Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Rambling on Life, Poker, and Misconceptions of the American Mind

I will get back to finally writing some stuff up on my travels for those that are interested, but I wanted to write a blog that does not necessarily have a direct point and may go off in a tangent.  I have not written (wrote?) one in quite some time, and figured I'd go ahead and put some of my thoughts here as I do not like cluttering facebook with non-important thoughts about life.

Since my last blog, I've been traveling about as usual.  I think I made a pit stop back in New Jersey to attend my college friend Jen's wedding, followed by New York, South Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Vegas, Tel Aviv, Istanbul, and now in the place I am currently residing, Serbia.  It was nice to get away from the grind of every day poker and relax in the US for a few months.  Most people just see my pictures on facebook, or my posts, and they do not realize the amount of work I put in to poker or anything behind the scenes.  This is solely due to me intending to not bore my friends w/ useless posts on facebook.  They get enough of the "today is Wednesday, 2 more days until the weekend" posts, so I try to give them something fun or different to read as they scroll quickly through their news feeds every 10 minutes while at work.

I'm already off on a tangent of some sort, so I'll delve in to the first thing that has been on my mind, the misconceptions about what I do for a living.  Playing poker professionally is construed so differently by the select few that do it, and it is also viewed so differently by varying groups, be it female, male, young, old, or nationality.

1) Old people do not really grasp it, and they relate it to pulling the lever on a slot machine, the questions I get from my grandparents are fun to field and they always give me a good laugh.

2) Males seem to love it, most guys played in poker home games with their friends, and they are eager to ask questions about it.  Most of the questions I field are about fallacies that were implanted in to their minds for whatever reason.  The questions are basic and hard to grasp at times, similar to questions a novice may ask a venture capitalist when starting out, such as how do I know what company to invest in?  Questions like these are so generic and impossible to answer, but I know that people are just being friendly and I try to field them the best I can.

3) Females fall in to two groups, friends like it as it gives me freedom.  While females that are either in to your looks or personality are trying to understand it to a deeper level as they would like someone with a strong career path if they were to date in the future (understandably).  This gets interesting as it is rather hard to convey to people in a good light.

Tangent 2 (or 3) - This is mainly due to movies/television, and what society has ingrained in peoples' minds over their lifetime.  Movies just show some random rags to riches stories while leaving out the learning curve in the middle, or any huge risks taken along the way.  Television on the other hand is basically the World Series of Poker.  These shows are meant to cater to the audience and thus they only show the most important hands in poker tournaments, this is due to them wanting to keep their audience.  In reality, most poker hands end rather quickly with no dramatic result, but this is not shown.  Also, most of the players in tournaments get shown with a big pile of cash in front of them when they win.  I typically get a store along the lines of "O, I have a friend that does that, he once won $150,000!"  This is not the full story though and just another random riches story implemented in to someone's newfound logic on poker.  This is not the case, most of the people who play on television or in live tournaments are completely broke or in debt in general.  There are some exceptions, but in general these players have minimal edges if any, and they overleverage themselves.  For tournament poker, and a $10,000 buy in event, most of the players will sell off action (give other players a percentage of their play, called a stake).  Thus when someone wins a $150,000 prize pool, they typically only win a portion of this, and then pay taxes and debts to people.  For someone buying in to a $10,000 event with all their own money, I'd generally say they should have at least a net worth of $1,000,000 or be smart at shot/risk taking and do this occasionally with only a few hundred thousand dollars to their name.  Most of these tournament players are not disciplined or skilled enough, and with their overall travel expenses, they are unable to turn a profit long term.

I play online cash games, these games are more difficult than live tournaments or any other form of poker and thus have the best players in the World playing in them every waking hour.  However, with online cash games, there is no overhead or extra cost associated with it.  If I have an edge of $150/hour on average as an example, I will make $150/hour long term given that I maintain that edge.  There are swings in the short term, but a skilled player with a large enough bankroll to minimize/eliminate the risk of losing it all, will make that as their hourly.  With the games I play and my bankroll, I have an absolute zero chance of ever losing my bankroll which is nice.

Out of the thousands of successful players in the World (those consistently making > $100,000 a year as a base), a lot of them have life vices like spending too much on partying, risking too much in games they cannot afford to play in, etc.

Back to females - From that long explanation there will be some outcomes here.  You will have your females who have hung out with very successful players in Las Vegas and see it in the eyes of a luxurious lifestyle.  While they may encounter a broke poker player (this is the most common by a long shot), who has convinced himself he is a winning player (as most somehow do even with no consistent winnings to prove this one bit), and thus they will perceive it as a gambling venture with an inevitable bad outcome.  Sadly, that is the most common case and these people are purely gamblers, who do not belong as professional poker players, yet they try to justify it to people. Avoid these people at all costs as they are only trouble and deceitful people.  Lastly, most females will have never encountered a poker player.  In this scenario, it is all about coming off in a good light, if you are honest, have a nice living place, are cultured somewhat, or make direct eye contact consistently, then most females will grasp this and be fine with poker.  Females are much much better than males at reading body language and coming to conclusions very quickly about people. Poker players are taught this same skill set and hone it to a high degree.

