Why the upcoming poker bust will be a good thing

February 15, 2009

The news already informed you that the sky is falling, people are losing their jobs, and the economy sucks.  Vegas is on the verge of bankruptcy due to over leveraged billion dollar fantasy lands and the collapse of available consumer credit worldwide. 

Poker has gone through its uptick in the U.S. and it has since flattened – it is still growing elsewhere in the world but for how long?  Many people have been wondering when the poker industry would slow down…2009 could be that year.

In my opinion, the pending downfall of poker has the potential to make poker a stronger and more entertaining industry/’sport’

Here’s why:

-Less people playing the big buyins = More familiar faces making final tables

– More familiar faces making final tables = More interesting stories

– More interesting stories = more interested fans

– More interested fans = …well you get the idea.

Expensive buyin events like the 50k horse yield a tremendous amount of fanfare because the poker fans want to know what the poker ‘stars’ can accomplish, and generally these are the only people degenerate enough to play in these events.  8,000+ tournament fields do not allow enough big names to get there often enough, so it’s harder for fans to root for their favorite players.  

The November 9 experiment was conducted on exactly this premise.  Give the poker community, and the tv production companies, time to produce background stories on the players.  Build interest in a small number of players.

If poker can shrink in size, a lot of the fringe players will go busto, and the ones who survive will be the best and strongest players.  I’d rather follow a tournament with 300 world class players, than watch a lottery of 8,000 players with a wide range of skill levels.  

I started thinking about this as I was watching the recent WSOPE Main Event – this broadcase has way more ‘names’ on TV than the WSOP ME in Vegas had – albeit a smaller prize pool, but more interesting poker to watch imho.  It’s more interesting to watch Negreanu and Juanda play a pot than a few random satellite monkeys who happened to make it to day 4 (which is not to take away anything from that accomplishment – it’s just I don’t want to watch it on TV).

Certainly other variables can impact the entertainment value of poker for true poker fans – like deeper stake final table tournament structures, big buyin high stakes cash game formats, etc…but it’s interesting to think that the less people playing televised poker events could perhaps create a situation where it becomes more interesting to watch.

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Outliers, The Dip, and Poker

December 29, 2008

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.


Phelps Final Tables $1500 buyin @ Caesar’s and some thoughts about the Industry.

October 27, 2008

…and the whole poker world gets its panties in a bunch. Word is Caesars gave him a medal for finishing 9th. WTF.

I’m sorry but really is that the only newsworthy story the INDUSTRY can come up with. Let it be known, I’m a Phelps fan, watched intently during the Olympics, but for this now to be the biggest deal in poker kinda makes me hate poker. Well maybe not the game perse but definitely the industry.

I think this issue highlights one of the reasons poker will never ‘jump the shark’ as Scott Huff (pokerroad) always says. There just really isn’t enough newsworthy stuff that happens. A bunch of random dudes make a final table, sometimes is Nam Le cuz he’s good at the short stack (see Bellagio Cup results). Poker is a gambling game. Tournaments are a gamble. The end of tournament, almost regardless of structure, requires you to win hands at showdown. If you don’t pick up those hands, chances are good you don’t win.

Since cash games aren’t a ‘tournament’ and no one tally’s points for winning and losing, it’s hard for people (i.e. fans) to watch and keep track of the best of the best. Professional sports are good, because namely of the major franchises. Hate em or Love em – Yankees, Red Sox, Patriots, Cowboys, Lakers, Tiger Woods, whatever – there are dominant forces in these leagues that fans clamour for.

Poker has some of these titans – Ivey, Hansen, Durrr, Benyamine, and depending on your sphere of influence Hellmuth, or some bevie of internet phenoms (there are a lot). Maybe though, that should be the measure of success – a year long cash game – with results on display – televised (maybe a year later??)

The top 100 or so players could compete – how you determine that I have no idea – maybe just by the required buy – make it $500,000 buyin – to narrow the field down.

Then televise it once a week or a month – and all the pros can come and play every 2 weeks or something in LA or LV…

Okay so this is a tough format, but still its a main reason why poker can’t go mainstream. It’s just too much of a gambling game, with sick variance, and higher variance in tournaments (which are what people watch – because there is a ‘winner’ at the end – a trophy, a celebration, something finite to talk about at the water cooler.)