). I'd started to like the fact that easy money was coming my way; I was becoming a little bit a Ferengi. But, that's not something I really wanted; I pretended I wanted it, in a way, to justify not giving up, and after a while I even believed that I wanted it. In other words, I convinced myself I wanted “easy money” to keep from throwing myself into something I valued more. I bought into the myth of EV, which assumes a person's time is only valuable to the extent to which that person produces wealth. I do believe in EV in the mathematical abstract. Yet, the quality of life EV, and the EV of world betterment, are both much more important in the equation than the pure financial EV. This belief is why I refused to take Economics in college; it's why I avoided going to work for a start-up. It's just not worth changing my core principles just to keep playing poker.

In the final analysis, I was using poker as a mechanism to avoid spending as much time in the world I really loved (the one to which my career is devoted), because I was a bit burned out, as many who devote their lives to social causes do. I'm not burned out anymore, and in such a situation, poker serves only as a financial EV calculation. Yet, as I told that avid poker player I once met: one can't possibly be good at poker anyway if it's only about the money. The people who do best at poker love the game — they want to be doing nothing else when they are playing poker. I stopped feeling that months and months ago. It just became about the money. But, no matter what my financial EV is, I can't really justify playing for only that, particularly when I know I'm not going to get financially independent from it.

shipitfish: (poker-not-crime)

I haven't played poker at all this month. Basically, I've quit. I have more to write about regarding my reasons, and I will. I've won about $20,000 already this year, and assuming that Cake Poker actually pays me (they are having huge delays in processing cashout checks; I've been waiting since mid-February), that will be a win comparable to my best years in the past. Why play anymore when I have better things to do?

That said, I'm still going to have my monthly home game, because the usual group are enjoyable people (not the annoying fish you have to put up with at casino and online tables). I've just sent an announcement for this Saturday.

I did my taxes. I read Ann-Margaret Johnston's book, How to Turn Your Poker Playing into a Business. I recommend this book if the whole Schedule A vs. Schedule C issue still confuses you or if you've never filed one or the other. For those who have studied this issue, it doesn't give any new information.

The only piece that it made clearer to me is why everyone is so touchy about this full-time vs. part-time idea. There is one single court case, once, about a professional gambler, that [livejournal.com profile] jhazen has previously quoted in my journal: if one's gambling activity is pursued full time, in good faith, and with regularity, to the production of income for a livelihood, and is not a mere hobby, it is a trade or business within the meaning of the statutes with which we are here concerned.

Added with Johnston's arguments that the IRS gets very suspicious of a Schedule C for any activity that seems fun, this probably accounts for the constant “not full-time” paranoia around the poker world. I believe that this is one court case, and therefore just one criteria among so many. Johnston herself argues that there are lots of criteria considered by the IRS. Frankly, when I'm playing more than, say, 3 hours of poker a week, I enjoy my day job more than I enjoy the poker, so if the IRS wants to see “toil” to believe it's not a hobby, I'll tell them under oath how boring the whole thing is.

Finally, I should note that I nearly had a losing year in poker in 2006. My net profit was a paltry $94.73, as my expenses were somewhat high ($2,105.73). Still, this is much less than I won in 2005. I had forgotten than in January 2006, I was still playing limit regularly at the $15/$30 level and had a bad 200 big-bet loss weekend. So, given that I had to dig out of that hole all year, I am fortunate that I had a win. It certainly didn't help that I spent most of the late summer and fall playing extremely low stakes, wasting time in tiny home games and very small stakes online, too. There's hours of my life I'll never get back.

shipitfish: (Default)

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.

shipitfish: (Default)

One year ago last week, I posted that I hope to be a [full-time] professional poker player ten years from now. I was beginning a ten year plan to become a pro. Theoretically, I have nine years left. But, while I didn't journal much about my thought processes this past year about becoming a full-time pro, I have been thinking a great deal about it.

I spent a good piece of my poker time last year preparing for what became the experiment I conducted for the last month and a half to consider what it's like being a full-time pro. I decided last week to end the experiment. External (i.e., financial) factors indicate that it went well, and it's actually pretty clear to me that if I wanted to, in ten years, I could be a full-time professional poker player. I noted earlier this month that if I were to do it now, I think I'd have to take a substantially reduced salary, but it's likely with constant work on my game over the next nine years, I could get to the point where I'd have a full-time job.

I'm usually the type of person that if I can do something that I had a mind to do at one point, I just do it. In other words, I don't reconsider a plan very often; I'm better at executing those I already have it. But, this is a good case for reconsidering.

I do know that I will probably keep full-time poker in my back pocket as a backup in case for any reason I can't continue the work that I currently do. However, I have now let go of the plans to make it full-time.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be making a series of posts detailing all the reasons that led me to this decision. [livejournal.com profile] roryk is well known for urging me and others to never ever consider becoming a pro; perhaps my posts will help those considering it. Surely, this series of posts will make Rory happy.

