The dream job pt.2

Playing poker for a living sounds like perfection, but it’s definitely not for everyone

There’s a book called Play Poker, Quit Work and Sleep Till Noon. Years after first spotting this I still can’t think of a better life plan.

Turning pro is a dream for many recreational players and each year many try. Sadly the vast majority fail. This is because they’re either not emotionally stable enough, don’t have a big enough bankroll or just won’t be good enough. But the dream of playing poker every day – of a life less ordinary – doesn’t stop many from trying.

In last month’s article I told you my experience of playing poker for a living. This month I talked to two players to give you some different perspectives and advice on making it as a professional. First of all I spoke to Marc Goodwin, a long-term high-stakes player who’s sponsored to enter the biggest tournaments. Then I talked to Caspar Berry, a fellow Poker Night Live presenter, who used to play for a living and has a unique perspective on the game.

Millionaire lifestyle

Marc has been playing poker with the best for over 30 years. He now has a sponsorship deal with USA Poker that ensures his entry into all the major tournaments on the circuit. The sums of money involved would stagger most onlookers. His expenses and entry fees alone for the year total more than $180,000. And that’s only a drop in the ocean – he’s played golf with big-time gamblers like Phil Ivey and Barry Greenstein for up to $50,000 a hole!

Marc’s quick to acknowledge the upsides of being a pro: ‘I really appreciate the change in life it’s given me. I love poker and I love playing poker – it’s not a grind for me. The plus side is that you live like a millionaire. You’re not a millionaire but you live like one. You travel the world, stay in the top hotels, you don’t look at the price of anything when you go out.’

He has the air of a man who appreciates every day he spends doing the thing he loves, but he knows how hard it is to get to his position.

‘I don’t care who you are or how good you think you are, you will lose money getting good. That’s a fact. You have to lose money to improve.’

It’s not easy for the pros either. His figures show that he’s made $180,000 from tournament winnings this year – but his entry fees and expenses total $182,000! Without the sponsorship deal paying his entry into events he would be breaking even – and he’s currently sixth in the European rankings! Clearly the variance on the tournament trail makes profit hard to attain. When you talk to any pro you get an impression of how small the margins are. As Marc puts it, ‘Even at the best of times the very best pros have probably only got a 20 percent edge over someone else.’

As a pro you have to be on your game every time you play – or that edge disappears. And when you make profit you need to look after it the right way. Marc expects many of the young internet millionaires to end up losing most of their money in the long run. His advice? ‘You need to learn how to invest your cash or you’ll give it all back.’

Despite the difficulties of being a pro and the challenge of balancing his family life with the poker circuit Marc wouldn’t swap his life. ‘I don’t know anything that’s better. You come and go as you please, you’re your own man.’

Kick the habit

Caspar Berry once played poker for a living – now he hardly plays at all. It’s still a part of his life; he’s a presenter of TV show Poker Night Live and talks to firms about strategic concepts that originated in the game. So is poker out of his system and why did he stop playing?

Caspar became disillusioned with his job many years ago and found poker as a new career. He wanted something that was a ‘meritocracy, that rewards good decisions.’ Poker gave him control of his life and the feeling his destiny was in his own hands.

He advises that when you turn pro initially it makes it easier to play well, playing for your rent really makes you focus. However, this gets tougher in the long run. Berry says that ‘the accumulation of bad beats during a bad run is hard for everyone – human nature remembers the bread landing butter-side down. The people who step up can handle the deviations better’.

Caspar played with success in Vegas and the north east of England. He found it hard at first, but then as he settled into his new role, the profits came more easily. He didn’t solely play poker though, he interspersed it over a few years with his other job making TV commercials. And this is something he recommends – having another source of income to help maintain emotional and financial stability.

So why did he – as a winning player – turn his back on the game? ‘Boredom and the income ceiling. Taking other people’s money for the first 12 months was great but going to the same poker table every day for years was actually quite soul-destroying.’

Caspar is still proud of his achievements in poker and it was a watershed in his life. ‘In many ways it taught me more about life than the previous 30 years combined,’ he says. ‘I learnt lessons that I now get paid very good money to teach to companies about how to think strategically and make decisions.’

Caspar sounds like a man who’s ‘pokered out’. He admits that he no longer wants to play long sessions at the tables. And his advice to those of you who aspire to turning pro is particularly illuminating.

‘I did it and I have no regrets at all. I owe it everything in fact, and I’d be lying if I said I don’t miss it sometimes when I have to get up at 7am to see a client. But ultimately, if I wanted to go back, I would. In a nutshell I believe that poker’s greatest strength – that you’re not accountable to anyone and no one’s accountable to you – is also it’s greatest weakness: I want a life of contribution not isolation. What I would say is it takes a lot of discipline and self-control. If you don’t display those qualities in your current job you don’t have a hope in hell of having them as a pro poker player.’

Fortunate few,/h3>

I’ll leave you with one thought: people do make it as poker professionals, but they are the very, very few. If you adore poker, if it’s in your bones – if you’re dedicated, stable and good enough, you may make it. But don’t be deluded by the players on TV with fat sponsorship deals – they are the fortunate few.

In the last article I mentioned the value of a poker mentor. My one-time mentor David gave me more information over one dinner than I’d got from 10 textbooks. He told me how to loosen a game and get players on tilt and gambling, and gave me many moves you won’t find written down that gave me an edge. I asked him what made the difference between long-term winners and those that fail in poker. He thought for a while and said something that’s always stuck with me: ‘To win all the time in poker you have to do a lot of things really well… a lot.’

It’s hard, but if it’s your life’s passion that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. And if you do I’ll see you at the tables.

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