Ask the pro poker player

Haven’t seen one of these threads in a while, and I figured I’d make one.

Background: It was almost 3 years ago when I started playing poker. A friend wanted me to play with play money online with him and I decided to try it. Became pretty intensely interested in it for a while. Studied it pretty intensely for a few months, depositing $25 here and there when I could from a low paying job to play. Reading lots, read forums, discussed hands.

I didn’t care much about the money, it was an intellectual challenge that I really took to.

Took me about 6 months before I reached the point where I was break even/a small winner, which is pretty remarkably fast, from what I gather. Within 6 months after that, I was +10k net. Somewhere in there it became my job - I sprained my knee pretty badly, and my job, which required me to be on my feet, wouldn’t give me time off, so I just quit. In another half year or so, I was +30k, and ended up winning a pretty major tournament (like the 3rd or 4th biggest ever, online, at the time I won it) for substantial money.

Strange timing, though. I was really starting to burn out in the months leading up to that. After a year to 18 months, the novelty of the intellectual challenge aspect really started to wear out. I found myself playing for the money, rather than the challenge, and I just didn’t care all that much about the money. So I never really got gratification for suceeding. But it was stressful as hell to lose, especially when it’s your sole income. To spend hundreds of hours over weeks, making good decisions, playing well, only to have it completely wiped out by a few days of a really horrible downswing is enourmously stressful. Without any satisfaction to offset that, it the stress really began to build up.

I jumped limits some after the big win, but not horribly. I was playing some $15-$30 before, and $30-$60 after, along with higher buy in tournaments, and NL cash games. I had success for a while, but the stress really built up even faster when the amounts of money got crazier. Ever lose $5000 in a night? Pretty crazy. So with that, and some stuff unrelated to poker, I had a pretty severe burnout period, pretty much stayed away for a year. Recently I’ve moved to Vegas and am working my way back into it. Playing much lower limits - less stressful, easier.

Anyway, if you have any questions about the lifestyle, or even poker itself, feel free.

Hmmm… So many…

  1. Is there a limit on how far you’d travel for a tournament?
  2. Do you invest your winnings? (not necessarily stocks)
  3. What’s your $$ limit on buy-ins?
  4. What’s you’re favorite game / hand?

What’s your favorite free website to learn?

Yeah, about a half hour’s drive, I suppose. I’m not really big on tournaments. I thought about wrapping a vacation around a tournament, though, like a poker cruise or tournament ultimatebet runs in Aruba.

Most pros don’t play tournaments as anything other than an occasional novelty.

No, not really. I don’t really want to get into why not, though.

I don’t have anything set. I’ve played $5000 buy in heads up tournaments at the high end. Depends on my ability to focus, desire to play high, and available money.


I try to rotate games as a way of keeping my interest up and my mind fresh. I’ve had different phases where I’ve focused on different things. Early on, I played a lot of sit and goes. After that mostly NL cash games. After that, limit cash games. Primarily hold em, but I’m a reasonable PL omaha split player, and can hold my own in most of the major games.
As far as hand… I’m not the type to develop sentimental or superstitious attachments.

I’m not sure what you’re asking - do you mean where to play for play money?

I am curious about the take-out in poker.

  1. Do you know what the take-out % generally is for Texas Holdem?

  2. How does it compare to other casino games?

  3. Is online poker’s take-out more or less than in a casino?

  4. Does the take-out change from game to game, like more or less in Holdem vs Omaha? Or limit vs no limit?

  5. Would the amount of take-out influence where you played?

6.Where do you see all the new players coming from? Were they gamblers, playing other things who switched to poker when it became so popular?

  1. Do you think most others are in it for the money or the challenge of beating others?

Typically in low limit games 5-10% is taken up to a certain cap (commonly $4-$5 in casinos).

It’s not the same thing. Casino games make money for the casino because all bets players make have a negative expected value - the “house edge”. There’s no house edge in poker because you’re not playing against the casino - they make their money through the rake. They’re essentially charging for the service of providing a dealer, a safe environment, etc.

It’s about half. They make an absolute killing. They take in hundreds of millions of dollars a year for very little service.

For some reason I’ve often seen no limit cash games with a 5% rake and limit with a 10% with the same cap. Not sure why. Generally no difference between games. High limit games use a time charge rather than rake - typically $4 to $10 per half hour.

Absolutely. Rake is a huge cost. Unfortunately, the vast majority of players aren’t aware of this at all. Which means there’s not much competition to lower rake, either online or casino, because most people don’t notice it.

To them, they figure “hey, I’m winning a $50 pot, who cares about the $4 they’re taking out?” by the money goes back and forth, and the rake just keeps being taken away.

