Tuesday, November 25, 2014

How to be Famous in Poker and Make Millions

Getting Rich and Famous in Poker
Image: instagram.com/danbilzerian
What does it take to be great in this game? I don't mean just good. Anybody can do that with a little bit of effort. I mean legendary, unforgettable and famous.

Think about the biggest names in poker on the internet and on TV that you know of. They don't necessarily have to be the best at the game (i.e., most skilled). That is a very debatable topic anyways. We don't really have a universally agreed upon scoreboard to rank poker players like there is in many other sports.

Sure we have some indicators for tournaments such as all time money lists but everybody knows that one or two big tournament wins can often be enough to rank you extremely high. For cash games and SNGs the all time results are even harder to track for fairly obvious reasons.

So just think of the people who get the most attention regardless of what you think about their skill level or about them personally. I will throw out some names to help. I am talking about people like Phil Hellmuth, Daniel "Jungleman12" Cates, Tom "Durrrr" Dawn, Phil Ivey, Randy "Nanonoko" Lew, Daniel Negreanu, Doyle Brunson, Viktor "Isildur1" Blom, Phil "OMGClayAiken" Galfond and Dan Bilzerian.

These are some of the very biggest names in poker both online and live in the last ten years. Some are loved, some are hated but nearly all casual poker fans know these names and have an opinion about them one way or another. Most of them are really rich as well.

Poker Fame and Riches

How did these people get there? Well many of them I would argue are indeed outstanding poker players, like world class. It's different with the TV pros because online games are so much more difficult than live. Most of them would stand no chance at similar stakes on the internet. However, no matter what you think of somebody like Hellmuth for instance you still have to give the guy some credit for winning all those bracelets even though most of them were versus small fields full of incredibly bad players 10+ years ago. He is good in his element, live tournaments.

But I am not solely talking about results in this article anyways. I am talking about the way in which these poker players present and market themselves. I am talking about the "brand" that they have created. In this regard Hellmuth is legendary. Don't get me wrong, being great at poker (or at least decent) is a mandatory prerequisite for being famous in this game. However there are often other aspects to it besides skill as well.

What these poker players do better than nearly anybody is market themselves well. What a lot of people forget, especially as you move up in stakes, is that there is a lot of money and opportunity through your success or popularity in poker away from the tables as well. All of these players have capitalized on that extremely well.

From Personal Experience

I don't like to blow my own horn but I can tell you from personal experience that many opportunities arose for me in this game because of my unconventional results at the micros. I obviously can't go into exact detail about all of them but doors open in this world when you are great at something or even just do something totally insane like in my case.

Nobody could believe that anybody would ever play 4 million hands of poker at the lowest stakes and not move up. In reality I actually did play a lot of hands at higher stakes as well but it is better for the story to keep pretending that I didn't. My winrates at the lowest stakes (probably the highest ever) also added some extra flavor to the narrative. It got so crazy at one point that I remember going to PTR (pokertableratings.com) back in the day when they used to track Pokerstars and often seeing my profile listed on the front page beside Phil Ivey and Nanonoko.

I am nowhere close to the calibre of poker player that either of these two are but my profile was one of the most searched in the world for a time because I was doing something that was, way, way outside the norm in the opinion of most people. I didn't particularly intend to do this. I was just being me. Nor am I in any way advocating that it is a good idea to play 4 million hands of poker at NL2 and NL5. However, the opportunities that arose out of it were pretty incredible. I am talking about interest from poker sites, training sites, coaching offers, staking offers, interview requests, joint ventures, you name it.

Even though some of the people who visited my PTR profile were just there to laugh at me and say some nasty things, they ironically opened many doors for me in this game that I would have never previously had by making me suddenly appear so famous. So I actually have to be really thankful of them. As the old saying goes, any publicity is good publicity.

The point of all of this is to say that if you really want to maximize your winnings in this game (again, this doesn't necessarily mean being the best player) then you are going to have to be extraordinary in some way. You need to make a name for yourself either through exceptional skill or in the way that you present yourself (a certain style of play, ridiculous prop bets, an unforgettable personality etc.).

rich and famous in poker
Image: pokerstarsblog.com

Famous For a Reason

Everybody that I named above has it in one of these areas.

Phil Hellmuth: Well known as the "poker brat." His rants in live poker tournaments are famous on Youtube. He is hated by many but watched by all.

Daniel "Jungleman12" Cates: Known as being one of the very biggest online winners in the world in recent years, he is feared by nearly all.

Tom "Durrrr" Dwan: Involved in some of the biggest pots in online poker history. He also has an unorthodox style of play with monster bluffs that have been wow'ing the railbirds in NVG for years.

Phil Ivey: Widely considered to be the best poker player of all-time. The biggest winner in online poker history by a wide margin.

Randy "Nanonoko" Lew: The king of mass multi-tabling online poker. Laughed at for years when he was just learning the game. Now widely respected by many online poker fans and a huge, huge name.

Daniel Negreanu: The consummate table talker and #1 in all time tournament winnings at the time of this writing. Master promoter, loved or hated by many.

Doyle Brunson: Shipping stacks with the cowboy hat for over 60 years, enough said.

Viktor "Isildur1" Blom: The sickest online gambler of all time with zero regard for money. Adored by railbirds the world over even with 3 million in lifetime losses according to highstakesdb.com at the time of this writing. Best known for his epic simultaneous heads up sessions in late 2009 on Full Tilt Poker versus Ivey, Dwan and Antonius with nightly multi-million dollar swings.

Phil "OMGClayAiken" Galfond: One of the biggest winners in online history and widely regarded as one of the best minds in the game today.

Dan Bilzerian: Does this guy even play poker? He will tell you that he has won more money than any other poker player in history. However, he is far better known as the "king of Instagram" for showing off his outlandish life full of guns, girls, sports cars and crazy stunts to millions of adoring followers. Dan only blew up a year or two ago but is perhaps already the greatest example ever of self promotion in poker.