WHAT I ACTUALLY DO FOR A LIVING - I have played poker for my main source of income since my senior year at Penn State University some 5 or 6 years ago.  I did this due to a few factors.  As an engineer, I was set to make "x" amount of money upon graduation, and by the time I graduated I was making "y" from poker with projections of "x+(0.05x) per year forward with an engineering job and a projection of "y^w" from poker where "w" portrays an unknown variable that is larger than 1.

Let's look at these formulas in further detail as all of our live decisions should be driven by formulas we can make tangible as 100% of life is math and formulas even if you do not look at it that way:

Engineering path for career earn - we are making

        x + 0.05x from the start, this is assuming a yearly salary increase of 5% per year.

And poker

        y^w per year.

So if (y^w) > x + 0.05x, then we should play poker?

Absolutely not, this does not depict the full story, and this is where people have the most trouble making daily decisions, they are unable to add in additional variable that do not have tangible numbers.

I need to incorporate extra variables for important factors which include:

a) Opportunity cost for future career earn if I decide to leave poker
b) Risk involved with resume gap
c) Potential for more passive income through extra savings
d) There are a bunch more that I am forgetting or leaving out as they are minor and just over complicate the equations

With engineering we get a solid career path with room to be promoted up in the company.  Thus our x + 0.05x will remain consistent, with extra room for more income as the years go by

it may be something like x + 0.05x for 4 years, with room for being promoted which may be incorporated by a variable, somewhere along the lines of

x + 0.05x + (20,000 * 1^(5-z)) where $20,000 would be the average pay jump multiplied by expecting this in year 5 roughly. However, as z increases, the yearly decreases, and with an earlier promotion we make more earlier on.

For poker we have out equation where we need to figure out how our income changes over the years

In year 1 it may be "y"

In year 2, we will inevitably get better at poker if we put in the hours, however others will get better as well as poker becomes more popular and people see it as a high reward profession.

In year 3, even as we have gotten better, there will be so many good/strong players eating in to our income, along with less novice players out there, thus our income may be on a steady decline after this.

We also need to take in to account the risk associated with having a resume gap, represented by variable "s" for this problem

Thus our final formula could look along the lines of:  "y^(1+(w-t)) - s where "w" represents our progression as a player and "t" represents the progression of novices and professionals that eat in to our income.

Sorry for all the math, I kept it basic and inevitably made a bunch of minor mistakes as I tried to breeze through it and keep it simple.

Finally...  if      y ^ (1+(w-t)) - s >    x + 0.05x + (20,000 * 1^(5-z)), then I ultimately could chose poker as a profession.  When it is close the decision could easily be swayed either way.  In addition, I left out a multitude of factors to keep the formulas much more basic.

For myself, the poker scenario was much greater than that of engineering.  If you factor in the freedom, traveling, life experiences on top of it, it made it a no brainer for me (I left these out of the formulas).  I hope this explains it better, this is how all aspects of your life should be approached, and those that are the best at guesstimating unknown variables the best are those that succeed the most in every day life even if they do not look at it from this perspective.

My every day life consists of working more than anyone I know basically, except for possibly the exception of Wall Street professionals, but I'd venture it is close.  I work more on a weekly basis than they do, but I also take off for more vacations inevitably than they do.  I do not post any of this on facebook of me sitting at the computer 10-18 hours most weekdays and 4-10 hours on most weekends as I do not want to bore people.  In all, I absolutely love my life and am so happy I went for the route of self-employment, I would not have it any other way.  However, recognize that I do put in tough work and I have worked very hard at poker to climb the rungs of the ladder, as poker is a game that very few can get good at even if they put all their abilities in to it.  I'd guess that roughly 1 in 100,000 people that actually tried to reach a spot near the pinnacle of poker would fail. It is a risk I took and pushed for and I'm extremely happy at where it has gotten me.

For those who complain about daily life.  Recognize that you can change it, and always be honest with yourselves.  The majority of people in the World are lazy, and how do you expect complaining about your 9-5 to change when you just go through the same routine daily?  You are not creating your opportunity for yourself.  A quote I recently heard is some of the best advice I live by - "Going through the motions is the most disadvantageous thing you can do".  I wrote misconceptions of the American Mind in my title and that is why I am touching on this point.  Most Americans that have not been abroad ever do not realize the amplitude of opportunities that they are exposed to that people from other Nations only dream of.  Most other cultures do not have as many options or nearly the same opportunities to make it huge in industries.  In a lot of other countries I will see so many happier people as a percentage of the population than Americans.  It is not because of their wealth or what have you, but because of their viewpoints on life and what they learn to enjoy.  So do not complain about small aspects of life as those in other countries have no where even close to the amenities you have as Americans and the resources that you have.  Do something different with your life each day that you would have put on the back burner, and see where it takes you...

