So You Want to Be a Poker Pro?

Rounders

The following article originally appeared on cardplayerlifestyle.com.  Thanks to Robbie Strazynski for allowing me to reprint it.

After 50 years of playing poker, I have gained some insights along the way that might help anyone considering becoming a professional poker player. Like any endeavor in life, there are great rewards as well as pitfalls, and it is necessary to be fully aware of them before making such a life-changing decision.

You’ve Got to Have Poker Plan

Unless you inherited a great deal of money or sold a tech company and have a bankroll of millions of dollars, you are going to need a plan. You need enough courage and discipline to elevate your game in steps. This means if you win $200 at the $3/$6 game one day, jump over to the $6/$12 or $200 No Limit, and if you can win $500 at that table, go to the next level and so on.

You must move up in limits and games. You can’t just grind it out. You must parlay the money. The days you are winning are the times to push it up. In my case, I was fortunate that tournaments were introduced in the early 70s, and I was able to parlay tournament wins into buy-ins into bigger tournaments, and I did well enough that I was able to retire at 36.

In the 80s, when hold’em was legalized in California, I decided to come out of retirement and move out west. I started playing $20/$40 and wondered how anyone could survive playing at that level.

I calculated that you had to win over $60,000 a year, plus another $30,000 to $60,000 in collections to cover your expenses and to be able to deposit even a single dollar into a savings account. And that budget did not account for losses! It is said that poker wins and losses are year-to-year, but your personal expenses are day-to-day, and that’s why it is imperative that you push your game up and manage your bankroll.

Understand Your Potential to Win

poker rake

It’s tough to beat a game with a huge rake

To become a pro, you must have an understanding of your potential profits and losses and ask yourself what you can win in this game. A good friend of mine named Ray Hall, who was my road partner at the time, taught me about the importance of understanding and analyzing a game. We once traveled to Texas to play in a No Limit game. At the time, he was playing in games with buy-ins starting around $2,000 with no cap, which was huge for the 70s. I was only playing $20/$40. This place provided both games.

The first night Ray beat the game for $15,000. I won around $500 and thought it was a good night. I said to Ray, “That was a good night for you, right?” I was shocked by his answer when he said, “It was a good night, but I think we should check out of the motel and go back to Alabama.” We had planned to stay a few weeks.

I asked him why and he said, “Robert, they are raking the game $5 a hand. No poker player alive can beat that rake.” I never paid that much attention to the rake before. I just thought it was the cost of doing business. You have to pay attention to what is on the table, what’s coming off the table and what your chances are of beating that game. If you don’t do that, you’re drawing dead.

Choose Your Opponents Wisely

shark fish

You’d much rather be the shark than the fish

Another element of your game you must master is choosing your opponents wisely. The players that have always caused me the most difficulty were the ones who were looking to exploit every single edge and when there was no edge, they would quit the game and look for the next easy spot.

These players are the survivors in the poker world that have stood the test of time. Whether you like their style or not, they are the true pros. To survive like them, you must look for the edge every day of your pro poker career if you want to stay in the game, and that starts by avoiding playing with them at all costs and selecting games you can beat.

A story that illustrates this concept comes from my days playing gin rummy. I once played a guy named Eddie, who supposedly was Stu Ungar’s mentor in gin rummy. Now I was playing the master and I knew I was outclassed. However, I got lucky in this match and beat him, which was a devastating blow to him.

Later in a bar that night at the Tropicana in Las Vegas, he challenged me to go to his room and play some more gin rummy. I knew this would not be a good situation for various reasons. I looked at Eddie and said, “Why don’t we find someone we can beat?” He understood exactly what that meant.

Why would you ever play a match where it was dead even or your opponent played better? I can’t stress enough the importance of choosing your game wisely and matching up with your opponents carefully to maintain an edge.

Understand When You’ll Have an Edge

edge pokerThis is the reason pros love mixed games so much. They are always looking for weaker opponents who haven’t mastered some of the games to create an edge for themselves. Without the ability to do this, there is no reason to sit at the table. This is the cardinal rule of poker. You must master at least four different games to play at a world-class level.