Let’s say you can make $18 per hour, 3 bets, in a $3-$6 unraked game. Add a 10% to $4 rake and… you’re winning on average 6 hands per hour, at full rake that’s $24 per hour that would normally be going into your pocket now going into the rake box. You’ve gone from winning $18 per hour to losing $6 per hour because of that rake.

Most winning players end up paying more in rake than they actually win. A lot of losing players might be winning or break even players without rake. It takes a HUGE amount of money out of the game, out of people’s pockets, and most players don’t put in the thought necesary to realize it.

I’m not sure, really. There’s probably a broad mix - people who see a poker room and think it’s just blackjack with bluffing or something, people who watch the WPT and want to give poker a shot (sometimes these people are funny as hell - you can usually pick them out, as the play in late stage, generally crapshooty tournaments and a cash game are vastly different, and they make all sorts of crazy errors trying to apply what they’ve seen on TV), and I’m sure there are a good number of people interested in poker for similar reasons as me.

I’m not really sure. Most people are definitely in it for something other than profit - a very small percentage of poker players are long term winners. There’s no way to conclusively prove it one way or the other, but I’ve seen very reasonable estimates in the 5-10% range. Of course, the prospect of winning money may motivate the people. A lot look at it as entertainment, a social gathering. Some view it as a challenge.

How much does “reading” the faces of opposing players really have to do with the game? Do people really have “tells” and so forth or is reading other players more a Hollywood thing than something pro card players really bother with?

What’s the most savagely ridiculous bad beat you’ve ever suffered? (Surely you remember THAT :slight_smile: )

And what’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen at a poker table?

What limits do pros normally play? If I’m playing in Vegas, what limits should I play if I want to be sure NOT to be playing against pros?

Can you dumb this down a bit? My gambling is limited to dropping a dollar in a slot machine in the Vegas airport when I fly through so everything you wrote there went by me but (curious person I am) I’d like to understand it…at least a little.

What advice would you give somone who was going to be playing for the first time at a casino? What to look out for, and what to look for. I’ll be playing in Atlantic City if that makes a difference.

I have played home games with friends, and a few times online and I’m familiar with the rules. I’m not going to try to become a professional player, it’s just a mental challenge and something I have enjoyed doing.

I’m not a pro, but I can contribute a little here.

Make sure you bring enough money for the game you’re playing. If you’re entering a tournament then this is easy to figure out, but in a ring game it might not be. For limit, bring at least 50 big bets (i.e. $300 for $3-6). You don’t have to buy in for the full amount, but always have enough chips in front of you to stay through a hand where the betting is capped on every round. This isn’t because you can be forced out of a pot (you can’t) but to make sure you can maximize your profits on those rare occasions where you pick up a huge hand and someone else has a slightly worse one (or is a complete maniac).

No-limit ring games require a much bigger bankroll and are not a good choice for beginners. It’s easy to lose all your money very quickly.

As SenorBeef mentioned, know what the rake is. If you have choices, shop around for the room with the lowest.

Watch some hands from the rail before you jump into a game. This will let you get accustomed to the pace of play and also check out the competition. If you’re going to play low-limit, look for a table where lots of people are in each hand and there’s not a lot of raising. Talking and drinking are also good signs; if people are having a good time they may not be as tight with their money. Unfortunately you may not have the choice of which table to sit at.

Be sure to practice good poker etiquette. You may be familiar with the basics, but cardrooms have rules that are often not enforced in home games and may not come across on tv. Observing the customs is courteous and keeps the game moving along.

Thank you Senor Beef for answering my questions, very informative. For some reason the poker sites, or even many poker books don’t mention much about the rake. I guess I can figure out why.

I am a horseplayer, and since poker has become so popular, we have lost a lot of players and their money to poker. Horseracing is similar in that you play against the other players, not the house. And it is a mixture of skill, knowledge and luck, instead of just luck, like many other gambling games.

Many racebooks and tracks now offer Texas Holdem, I guess they figure if they can’t beat them, join them.

Good luck!

I’m not sure how your home games went, but in many “friendly” games, check-raising is frowned upon, as are re-re-raises. However, these elements are *essential * to winning at a casino poker table (whether live or on-line). The goal is to maximaize your profits, not to be the nicest guy at the table.

And, as **number ** said, watch for a while from the rail. There will be house rules specific to the casino. Do you buy your chips from the cage, or from the dealer? Can you put racked chips on the table or not? Can you buy additional chips directly from another player or only from the dealer. Is there a bad-beat drop in addition to the rake? If so, what hands qualify? Stuff like that. For example, if you play at the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, you get your original buy-in from the cage and you have to unrack your chips. No bad beat action.

For me, I was in a 3/6 Hold 'em game and ended up with a royal flush. First time I had ever seen one come around. I won a nice pot. The very next hand another player got a royal flush. I had gone from never seeing one to two in a row. Since then I 've seen a few here and there, but that was an odds-defying introduction to that hand!