All of these people did something unheard of. They reached well outside the norm and made a huge name for themselves by either being exceptional at poker or by being somebody that everybody just had to watch. They are also all master promoters. Pretty much all of them have been signed by an online poker site at some point or even owned one. Many of them have worked with (or owned) a big name training site. Many of them have written books and have their own website. Most of them are regularly seen on TV and most of them have a strong social media presence as well. All of them are the subject of fierce debate and rampant fanboyism on poker forums around the web on a daily basis.

Treat Your Poker Like a Business

Dusty "Leatherass9" Schmidt (another online poker great from a few years back who I could have mentioned) said it best in my opinion that you should "treat your poker like a business." From the moment that you sit down at the poker table or say something in public such as on a forum or on social media people are categorizing you and making conclusions about you. And as you move up in this game you actually become a brand as well.

This is how it works in every other sport out there so there is no reason for it to be any different in poker. The more success and popularity you gain, the more people will want to know about you and ultimately even pay you for your expertise. So you should find ways to maximize your gains both at the tables and away from them.

You should think about pulling off stunts to increase your popularity. Be the guy who made a prop bet to play 1/2 million hands at NL10 in one month with a positive winrate, be the undisputed king of $5 SNGs, be the biggest winner of all-time at NL50 Zoom etc. Just do something extraordinary or something that people will remember. ChicagoJoey and WCGRider are two huge names now in online poker. Both are exceptionally skilled but they became famous originally because of their crazy and widely publicized prop bets on 2+2.

"Chiren80" of World of Warcraft fame is another great example of this. The splash that he made in online poker a few years back (before quitting the game just as fast) with his crazy personality and brilliant publicity stunts is the stuff of legends. People still talk about the time that he played one million hands in one month and live streamed the whole thing. Pokerstars signed this guy to Team Online Pro for a reason. It wasn't particularly for his skill. I played against him a lot and don't get me wrong he was by no means a bad player. However he certainly was not exceptional either. I am sure that he would even admit the same himself. Pokerstars instead signed him because he brought massive attention to the game.

But I do want to mention that you don't have to do any of this stuff either. Most successful poker players (especially online) are not particularly wild, outgoing characters. I have met many of them in real life. I am not a particularly wild or crazy person myself. If you just want to grind it out and reach the top quietly then there is nothing wrong with that as well. I would suggest having a blog or a social media presence at the very least though so that people have some way of getting in contact with you.

And lastly, if you are just getting started in this game and struggling to find your way at the lowest limits then you really shouldn't be worrying about any of this stuff right now at all. But if being involved in this game on a long term basis is something that is in your future then you should start thinking about these things at some point.

If you have seen some success in this game though and you want to truly maximize your EV then you should start considering the image that you are presenting away from the tables as well. You will get "fans" one day and even some "haters" too whether you like it or not. You will get opportunities to build your brand and make money away from the tables as well. You should embrace this rather than burying your head in the sand and spending all of your time grinding.

What are your thoughts on poker as a business today? Is it something that you think about?

If you found this article interesting or helpful please do me a favor and click the "Like" or "Tweet" button below. Thanks!

Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a poker player, coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes and Modern Small Stakes.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Common Online Poker Myths: Separating Truth From Fiction

myths about online poker
My little poker website here tends to attract a lot of people who are new to the game or who play the lower stakes. This isn't a coincidence. I write mostly about these games after all. And as it has grown in popularity over the last few years I have noticed a fairly significant increase in the amount of questions that I get through email, Facebook, Twitter, 2+2 etc. On occasion I get some pretty goofy stuff. Borderline tin foil hat material in some cases where they are nearly convinced that all of online poker is rigged. Upon a closer examination though, most of the time it is simply due to a misunderstanding of the long term variance in this game. I wanted to address a few of the common online poker myths that I often receive in this article.

I Always Lose Big With Hands Like AA, KK, QQ and AK. 

Well first off you probably don't "always" lose with them. This is a loaded term that gets thrown around much too lightly when we are emotional about something. If you check your poker tracking program it is likely that you actually win a lot with these hands. For instance, here are my results with AA, KK, QQ and AK over my last 300k hands at NL25:

common myths about online poker

The important point to note here besides the $7000 dollars in winnings is the "WWSF." This stands for won when saw flop. I am winning with these hands nearly 2 out of every 3 times that I play them. In fact if I were to take out AK, which misses the flop 2/3 of the time and also is over-represented in this sample because you get dealt unpaired cards much more often than paired cards, the numbers would be even higher.

poker variance

As you can see with AK excluded my winning percentage is now approaching 3/4 of the time. This is by no means a brag. This is pretty typical stuff for anybody. Everybody wins the most money with these hands in the long run. The reason is pretty simple. They are the best starting hands in the game! This is why most people also tend to play big pots with them.

Now something that we need to remember about no limit hold'em though is that our opponent is very rarely drawing dead. Most of the time we don't flop a set, trips or a straight even with a killer selection of hands like AA, KK, QQ and AK. Instead we just have an overpair or top pair top kicker at best. Any two completely random cards are still drawing live here.

So since our opponent almost always has outs and we are typically playing a big pot with these hands it only stands to reason that we are going to lose big with them on occasion also. You know that fish who hit his two pair on you? Well he actually had 5 outs which equals 19% equity on the flop.

is online poker rigged?

Our donkey friend here was a 4 to 1 underdog with two cards to come. Is it really that inconceivable that somebody could win with these odds? People bet on 4 to 1 underdogs in sports all of the time. Why? Because 4 to 1 underdogs do actually win sometimes and they get a great payout for it.

Now poker is different of course because we are not laying our fishy friend here any odds. He is playing for exactly the same pot that we are. He doesn't get a big payoff when his long shot comes through. Herein lies the entire reason why this game is so profitable. No sports bettor anywhere in their right mind would ever accept 1 to 1 money when their team is a 4 to 1 underdog to win. However, in poker they will.

You can't get mad when they win. You also can't be surprised if they win a couple in a row sometimes. Is it really that inconceivable that a 4 to 1 underdog could come through a few times in a row? Of course not. Quite rare but it certainly will happen. This does not mean that they always crack your AA or that you always lose with premium hands.