The following story is an extreme example of how critical it is for professional poker players to find players they can beat. It will also help you understand the psychology of gamblers. It involves my long-time friend Ray Hall again (or Mighty Ray Hall, as he liked to call himself). He is also one of the funniest guys I have ever been around in gambling.

I was invited to a game in Georgia where I was told they were playing 14-handed hold’em. They were literally using a rake to push the chips across the table because the pots were so big. The host said the only bad thing was that they were raking $15 a hand, but it is the wildest game you will ever see. I called up Ray and he said, “I can’t beat a short-handed game, much less a 14-handed game.”

When I told him the details, he quickly changed his tune and said, “When can you leave? Let’s go now.” I asked, “Ray, what about the rake?” I will never forget his response. He said, “If those fools are allowing that rake, I want to meet them because I am sure I can beat them!”

When we arrived, I saw the biggest table I had ever seen, with a paper grocery bag underneath it being used as the drop box. Ray was right – that was the liveliest group of people I had ever played poker with. They didn’t care about the rake; they just wanted to gamble. He had a better understanding of the mentality of gamblers than I had at the time.

Check Your Ego at the Door

This next subject is rarely spoken about, but it is the Achilles’ heel of many pros (in my opinion), and that is ego. A friend of mine who had cashed in several tournaments for over $2 million in one year’s time asked me for some career advice. I told him to take $60,000 and hire a PR firm to help with his image so as to create a legacy that might help him with sponsorships and teaching in the future when things went south.

He agreed, but I knew it was a long shot that he would heed the advice. He has now fallen on hard times, and all I can wonder is why didn’t he invest in himself when he had the chance? His ego made him believe he was going to win forever.

Reflecting Back on My Years Playing Poker

What have I learned after all these years of playing poker? To play professionally, you need to protect your bankroll, choose your games and opponents wisely, take advantage of every edge you can find, and, most importantly, have balance in your life.

Poker has given me a blessed life, but it has not been without regrets. If you allow it to, poker will take a toll on your personal life. Poker Hall of Fame member Fred “Sarge” Ferris, after he found out he was dying, told Doyle Brunson to “stop and smell the roses.”

The game may reward you with material things for your family and bless you with memories you may not have otherwise had. That said, reflecting back on my years of playing, I have to say I wish I had spent more precious time with my family and a little less time playing. Remember, the game is not going anywhere. Keep your friends and family close because you can’t make it without their support.

I hope you take all of this advice to heart. These are things I wish someone had told me. If you see me at the table, or Ray Hall (who, at nearly 80 years old, still plays poker in Tunica, Mississippi), feel free to share your stories about your life on the felt.

About

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and marketing expert.  Robert is most well-known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986.  He also created the Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino in 1995. He helped create Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002.

He has spent over 30 years in casino marketing and player development and has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM Grand.  He is currently working with his new companies Crown Digital Games developing mobile apps and Vision Poker, a poker marketing group.

Robert is available for consulting, marketing or teaching. Reach him at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com.

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Lessons I Learned at the Poker Table–Part 2

Homer Simpson Poker

In my last article, I discussed the life lessons I learned at the poker table. You can read it at http://www.gamingtoday.com/columnist along with my previous columns. Because I have been playing poker nearly 50 years, I have a few more stories to share.

You meet some of the best people at the poker table. However, you cannot judge a player by the persona he projects at the table. Many players are completely different away from the table. One great example is Phil Hellmuth. His image at the table in no way reflects Phil off the table. He is a caring, sincere gentleman and a devoted family man. He is nothing like the man at the table. Of course, there are some bad actors, and what you see at the table is what you get in real life, but that’s rare. Poker is filled many wonderful characters.

