5 Economical Considerations for Poker Players

By Michael Stevens in Poker on June 3, 2019

12

Minute Read

Poker is one of the many games that are simple to learn but require a great deal of time and effort to master. One issue is there are so many things to learn, and master and each table and hand has numerous variables, that it’s not simple. This means that there are millions of variations and decisions in every poker player’s career, whether you play full time or part time.

While every poker player would like to have a straight path toward learning that produces profit, there are too many variables for a simple road map. One of the areas where every poker player needs to make decisions is the economics of the game.

Economical considerations for poker players isn’t as glamorous as learning about starting hands and pushing your stack all in, but it’s just as important. Here are five economical considerations that every poker player needs to be aware of.

1 – Even If You’re a Winner, You Might Be Better off with a Job

Do you know how much you make per hour playing poker? The only way to know for sure is to track your results every time you play. You need to track every playing session, including how much you start with, how much you finish with, and how many hours and minutes you play. You need to include tips, and I prefer to track other expenses as well, to get a true picture of profit.

Of course, you have some expenses involved when you work a regular job, so you should compare them as well when you look at how much you make playing poker and how much you make working a regular job.

I’ve read that a good goal for limit poker players is to win one big bet per hour. While I suppose this is a good goal, the truth is that unless you live in a location with plenty of high limit games like Las Vegas, it can be challenge to find a game that offers big enough limits and soft enough play. In many poker rooms, the highest limit tables might be 10/20, and the highest table tends to have better players than lower tables.

If you play 10/20 limit and win one big bet per hour, that’s $20 an hour. This isn’t terrible, but many jobs pay better than this. Also, do you clear $20 an hour after tips and your other expenses? How many hours per week can you play poker while staying sharp enough to keep your win rate up?

If you play 40 hours per week, a $20 hourly win rate is only $800.

While some poker players try to avoid paying taxes, if you get caught, it can be costly. If you pay taxes, it reduces your income, just like when you have a regular job.

You might think you can play more than 40 hours a week, but you have to be able to find games, and you have to keep your mind and body in good enough shape to win at a high level. And the truth is that poker isn’t fun when you start playing 40 or more hours per week. It becomes much more like a job than a game.

Many good players have switched from limit play to no limit in hopes of improving their hourly win rate. This works well for the top players, but just because you can win at limit doesn’t mean that you’re automatically going to improve your return when you start playing no limit.

No limit gives you the chance to profit more from your opponent’s mistakes, but it also makes your mistakes cost more. Limit play limits your losses and wins, while no limit play magnifies both areas.

The other issue with playing poker instead of having a regular job is the ups and downs of poker. Some weeks you’re going to win a great deal, and other weeks you might not win at all. You need to have a financial cushion to ride the ups and downs, even if you’re a long term winner.

While fewer regular jobs have benefits, you still have to think about health care and other things. Poker doesn’t offer health insurance or a retirement plan. When you’re young, these things don’t seem that important, but as you start getting older, they become more important.

You might be one of the few poker players who are able to play for a living, but the sad truth is that very few are better off playing poker than having a more traditional job. Also, there’s no shame in working a regular job and playing poker in your spare time. Some people are able to supplement their income from playing poker 10 or 15 hours per week while keeping their benefits from their regular job and not playing poker so much that it feels like a job.

2 – The Cost of Freeroll Poker Tournaments

It might seem funny to think that freeroll poker tournaments have a cost because, by definition, they don’t cost anything to enter. But you need to understand something called opportunity cost. Opportunity cost is when you compare the value of doing one thing in comparison to the value you could get if you did something else.

Here’s an example:

If you play in a freeroll poker tournament and end up winning $10 it sounds great on the surface. But if you had to play four hours to get the $10, it works out to only $2.50 an hour. This doesn’t sound as good.

The true cost of playing a freeroll poker tournament must be determined by comparing your time with the possible reward. One way to do this is by dividing the total prize pool for the freeroll by the number of entrants. This gives you an average value of playing in the freeroll.

If the prize pool is $1,000 and the tournament has 1,000 entrants, the average value of playing is $1. Of course, if you win you can get a nice amount, but the odds of winning a 1,000 entrant tournament are slim, even for the best players.

