How do professional poker players play

The tough life of a professional poker player - Matthew Wheat unpacks

Matthew "mindcirkus" Wheat is a professional poker player. He successfully moved from NLHE to PLO and reached the final table of WSOP Event No. 55, $ 10,000 PLO Championship in 2010.

Most people think a professional poker player is the type of guy who sits around the casino and plays cards and makes a ton of money.

In truth, a saying that you have probably heard several times is true: "It's a hard way to make an easy living."

Constantly lost $ 10,000

To clarify what that means, I like to ask people, “Do you have any idea what it feels like to work hard all day and end up losing $ 10,000? That happens to me all the time. "

The feeling of investing a lot of work and still losing a lot of money cannot be conveyed to anyone who has not experienced something like this themselves. Playing high stakes poker is about as stressful as being an air traffic controller with anxiety disorder.

Another problem for poker professionals is that they are not respected by the general public for what they do. Most parents are appalled when their child tells them they want to quit their job or quit college to become a professional poker player.

The truth is, morally, you can disagree about whether it's okay to steal the money from the weaker players at the table, but not about the fact that it takes intelligence and a lot of hard work to become an elite player.

Learn more than you would for a PhD

Those familiar with both high stakes poker and higher education usually assume that you need to learn more and be smarter to be an HSP than to be a PhD.

In the early days of online poker, you could easily make a lot of money without a lot of experience or in-depth knowledge. Nowadays you have to spend a lot of time and also have talent to be able to make a living from any type of poker.

However, for those who have what it takes to be a good player and are willing to put in the time and effort, the reward is a job with virtually unlimited freedom.

A serious issue that is rarely addressed in relation to poker as a profession is the fact that as a player you have to completely decouple money from its real value. A lawyer making $ 500 an hour has a very different relationship to money than a professional poker player making $ 500 an hour.

The explanation for this is very simple: the attorney receives $ 500 for every hour he works. So if he wants to buy something for $ 1000, he knows he'll have to work two hours to get it.

A poker player with an average income of $ 500 an hour has to be playing at fairly high levels where sums of between $ 10,000 and $ 100,000 can easily be lost in an hour. When money comes and goes so quickly, it quickly becomes extremely difficult to manage it moderately.

Most of the players I know don't even think about buying something if it costs less than $ 1000. Such an amount is simply irrelevant to them, there is no emotional connection to the money. It feels like it's free.

As players develop over the years and learn from their mistakes, they tend to be better with money, but the problem potentially always remains.

Find the best games

If you want to play poker for a living, you have to constantly weigh up which game promises the highest win rate for your own quality. That also means that you have to vary constantly. I've seen professionals make the mistake of getting stuck in a game after winning it.

The poker landscape is constantly changing, and games that used to be easy money are now often hard to beat. In 2007/08 I played e.g. B. 20 more tables $ 1 / $ 2 NLHE. Like the other good professionals, I won an average of $ 15,000 a month with skills and knowledge that would be considered on the low side today.

Had I kept playing this game, my income would have continued to decline over time, because it has become incredibly difficult in recent years.

I recognized this development in early 2009 and then invested a lot of time learning 6-max Pot Limit Omaha. I lost money in the beginning, but within a year I was able to get more out of these games than was ever the case with NLHE.

Today 6-max PLO games are extremely hard to beat, it's just like NLHE. Although I am still one of the best players and earn good money, I am now learning other variants so that I am also prepared for the future when it comes time to look for new games.

The highest level for the poker pro

There is a limit to every player - the highest level a player can reach, regardless of how hard they try and how much time and effort they put into their game.

Most players never get to this limit because only a few work really hard and long-term to achieve the optimum.

Every few years there is a major migration of players in the Regs at certain levels. Most regs who played $ 5 / $ 10 two years ago are now playing $ 2 / $ 4 or lower, or have left the tables entirely.

There are a handful of players who have enough talent and professional ethics to beat the same level for years, even though the quality of the players has steadily increased. Some have even managed to advance, but the majority of professional players will soon reach a limit. From then on, your income steadily decreases because your opponents get stronger and are no longer so easy to beat.

Players often make the mistake of leveling up if they win for a while. Most of the time, however, they are not prepared for promotion and are therefore not able to play a league higher. The result is that they end up losing more money than they won before because they hang around in games where they have no business.

The poker world is seen like a food chain: the money keeps flowing until it reaches the best players. The truth is that you should only move up if you beat a level over a long period of time and with a lot of hands AND if you have a large enough bankroll to play in the higher games.

Anyone who takes up the profession of poker player needs a lot of dedication. You have to be there with heart and soul, and that for years. Therefore, over time, self-esteem also depends on success at the tables.

Learn to deal with downswings

Regardless of how good you are, every player experiences phases in which they have to deal with large losses and long periods in which things only go downhill. This can put a heavy strain on a person and throw them off balance, it can completely ruin their life outside of the poker world.

To be successful in the long run, you have to have other interests besides poker. It's important to have a circle of friends to spend time with, hobbies, sports, travel, lots of things that make you feel positive in life and distract you from poker.

Dealing with fraud

With the title of this article in mind, I should add the aspect of poker that most players ignore, or at least don't like to talk about. Anyone who plays poker for a long time will sooner or later be cheated, ripped off or robbed. It doesn't happen as often today as it used to, but there are still cases both live and online and as a gamer you have to acknowledge the reality.

The most common form of fraud is collusion, and it's often quite difficult to spot. Fortunately, it's one of the more harmless forms, so you don't have to worry too much about it.

There are many other ways to cheat a player, too many to list here.

In the vast majority of games nowadays, however, there is no cheating, so the effects on life and career as a player are not permanently affected. It is important to memorize some of the possible scams and always watch out for strange things happening at the table.

The rarest but most dangerous form of fraud is robbery. I don't know how many players will be mugged in the course of their careers, but there aren't that many.

That is why most of them take the position: "I am careful, so this cannot happen to me". No matter how careful you are, there is always some danger.

A couple of examples of what can happen:

  • In 2004, Greg Raymer was pushed into an adjoining room at the Bellagio by two men armed with pistols. The two tried to take his casino chips away from him. If something like this can happen there, it can happen anywhere.
  • In 2009, a well-known online gamer (and genius in general) was the victim of a hacker attack. He lost $ 200,000 before realizing what was going on. There is no prospect of getting the money back.
  • In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a player walking from the casino to the hotel across the street was mugged in the parking lot. The perpetrators took his money, beat him half to death, and then left him naked and unconscious in a room.

While there is a risk that something like this could happen, these types of occurrences are rare. They don't outweigh the benefits of becoming a successful poker pro.

If you love the game and have enough talent to be successful, don't let that deter you from playing poker as a profession. In the end, despite some negative aspects, it is a fulfilling and very enjoyable job.

Just don't forget one thing: "It's a hard way to make an easy living."

- Matthew Wheat,