But poker can also put you in dangerous situations, and one extreme example almost cost me my life. I was playing in a friend’s game in Guntersville, Alabama in a beautiful city located on a lake. The idyllic setting is in stark contrast to what happened next. I had played poker all day in a small hotel suite and quit around 9 p.m. to play gin on the bed next to the door. A few moments later, there was a knock at the door that caught everyone’s attention. It sounded like someone was tapping metal on the door. The gentleman running the game asked, “Who is it?” The man identified himself as Johnny. The door didn’t have a peephole, so the host of the game opened the door a crack.

As he did so, the person tried to push the door open. My friend pushed back, but a shotgun barrel came through the door near my shoulder and fired. It was so close I could smell the gunpowder. As everyone dove to the floor, the suspect ran off. Someone hollered, “Is anyone hurt?” One of the players was shot in the arm and permanently lost the use of his arm.

After this close call, I kept asking myself, “Why, with a young daughter at home, did I put myself in this situation?” In Alabama poker players feared three things: the police, cheats and hijackers. I determined right then I would move to a place where poker was played in a structured, safe atmosphere, so I went out to California. It was the best decision I ever made.

On a lighter note, the money you make in poker can sometimes seem like play money. This story puts it back in perspective. In one of my regular games a player named TJ normally lost every day. He owned a construction company that generated a lot of money. On this particular day, he won a huge pot around $20,000. In those days when you stepped away from the table, you took your money with you.

TJ folded up the wad of $100 bills and said he was going to the bathroom. We kept playing and about 20 minutes later we noticed he hadn’t come back. I went looking for him and couldn’t find him. He actually slipped out the door and left.

About an hour went by, and we heard someone honking a horn outside. I looked out the window, and there was TJ in a brand-new yellow Cadillac. He said, “Get Ray Hall out here.” Ray was the one he beat out of the money. He said, “How do you like this new Cadillac you bought me, Ray? Would you like to go for a ride?” Ray didn’t mind losing to TJ because he usually won it back. But not this time.

Every day from then on he would say to Ray, “Look at this car you bought me.” And every day he would lose, but we never forgot the day he locked up his winnings.

The Cadillac story illustrates how quickly fortunes can change in poker. This next story shows how actual fortunes are won and lost. James Roy, one of the best No Limit players nicknamed Shany, was a good friend of Jack Binion’s and travelled with another player nicknamed Chicken Man. James would often tell the story that Chicken Man’s daddy left him a saw mill and he turned it into a toothpick. James continued, “I only used to have a toothpick, now I have a saw mill.” That story shows how dramatic the swings at the poker table can be.

Like I said in my first article, you can learn from whoever or whatever is in front of you in poker and in life. I have many other stories to tell. Share your stories with me at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and casino marketing expert. Robert is most well- known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986. He created Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the Internet in 2002, and he also created Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino and the National Championship of Poker for Hollywood Park Casino both in 1995.

In the year 2000, he created World Team Poker, the first professional league for poker. He has spent over 30 years in casino marketing and player development and has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM. He is currently working with his new companies Crown Digital Games developing mobile apps and Vision Poker, a poker marketing and managing group.

Find Robert on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thechipburner and on Twitter @thechipburner. Robert Turner can also be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting, marketing and teaching.

Nothing Left to Lose: Champion Ryan “the Beast” Riess Dominates WSOP Final Table

2013 WSOP Champion Ryan "the Beast" Riess

2013 WSOP Champion Ryan “the Beast” Riess

I am often asked if poker is a young man’s game. Based on my almost fifty years of playing, I would have to say yes.  Let me explain.  The 2013 World Series of Poker November Nine, which was played this week, featured a final table with an average age under 30.  In fact, Ryan “the Beast” Riess, the youngest player at the table at 23 years of age, won the championship title after eliminating four players before entering heads-up play against eventual runner-up Jay Farber.

When I was young myself and had no responsibilities, I played a hyper-aggressive style. I did not care who I played even if they were legends.  I remember playing a pivotal hand the first couple of hours in the Main Event of the World Series of Poker against Doyle Brunson when I was much younger.  I called a small raise from the big blind with 3 5 spades, and the flop came 2 4 6.  I flopped a small straight, but there was a flush draw on the board.  I was very nervous staring at this poker legend across the table, so I just said all-in.  He said, “Kid, I hate to go broke so early, but you must be on a draw to move in or have a pair.  I call.” He had a big pocket pair, so I won the hand and knocked out a legend.  When he got up, he said he could not believe he played the hand so poorly.