Most freeroll poker tournaments have such small prizes for everyone except the inner or the top few finishers, that most of the time you’re better off working a minimum wage job or playing at a regular cash game than wasting your time playing the freeroll.

Of course, there are reasons why you might play freerolls anyway, but before you enter one, make sure you aren’t better off doing something else. One reason to play a freeroll is to build a bankroll. Another reason is that you don’t have anything that offers a better opportunity at the time.

3 – The Bankroll Size Question

I’ve read so many different questions and answers about how big your poker bankroll should be that it makes my head spin. I’ll give you a few recommendations based on my experience shortly, but there are a couple important truths you need to understand.

  • The first truth is that unless you’re a winning poker player, it doesn’t matter how big your bankroll is. If you don’t win, you have to keep adding to your bankroll from an outside source. This is ok, especially when you’re learning, but too many players worry about how much bankroll they need instead of worrying about becoming a winning player.
  • The second truth is that the perfect bankroll is one that’s big enough to play in any game that offers positive expected value, without worrying about short term variation. Short term variation is when you get your money in as a favorite, but you don’t win. Eventually, you make money if you keep getting in with the best hand, but in the short term, the cards may be against you.

Imagine you walk into a big poker room and are looking for a table that looks profitable. You wander over to the high limit area and see a table filled with drunk business people throwing chips around like they’re pennies. The table is a $5,000 buy-in no-limit Texas holdem game, but it looks like a very profitable game.

You usually play at a $1,000 buy-in no-limit Texas holdem table, and you’re a winning player. After watching the higher table for a few minutes you know you can beat it. But you only have a $10,000 bankroll.

While this is probably enough to play at your normal table if you’re truly a winning player, it isn’t enough to risk playing at the better table. You can’t risk half your bankroll on one buy-in, even if the game is good.

On the other hand, if you have a $100,000 bankroll, you can take advantage of the opportunity at the higher limit table without worrying about your bankroll.

Most of us don’t have an unlimited bankroll, but if you play at games far below your bankroll, you can afford to take shots at higher games from time to time.

The other option is to have two separate bankrolls.

Have your normal bankroll for normal play, and also have a secondary bankroll just for taking shots at higher limits sometimes.

My recommendation is to have at least 30 times your normal by in for no limit cash games and all tournaments and at least 300 big bets for limit cash games. These recommendations are high, but you don’t ever want to worry about your bankroll while you’re playing.

The truth is that if you’re a winning player and do a good job picking games with weak opponents, you can get by with much smaller bankroll amounts. But you need to develop your own guidelines with experience. You also need to consider how easy it is for you to rebuild your bankroll if it takes a big hit, and how you deal with going broke mentally.

4 – Limit, Pot Limit, or No Limit

I often have beginning poker players ask if they should play limit or no limit Texas holdem. You don’t find many pot limit holdem games, but you do find Omaha and 7 card stud games in pot limit.

While I do have some advice to offer about this to beginning players, the first thing I say is that this is the wrong question. The question should be which game and structure gives you the best chance to win and improve your game?

Many players want to play Texas holdem because that’s what they see on television. While holdem is the most popular game, it doesn’t always offer the best chance to win for beginning players. Sometimes an Omaha or stud game is more profitable.

When you have to decide between limit, pot limit, and no limit tables, you should choose the one that offers the best chance to win. As I discussed earlier, limit games limit the cost of your mistakes, but also limit the profit you make from your opponent’s mistakes.

I recommend that new players learn how to beat limit games before moving to pot limit and no limit tables. You’re going to make mistakes, especially as you’re learning. Even seasoned professional poker players make mistakes.

Once you learn how to consistently beat the limit tables of your chosen game, try the no limit tables. You might find that that the limit tables are more profitable than the no limit tables, and there’s no shame in this. This is actually a good thing to learn.

Limit games are easier to break down to straight mathematical play than no limit games. With enough work and proper game selection, you can basically lock in a long term profit playing limit poker. Once you learn everything you need to know, your play becomes almost mechanical. It’s nice to reach this point, but it also becomes somewhat boring.

