As a former winning low-stakes online poker pro, I find that my experiences have become more relevant to a larger percentage of the contributing community in recent months. The PokerStars VIP Club changes and rake increases will inevitably force players who depend heavily on rakeback-equivalent supplementation of their income into a decision sooner or later.
So is it time to improve one’s skills or time to exit the game as a professional? Only you, the break-even online poker player can answer that question. But if you’re looking for a first hand recount from someone who has “been there, done that,” then this guide is for you. I’ve included how I reacted in each situation when faced with similar circumstances.
If your long term online poker expectation has dropped dangerously close to break-even and you’re faced with a decision, I recommend asking yourself the following questions to determine your next move.
Question #1: Can I Improve?
If your lifestyle and income generation is already significantly embedded into playing online poker, then this has to be the logical first question you ask yourself. Are you willing (and able) to put in the time and practice necessary to elevate your game in order to survive the recent industry shifts?
From experience, I’m going to tell you right now that the honest answer in most cases is going to be a flat no. If you’ve already let your skills slide to a point where you’re not making enough money, then you’re going to need at least two jumps in ability to get back on top in the games you’re competing in.
Online games are not getting any easier (especially at low stakes), so you should objectively gauge how much love for the high-volume game you still have in the tank… which brings us to our next step.
When I stopped playing online poker as a pro (late 2007), I still had a very viable option of playing high volume and earning a modest living off of VIP Club benefits — without having to spend time improving in the short term. I knew for certain that I didn’t want to put in the work necessary to reach a higher level, so my answer to this question was, “No.”
Question #2: Do I Still Enjoy Competing Professionally?
There is a certain thrill that goes into achieving success as a sole-trading professional. Does the adrenaline rush of big winning days and tournament scores still outweigh their counterparts? Do you still enjoy or aspire to be one of the best multi-tablers in the games you play?
Possessing a competitive spirit plays a key role in determining how much an individual is willing to work at earning an edge. How do you look at yourself as an online poker pro? Has the mass-tabling warped your attitude into a nonstop cycle of number crunching or do you still enjoy finding nuances that your opponents are unlikely to think of?
I had become desensitized after taking down some small stakes online events and earning money at $60 Turbo Sit & Gos. The winning days were no longer enough to justify the 90-hour weeks, time away from my children, and lack of outdoor exposure. It’s funny that I’ve never had a winning online poker year since I stopped playing professionally. I’ve donated anywhere between $50-$200 a year since ’08 on Stars, and am happier doing that than I was etching out a living in robot-like fashion.
Question #3: Should I Take A “Wait and See” Approach?
“Waiting” and “seeing” are passive actions while online poker improvement is an active pursuit. If you’re a break-even player, then you’ve already waited and seen enough.
Your main consideration when taking this (not recommended) approach is safeguarding your bankroll as you scratch your head for a few more months. Wait, see, and move down to the lowest stakes you can stomach. That way your contemplation won’t get interrupted by poker.
There wasn’t any passive period for me to suffer through in late 2007. I was 100% into playing online poker professionally until one defining moment in Acapulco. It was 3:00 pm inside a beachfront hotel, and right then the absurdity of 12-tabling online poker while my kids were being tended to by a babysitter hit me. I closed my laptop and never played another hand of poker professionally. The writing was already on the wall a few months earlier when I first saw the infamous POTRIPPER hand history replay, but it was sunshine and kids’ laughter that sparked actual change.
Question #4: Should I Move Up In Stakes (Take A Shot)?
Now we’re getting to “nut-cutting” time (as professional wrestling legend Jim Cornette would say in a shoot interview). If you watched the February 20, 2016 Poker Life Podcast episode with Steve Ruddock, you’re aware that one side effect of the Stars Rewards Decrease is a spike in the amount of players moving up in stakes.
While this is the last thing most break-even online poker pros should consider, there are realistic (at least in theory) scenarios in which taking shots — even with a long term negative expectation — makes sense. The allure of personal validation and emotional sense of achievement are far more important than bankroll to some, so there should be some decent higher stakes online games throughout 2016.
If you’re a number crunching break-even player trying to decide whether to PLAY4ROLLZ , here’s a formula custom made for you.
You have 1 farm. Is the upside potential of having 2 (or maybe more) farms > the downside of having 0 farms? If so, then the smart money says you Bet The Farm.
I had one farm in the low five-figures. Running hot and doubling that wouldn’t have made much of a difference but losing it would have been catastrophic, so I cashed out the farm.
Question #5: Should I Stop Playing Online Poker Professionally?
You can, but be mindful that any future re-entry is likely going to be greeted with even tougher competition. Whatever you choose, take Mr. Miyagi’s advice to heart.
Professional online poker isn’t an endeavor that you can do so-so.
As I’ve already referenced, I’ve gleefully been a losing online poker player since 2008. What’s more, I’ve got an extra nickel coming to me thanks to the recent PokerStars changes. I’ll be sure to cash that out if I ever win something again. 😉