Leave any feedback here instead of on fb.



  1. Solid blog post. Sadly, most people who claim they are open minded do not even attempt to understand the intricacies of poker. It really is unlike any other job out there. It's a mix of science (research, studying), business (money/finances/investments/charts/roi), psychology - all the while maintaining a zen like state.

    It's very difficult, and the successful players don't get enough credit for how rare and intelligent of a breed they are, due to all the media coverage.

    - jc

  2. Hey Reese!!! Hope all is well!!!! From our prior chats I pretty much had a general idea of what is entailed with your career, but thanks for shedding more light on it.

    I was just wondering if you find it difficult to date or have a long term relationship with someone based upon your traveling or the misconceptions about being a professional poker you give yourself a timeline when it comes to settling down with someone and eventually coming over to the dark side (marriage and kiddies) LOL!!!



  3. Extremely well put JC, a lot of the clouded perception is not really people being ignorant of course, but the way society portrays everything (WSOP coverage), so their exposure is to a completely warped world that is so far from reality that it is hard for them to break that conceptualization.

    Craig - very very funny, it does hurt relationships for sure. I am able to date the same way and stay in a city for longer, although I have to go through hoops and hassles to obtain visas or temporary residencies in that case. Typically you date for a while also and sometimes it takes a long time until you meet someone. With bouncing around every few months and sometimes being in places for just a week, you just don't get to know people well enough sadly. It is a big drawback to poker that I will post about in my next blog. Ultimately, I will be married one day, I just don't know when that day will be.

  4. I play poker on PokerStars, FullTilt, Ipoker, Ongame, Microgaming, PartyPoker, 848, and Merge. For Americans, the only accessible sites are Merge poker and Bovada, although I assume cashing out as an American is difficult

  5. Very nice post touching upon topics which are rarely adressed in the poker community.

    In general I agreed with what you were writing, the only thing which I felt "wrong" was the way you painted the difficulty of this profession. I most certainly believe that every person with a school education can become a winner in poker games given that the person is perseverant, disciplent and self-critical enough.

  6. that's interesting, i've met countless educated people who have tried and almost all failed, probably smallish samples, to reach any where near the top of the poker world though the person has to be at a different level. Absolutely your average person cannot just work up to a very high level, but a very intelligent person should be able to learn to make a small income from it if they put in a bunch of time.

  7. @Nexus, I couldn't disagree more. Your requirements of perseverance, discipline, and self-criticism already eliminate most people. If it was that easy to win, 90%+ of all players wouldn't be losing.

  8. that is extremely true, of the people who could put the time in with their intelligence to get good, the overwhelming majority would not have the other intangibles, mental strength to overcome swings, discipline, tilt issues, laziness, etc.

  9. Good stuff, Reese. Good to hear your perspective on this. I also didn't realize quite how many hours you put in... Was it always that much, or just over the past few years?

    Modeling the projected income flow from poker is tricky. One factor I might try to incorporate would be sudden, randomly-occurring changes of regime from legislative or enforcement events e.g. 2006, 2011, and a positive one in 201X when widespread regulation is complete in the US. All industries experience unpredictable large changes in profitability, but possibly few as volatile as poker. One could also look at poker as a random income stream that tapers off or effectively ends eventually, reflecting the fact that most don't stay in poker full-time forever. Then it's a matter of whether or not the total extra poker income makes up the résumé gap effects.

  10. Thanks for the kind words Mike, I was nervous that you would read my modeling of it as I did it on the fly with going back to proof read it and it has been a long time since I wrote out any formulas. I used to play more actually, and now I relax a little more these days and take more time off. I played more as I was pretty sure that the profitably of poker was going to taper off so I logged more hours back then. I am a better player by far than I used to be, but due to the nature of poker, my income is lower than what it is was. However, I still try to get in good volume.

    As for the modeling advice, that is spot on, legislative ones are big factors that need quite some weight to them, and I look forward to legislation in 201x if it ever comes, I just keep praying that it is nationwide and not restricted to individual states. I believe that will be the case though as the federal government finally realizes the cash cow they are missing out on. I highly doubt they will let that slip away completely to the states.

  11. Interesting post I never really see poker players actually try to put some of these things down in writing. I am assuming one factor that you are constantly thinking about is if/when the masses will switch from poker (Hold'em) to another card game, and what the learning curve of that game would be. I know from brief discussions from AW that some money started flowing into Omaha. Of course, many of the basic strategies will play true for most card games with incomplete information

  12. yes, well you try to optimize your "business" if you are truly a smart business person with it. Thus, it may make sense for me to give up $100,000 in expected earnings from a game over 6 months in order to study another as the future of that game will yield more. I'm always thinking of this way and learning PLO at the moment.

  13. dear Presh: how can i be your friend at fb?