Thursday, May 15, 2008

Professional Poker Player?

On my trip to Las Vegas last January I played some blackjack and I played some poker. I didn't do very well at blackjack, I did better at poker. In fact, had I only played poker, I would have come back with some pretty nice winnings. As it was, my poker winnings and my blackjack losses pretty much offset each other.

Shortly after returning home, I got an email from saying they were once again accepting deposits from U.S. players. Remembering my good poker results in Vegas, I decided to deposit just $100 into PokerStars, and see how I did with it. If I ended up losing it, I wouldn't reload.

The kind of poker game I played in Vegas and at PokerStars is a no limit, texas hold'em, single table tournament, commonly called a Sit-and-Go. Interested players put their name on a list, and when there are enough (usually 9 or 10) players on the list, the game begins. Each player buys in for the same amount, and each is given the same number of starting chips. They then play a no-limit texas hold'em game until one player has won everybody else's chips. The casino keeps a portion of the buy-in money, and the remainder is split between the 1st, 2nd, and (sometimes) 3rd place finishers.

At the Mirage in Las Vegas, the buy in amounts for these games start around $70. I think the highest buy-in was just under $300, and was probably limited there so the final prize split per player would be below the $1200 IRS reporting limit. At PokerStars, the buy-ins (and resultant winnings) are much smaller. I decided to play at the $22 level ($20 to the prize pool, $2 to PokerStars). Prizes at the $22 level are $90, $54, and $36 for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place. That means if I take 1st place, I can afford to lose 3 more games and still be ahead. If I take 2nd place in a game, I can afford to lose 1 more game and still be ahead. If I take 3rd place, well, at least I'm still ahead.

Since I started with my $100 in January, I've played over 120 games without ever reloading. I started thinking, (hypothetically, of course) "Gee, I wonder what it would take to make a living at this?" So I added up all my winnings, and divided it by the number of games played, both won and lost. It turns out that my average earnings are about $2 for every game played. Sit-and-Go's last about an hour, and I could probably play 2 at a time on-line, so in an 8 hour day I could make $32. What about if I play higher buy in games? PokerStars offers a $55 game. If I could guarantee (not likely) the same win/loss ratio at that level I could make $80 a day. Ok, what if I could win as often at the (highly unlikely) $110 level? Then I could make $160 a day. Of course that doesn't include paid vacation or health benefits.

I guess I won't be quitting my day job any time soon.

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