It just means that you happened to lose with your rockets a few times in a row. This is something which has happened to every single poker player on planet earth who has played any significant amount of hands in this game. Imagine if they had something a bit better like a flush draw:

poker myths

Or a pair and a flush draw which actually makes them a small favorite to win.

dealing with poker variance

You have to understand that your opponent nearly always has outs in this game and just because you happen to have AA, KK, QQ or AK does not mean that you have a license to print money every single time. You will lose sometimes. Sometimes you will lose with them several times in a row in fact.

This does not make them bad hands. In fact if you have played over 100k hands of poker in your career go check your Hold'em Manager or Pokertracker right now and you will almost certainly find that they are among your biggest winners.

They Don't Respect My Raises at the Lower Stakes! I Prefer to Play Against Good Players

No they won't respect your raises at the lower stakes. In fact most of your opponents are only really paying attention to the two cards that they hold in their hand. If they happen to like those two cards (or even just one of them) you could bet your first child's education fund or raise them the equity on your house. It won't matter. They aren't folding.

However, this should be seen as a good thing. We want to play against really bad players who don't fold anything. This is a dream scenario when we finally make a hand because we will get paid off all the way. This is something which good players don't do. In fact, we don't have to have anything close to the nuts to get paid off big versus bad players. Top pair can often be good enough to get three streets of value out of them.

If you can get them tilted (which is easy to do and something that I highly recommend) then getting a huge payoff with a marginal hand is not difficult at all. This is something that is much harder to do versus any competent player.

The idea that you want to play against a better opponent because you can "read them better" is frankly absurd. You will never make anything close to the same amount from a reg as you will from a fish. The fish loses at 20bb/100 or more and even the worst regs typically only lose at 5bb/100 at the very most. And most regs are in fact closer to break even or even winning players. You shouldn't even need to ask who you would rather play against.

Yes recreational players can be frustrating to play against sometimes. You have to accept this. If they didn't get a chance to win they wouldn't keep reloading their accounts and bankrolling the entire industry. Stop trying to put them on a hand. It's a complete waste of time anyways. Just bet when you have it and keep the bluffs to a minimum when you don't. They are easy money in the long run.

OMG Thank You For Your Advice! My Winrate is 57bb/100 Over My Last 1282 Hands! 

That is awesome! And please don't get me wrong, it is certainly a step in the right direction. However 1282 hands means absolutely nothing. In fact let's add a zero and make it 12820 hands. This is still an absolutely meaningless sample size. When you have a huge winrate over a statistically insignificant amount of hands like this it is called a heater. It's fine to do a little happy dance when you hit one. Everybody loves a heater. However, it should never be confused with your long term winrate which is what actually matters.

I often say that you should play 100k hands before coming to any conclusions about your winrate. Something that I read the other day actually has me wondering if this number is high enough though. I was reading the blog of an old poker friend who is probably the winningest NL500 Zoom player in Pokerstars history. He went through a 400k hand break even stretch earlier this year. Yes that is right, 400000 hands (five zeros) without making a dime pre-rakeback. Again, this is one of the absolute biggest mid stakes crushers in the world today.

This is probably the worst break even stretch I have ever heard of for a player of this calibre but this is not the first time that I have heard of a huge winner going through hundreds of thousands of hands without winning. I have had a few stretches well over 100k hands myself.

The moral of the story here is that the long run in poker can sometimes be really, really long. Sorry, but this is just the way it is. 95% of people would quit the game outright if they hit a 6 figure hand break even stretch or downswing. So in a way it helps weed out those who are not really very serious about this game.

OMG It's All Rigged!!!

I used to spend quite a bit of time giving a reasoned reply to these. I would point out that it makes absolutely no sense for a poker room to do anything that would risk them losing the enormous cash cow that is online poker. They already make a bajillion dollars, literally. The new Pokerstars ownership group is a publicly traded company so they release earnings projections and quarterly results. They expect to make gross revenue in the neighborhood of 700 million dollars in 2014. Why on earth would you ever want to put this in jeopardy by rigging a few hands?

Anyways, I would also point out to them that there has been no actual evidence of any rigging on any major poker room that I am aware of in the 10+ year history of online poker. Finally I would inform them that I have looked over the numbers regarding my own EV with samples exceeding 7 million hands and everything looks fine to me.

These days however, I couldn't be bothered anymore. Some people are going to think that online poker is rigged until the end of time. If I even reply at all I will usually just ask them why they even bother playing if it is rigged. Isn't it surely insane to continue playing a game where you think you are being cheated? Or sometimes I just give a ridiculous reply letting them know that my account isn't rigged, sucks to be you!

Anyways, that's all I got for now. Let me know in the comments below if you agree or disagree with my replies to any of these common myths about online poker. If you wear the tin foil hat yourself though then feel free to tell me about that as well.

If you found this article helpful please click the "Like" or "Tweet" button below. Thanks!
Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a poker player, coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes and Modern Small Stakes.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Biggest Key to My Success at the Micros (It Might Shock You)

winning big at micro stakes online poker
I am fairly well known in the online poker world as that guy who has some of the most winnings ever at NL2 and NL5. I almost certainly have the highest winrates ever in these games while 24 tabling. This isn't really meant to be a brag. After all, as I discussed recently, if you are from any Western country (which I am) then your time would probably be better spent flipping burgers than relying on these stakes for any serious part of your income. These limits do represent the very bottom levels of online poker though and therefore getting past them is a crucial step to reaching the higher stakes where some decent money can be made.

However, many people never get to this point because they have problems beating, let alone crushing, the very lowest stakes. This has always struck me as odd. I know that poker is a game where only a relatively small percentage of people actually win big in the long run. But this is NL2 and NL5! I still play these games on occasion today and let me tell you that they are both still a complete circus. Some of the biggest donkeys that you will ever find populate these stakes around the clock especially at NL2. And the regs at both limits are all beginners to put it kindly. They are not good at poker...at all.