I still haven't decided yet what I'll do regarding continuing the part-time professional play that I've been engaged in for the last few years. I admit that I've gotten used to being able to pay some expenses with ease from my poker business. I'm fortunate that I don't have to decide that quickly. I've more than doubled my bankroll in the last month and a half, and I could easily spend the next eight months not playing at all, pulling some expenses from it, and still not have to drop down in stakes if I do start playing part-time again at any point.

What I do know is that I'm done with the plan to become a full-time pro, and that I may be winding down my work as part-time pro as well. I look forward to exploring my reasons here in the next few weeks.

shipitfish: (poker-strategy-books)

I mentioned recently that my lack of entries in January was caused in part by an experiment I was conducting. The experiment actually continues, as I decided to extend it, but I will give a brief report for the standings right now.

The crux of the experiment was to see if I could make enough money to keep my current lifestyle should I play poker professionally full-time rather than merely part-time. An analysis I did last year, showed that playing only 16 hours a week, I was earning at a rate of around $10-$14/hour. Obviously, in my non-poker life, I make more than that, so this part-time job couldn't replace my full-time one at this rate.

So, I began to think about how I could increase the earn rate substantially. One thought was to move up in stakes from my usual $1/$2 and $2/$5 NL/PL (or $5/$10 and $10/$20 limit) to something much bigger. This is a dangerous move, especially if I were to play full-time hours, because I have no history (other than a few short sessions) in bigger games, even if I am adequately bankrolled.

I decided to do some more poker reading and thinking about the game. I looked for a few leaks. But, as I started my month of full-time hours, I still found myself winning around $12/hour in the $1/$2 NL HE games I was playing. It's clear to me that against reasonably strong opponents (i.e., the type who don't often stack off with one pair, and can read situations reasonably well), that's about the best I'm going to get.

So, it leaves two basic choices: move up in stakes, or find better games. I'd eliminated the former, so I was left with the latter.

I had done the first 14 days of the month playing the usual online sites. But, Full Tilt had been inundated with the Party Poker refugee sharks, and the games that were awesome in December ($1/$2, $200 max NL HE 6-max) had become, by mid-January, a constant battle to take money from the occasional weak player. Even Ultimate Bet, the once tight-weak-but-overplay-one-pair paradise has increased in its occurrence of multi-tabling pros. Other than the heads up games there — an extremely high variance form of poker — there wasn't much dead money to collect.

This brought me to around the 14th of January. I thought about focusing to live play. But, the costs are heavy. I could rent a cars (I've vowed to never use Greyhound again) to visit AC regularly, but I couldn't get away from work that easily. (I have a lot going on at my other job right now, too.) The NYC clubs are profitable, but nowhere near as good at the AC games. They are also hyper-aggressive, which leads to more variance.

So, I decided I had to become a online poker game selection specialist. I bought into every site I ever heard of. I sweated games. I found out when and where the really horrible players show up. And, my results improved. From the 14th to the 31st, I earned $79/hour multi-tabling $1/$2 ($200 max), $.5/$1 ($100 max), and occasionally $2/$4 ($400 max) NL HE. Plus, I made an additional $1,850 in online bonuses and promotions. These are results one could live on.

Of course, I don't think these will be typical by any means. I don't seem to have gotten amazingly lucky, it's really that I have found fields with opponents whose knowledge of the game is so abysmal that they cannot help but lose large amounts of money. Such fields are a rare find, and online poker moves and changes so fast (especially given the financial unraveling occurring in the USA), that there is absolutely no certainty that any good games will be available in just a few months.

However, my live sessions in Atlantic City and other casinos show that it's likely that I could probably earn a reasonable living as a full-time pro. Let's assume my results are highly anomalous (one month can't really show you a long term thing), and that if my game selection skills stay excellent, I'll earn somewhere at the halfway point between my historical results and these recent ones. That's certainly being optimistic, but it gives a good “best case” scenario of full-time pro life. If this estimate is accurate, I'd make my hourly rate somewhere $35-$45/hour. That's $75,000 to $90,000 each year, assuming normal work weeks and two weeks of vacation. That's completely without other benefits, of course.

However, even in the best case, when online poker ends, I'd doubt I'll be able to make much more than $50,000 or so a year at it unless my skill improves substantially or the games stay as easy as they are. (I think the latter is highly unlikely, and the former would be a substantial investment on my part). Even if the games stay good, much of the great EV comes from the multi-tabling and fast dealing online. Even $50k/year might be optimistic for live play unless I get much better and move way up in stakes.

I suppose I'm not giving too much about my personal finances away when I say that $50,000/year without benefits and only two weeks of vacation/sick days is not really close to my current lifestyle.

