Outliers, The Dip, and Poker

Lately, I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about what it takes to become ‘successful’.  There are two really good sources of brain food on the subject, Malcolm Gladwell (of Tipping Point and Blink fame) and Seth Godin (viral/permission marketing superstar and The Purple Cow).  They both have relatively new books out called Outliers and The Dip, respectively.

In Outliers, the main points of this book are that success is driven by two main factors:

– Where and when you were born (this makes sense from a geographic perspective: a US born child has advantages over an African born…but a less than intuitive statement, time period is also important, for example, being 35-40 y/o when the internet bubble of the early 90’s happened increased the likelihood of success as these people were in a phase of their life ready to capitalize on it.)

– 10,000 hours of hard work (Tiger Woods, Bill Gates, name a CEO or industry expert)

– Having ‘talent’ is overrated – Gladwell argues the two points above supersede any innate gift or ability.

So you have luck and a bunch of hours of hard work to equal success.

Similarly, ‘The Dip’ by Seth Godin presents a fundamental view point of successful ventures – and that they all have gone through a period of struggle, trials and tribulations (aka the dip).  The successful ventures push/fight/claw/revamp there way through the dip, while the unsuccessful ventures get spit out and go under.

Godin, discussed his opinions of Outliers on his blog, and makes an interesting comment that the 10,000 hour figure is ‘variable’ dependent on the age and uniqueness of an industry.  For example, someone who wants to become a CEO at some uber-corporation would likely have to put in close to 20,000 hours of work to reach that level.  Whereas someone in a brand new niche, tech type start up could possibly only need 5,000 hours to become the industry ‘expert’.

This thinking led me to poker.  I think back to 2003, when the widely discussed Moneymaker effect took place and we all started to make a little money playing the best games ever.  Well over the last 5-6 years, the games have gotten tougher, the poker population as a whole is smarter and better informed, and as a result it is becoming harder to reach the pinnacle.

Players like Ivey, Durrr, Jman, Larz Luzak, Antonius, etc….are the outliers of the poker world.  Now there is no question that these players are talented, but some of them came about at the exact right time.  I think a perfect example is Phil Helmuth, or Daniel Negreanu.  Helmuth won the WSOP ME at a young age, giving him some $$ to start playing with in the business world…back then…internet poker is relatively new, less competitive, easier to get involved in…so bam…right place, right time.  Same for Negreanu – grinding for years, but becoming successful right as 02-03 hit.  Has break-out year in 04 and wins everything in sight, and with the TV exposure becomes a household name.  Hard work?  Yes.  Luck?  Sure.

So let’s say you had spent 2,000 hours studying poker in 2002 – well that knowledge let you be the top 1-10% whatever of the industry.  You had a huge edge on the field, and made a lot of money as a result.  Today, spending that same 2,000 hours will yield less impressive results.  Maybe you become the top 20-25% of the industry, but have a loooong way to go b4 you can be playing the nosebleeds.

Some of the younger internet pros – Durrr, Jman, etc. all seem to have similiar success stories – got in playing sng’s with friends, started talking poker with other players in the forums who became their circle of friends, blah blah blah.  Right place, right time, combined with hard work, yields extraordinary results.

Internet poker has long been heralded as the best teaching tool for players due to the number of hands you can see during any given session/week/month/year.  Playing 100k hands a month is now pretty common…seeing over 1M hands a year creates an incredible learning curve.

Can you still reach the top of the poker world?  I’d argue yes.  Although, instead of the 6 months or a year of practice in the micro’s like some of these phenoms, you are looking at 2 – 4 years or more grinding.

Taylor Caby commented about something similiar in one of his posts…regarding learning PLO –  one of the CR pro’s a young successful cash game player Brian Hastings, made an early switch to playing PLO in 07 when it appeared the trend was moving that way – so he learned the game when the game was softer, thereby increasing his edge over that time period, and exponentially increasing his earnings.  Timing.  Good foresight? Sure.  Luck?  A bit.

So you have a choice if you want to push through ‘the dip’ recognizing that the hours necessary to become the best in the world are going up everyday, or you can stay in 1-2 land and be happy with it.  That’s probably where I’ll stay because: I’m a bit lazy, and can’t handle $1M losing swings.

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2 Responses to Outliers, The Dip, and Poker

  1. Seth Godin says:

    this is a great example. Thanks for doing it!

  2. pokermario says:

    I think that one of the reasons online poker has become more competative stems from the “recreational” players who no longer deposit due to the UIGEA (unlawful internet gaming enforcement act), leaving the fields full of more talented players (who obviously deposit less often if ever). On my poker pages you will find some great free resources to help improve your game both online and off. See you on the felt!

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