Becoming A Pro Poker Player

THE VLOG, MEET-UP,
LIVESTREAM TRAP

[This is the beginning of a series of articles devoted to people who are considering becoming professional poker players. I should be clear that this covers a lot of folks. Even if you intend poker to be a “second income,” or how you pay for a luxurious vacation, the concepts are the same. The common denominator is you are prioritizing “earning money” over fun, excitement, challenge, social outlet, or any other enjoyable aspect of poker. Of course, every item on that list is a perfectly legitimate reason to play poker, but when you prioritize “earning money,” things change.]

Do you love poker vlogs? Me too. Do you love poker meet-up games (MUGs)? Me too. Do you love livestreams of poker games? Me too.

Meet-up games, vlogs, and livestreams are the best things to happen to poker in the last ten years. Andrew Neeme, Brad Owen, Tim (Trooper97) Watts, and all the vlog creators, MUG hosts, and livestream providers deserve our deepest thanks. Some of them (including at least the three mentioned above) should be in the Poker Hall of Fame.

With that out of the way, if you are a would-be pro, you must be wary of these “poker meets social content” beasts. Why? Because everything you see on the vlogs and livestreams, everything that happens at the meet-up games—that is anathema to the “pro” perspective of playing poker.

POKER VLOGS

If you’re a poker vlogger, you need to get clicks on your content for it to be deemed successful. Playing the lowest stakes game in a room, and folding a lot does not make for a fabulous vlog. No, playing for high (or silly high) stakes, with wild swings makes for great content. Here are some quotes from recent vlogs I watched:

“Folding is boring.” “Nobody likes a nit.” “Usually I only run it once—vlog-watchers like to see carnage.”

Here’s the deal: vloggers are not making training videos. They are providing entertainment, and hooray for them. But if you’re playing to grind a profit, you play differently than you do if you’re providing entertainment (hint: to a pro, a play is not boring or not; it’s profitable or not).

Remember, clicks on a poker vlog can (with skill, luck, and perseverance) produce actual dollars in the form of platform revenue share, merch sales, supporter subscriptions, and other income streams. In that way, a poker vlogger can actually break even (or lose a bit) at the poker table, but make a decent living from that content-based revenue.

The anonymous pro has no such alternate source of income. Every choice they make at (and away from) the table must be based on maximizing profit or minimizing loss. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Bankroll growth and protection is everything. If you bust your bankroll, you are out of business. Choosing to sit in a game 4x or 10x bigger than you normally play is a good way to bust your bankroll.

  • Variance is not your friend. Running an all-in pot once for 500 big-blinds is exciting, and results in carnage (which is good for clicks). Running it twice reduces the variance without changing the expected result an iota. Every pro (pro-wannabe, profit-oriented amateur) should run every all-in pot twice, given the chance.

MEET-UP GAMES

Meet-up games are an absurd amount of fun. They feature bomb pots, multiple straddles, adult beverages, shenanigans, and more adult beverages. In short, they are massive variance generators, overlaid with suboptimal play caused by adult beverage consumption. What could possibly go wrong?

So glad I asked… they often have people playing at stakes for which they are not prepared—strategically, mentally, or financially. Suppose you are a regular, winning grinder in your 3/5 NLHE game. Now your most favoritest vlogger shows up at your home casino to host a meet-up game. But that game is 5/10. With frequent multiple straddles. So suddenly you are playing 5/10/20/40 NLHE on a 3/5 bankroll. When you’re three or four adult beverages deep, and not wanting to be perceived as a nit.

If you are playing for fun, and the potential losses in a 5/10/20/40 NLHE game won’t hurt your IRL bankroll, I wish you fun and entertainment. But if you are trying to grind that 3/5 bankroll into a real 5/10 bankroll, or pay the bills from it as an actual working pro, this is an egregious error.

Now, if the MUG stakes happen to fall within your and your bankroll’s comfort zone, then it may be the equivalent of the Super Bowl and the rodeo coming to town on the same day. That is, you could sit in a game with people playing over their heads, trying to get onto a vlog with crazy plays, and consuming many adult beverages. Instead of making the vlog, maybe you’ll make three months’ rent.

LIVESTREAMS

At this writing, there are a number of livestreams coming from the poker rooms of a certain U.S. state. I won’t say where, but of the 48 contiguous states, it has the largest geographic area. These livestreams are legendary for punching way above their stakes class in pot size. They are also known for straddles that make it halfway around the table, and VPIPs that would be a decent grade on a geography quiz.

Lots of people want to get on these streams so they can get their Warholian 15 minutes of fame. As a poker pro, that’s the last thing you need. You will usually make more profit if your opponents do not know how good you are. Furthermore, guess how you become famous on those live streams? You play like a maniac. You have a VPIP of 80%, you’re raising 84s because it’s your favorite hand, and you’re 3-betting A7o because you can. This makes for good video, and the commentators will love you. They will invite you back as often as you want to play.

The other players will also be happy to see you at the table.

You can be famous on cash games live streams, or you can be wildly profitable. It’s near-impossible to be both.

PICK A HAT

Of course, it’s possible that sometimes you feel like a nut, and sometimes you don’t. Maybe you’re a pro, or aspire to being one. Maybe you’ve promised your husband you’re going to win enough money for that Fiji vacation next year. But by the teeth of Doyle Brunson, sometimes you want to go down to the casino, sip adult beverages, and splash around in a PLO game, even though you’re terrible at PLO. Or your vlogger hero is coming to town and you don’t want to be a wallflower at the party.

I’m here to help.

Get yourself two hats. The first hat is for when you are a professional grinder. It is blank or nearly so. Nothing that will attract any attention or discussion. Tommy Angelo, his hats are absolutely barren of design or logo. The other hat—when you just want to have fun—can be as attention-grabbing as you wish. The logo of the NFL team that is the arch-rival of the hometown team where you are. A hat that says, “I raise” (confirm with the dealer that hats are not binding action).

When it comes time to put your money in your pocket and walk into the poker room, put on the correct hat. Every so often, take off the hat and look at it. That will remind you why you’re in the poker room, and all your decisions will flow smoothly from there. Just like the Hogwarts Sorting Hat, your headgear will direct you to the right place, and you won’t fall into the Merciless Pit of Vlog Despair.


Lee Jones has been in the poker industry for over 30 years. He writes at the Global Poker blog, plays poker every chance he gets, and coaches poker. Has never been a professional poker player. You can contact him at www.leejones.com.