That said, I'm thinking of continuing with the experiment a while longer. I'm curious to see how long I can keep up the win rate. While it leads to very little free time between the two full-time jobs, I'd like to have a go for one more month and see how it works out. I'll keep you all posted, but it'll be sporadic.

Where Am I?

Monday, 29 January 2007 21:14
shipitfish: (Default)

I should have posted about this sooner, but as an experiment, I am seeing what it's like to be a poker pro for a month (maybe more) to see what it's like. So, I'm effectively working two jobs at the moment — my regular one and “poker pro”. One thing I've discovered about being a poker pro is that there is absolutely no time for journal entries (other than in your win/loss journal). That's in part because I've got two, rather than one, full time job going.

I have been doing some poker reading — old school 2+2 titles. I have some interesting quotes I want to post soon, but it requires the book, and the laptop in front of me while playing eight tables. It's hard enough typing this much with all these windows popping up (it helps to have Emacs on one computer and the poker on the other. :)

I'm looking forward to making a big long post about my “month as a pro”. It will probably be boring to those of you that are already pros, but might be of interest to the rest.

shipitfish: (partly-cloudy-patriot)

One of my readers whom I know in Real Life urged me not to start posting again by making the stereotypical blog apologies for a hiatus. So, as a compromise, I'll keep it short: I apologize to my readers for my (effectively) two month disappearance.

I've learned that once-a-day isn't a sustainable post rate for me. I made it work through March, but as I had a busy April and May, I was left with the feeling of “Well, I can't possibly post every day this week, so why post at all?”. I'll try to be more realistic about what and when I can write.

Besides my non-poker life, which intruded quite a bit the last two months, I also made a big change in the last three months. I made a decision to add an additional major monthly financial expense (about $1,100 each month), and I decided to fund that major expense out of poker.

I did this for a few reasons. First, this expense was very important, and I couldn't really find an easy way to fund it from my regular work income. But, second and more importantly to my poker content readers, I wanted to experiment with having to rely on poker income for something. This is a step toward learning to be a professional in more of a full-time capacity; I have to take these steps if I'm going to be a full-time professional by February 2016.

I have to be honest, however. I have not really enjoyed the experience. Once before in my life, I converted my hobby into a career. While I wouldn't change that, because I like my current career much better than what I used to do, I do recall that my excitement, interest, and focus in the area was greatly reduced when I switched. It became “just a job”. The past few months have been a taste of reliving that experience.

With the pressure to pull in a grand a month, I've found that I can't take a lackadaisical attitude toward poker play. It needs to be scheduled, and I have to think hard about when and where to play games. This means, for example, that live (in person) play is generally a financially bad decision! The collapse of the NYC poker scene (that's a bit of a “Chicken Little exaggeration” there, but I'll write later this week on why I call it that), means that there are virtually no good public games going and the private games are either very small (enthusiasts getting together for small stakes) or very big (famous and infamous local games for very wealthy people and local pros). Plus, the overhead of playing live — be it in Atlantic City, Foxwoods, or even in NYC — is extremely high compared to the easy-to-schedule, great and quick game selection, no-tipping online games.

I also have found myself seeking and playing in games that are much below my level because of the ease (and therefore low-variance) of play. For example, sitting in three $0.50/$1 blind games can easily yield me a few hundred each evening when I win, and the losses usually aren't too terrible (in the $50-$100 range for an evening) when I lose. Since I have this specific target of “a grand a month”, this is much safer way to play than seeking the biggest games that (a) my bankroll can handle and (b) I can beat with my best play. But, playing one table like that is generally higher variance and requires more concentration, leaving me not multi-tabling. The choice quickly becomes a no-brainer: multi-tabling against the truly clueless.

I've also found that my frustration level at losses has gone up more when I am relying on the money with a deadline. I find myself annoyed by a mere $100 of loss, which is so little compared to “normal” session variance that I'm accustom to. (Indeed, it's truly nothing compared to what my limit variance used to be — I'll be writing more about NL vs. limit variance soon). When I started experience this “easy annoyance”, I became worried that it would have a negative impact my ability to play well. Any annoyance with a loss can yield problems in one's game. However, with this monthly goal-focused attitude, that annoyance actually leads me play harder. I was pleasantly surprised by my own reaction here, frankly. But, the fact that I've been playing my best game with minimal mistakes for months straight is probably the only real benefit that I'm getting from this goal.

Poker done this way can really feel a bit empty. It's like playing in a holding pattern, where I am confident I'll scrape together that thousand by the end of the month, but my bankroll will stay at about the same level and I'll just keep grinding it out at the same level. I also hate the fact that live play doesn't make economic and scheduling sense in this scenario. I've always enjoyed playing live, focusing on reads and psychology, than being a pure grinder. But, people grind for a reason: it makes easy, solid cash.

