On a big site like Pokerstars with a yearly based rakeback program which rewards heavy volume the goal is to reach Supernova for small stakes rakeback grinders. By getting to this level they can then trade their FPPs for cash bonuses, hit milestone cash bonuses and get some other secondary stuff like stellar rewards and tournament entries.
Rakeback programs are different on all poker rooms but the end result is pretty much always the same. Play a lot and they will give you a portion of the rake that you paid back. And at some sites like Pokerstars they will give you a higher percentage depending on how much you play and the stakes that you play at.
For many heavy grinders who get to reasonable stakes (typically at least NL25) this can add up to substantial amounts. Thousands per month by the time they approach mid stakes are certainly possible. If they can manage to just stay breakeven at the tables then obviously this is a decent payoff for them. Winrates are often fairly low for rakeback grinders though because when playing this amount of tables it is difficult to give enough proper attention to table selection and making high quality poker decisions.
In the other corner we have the people who I would loosely refer to as "bumhunters." These people play much lower volume. This typically means 1-15 regular tables or 1 or 2 Zoom tables. A much bigger portion of their profit usually comes from winnings made at the poker tables. They tend to focus a lot more of their attention on finding the weak spots and making higher quality poker decisions. They can afford to do this because they free up a lot of time by playing much fewer tables than their rakeback grinder counterparts.
I Had to Decide, Rakeback Grinder or Bumhunter?
|Famous grinder "ElkY"|
About 5 years ago though the games started tightening up. No longer could I just open up 24 random tables at NL25 or NL50 on Pokerstars for instance and expect to print money in my sleep. I actually had to actively table select in order to maintain my previous results. This is not the easiest thing to do when you have this many tables running because your time is obviously limited.
Many of the regs started to gradually get better as well so I had to actually think through hands a little bit more in order to find new ways to exploit them. Again, this is something that works fine when playing 8 tables but not so much when playing 24.
So I eventually got to the point where I had to make a decision. Was I willing to accept a small winrate and big variance while keeping my rakeback rewards or cut the tables substantially and start winning again at the pace that I was formerly used to? For me this was not a very difficult decision because I have been an extremely competitive person my entire life. I play this game to win.
I am not the kind of person who can accept a small winrate with massive variance on a day to day basis. I am well aware that every time I sit down to play poker that I could lose but this should be a rare occurrence in my opinion. With extremely low winrates of say 1bb/100 or 2bb/100 though (which is what most rakeback grinders these days are making) they are probably looking at losing around 40% of their sessions. This is simply unacceptable to me.
So several years ago I did indeed start cutting the tables in a big way and to this day I rarely play on more than 8 at a time. This affords me much more time to find the tables with the fish on them and to make sure that I get the right seat versus them as well. It also gives me the time to dig much deeper into my HUD when I am involved in hands against good regs and find the lines to exploit their weaknesses.
Hello Again #Winning!
But this is just me. You need to decide for yourself how you want to approach this game. Many people are just fine grinding the long hours for rakeback and dealing with heavy variance. If this is you then don't let me persuade you otherwise. Money is money in poker. I don't care how you make it. Rakeback dollars spend just the same as the stack that you took from a fish. If you are able to show a profit in this game (no matter how you do it) then more power to you because you are ahead of the large majority of people already.
Also, keep in mind as well that overall profitability is still higher for most people in small stakes cash games by following the rakeback grinding model. And once you get to mid stakes where Supernova Elite (worth 100K+ USD on it's own) becomes possible on Pokerstars this is just too big of a carrot for many people to resist going after. This is indeed why many professionals still prefer the rakeback grinding model and the long hours and heavy variance that comes with it.
What Approach is Right for YOU?
With 2015 coming up though you should consider what approach that you want to take in the coming year. Because like I said before, some of the big poker rooms run yearly based rakeback programs. Therefore, if rakeback grinding is for you then you should start to plan out your goals early on in the year.
If the bumhunting model is for you though then I think you should start focusing on how you are going to improve in two categories in 2015. Firstly, you need to stay on top of the latest strategies and trends concerning table selection. Finding the fish and getting the right seat versus them has to be a major priority for you at the tables. It needs to be your full time job in fact when playing.
Also, you should spend more time on improving your game because playing against regs is inevitable no matter how elite your bumhunting skills are. This can take many forms. More database reviews, session reviews, quality training videos, books, coaches, forums and poker friends. I want to emphasize the word "quality" here because there is a lot of garbage out there these days. Don't just listen to anybody. Remember that most people actually lose at poker.
Ultimately you need to decide the path that is right for you. While there is likely still more money to be made as a rakeback grinder across the board in today's games, don't expect to crush anything besides NL2 or NL5 nowadays with this approach. What you give up in overall profitability by following the bumhunter model is often balanced out in less obvious ways though by becoming a more skilled poker player overall. There is also a psychological edge to bumhunting as I discussed above that applies to some people (you win more often).
There are clearly pros and cons to both and the ultimate decision needs to be made by you in accordance with your goals and approach to this game. I ran in informal poll the other day on my Facebook page and the results were pretty much split down the middle. I hope this article gave you some food for thought.
If you have any thoughts on rakeback grinding versus bumhunting please leave them below. Which category do you consider yourself to be in? Which is better and why? If you enjoyed this article please "Like" or "Tweet" it below!