Ah, the dilemma that has eluded many who’ve started this wonderful journey.
A common deterrent for many a poker player in India is the difficulty in convincing one’s family about poker. A society deeply rooted in century-old values (both good ones and bad), was never going to open up to new, uncertain means of livelihoods. Lesser still, one which involves an element of luck. However, before we go blaming our families and traditions for robbing us of the chance to fulfill our destinies of becoming the next Phil Ivey, I wonder – do we ourselves, as poker players, realise and understand what the profession requires?
Treat Poker Like a Job
Before going into the finer nuances of the poker universe, the first thing you should be ready to give to poker is time. And LOTS of it!
Professional players invest anywhere between 6 to 15 hours a day in poker. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? In other words, playing poker is a full-time job. So treat it like one.
Much like other jobs, poker requires you to put in more time as you make your way up to the top. If you wish to compare it with one, then imagine yourself as someone who has recently joined the corporate world in an entry level position. Just as you’d work hard and long to earn promotions, higher pay, and respect from your seniors, you need to put in long hours at the tables and constantly improve your game to move to higher stakes and up the experience ladder to become a pro.
Never forget that, although poker has a smaller learning curve that most other professions, it takes a lifetime to master.
Understand How it Works
“Accordingly to certain poker experts, only an estimated 10 percent of poker players are considered long-term earners of the game”
In a land of sharks, it is imperative that you quickly acclimatise to your surroundings. Understanding where you stand among your peers can go a long way in determining whether you’ll make it in poker or fizzle out.
Poker is unforgiving and as a popular saying goes, “If after 15 minutes at the table, you cannot figure out who the fish is, it’s probably you.” Five winning sessions can be wiped out by just one. A pair of aces can be beaten by a set of twos on the river. Your AK pre-flop all-in might see a board devoid of face cards altogether. The list is endless. It is in situations like these, where those good players are separated from the rest.
There is no rulebook that you can follow and be assured to win. But, that does not mean you start from scratch. Basic principles of bankroll management, skill assessment, table selection (especially online) and hand assessment must be used to improve. Small tricks like recognising which players are better that you and avoiding hands against them, or playing only from position can increase your chances of profiting from the session. These skills, though, are not developed overnight but are honed over time.
If you were to break down the math, then assuming you play on tables of average stakes – say ₹25/ ₹50 for example, the numbers indicate that after accounting for variance, losses and TDS, you are likely to make ₹150 per hour which equates to roughly ₹45,000 per month if you play daily for 10 hours. If you follow Daniel Negreanu’s rulebook, then adding another 2 hours of analysis for every 10 hours of play, you’d be making ₹5,40,000 per year after investing 12 hours every single day into poker. To put that into context, Uber drivers make more.
Now this is not to discourage anybody from playing because after all, you will move up the stakes as your bankroll grows. It is to merely point out that poker takes time and effort and you need to be ready to make those sacrifices if you want poker to be more than just a recreational sport in your life.
A Reasonable Bankroll
The reason for stressing on bankroll is to break the myth that poker is a rich man’s game.
Yes, knowing that you have endless volumes of cash reserves can help in taking risky decisions in the right moments. But that does not mean that it is only the rich folks who win. On the contrary, data has shown that the enormity of one’s bankroll can often be detrimental to a players’ chances of winning as it brings about a false sense of security and carelessness.
Bankroll management is crucial for 2 specific reasons. Firstly, to help you manage your livelihood if poker is your only source of income . Secondly, to help you gauge what stakes you can play comfortably, i.e. where you can play without the fear of going broke if you lose a few buy-ins.
There are many success stories of players who’ve built their bankrolls from scratch via unconventional means. Some have sold their chips on Zynga for dollars on PokerStars while others have come up after grinding on lowly freeroll tournaments and low stake tables. The common lessons they all agree up on, though, is that building a bankroll is not difficult; managing it is.
One hand at a time
Unless you live off playing tournaments on a regular basis, the true source of professional poker income is in cash games. This is because the variance is reduced to an extant in cash games and cash games reward consistency. The idea is to focus on one hand at a time and not hope to amass a lifetime worth of bankroll in a day.
Often dismissed without a mention, patience is a poker player’s biggest strength. It is also the most difficult to master. The best way to think of this is to analyse the job of a goalkeeper at a club like Barcelona. On certain days the Barcelona keeper has nothing to do for 89 minutes due to his team’s superiority over the opposition. However, he has to keep up his concentration for that one moment when he is called into action at the very end, the cost of which might be a draw or loss . Similarly, prolonged durations when you are ‘card-dead’ need to be waited out for that one hand which invariably always comes for you to win big. But, if you bust before that chance or are not concentrating when it does come, then the chance goes amiss in the blink of an eye.
Don’t be an easy read
Great poker players are masters in the art of deception. These players do not worry about the cards they hold and instead ‘play their opponent.’ Deception, on its own, however, is never enough. For, the time honoured tradition of executing a bluff is only successful if you can first approximate what cards or range of cards the opponent is holding. The deception is always an after thought.
The skill to ‘read’ a person comes with time and experience, but the ability to not be read is relatively easier to learn. To do so you must be unpredictable at the table. If you are a straight bat, better players will always make money off you.
Some traits are simpler to counter than others. For example, if you are a quiet player who suddenly starts speaking a fair amount, it gives the impression that you are likely to engage in the hand from a position of strength, thus giving your opponent an easy fold. Or, if you are new to a table, then your chip-shuffling patterns can give away your proficiency at the game. Similarly, if you always check-raise or are a serial limper, you are unlikely to endure too many winning sessions. But mix things up, and you will be able to throw even the best players off.
There are other tells which are rather more difficult to control, such as your sweating and breathing patterns, and these can be overcome in time, but since you are unlikely to face players of such caliber on a regular basis, it would be worth your while to work on the straightforward ones first.
Now you may be asking what all this has to do with convincing your family about poker.
The point was to tell you that that is not what you need to focus on. You, the poker player, need to first convince yourself that you have what it takes to take up the game full-time. That you’ll be willing to do whatever it takes. The day you discipline yourself in poker like an Olympic athlete does before running for gold, your parents won’t need any of the convincing. The results will speak for themselves.
Think of your family’s hesitancy as variance. Over time, that too shall pass.
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