The other negative is that my focus on direct monthly profit has made me feel like journaling time is all but wasted. I enjoy writing here, but from a poker-profit point of view, it's mostly dead time. There's no question that discussing poker here has improved my game, but, if I am able to stick to my best game, there's not much more I need to learn to beat a couple of $0.50/$1 NL HE tables for a grand a month.

Just as they have at every step, these facts makes me question whether I really want to do this professionally. I have years to think about that question, and, of course, at the end of those years, the worst case scenario is that I've spent time getting really good at a life-long hobby that has interested me since childhood. Still, I have to wonder if my first instinct about working toward primarily a poker profession was right: “Do I really want to turn my beloved hobby into ‘just another job’ for the second time in my life?“

shipitfish: (foxwoods-stack-2005-08)

I love tax time. Unlike most folks, I rather enjoy filling out my own tax form. I always have, actually; it's a nice way to review the previous year's financial accomplishments. But, it is even more enjoyable now that I'm filing for the second year as a “professional poker player”, since poker income became a non-trivial chunk of earnings in 2004.

It's exciting to have my Schedule C as legal documentation that I'm a winning poker player! I can see clearly in black and white that I'm a winning player. Today, I realized that my direct gross poker earnings from playing in 2005 were $10,028. I had $2,109 in miscellaneous expenses (mostly travel expenses for casino visits), so my net income from pure poker in 2005 was $7,920.

My gross was only $992 more than the previous year. However, since I played much more online this year, I reduced my expenses by $3,392. Thus, I increased my net income from direct poker play by $4,337. between 2004 and 2005!

I am taking a short moment for some pride in this. At one point during 2005, I had a bankroll in the hundreds. (I believe right after my NYC relocation when I raided it for “real life expenses”, my bankroll was little more than $300.) I was staked at that point so I could keep playing at middle limits. (Thanks again, Mystery Man, feel free to take some credit here for the help in comments if you like — you helped me get there!). And, even after paying back the interest on that stake agreement, I came out ahead $7,920 for 2005!

Sure, I haven't lived off that amount of money in a year since I was in graduate school (and that was in one of the cheapest cities in the country). I certainly didn't make enough to go to full-time pro in 2005. But, I also spent weeks in late 2005 playing only rarely due to pressures from my “other job”. I firmly believe that I can go pro if I want to someday, and filling out my taxes reminds me I'm on that path.

Watch for more in my journal about poker and taxes later this week. The guilt trip is on its way! :)

shipitfish: (poker-strategy-books)

I titled my first post ever in this journal, about 15 months ago, ... And So It Begins. I said late last year that there was a big plan coming in January. I'm a month behind, so I wanted to at least say what it was all about:

I hope to be a professional poker player ten years from now.

I do know many people who turned pro much more quickly than this. But, they are mostly young and just out of college or have dropped out (a move, BTW, that I think is a bad one). For me, who has an existing career that I must focus on, I need a good amount of time to adjust to a new lifestyle. Effectively, it will be more of an early retirement more than turning pro.

I've paid close attention to "Should I turn Pro?" advice that has been written by existing pros, such as Daniel Negreanu and Mark Gregorich. I am particularly interested in Mark's points, because he's a middle limit grinder like I would be; I don't expect to be a top pro in the game.

One key point in Gregorich's recent column on this subject is the following: If you can succeed in poker, can't you do better financially elsewhere?. Of all the items I've read about turning pro, this is the most compelling. You have to be sure that being a pro is going to provide a better life than some other career would. To me, this means that I have to work on my poker game so that my hourly rate, ten years from now, matches the hourly rate I'm receiving from my regular job (nine years and ten months from now).

I want to do this because I love poker. I mean, poker is as important to me as doing computer science was when I picked that as my first career. That's an indication to me that it is a reasonable goal to pursue it professionally.

Another point is that I would like to flip-flop hobby/job in my life again. Computer science, programming and Free Software development was my hobby for many years. It became more and more of a job as I got older. My interest in doing it with high enthusiasm waned as it became just a day-to-day job. I realize that as poker becomes less of a hobby and more of a job, I'll begin to feel as I do about computer science now. Poker will slowly become something that I love to do, but not something that I want to do every waking moment I'm not busy with something else. The nice side-effect that I hope to gain, then, is that computer science will again become a serious hobby while poker pays the bills. Indeed, I want to do some serious Free Software development in my 40s while I play poker for a living.

So that's the big news. There's lots of planning to do. By the end of February, I expect to have a basic, extremely rough ten-year outline and a detailed plan for the first six months of 2006. Hopefully, in early February 2016, I'll post here that I've quit my job to play poker exclusively.

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November 2016

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