So What is the Biggest Key to My Success at These Stakes?

Well, let me first say that the standard line that you will often hear people say of value betting heavily at these limits and not bluffing too much are indeed key. I agree completely and these two things do factor heavily into my success at these stakes. But there is a third rule for me at these limits which gets little fanfare when these stakes are discussed. In fact, I am not sure that I have ever seen it talked about in depth anywhere. As I mentioned, this may shock you so please brace yourself.

I fold a lot.

Yup, a lot of the time when I don't think that I have the best hand (or it's really close) I just give up and let them have the pot. I don't fight for marginal edges in these games because they are not important to my success at all. I focus on what really matters which is making big hands and stacking terrible players. I don't get into "reg wars," I don't make fancy plays very often and if I am in control of the pot (which I usually am) I simply make my flop CBet and then give up most of the time. Thoroughly boring. Terribly un-sexy. But highly effective at these stakes.

But What About Your Red Line?

There has been an absolute obsession with red lines on poker forums and other places for several years now. For those of you who have never heard of a red line it is the measure which indicates your non-showdown winnings in Hold'em Manager or Pokertracker. I have to admit, my red line is not very good. I have posted it on this blog before. It basically goes at a 45 degree angle in the wrong direction. I fail terribly at red lines. Sad face.

However, truth be told I haven't lost a lot of sleep over this. This is because during this period of red line mania I have had my own little private obsession with the green line. Once again for those of you who are not familiar this is the indicator of your total winnings in HEM or PT.

You know, the one that actually matters. 

I fully accept the fact that I will never be the non-showdown bluffing king of NL2 or NL5. My red line is destined to always suffer at these stakes. However, my green line is sexy as hell. It goes at a nice 45 degree angle in the proper direction. I suppose I can live with that.

crushing the micro stakes
But These Are Terrible Habits Aren't They?

Folding in most marginal spots is not a good idea for your winrate at NL10 and higher versus the more competent opponents at these stakes who are more likely to be able to exploit this. But of course you will notice that I have not mentioned these limits anywhere so far in this article. This is because I am not talking about these stakes in this article. Some people have criticized my approach at the lowest stakes because it leads to "bad habits" which need to be changed at higher limits.

My answer to this is always the same. Have you not realized yet that success in poker is all about adapting? When I teach this "keep it simple approach" for NL2 and NL5 here on my blog, in my first book and in my videos I do so because it is the most optimal strategy for success at these stakes. I let my results in these games speak for themselves.

Nowhere however do I claim that you should play like this at NL25 or NL200. In fact I repeatedly say just the opposite. You should battle for marginal spots much more often at these stakes because they are completely different games which require a completely different set of strategies to beat them.

This is part of your job as a winning poker player to be able to adjust to the game that you are playing in to achieve the maximum EV. The play money games offer a perfect illustration of this. For anyone who has ever played fake money poker on the internet you will know that nobody folds anything at all. It's 7 people to the river in every hand. Even if you simply shove preflop you are likely to get a few callers.

So raising it 3x the big blind with AA in play money would be absolutely horrible. The entire table will call and you will be in a very difficult spot postflop with the best starting hand in Hold'em but with a solid chance of now being behind. The optimal play here was indeed to simply go all in preflop.

Would I ever suggest just going all in preflop with AA in any real money cash game? Of course not. People play far differently when there is real money on the line and everyone will just fold literally every single time. Success in poker is about adapting to your opponents. This is why there is no single set of strategies that applies across all limits.

Hidden Benefits of Keeping it Simple at NL2 and NL5

There is another big reason why I suggest folding a lot in marginal spots at the lowest stakes. And I have never seen this discussed anywhere even though it is absolutely crucial to your success at these limits. This is the idea of keeping yourself off of tilt.

Most of the people who play at these limits (and this shouldn't be a shocker) are relatively new to poker. Newer poker players are notoriously bad at managing their tilt. When I talk about tilt I mean anything from the odd bad call on the river to full blown shoving every hand preflop. 99% of people tilt in the former way. However, this still has massive long term implications on their winrate.

I used to run "spew tests" where I would spend an hour or two poring over every single major losing hand of the month and asking myself how much I should have lost in each hand had it played it optimally. I took all of the unnecessary losses and added them together. I remember counting some $800 in spew in just one month when playing heavy volume at NL25.

Yes that's right, 32 buyins down the drain due to bad calls and tilty decisions. Keep in mind that I am also a very experienced player who prides myself on being pretty solid in the anti-tilt department. I don't think I need to tell you how much nicer my winrate would have looked for that month with an extra $800 in the winnings column.

So this is why I suggest that newer poker players simply avoid big pots in marginal situations at all costs. This is because tilt is almost always set in motion by losing a bunch of big pots in a row. When you are constantly putting yourself in marginal spots where your edge is not much higher than a coinflip at best, then the likelihood of you losing a bunch of these pots all in a row is high.

This hidden cost of all of the buyins lost due to tilt when this happens is something that we never really discuss. I have never heard of anyone else running "spew tests" like I mentioned above yet clearly if my results are anything close to the norm, this can absolutely be the difference between winning and losing poker for a ton of people at these stakes.

Winning at NL2 and NL5 is Boring

Lastly, as I mentioned above there is nothing exciting about having big success at these stakes. Many newer players first found their interest in poker by watching high stakes tournament final tables on TV. I did too. These are heavily edited programs (i.e., what you are seeing is 1 hour of the most exciting spots over 12 hours of play). Furthermore, this is final table tournament poker where the money on the line is often massive and the stacks are really shallow.

Neither of these conditions are the case at NL2 or NL5. The money is certainly not massive. Also the stacks in cash games are typically 100bb in online play whereas they might be 40bb at a final table in most live tournaments. This completely changes the way that the game is going to be played. There are going to be way more all ins with marginal hands when the stacks are shallow like this.

