John Tabatabai: Career advice for aspiring poker pro’s

On the back of a losing streak in Las Vegas, John Tabatabai reflects on past mistakes to raise his game. Thing is, it’s not as simple as it sounds…

Recently a friend was asked to contribute to an article in a national newspaper. The story suggested that poker might be a legitimate, alternative career choice for those with the ability to compete at the highest level. When asked if he would recommend poker as a possible career, his answer was, ‘not to anyone I cared about’. Now, given that he’s made a living from poker over the past five years I was interested to know why he responded so negatively.

My friend explained that he’d been on a long losing streak. ‘How many other jobs offer the opportunity to work hard for 14 hours a day and come home with significantly less money than when you started?’ he said. ‘When we started playing, the games were softer and mistakes were easier to recover from. Nowadays, with the standard getting higher, even at lower stakes, the learning curve for anyone not willing to invest time and effort to improve will be an expensive process.’

His comments reminded me of my past mistakes and, given that I’d just endured a terrible run in Las Vegas, I sympathised with everything he said. So it was with some relief that I returned home to London last month. I’d had enough of live poker and was ready to sit back down at my laptop.

In the past I’ve been guilty of carelessly throwing away money, so I made a resolution not to do the same again. My aim now is to play as many hands as possible to even out all the bad luck, while at the same time allowing myself to take the necessary breaks that will ensure I don’t go into self-destruct mode.

Career advisor

I’ve decided that if poker is a legitimate career choice, it must be treated like any other job. My mind and body need to be in tip-top condition and, like any sportsman, I must study my game, cutting out any mistakes – a decidedly more difficult process in poker than you might think.

To explain what I mean, consider the following situation. Player Z joins a table with five other players. In the first hand he’s dealt 9-2 offsuit. Player Z calls a re-raise from the big blind, hits a Two on a dangerous flop, and proceeds to call his bad hand down against the very strong hand of his opponent. The perception of Player Z is that he’s a loose fish who doesn’t know the game. But if Player Z is a good player, this poorly judged hand may allow him to get paid off far more readily in future, than Player Y who waits for pocket Kings or better, and will only make small amounts of money off his big hands or lose big pots when he overplays them.

Although this is a very simplistic analogy, the point is that certain mistakes are +EV; if done for the right reasons they’re not mistakes but tactical manoeuvres.

Poker is not simply a case of playing your cards well; it’s about disguising the truth from your opponents, taking them outside their comfort zones and forcing them to make mistakes. The trouble is there’s no easy mathematical formula that defines the positive effect of certain ‘fishy’ plays, thus making personal analysis very difficult. Right now the best option for me is to ensure good game selection and make use of my various bits of technical data and poker software.

The truth is that the greatest player in the world can lose to the worst player over a set amount of hands. But the greater the number of hands played, the greater the rewards for the better player. I must keep faith in my game and play as many hands as possible to ensure an edge on my opponents – if I didn’t believe I had an edge, this would be the time to quit. But I haven’t come this far to give up!

John is a regular contributor for PokerPlayer magazine which is now 100% free for everyone to read HERE


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