While you can also use the same type of mathematical analysis and play in pot limit and no limit, it’s harder than doing it playing limit poker.

5 – Do You Really Want to Win?

The main reason I like poker is because the results I get are 100%in my control. This might sound wrong, but the truth is that if I play more hands correctly than I play incorrectly, I make a long term profit. Anything can happen on an individual plan, but if I get my money in as a statistical favorite most of the time I make money.

The results of any hand don’t matter, as long as you make the right play.

Here’s an example:

After the turn in a no-limit Texas holdem game, your opponent pushes his last $100 in chips into a pot that has $500 in it. You have the top set, and the board doesn’t have a possible straight or flush. The board does have two suited cards, and it’s possible that your opponent is drawing to a straight.

You call the bet, and your opponent turns over a flush draw. You’re holding one of his possible flush outs, and even if he hits a flush if it pairs a board card, you still win with a full house. The decision you had to make after the turn was whether or not to call the all-in bet. It was an easy decision because you had the best possible hand at the time.

Let’s look at the two possible outcomes in this hand. When you win the hand, you win the entire pot of $700. When you lose the hand, you lose the entire pot. These are the only two possibilities. In the long run, it doesn’t matter if you win or lose this hand, because if you play this hand hundreds of times, you’re going to show a long term profit.

Here are the numbers:

You have the king of spades and king of clubs. Your opponent has the ace of spades and the two of spades. The board has the king of diamonds, the jack of spades, the eight of hearts, and the three of spades. If the eight of spades hits on the river, your opponent completes a flush, but you win with a full house. This leaves seven spades that can hit to win the hand for your opponent. Every other card in the deck wins the hand for you.

Including your hole cards, your opponent’s hole cards, and the four board cards, the deck of unseen cards has 44 possibilities. This means that if you play this hand 44 times with an even distribution of cards, you win the hand 37 out of 44 times, and your opponent wins seven out of 44 times. This means you win this hand a little over 84% of the time.

Over any set of 44 hands, the numbers will vary a little, but over thousands of hands the numbers always play out correctly. This shows why you have control over your poker results. All you have to do is make better decisions than your opponents to show a profit. And the best news is that you don’t have to make better decisions by a wide margin.

On average, poker players make the right decision 50% of the time. If you can improve your decision-making process at the poker player to making the right decision 55% or more of the time, you can be a long term winner.

I love being in control. I think most people are the same.

But most poker players don’t think they have much control of their results.

They think their results are based on luck, so they don’t do what they need to do to improve.

The first thing you need to do if you want to be a winning poker player is to start taking 100% responsibility for your results. You control your long term profits, not luck. Once you take responsibility, you can start doing what you need to do to start winning.

Become a student of the game and never stop learning. Read as many books and articles about poker as you can and apply what you learn. Watch professional poker players play to learn from them. Consider getting a good poker coach to keep improving.

Keep looking for every small edge you can find to improve your game. Make sure you study the numbers until you completely understand that it’s more important to make the best play in every situation than to win a hand. Sometimes you make a bad decision and still win a hand, but it’s more profitable in the long run to make the best decision because, in the long run, it pays better.

If you really want to be a winning poker player, you can accomplish your goal. You just have to do the work and put in the time to get there. If you think that your poker results are based on luck, you have no chance to be a long term winner.

Decide to take 100% responsibility for your poker results and start putting in the work to improve your play and profits are sure to follow.

Conclusion

If you want to be a profitable poker player, you need to know many things. It’s important to know how to play the cards, but you also need to make smart financial and economical decisions. You need to know if you’re better off with a real job, even if you’re a winning poker player, and you need to understand if it’s more profitable to play a freeroll or do something else.

You don’t need to worry about the proper bankroll size until you learn how to win on a consistent basis, but once you start winning, it becomes just as important as other parts of your game. Don’t ask if you should play limit, pot limit, or no limit; instead, ask which game and limit gives you the best chance to make money?

Finally, decide if you really want to be a winning poker player. The truth is that you can be a winning poker player, but you have to take responsibility and do the work to reach your goal. Most people aren’t willing to take responsibility or do the work. This leaves more profit for you when you start working diligently towards your goal.

Michael Stevens

Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016.

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