Winning at poker in general (and especially at NL2 and NL5) is boring. Even most of these TV pros that you watched grinded away for days just to get to that final table. They never show you this. They will never show you how many times they simply folded their hand in smaller pots and gave up either. Why? Because that isn't exciting! That doesn't boost the ratings. No TV executive in their right mind would ever allow that crap on the air.

But that is what winning poker is actually about. Grinding it out and being disciplined. Losing your ego when playing against the hordes of massive donkeys and calling stations at NL2 and NL5 is vital to your success at these stakes. You can try and play like your favorite high stakes online or TV pro at these limits but I promise you that your winrate will suffer because of it. Keep it simple and profit the most.

If you found this article helpful do me a favor and click the "Like" or "Tweet" button below. Thanks!
Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a poker player, coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes and Modern Small Stakes.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Recent Rake Changes at Pokerstars and How They Affect the Micros Stakes

rake changes at poker stars
Perhaps you have heard by now that Pokerstars has recently decided to increase the rake in many of the games that they spread. Rake is the small amount that gets taken out of a cash game pot or a tournament entry fee by every online poker room and casino on earth. They use it to pay their bills and to make a profit as well.

Poker players tend to get a little bit angry when the rake goes up at their favorite card room. Because frankly, no matter how the poker room tries to spin it, there really is no benefit to them at all. They are basically paying more money to play the same game. This obviously affects their bottom line. So in recent days there has been plenty of rage posting, threats and furious lectures directed towards Pokerstars on several poker forums. 

As is usual in a situation like this though, many of these people have not taken the time to actually consider the implications of the changes that Pokerstars has made. Nor have they considered what Pokerstars competitors are up to. They simply want to go on their rants and fill these threads with nonsense.  

Making Sense of the Rake Changes

So in this article I am going to clear up the facts with regards to what these changes at Pokerstars actually mean for you as a micro stakes cash game player. 

Now I know that there are some people who read this blog who play other formats such as SNGs or MTTs as well as live poker. There are also plenty of Americans who read this blog and unfortunately their government decided to effectively ban them from playing on Pokerstars while on US soil a few years ago. Lastly, maybe you just don't give a crap about the rake at all!

For all of these people, this article is probably not for you. 

The vast majority of the people who read this blog though are micro stakes cash game players and they take the game fairly seriously (i.e., likely to give a crap about the rake). Also, Pokerstars is still the largest online poker room in the world by a huge margin and so any changes that they make are likely to affect a lot of you.

It is Not My Business Where You Decide to Play Online Poker

I want to be clear before I begin that I am fairly neutral in this debate. I do still play a lot on Pokerstars but I also give at least 50% of my action elsewhere these days. I do this for two reasons. Firstly, and most importantly, I often find better games elsewhere. Secondly, and this is more of a personal thing, there are far less distractions at the table when I am able to use a screen name which is NOT "BlackRain79". 

You will also notice that unlike many other poker websites, nowhere on this one am I trying to pimp some poker room off to you just to get a small commission. I do occasionally use an affiliate link when I discuss Pokerstars but in complete disclosure I have pretty much made nothing over the years by doing this.

Why? Probably because everybody plays there already! I will admit that I have been a fan of Pokerstars for many years. I think they have the best software in the industry by a mile, the best customer service bar none and clearly the most action as well. This is why I have no problem linking to them from time to time. 

However, at the end of the day I do not gain anything at all from where you decide to play online poker. Also, while I still think Pokerstars is the industry standard for online poker, I have increasingly spread my action elsewhere in recent years. Therefore, my rampant fanboyism should be minimal. 

Let's Look at the Facts
micro stakes rake changes

These are the rake changes for NL/PL ring games that "PokerStars Steve" announced a few days ago in the main announcement thread on 2+2.

The first thing that you will notice is that there is nothing mentioned for NL2, NL5, NL10 or NL25 at all. These are the stakes where the large majority of people reading this article play at. These are also by far the most popular cash game limits on the internet. 

All changes start at NL50. Therefore, I can only conclude that the complete omission of NL25 and below in the chart above indicates that there are no changes at all for the lowest stakes cash games. Everything that I have read about the rake changes in recent days supports this assessment as well. These stakes are omitted on the chart above because there are absolutely no changes for them. 

So 90% of you could probably stop reading this article right now. However, please do continue on if you want to know more about which games at higher limits are affected, how Pokerstars compares to it's competitors and a cool rant by me at the end. 

How About Higher Stakes? 

Well clearly the rake has increased considerably in heads up (HU) games. The rake cap has doubled at stakes ranging from NL50 to NL2000. The rake cap has in fact quadrupled at NL5000 but I doubt anyone who plays at stakes that high reads my micro stakes blog anyways. At least I hope they don't!

Anyways, concerning the micros, clearly this doubling of the rake in HU games at NL50 and NL100 is worrying. Some people have even gone so far as to predict that "HU games will be dead." I find this a little bit hard to believe since the edge that you have over a fish in these games is so large. But for all of those who do not practice good game selection in HU, these changes will likely affect their bottom line in a pretty substantial way. 

I am not a big fan of these rake changes because they will also have an impact on people who start tables. Many of you will know that I have long advocated this as a good method for finding the fish. Table starters are also just good for the games in general. We don't need 18 people on a waiting list when there are plenty of open tables available which could be in action if somebody would just sit down!

However, once again these changes should not affect the large majority of you to any considerable degree. The rake cap does not change until NL50 and it is really only going to affect the people who play HU all the time. If the only HU that you play is when starting tables, then you will know that it rarely stays HU very long anyways. And as you can see above there are no changes in the rake for 3 or 4 handed play until NL5000. 

How About 6max and Full Ring?

Ok let's finally get to what most of you actually play which is 6max and full ring micro stakes cash games! Once again by referring to the chart above it is very clear that there will be absolutely no changes at all to the rake cap on micro stakes and even mid stakes 6max and full ring cash games. The rake cap does not change in these games until NL5000. 

On a side note, while rake changes do affect all limits, once you get to stakes where you are buying in for $5000 a $2 increase in the rake is pretty unlikely to affect the action to any considerable degree. These games often only run these days when a fish sits or a reg is on tilt anyways. 