That hand helped reinforce my belief that being aggressive was the best way to play poker because it gives you more weapons in your arsenal, and it worked well for me for years.  It helped me to achieve the record for most consecutive cashes in the Main Event from 1991-1994. Dan Harrington said in one of his books on Hold‘em that Stu Ungar, Jack Keller along with myself started the aggressive style of play. I earned my nickname the Chipburner based on this style of play.  My younger kids still tease me about it and say, “Dad, why don’t you change your name to Chip Earner?”  They have a good point.

When you are young, going broke is just another way of saying “in between bankrolls.” According to media reports, WSOP champion Ryan Reiss was broke a year ago before winning second place in the WSOP Circuit main event in Hammond, Indiana in October 2012. However, once you cross into your mid-thirties, many players have families and mortgages.  With these added responsibilities, the prospect of going broke is scary and will affect one’s poker decisions.  When you are young, you have nothing to lose. It’s like that line in the Janis Joplin song Me and Bobby McGee: “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.”  When you are young, you can afford to take risks you are not willing to take when you are older.

Lyle Berman once said if there are 100 players in a tournament, and you are the best player in the world, you may still never win a title in your lifetime.  The combination of aggression and luck makes No Limit Hold’em very volatile.  Most of the best players now play mixed games to protect their bankroll because so many decisions in No Limit are little more than a coin flip.

There is no question that today’s young players have more information available to them that allows them to become expert players faster than we did in the early years, and it has definitely elevated the game.  The internet changed everything.  The explosion of internet poker has allowed many young players to hone the art of aggression, and they are very hard to beat. It has allowed these kids to get rid of their inhibitions. They do not play the person so much as they play the numbers.

Poker is now much more a math game, whereas in the old days it was more a people game.  We would look for certain players to play and avoid others.  Now you are just an anonymous seat number. This style has also made poker more of a lottery than a skill-based game.  Even though you are the best player, it does not mean you will always win.

After nearly a half a century of playing poker, I have to admit it is a young man’s game.  After seeing it from both sides, I will say this about age.  Playing poker for a living requires stamina.  The effects of aging on one’s poker game cannot be overstated. In 2005 I finished 97th in the Main Event at the age of 58.   The toll it took on my body affected my play. It was extremely tiring.  I blame myself for not being in the best shape, but as a young man, playing three days was nothing.  After a marathon poker session, I would take a shower and look for another game.

Nowadays after 10 hours, I can feel the pain.  My wife has introduced me to yoga recently, and it has helped me immensely because poker is both a mental and physical game.  Once you cross 50 years of age, you have to prepare more for the physical demands of these multi-day poker tournaments.

Now to answer the question I posed at the beginning of this article.  Youth clearly is an advantage in poker, but experience has its place, too.  Doyle Brunson once said, “When we put our feet under the table, we are all one big family.”  And I’m proud to be part of that family for nearly half a century.

Robert Turner is a legendary poker player and billiard marketing expert. He created Live at the Bike, the first live gaming site broadcast on the internet in 2002. He also created the Legends of Poker for the Bicycle Casino and the National Championship of Poker for Hollywood Park Casino both in 1995.

Robert is most well-known for introducing the game of Omaha poker to Nevada in 1982 and to California in 1986.  In the year 2000, he created World Team Poker, the first professional league for poker.  He has spent over 30 years in casino marketing and player development and has served as an executive host at the Bicycle Casino and MGM.  He is currently working with his new companies Crown Digital Games developing apps and Vision Poker, a poker marketing and managing group.

Follow Robert on Twitter @thechipburner.  Robert Turner can also be reached at robertturnerpoker@gmail.com for consulting, marketing and teaching.