Regarding tournament strategy:

I’ve played in some tournaments online, and I’m starting to get the feeling that making a strong start is pretty important, so I play very aggressively at the beginning and go all-in as soon as I feel reasonably good about it.

When I’ve played very conservatively, and lasted longer, I realized that it got incredibly difficult to get into a winning position once you have 800 chips (in a tourney where everyone starts with 1,000) and the chip leader at the table has, say 3,500.

So do you feel an aggressive start is a sound strategy?

(so far I won one small tournament with 12 players)

I’m not really qualified to answer that question yet, as 98% of my playing still has been online. Tells are certainly overemphasizd in popular culture. In movies, and such, it’s always some nostril flare (or oreo eating!) that determines the big match, but that’s not really accurate.

There are tons of skills you can develop without seeing anyone, and that’s why online players often do well even in their first time out in a brick and mortar scenario.

It is, however, another tool in the kit of an experienced player. I remember the first time tell reading won me money - I was going to fold a hand, but decided to ponder it for a bit. The guy was perched forward, staring directly into my eyes, very aggressive posture - clearly trying to intimidate me. Told me that he certainly didn’t want to be called - so I did. And I was right. That’s a situation where I’d have given way the pot online, but the extra information live gave it to me. But it’s not the biggest factor there is.

Of course, I may get better with experience. There was a guy I was playing with fairly regularly for a while, we’d talk, often be at the same table - he outclassed me, which is a bit strange, because I rarely feel outclassed at the poker table, and he was only 27. Anyway, one day he decided to be verbal about tells, show off, maybe, or just boredom - and he verbally called out the level of strength of other players exactly right several times in a row. With more experience, perhaps tells will be a bigger part of my game.

Most of them, at least at low limits, aren’t all that subtle and obscure, though. Generally, it’s really simple - people want the exact opposite that they appear to want. If they look aggressive, intimidating - they’re weak. If they look like they don’t care what happens, they’re usually very strong.

I’m not sure how I can explain it much more clearly. Perhaps in these terms.

Let’s say on a 10 player table, with 60 hands per hour dealt, you win 10% of the hands. A reasonable base assumption. So you win 6 hands per hour.

To keep things simple, let’s say that a $4 rake is taken out of those pots. $4 x 6 pots per hour = $24 dollars per hour essentially paid out of your pocket (because the chips would otherwise be yours) for the priviledge of playing at the casino.

Now, if you’re good enough to beat a game without rake of a certain limit for $12 an hour - if you played at a home game, after a 6 hour session, you’d take home a $70 profit. In the same game, raked, you’re actually losing $70 in that session.

I honestly don’t know. There have been plenty of really bad ones… but I try not to latch on to and remember specific ones.

I wish I had a good answer for this. Unfortunately I don’t. But again, 98% of my play has been online. And for all I know, the people I’m playing against are fellating donkies while they call me down.

Oh, it ranges dramatically. There are probably people that eke out a moderately decent living making $500 a week playing the lowest limits in Vegas. The $1-$2 nl games that have popped up everywhere are pretty soft, especially if you get an uncapped one like a lot of the ones downtown are, and there’s a lot of money on the table.

You’d be unlikely to find a pro at a $2-$4 through $5-10 (limit) game because they’re not at all easy to beat due to the rake - but for the same reason, they aren’t very profitable for you.

You really don’t have to be all that worried about encountering a pro - there’s nothing magical about them, they’re just good poker players. You should be observing which players are strong, and which are weak, and playing cautiously against the strong, and fleecing the weak. Whether they make their money at the game (pro) or are just good players doesn’t really matter.

There’s nothing wrong with an aggressive start, you just don’t want to push things and try to make things happen when the situations aren’t right. A lot of people play early tournaments pretty timidly. They’ll often say “I want to survive the first day/till first break/whatever”. I think this is foolish. Does it matter if you bust out first in a tournament, or one place out of the money? Nope - same result.

Anecdotally, the biggest wins I’ve had have come from tournaments where I was relatively laid back in the beginning - but this was patience rather than being timid. You have to wait for the right situations, rather than trying to make things happen on a schedule. But when aggression is required - by all means, feel free.

There are actually debates on poker forums on the following situation. You’re in the main event of the WSOP, or some suitably big tournament, and you’re in the big blind. Every player has gone all in before you, on the first hand of the tournament. You look down and see aces. What do you do?

There are actually seemingly smart, fairly decent poker players who’d fold in this position. That’s nuts. It’s true, there’s a 70% chance, if you do call, your tournament ends right there. And they’re timid, and they don’t want to risk that. But if you win, you’ve now got 10 times the average stack in the tournament. You’re playing tournaments to win, not just to squeak by, and the chance of taking such a dominant lead overall, even though you’ll usually bust out, makes it more likely that you’re going to win than if you just try to timidly creep your way up.