Conclusions at This Point

Before I discuss anything else I want to summarize the rake changes at this point for all micro stakes cash game players. 
  • If you play at NL2, NL5, NL10 or NL25 (any format), then absolutely nothing will change for you at all.
  • If you play 6max or Full Ring then nothing will change for you until NL5000.
  • If you primarily play HU at NL50 or higher, then the amount of rake that you pay will go up substantially.
  • If starting tables at NL50 and higher is the only HU that you play, then the rake changes should be relatively minor.
Cool? Let's move on!

How Does Pokerstars Rake Structure Compare to Other Poker Rooms?

pokerstars micro stakes

This breakdown of the new Pokerstars rake structure versus their largest competitors was posted the other day on Twitter by poker player Rupert Elder. Now I have not independently verified all of these numbers myself. However, I have seen a similar story in many other comparisons. Also, Pokerstars themselves have claimed that they still have some of the lowest rake levels in the industry even after the changes. The numbers above clearly do indicate that. 

Oh But the Games at Pokerstars are So Hard!

This has been the battle cry of the angry forum commentor in recent days when faced with these numbers. Everybody seems to believe that it is an immutable fact these days that Pokerstars is the hardest place to play poker in the history of the universe. Is this true? I don't know. How would you even begin to quantify that? Yes, Pokerstars and it's rakeback system lead themselves to way more mass multi-tabling nits than most other sites. 

However, with the sheer quantity of action that Pokerstars provides I don't think anybody could argue that they actually have more fish in total than any other site. Perhaps they are on the low side in fish per capita but when you have close to 8 times as many active players as the next most popular card room, obviously there are going to be more bad players overall. This is why I have stressed the importance of table selection so fiercely on this blog and elsewhere in recent years. People who say that there are no fish on Stars anymore are either seriously lazy or blind.

What About Rakeback?

I don't want to get into a big analysis of the Pokerstars rakeback program versus other sites. That is a topic for another post. However, I think the general consensus has long been that for low stakes and low volume players you are worse off at Stars than most other sites. However, high volume and decent stakes players are better off at Stars than elsewhere. I think this is largely still the case today. 

Pokerstars did recently have an announcement to make regarding changes to their rakeback program for 2015 as well. There is only one change being made and you can read about here. The change only affects Supernova Elite (SNE) players by removing the $5200 tournament entries that they previously received. This is about a 5% cut to their overall rakeback. Keep in mind that only 371 people among Pokerstars millions and millions of player accounts actually achieved SNE last year. And certainly nobody playing micro stakes cash games was among them. 

What to Make of All of This?

Well clearly I am just a Pokerstars shill! Numbers, data, an honest break down of the facts? Where is the irrational anger and outrage? At least call them a few nasty names on the internet!

Seriously though, I do expect some backlash because of this post. That's fine, have at me in the comments below or elsewhere. There are very few people that I have seen in recent days who are willing to stand up for common sense for fear of getting roasted by a few self-entitled and delusional poker players out there. 

I will admit that my tune might be slightly different if the rake changes affected the games that I play in to any considerable degree. I certainly do sympathize with the HU, SNG and MTT players for whom these changes have far wider consequences. 

However, I also think that the point that so many people are missing here is that Pokerstars (and indeed all of their competitors as well) are businesses. They don't actually owe you, I, or anyone else anything. Many people have called the new ownership group at Pokerstars short sighted, greedy idiots intent on a money grab and ruining the entire industry. No, actually they (Amaya) are a business entity making a business decision which happens every day in a million different industries all over the planet.

Look, I am not here to defend or cast blame on the rake changes that Pokerstars has recently decided to make. Nor am I going to offer any opinion on how I think it will affect their long-term business model. God knows we have enough experts on that over at  2+2 already. Me? I am just going to let Amaya run their business as they see fit and leave it at that. 

The reason why is due to the other point that so many people seem to be missing here. We do not have an ownership stake in Pokerstars. Heck, we are not even employees of Pokerstars. We are actually just customers. However we hold a ton of power for one simple reason. If we don't like what we see with one particular poker room, then we will simply move our action to another one. 

If all of the poker rooms decide to make their rake too high for instance, then new sites will emerge to take their business. A perfect real world example of this in recent years is the rise of so called "budget airlines" such as Ryan Air, Air Asia and JetBlue. Many of these companies have made a big dent in the airlines industry by simply offering lower fares than the traditional big carriers.

Online poker is a multi-billion dollar cash cow, which though it may be in decline right now according to some, is not going away any time soon. Believe me Pokerstars is not some monolith that can get away with whatever they want. After closely watching this industry for 10 years now I can tell you that things can change in a heartbeat. 

If you believe that Pokerstars has indeed over-stepped their boundaries here, then you can show them who is boss by simply withdrawing your bankroll and choosing not to play there ever again. Put your money where your mouth is. Sitting around complaining about it all day is just silly. When Toyota raises the price of it's cars do you rant about it on the internet and call them a bunch of nasty names? Of course not! You go buy a Honda instead!

Should You Continue to Play at Pokerstars?

Once again, I am not here to tell you where you should and should not play online poker. As mentioned, I do not actively promote any poker rooms on this website. I have no stake in where you play at all. 

I can tell you that I personally will continue to play at Pokerstars in the foreseeable future because as noted above, their rake structure is still very competitive (if not the lowest) across the industry at least in cash games. Their software and customer support are also still way above the level of their competitors. And lastly, contrary to popular belief it is my opinion that there are still plenty of fish on Pokerstars if you just take the time to look around. 

However, I will continue to spread my action around elsewhere when I see better games, rake structures and rakeback opportunites as well. This is something that I would highly encourage you to do as well. 

Let me know your thoughts on this contentious subject below in the comments even if you hate my guts now. Just keep it relatively civil please :)

If you found this article helpful then please do me a favor and click the "Like" or "Tweet" button below. Thanks!

Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a poker player, coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes and Modern Small Stakes.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

How Much Do Poker Players Make?

