Friday, July 4, 2008

Reaching Enough

In my years of playing poker - let's face it, they're not that many - I've flirted with the idea of getting rich from this game. Going pro. Making it big. High roller. Living the dream. My romance with this idea is a lot more passionate when I'm running hot than when I'm in a downswing.

Fortunately for me, I run into downswings now and again which make me rethink my stance of leaving a well paid job that I enjoy in favor of sitting alone at home in front of my computer screen for hours every day. I say fortunately, because barring the natural high that comes from running hotter than the sun, I rationally realize that being an online poker pro isn't for me. I crave company, and diversity and coffee breaks with coworkers.

So what do I do with poker? I'm pretty good at it. Not astonishingly so, in any way, but I do okay. I beat limit hold 'em up to $2/$4 online pretty comfortably, and I do okay at $3/$6. I ran into problems at $5/$10 last year and, as much as it hurts to say it, I'm probably not good enough to beat those games at this time. Playing no-limit, I've so far not reached stakes where I didn't feel like I could easily beat it, but then again, no-limit is an easier game to beat. How high will I go?

It's at this point in my train of thought that my mind typically starts racing with the idea of making it big. I mean, I'm beating $100NL today. In a couple of months, I'll move up to $200NL. Practise playing regulars, study some more... Then $400NL, and perhaps in a year I'll play $5/$10 NL, and...

Where does it stop? Does it stop? I've been thinking about that a lot.

Someone else has thought about it, too, and put it in terms of the Peter Principle:

The Peter Principle stipulates that in a sufficiently hierarchial organization, an employee will be promoted to his level of incompetence. The idea being that if you're good at your job, you will be promoted. Sooner or later, you'll be promoted to a job that you're not good at, at which point you will no longer be promoted and simply stay put in a position where you're not useful. My buddy Irexes has reworked the Peter Principle somewhat into what he calls the Irexes Principle, and states that poker players will move up in stakes until they start losing money. Some of these players will see that they're not good enough to beat the stakes they're at and move down again and try to work their way back up. Some other players will stubbornly refuse to move down because they're "a $400NL player" so it eats at their pride to step down to $200NL or $100NL. Some players yet again will lose a large chunk of their bankroll and then do the absolute worst: Move up in order to quickly win it back.

I knew what Irexes posted to be true before I read it, but his thread brought it to the frontlines of my conscious thinking. Shortly after reading his post on the matter, I accidentally stumbled upon a thread on 2+2 (I say accidentally, because I very rarely read those forums and this just happened to be on the front page) that is connected. To save you the time of having to click the link, I'll give you the cliffnotes:

  1. First poster asks the general 2+2 population (at micro stakes no-limit) what changed them into a winning player.
  2. After a little while, someone makes a response that on the surface seems kind of dickish, "Just fwiw most people here are not winning players."
  3. Someone else asks why he thinks there aren't many winning players there.

... and the reply is worthwhile. From the post:

I would say that somewhere around 3-4% of all people who post on this board are winning players, if by "winning" I mean able to sustain a winrate of 5ptbb/100 over a sample of more than 100k hands at any given limit. Actually its probably less than that.

Its does seem otherwise, but think about it - why would someone who is crushing 50nl need to post hands at all? Obviously there are those who come back to help out which is great, and there are the semi-ok regulars who post decent advice. But as far as people who are actually good players, most have long since moved up (and most who do subsequently hit the wall at 100/200nl).

This is the Peter (or Irexes) principle in different cloaking; "People don't play for very long at limits they beat."

And it strikes me as a damn shame. A lot of poker talent is wasted because of an urge to win more with the ironic effect of winning less. The idea of wasting my own poker talent has occupied my mind a lot, as I said, and now I'm approaching what can perhaps be called a conclusion - or at least a formula of sorts.

Some stipulations:
  • I do not want to go pro or make my primary living off of poker.
  • I have a limited amount of time to spend on this hobby.
  • I want to win money.
  • I want to have fun.
The order of priority in this list is not really important, because they're all mandatory. I look at these four items, and then consider this (obvious?) fact: Playing winning poker is a skill that requires constant honing and practise. The lower the stakes, the lesser the need for study. For the sake of argument, let's make up some numbers.

With the current levels of difficulty in beating the online games as compared to my own current skill level, it will take me...

... 1 hour a week of playing to maintain a decent win-rate at $10NL.

... 2 hours a week of playing and 1 hour of studying a week to maintain a decent win-rate at $25NL.

... 4 hours a week of playing and 2 hours of studying a week at $50NL.

... etc.

The investment of time needed per level I move up is not necessarily linearly proportional to the stakes I play; it's quite possible that the investment of time needed to double the stakes is much less than a factor of two. But regardless of what the factor is, it's higher than 1. So higher stakes means more time.

This idea has been bouncing around in my mind for a few weeks now. It means that there's an answer to where my "enough" lies. Where I belong. I have a place in the poker hierarchy based on how much time I'm willing to invest and how smart I am and how much I already know. I may not be able to perfectly calculate this place, but just because I can't calculate it doesn't mean that it's not there.

And I can make some estimation or guess as to where this place might be. I can guess that it's pretty close to where I am now; I only have a precious few hours per week to spend on poker. I might be able to eventually move up comfortably to $200NL but I doubt I'll go much higher than that without being able to put in 15+ hours a week.

Will I feel good about reaching enough? Will I experience inner peace and be content? Or will I feel stuck and rooted and start to think of poker as just a grind? I really don't know.

What I do know is that I'll never reach the upper echelons. It hurts my pride a bit to admit this, because I want to be cool and tough and play big stakes and post about it so people can go "oooh, he's the man." I want to make thousand dollar soulread calls with king high and make a million dollars at heads-up poker. But it's not going to happen. Pride be damned.

So instead of putting in the huge amounts of time required to (maybe) become a poker millionaire, I choose to spend my time differently. The awesome part of it is that by posting about it here, I'm essentially saying "hey, it's not for a lack of skill that I'm not crushing $1k/$2k, it's because I'm busy." And so my pride and ego is preserved after all.

Ahhh, bliss.


WVHillbilly said...

Great post. Should be mandatory reading.

Fredrik Paulsson: said...

I don't know about reading, but it was mandatory writing for me.