I think there is no definate answer here…if you feel you are one of the better players, you are in no hurry to accumulate chips…you can always wait for your hands and outplay the inferior players…if you think you need some luck to win, then take some chances early and build a stack. One thing I’ve found is that often, the early player with a huge stack is simply the luckiest idiot.

RE: getting “tells” off of players…I doubt that any of the pros have obvious tells like the Oreo cookie…but I have played with locals who see Hold Em on TV and run to the poker room or the casino boat…many of the tells in Mike Caro’s poker tell book hold true. I’ve played in some live tournaments with players who were telling me if they were raising or folding, and if they were drawing or had a made hand EVERY time.
My poker history reads like this(it’s similar to the OP, I guess)
Like many, I first started watching on ESPN, when Moneymaker made his run…I had never played poker (except the odd poker night with fraternity brothers in college), but have always been good at statistics/probabilities and basic math computations in my head(hard to explain, but have always been able to do them almost instantly)…started reading books, then playing for play money(don’t ever do this, unless you just want to learn the structure of the game)…then in July04, I tore my ACL and MCL playing basketball…6months and 2 surgeries later, I was able to walk, but not play any sports…I found a site that would send you a rebate of $50 if you stuck in $50 on a few different poker sites. I did this for Bodog, and began playing…quickly losing the 50…

After rereading some things, and making adjustments, I stuck another 20 in and went to work on tournament play($5 sit and gos)…I began to grow my bankroll, learn, and read as much as possible. Eventually, in March of 05, I had managed to have around $500 in my account, as well as 1200 or so player points. I had moved to playing MTTs as well, with small buy ins. Late in March, Bodog had a freeroll tournament to win a WSOP entry and trip to Vegas…it cost 1200 player points…so I entered…and eventually made it through all 417 other players to win. Then, I realized that 1)I have never played a live tournament, and 2) I had 3-4 months to get my shit together.

Two weeks later, I played my first live tournament, a 150 person, $45 buy in at a local greyhound track. I finished 21st, just outside the money. The next week, I entered again, and won, pocketing almost $1700. The next week, I entered a rebuy tournament on a casino cruise ship, and finished in a 3 way chop for 2nd place. I was able to play in two other live tournaments before the WSOP, finishing in the middle of each.

At the WSOP, I played on day 1B. I quickly became one of the table captains, and was able to push people around with some ease…I wasn’t getting great cards, but really couldn’t complain. I was up to around 16K chips by the dinner break. Then I got to basically fold for 6 hours, as I got one playable hand, pocket 10s, which lost to a small stack who had gone all in with A7. I finally got eliminated around midnight, when I had to shove with A10 and ran into AA.

I took a few months off, I was very frustrated with how bad my cards were(it was almost funny…if I got a face card, it was J3…Q5…etc…or two baby cards not connected or suited…for 6 hours straight)…eventually I began to play again, live and online…I recently moved from bodog to PartyPoker(1 week ago, actually). I started with $50 again, and playing the .10/.25 and .05/.10 cash tables, and 5 and 10 SnGs, I’m up to over $600.

My job is going very well, so I’ve not had my hand forced like the OP, but I have had to make money at poker to pay bills several times. I’d love to be able to let my bankroll grow so I can move up in blind/buy in levels, but I can’t imagine the cojones it would take to make the jump to being a professional…Hats off to the OP.

NOW finally, my question—how did the play change as you move up in $$$…are the players at $2/$4 online just as horrible as the ones at the microlimits? I’m sure there are more “educated” players, but is it pretty easy money at some of the higher limits too?

and—where do you play? I’m at Party right now, and will be as long as it’s this profitable.

Re: tournament strategy, I’ve found that the level of aggression that works best depends a lot on the buy-in. The site I play offers freerolls, $1 buy-ins and $2.25 buy-ins. In all of those, aggressive play early is pointless because the play is ridiculously loose because the players don’t feel like they’re invested. On the rare instances I play one of these, I dread having any sort of playable hand the first time around the table because people play rags like they’re gold. All in with Jack high, 86os and other such stellar holdings. Once the buy-in hits $5.50 or up people seem to take it a little more seriously and I can be much more aggressive. Additionally, early aggressive play often doesn’t pay in a rebuy tournament because people will play lesser hands knowing they can buy in again and again if they bust out (of course your ability to rebuy may allow you to feel you can play more aggressively so it may balance out). Admittedly the biggest buy-in I’ve ever played is $22 so for all I know players buying in to the $54, $110, etc. tournies may play just as crazy.

I’m not a pro by any means, but I have been successful in supplementing my income since I started playing for cash about 20 months ago and during my last period of unemployment I was able to make enough playing online to keep body and soul together before the next job came along.