How much do poker players make?
Being a professional poker player is kind of like being an astronaut or a rock star to most people. It is such an out of this world idea to them that they are naturally fascinated by those who do it. And with that of course they want to know how much money is involved.

I have to be honest, this question used to annoy the crap out of me! It would always happen at a social event or a party where I was talking with somebody who I had just met or barely knew. Once they got light of the fact that I played poker on the internet for a living, a slew of ridiculous questions would spasmodically begin spewing out of their mouth such as:

"Wow, you can actually make money doing that?"

"So uh...like what's your biggest win?"

And this line of interrogation would always end in the unabashedly blunt:

"So uh...like how much do you make bro?"


In what other alternate universe is it cool to just walk up to a near complete stranger and ask them what their income is? It's not in any of them of course! I would never ask any of my friends (let alone a complete stranger) how much money they make in their jobs as doctors, factory workers, small business owners or social workers. Why? Because nobody asks this question! It is considered taboo in our society. But because I am a "poker player" it is ok in their mind for some bizarre reason.

Alright, deep breath.

poker players and how much money they make
So Like Seriously Though Bro, How Much Money Do You Make?

Just to finish up though, especially for the benefit of other beleaguered poker players reading this. I learned to eventually just get over it after being asked this question countless times. I would either find a way to mess with them or just avoid the subject altogether. Usually the latter nowadays.

Them: "So, like what do you do?"

Me: "Uh...I work on the internet."

Them: "Oh yeah? Cool! Like in what way?"

Me: "Uh...like affiliate marketing, stuff like that. Hey did you see that hockey game last night? Was that something else or what?"

You get the idea. The key is to say something vague about what you do on the internet. A big word that not too many people understand like "affiliate marketing" works great. After that quickly change the subject before they have time to dig any deeper. Hockey often works perfect when I am back in Canada. Ask about the premier league if you are in England, the local NFL or college team if you are in the States etc.

It's even better if you actually do make a little bit of income with something like affiliate marketing each month because then you aren't even lying! But who cares, do whatever it takes to change the subject. Tell them you are a librarian if all else fails. That is guaranteed to kill the conversation real fast!

Anyways, all kidding aside, I understand the fascination that most people have with a career like a professional poker player. After all, it's an exceedingly rare vocational path and most people still consider the game to be straight up gambling (or luck) anyways. So I know that they don't mean any harm with their ridiculous line of questioning. It's just a genuine intrigue with something that is incredibly foreign to them.

This question isn't going to go away any time soon so I am going to do my best in this article to explain exactly how much money poker players make.

Online Poker Cash Games

Alright, so let's get right into it. I am going to talk about what I know best which is online poker and cash games in particular. If you play SNGs or MTTs then this article is probably not going to be overly useful for you. There are certainly plenty of professional grinders in these formats that do quite well for themselves. I am no expert though so I don't want to speculate.

I am not going to say anything about live poker either. Obviously the slowness of the game and the fact that you can only play one table really sucks. However, this is mitigated by the fact that the worst players on earth love to play live poker in casinos. There are many live pros out there who do quite well for themselves I am sure. You would have to ask them how much they make though, because I have no idea.

The Winners

As I have mentioned before in my article about win rates at the micros the first thing that you need to understand is that most poker players actually lose money.

Yes, you heard that right.

Even after rakeback, in the long run as much as 75% of poker players lose money. This is mostly due to the rake kicking in and a lot of bad play.

So only something like 25% of the people who play poker are actually making any money from it in the long run. Further to this, only 10% of people are making anything significant (i.e., are considerably above break-even). These are the people who are mostly likely to "go pro" so I will be focusing on them in this article.

These estimates are partly why I have tried to preach the reality of professional poker on here before. Poker for a living (or a good side income) works great for some people. However, for most people this game ends up being a hobby that doesn't exactly pay so well.

But let's suppose that you are in that roughly 10% of serious winners in this game. And keep in mind that while 10% is a small number in relative terms, when you consider the sheer volume of people who play poker online and in casinos around the world, this is actually a huge number of people. I have met dozens of professional online poker players here in Thailand for instance.

poker player salary
So How Much Do Poker Players Make Already Bro!

Hang on a sec bro! It's not that simple.

We will have to run through some calculations with rakeback added in. I will use a typical volume level for a full-time professional online multi-tabling grinder of around 100k hands a month. If you are playing a moderate amount of tables (8-16) for 4-6 hours each day it should not be too hard to hit this number.

Say you play 12 tables for instance 5 hours a day. If you are playing full ring you can probably expect to get about 70 hands per hour at each table and therefore 840 hands per hour.

70 hands per table x 12 tables = 840 hands per hour.

And this would be 4200 hands per day.

840 hands per hour x 5 hours = 4200 hands per day.

If you play 24 days in a month (so that you have a day or two off every week) then you will still hit your 100k hands a month just fine.

4200 hands x 24 days = 100800 hands per month.

Now what does this actually mean in terms of actual dollar amounts though? Well, we will need to plug in some win rates to go along with these volume numbers. Since we are assuming that you are a serious winner (in the top 10% of the player pool) I will be using the best win rate possible (in my opinion) at each stake with a mid volume approach. All of these win rate numbers were in fact taken from the previously mentioned article that I wrote a few months back on win rates at the micros.

I will also be calculating the hourly by simply dividing the total winnings (table and rakeback) by 120. This is the workload of a full-time grinder playing 5 hours a day, 24 days a month (5 x 24 = 120 hours).

I will also factor in some rakeback. These will be rough estimates based off of my experience with the Pokerstars rakeback program. I will use them as the example here simply because they are the largest online poker room in the world. Pokerstars has a yearly based, volume incentive rakeback program which greatly benefits heavy grinders who play decent stakes. However, it leaves a fair bit to be desired for people who plug away at the very lowest limits. Keep in mind that not all online card rooms operate in this way.

Alright, to the numbers already!

