particular hand in the 2008 National Heads Up Poker Championship. A young and mostly unheard of kid "from the internet" named Tom Dwan sat down to play against a giant of the live game with an ego just as big in Phil Hellmuth.
Both players got all the money in early with Phil holding aces and Tom holding tens. Tom managed to nail his two outer on the turn and you just knew that the
Ironically, they actually played each other again the very next year in the exact same tournament. This time Phil knocked out Tom on a cooler however. In a complete reversal Phil had nothing but praises for his opponent this time calling him "the best under 30 player in the world" and "maybe the best all around player in the world."
The most interesting point in the original 2008 exchange for me though was when Phil famously said the following to Tom:
"We'll see if you're even around in 5 years."
Well, it has been 7 years now and Tom Dwan is still a pretty big deal in poker. However, this doesn't diminish what Phil said back then. What he was implying is absolutely true. That is:
Longevity is the true measure of success in poker.
I have been around in this game myself now for over ten years. Even though most of my play has been at the micros I am a big fan of the game as well. I love to railtard me some high stakes action with the best of them!
Over the years I have seen countless names and faces come and go at my stakes and those above it, both online and live. You constantly hear about some guy who is ripping up the tournament scene or killing the cash games. But fast forward a few years down the road and nobody has heard of him.
So what happened?
Variance is a Beast
But even for the few who manage to come to terms with variance (relatively speaking) there is still a bigger obstacle yet. This is the will to truly survive in this game in the long term. There are huge changes that happen in this industry and within the game itself every single year that we have absolutely no control over.
Think of all the American professional online poker players who woke up one April morning a few years ago to find out that they could no longer play in their own country anymore. Think of all the people who had funds in limbo (their entire bankroll in some cases) under the disastrous and criminal former Full Tilt ownership group. Think of the massive changes that have taken place in the way that the online game is played even though it has only been in existence for slightly more than a decade. So many people have refused to evolve and they ended up getting left behind.
This is not even to mention personal life issues that can happen to anyone such as a divorce, death in the family or a major illness. Poker is a game that requires a high degree of focus and emotional control so events like these can affect a poker player's ability to do his/her job much more than the average person.
Built to Last
In my opinion what really separates the few who last for 5 years, 10 years or more is a deep passion and respect for the game.
I am not going to lie. I have almost quit poker several times myself. About 5 years into my poker career I had to ask myself many times what I am even doing in this game. Even though I have had more success than failure in my few shots at mid and high stakes I knew early on that the stress of playing at those limits day in and day out was not for me.
On the flip side, I could continue mass multi-tabling the micros for crazy win rates every day. However, no matter how good you are at these stakes there is only so much money that you can make. I had to ask myself if my time was perhaps better spent elsewhere. I had to ask myself if I still really wanted this.
A few things kept me in the game though.
1. Quitting Poker Meant Getting a "Real Job."
Yikes...who wants one of those?
One of the biggest reasons that I got into this game in the first place was the ability to be my own boss. With online poker I can work when I want and where I want. I was simply not willing to give this up. I would much rather sit around 24 tabling the micros all day for a pretty meager salary by Western standards than go work a 9-5 again for someone else.
You would have to rip the mouse from my cold dead hands...
2. I Found a New Purpose in This Game.
It was around this same time (4 or 5 years ago) that I first started writing this blog as an educational resource for a large audience. For years before it had simply been a personal journal of my ups and downs at the micros and a way to keep track of my goals. In fact for the first 3 years of this blog's existence I purposely never mentioned my screen name even once. I was not looking to be found. I was not looking for an audience.
But then as many people know, around this time a certain infamous website started publishing the results of all online poker players whether they liked it or not. Due to my exploits at the micros, which people could now plainly see, I gained a bit of a following (and even some haters too) almost overnight. I never asked for any of this of course but I figured that I may as well use it in a positive way.
I quickly found out that I actually enjoyed writing about the game and teaching it to others. The nature of the stakes that I am mostly talking about here (NL2, NL5, NL10 etc.) means that a lot of the people who are reading what I say are pretty new to the game. Many of them in fact have never had any success in poker before at all. So it is incredibly satisfying to receive an email or a blog comment for instance where somebody tells you that something you said turned their results around.
I eventually went on to get involved as an instructor at a major training site, offer private coaching and even write two books on the game. All of this definitely re-invigorated my passion for poker because it allowed me to do something that I enjoy (teaching the game) and create another income source as well.
Pro Tip: One of the biggest keys to longevity in poker is not getting burnt out. When all you do is grind all day every day for years like I did then you are just asking for that to happen. This is why when I meet professional poker players these days I often suggest that they branch out more. If you have been around in this game for 5 or more years and had even mediocre success then chances are good that you know a thing or two (i.e., you know way more than 90% of people out there!). And therefore, the chances are also good that somebody out there would like to hear what you have to say and will even pay you for it as well.
3. I Moved to the Other Side of the World
Being from Canada I wanted to go somewhere that is warm, has a low cost of living and I wanted it to be exotic as well. In the poker forums it seemed that everybody was talking about Thailand all the time. And this country also got big check marks in all three of my categories. So a little over 3 years ago I booked a one way ticket from Vancouver to Bangkok.
I soon found out that there is a big huge world out there. I had existed only in a tiny little bubble up until that point. After crossing an ocean I landed in a completely foreign land that was shocking to the senses in every respect. I also landed in a country that is the number one destination on earth for migrant online poker players. Therefore I was quickly able to find plenty of people who "speak my language."
But perhaps most importantly of all for me as a micro stakes pro is that everything was suddenly half the price, a third the price or even less in some cases. I was able to drastically cut my expenses overnight and therefore live a much higher quality of life on the same amount of money. My only regret is that I hadn't thought of doing something like this sooner.
4. I Have a Deep Passion and Respect for the Game of Poker
But as I said before, the biggest reason why people stay in this game over the long haul is a deep passion and respect for the game of poker. This is what has always carried me through all of the ups and downs of my career. I was absolutely obsessed with the game for the first few years and I still am to a certain extent.
I love discussing hands, I love playing the game, I love writing about the game, heck I even still watch poker on TV from time to time! If you truly love what you do then it will always be a pleasure to work at it each day.
Phil Hellmuth was right.
As easy as it is to poke fun at the TV poker pros for their antics (and lack of skill in some cases) many of these guys have indeed withstood the test of time. And this is very much a skill in and of itself. Perhaps the hardest one of all to master.
Being a professional poker player is literally one of the hardest jobs that you can pick to do. Many have tried and very few have truly succeeded in the long run.
But what I do know for sure is that if you don't have a true passion for poker then there is no point in even trying. This game will run you through the ringer, chew you up, spit you out and then do it all over again. You have to be almost sick in the head to some degree to keep going through some of the insane crap that long term variance will throw your way.
And of course this is not even to mention the state of the industry itself, the ever-changing nature of the games and governments trying to mandate what we can and cannot do in the privacy of our own homes.
But if at the end of the day you truly have a deep passion and love for this game and this is really what you want to do, then my advice is to go for it. And don't hold back.
Because maybe just maybe...we'll see you around in 5 years! :)
Let me know in the comments below what you think about longevity in poker. How long have you been around in this game? Do you think it is a good measure of success? If you enjoyed this article please "Like" or "Tweet" it below!