NL2 (0.01/0.02)

Win rate = 30bb/100

[I will run through the math in this example so that you can see how I calculate the table winnings]

When we talk about a win rate of "30bb/100" this means that you make 30 big blinds for every 100 hands that you play. Since the big blind at NL2 is 2 cents:

30 x 2 cents = 60 cents

So in this example (with this win rate) you are making 60 cents for every 100 hands that you play at NL2. Since we are assuming that you play 100k hands a month though, we need to know how much this equates to given that level of volume. To do this you simply take 100k and divide it by 100:

100k / 100 = 1000

We can now just multiply this number by our bb/100:

1000 x 60 cents = $600

So let's see the totals now.

Table Winnings = $600 per month

Rakeback = $50

Grand Total Monthly = $650

Grand Total Yearly = $7800

Hourly = $5.42

Our new inquisitive friend will probably be a bit underwhelmed by these numbers. After all, the hourly is quite a bit below the minimum wage in the United States which is $7.25 at the time of this writing. However, let's not be too bummed out by these figures. After all this is a reasonable living for many people in parts of the world such as Eastern Europe, South East Asia and Central America. If you happen to live in a hut in an African village you would probably be ballin' out of control by grinding NL2 all day! Let's move up the stakes a bit though and see what happens.

NL5 (0.02/0.05)

Win rate = 17bb/100

Table Winnings: $850

Rakeback: $100

Grand Total Monthly = $950

Grand Total Yearly = $11400

Hourly = $7.92

The NL5 grinder (with this win rate) has managed to surpass the minimum wage in the US! Given the fact that he doesn't have to waste any time or money commuting either, grinding NL5 all day is easily superior to flipping burgers!

NL10 (0.05/0.10)

Win rate = 12bb/100

Table Winnings: $1200

Rakeback: $150

Grand Total Monthly = $1350

Grand Total Yearly = $16200

Hourly = $11.25

This is still a poverty line income in nearly all Western countries and this is why it is not recommended that you even think about quitting your day job even if you happen to be the very best NL10 player in the world.

NL25 (0.10/0.25)

Win rate = 8bb/100

Table Winnings: $2000

Rakeback: $500

Grand Total Monthly = $2500

Grand Total Yearly = $30000

Hourly = $20.83

Let me please remind you again that these numbers are based off of what the absolute best NL25 grinders on earth would make in a typical month. The vast majority of people who play NL25 (and win) do not make anywhere close to this amount. However, it should be noted that our prolific NL25 superstar here does make more per year than the average yearly gross income in the following countries: Israel, Greece, Portugal, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Estonia.

NL50 (0.25/0.50)

Win rate = 6bb/100

Table Winnings: $3000

Rakeback: $750

Grand Total Monthly = $3750

Grand Total Yearly = $45000

Hourly = $31.25

You can see that by the time you become one of the best NL50 players in the world you can finally brag to your friends that you are earning a typical Western income. Your gross yearly income is now higher than the average gross yearly income in the following countries (see link above): the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Sweden and Spain. It should also be noted that this is the first limit where it is realistically possible to achieve milestone bonuses on Pokerstars. Therefore, this rakeback figure could be a fair bit higher.

NL100 (0.50/1)

Win rate = 4bb/100

Table Winnings: $4000

Rakeback: $1000

Grand Total Monthly = $5000

Grand Total Yearly = $60000

Hourly = $41.67

If you are among the best NL100 players in the world then your friends will probably be impressed because it is pretty likely that you make more money than they do. Our NL100 superstar here takes home more per year than the average gross salary in the richest countries on earth (see link above) including the United States, Switzerland, Australia, the Netherlands and Canada. Rakeback could also climb significantly higher at this limit due to the ability to gain more and more milestone bonuses on Pokerstars.

Mid Stakes...High Stakes???

Since I have not actively played at NL200 or higher in several years I do not want to speculate any further on the win rates. Clearly though you can see that the best mid stakes grinders in the world will likely take home well over 6 figures per year. This is especially the case when you realize that these are the first limits where one could realistically attempt Supernova Elite on Pokerstars which is worth more than 100k on it's own.

The best high stakes players? It depends how high you are talking about but clearly volume will become somewhat of a problem as these games just don't run that often. Also, at this level there are many non-poker playing endorsements such as getting signed by poker sites, training sites and guest appearances as well. Who knows what these could be worth. You can go check out the HighstakesDB for all of the latest carnage at the nosebleeds.

With a little over two months left to go in the year, they currently list 5 players who have over 1 million dollars in earnings since Jan 1.

poker player income


So what is the conclusion here? Play like jungleman12 obviously.

Ok seriously though, the conclusion here is that yes there is still good money to be made in poker. However, in order to get it you need to be among the best at the stakes that you play and you need to be playing somewhat decent stakes as well.

If by good money we are talking "going pro" then this would mean probably at least NL50 if you are living in any Western country. If you live in a country with a lower cost of living like Thailand, Romania, Hungary, Columbia, Mexico or the Philippines then perhaps you could get by at NL25 or even NL10. If you are reading this from your hut in Africa and you crush souls every day at NL2, then I would consider going pro immediately.

A Couple of Important Technicalities

Lastly, (as pointed out by Rosh in the comments below) it should be noted that in some countries you are not required to pay taxes on poker winnings. This can obviously be a massive boost to your bottom line when most people are shipping 30-40% of their yearly earnings to the government in many Western countries.

Also please note that in the comparisons to regular salaries in this post I used the "average income" in all of these countries. Average incomes are always skewed heavily upwards by the ultra rich. If I had instead used "median incomes" (the point at which half the population make below and half make above) poker would do much, much better versus the salaries in many of these countries.

That's all I got!

Please note that several parts of this article were certainly meant to be taken as tongue in cheek. Please don't send me hate mail. I do think that all of the numbers that I speculated about are pretty accurate though.  That's how much poker players make bro!

Let me know in the comments what you think of these numbers. Do you think there is still "good money" to be made in poker today?

If you found this article helpful do me a favor and click the "Like" or "Tweet" buttons below!

Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a poker player, coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes and Modern Small Stakes.