I have a good friend who plays in some of the highest stakes games in the world. He plays in everything from Bobby’s Room at Bellagio, to Ivey’s Room at Aria, to underground private games in Hollywood. He’s seen more nosebleed games up close than anyone I know, so I posed the question to him the other day of “Who is up the most cash ever in poker?”. He replied pretty quickly with “Why does it matter, you’ve never heard of him”. I figured it was a needle at me not being a part of this high stakes community, but he went on to explain that the player who has made the most cash is someone who has been able to play a very affluent businessman heads up over an extended period of time, winning what he believes to be over $200,000,000. I asked him who does he think is next on the list? He again listed 2 people I’ve never heard of in my life and explained the private games that they’re able to play in with mega whales. I quipped back with “Are these guys even world class players?”. And he quickly replied “Not at all, but they get seats in the best games that exist”. We talked for a bit longer about the ins and outs on how they get seats into these games and how the private game landscape exactly works. It’s a wild game (inside the game) where you need to make it look like you’re an average player at best, who can recruit whales to the game, and that you’ll do whatever it takes to make the game fun when it runs (typically by drinking with the recreationals). My friend went on to explain that this difficult dynamic limits most professionals to only 75-100 seats in games during an entire year. That works out to players working only twice/week, but when they get in these games their edges are through the roof.
Later that night I thought more about this conversation and how it relates to our business and our players. Often times I feel like poker players spend so much time trying to improve their game for microscopic edges while failing to realize the importance of putting themselves in the absolute best games possible. Now, it’s unrealistic for our players to get seats in these nosebleed private games, but here are some examples of how this concept relates to our players and the games we play:
-Site Selection: For our MTT guys we’ve given them very specific data showing win rates on some newer smaller sites are exponentially larger than on a more established site like America’s Card Room. The appeal of the larger, sexier guarantees on America’s Card Room lures them in, and they all to often ignore the $11 1k guarantees on these other sites where they will have a long term 30%+ ROI. On the cash game side, I still see many players at the lower stakes automatically grinding 4 tables of Ignition while having access to 3 sites. The games on these other 2 smaller sites are much, much softer than even Ignition. With the changes to Ignition’s rake structure at the lower stakes, and with the advantages of the large rakeback our guys receive on the smaller sites it’s easy to argue that they should be filling up their tables with the other sites first and just using Ignition tables as fillers afterwards.
-Game Selection: For our cash game players, if a guy is approved to play up to NL400, we tend to see them just instantly loading up 4 tables of NL400. They give no effort to look at the NL200 games and are willing to play in 1 mediocre NL400 game in hopes it will significantly improve, rather than finding the best NL200 game they can get. We see the same thing at all stake levels. For our MTT guys, it goes back to what I said earlier but again guys would rather load the $50 30k guarantee where they historically have had a 3% ROI over the lower buyin lower guarantees where their ROI is 10x greater. 3% of $50 is < 30% of $11, but still I go through spreadsheets and see guys playing limited schedules of just the larger guarantees, completely ignoring the huge money makers.
I think that for both cash games players and MTT players, the illusion of the giant win is what keeps them from placing themselves in the most profitable games. For a cash game player, he might think (subconsciously or consciously) that playing smaller is missing an opportunity to stack a whale with more money. But in reality they often place themselves in games with fewer whales and lower edges just to play bigger. 8bb/100 at 200nl is worth more than 3bb/100 at 400nl. MTT players can often be blinded by the large guarantees. They are chasing the dream of the giant life changing, or year changing or month changing score. It is true that you can never hit a 5 figure score in an $11 1k gtd like you can in a $55 30k gtd. But you will win money exponentially more often at a vastly higher ROI. We have massive amounts of data showing this trend. Our best players still have relatively low ROIs in huge field, high gtd tournaments and this includes many large top 3 finishes.
-Time of Day: Depending on the site there are specific times of the day where games are much better than others. For our MTT guys, Sunday is your day where you need to settle in and focus for a long day. Taking off Sunday, or playing a limited schedule on Sunday massively hurts your bottom line. Poker offers us so much flexibility in our lives, but there are times where you just have to suit up and show up. For our cash game players, I know it differs a lot by which site you’re playing but figure out what the absolute best 6 hour window of the entire day is and commit to playing for most or all of that window each and every single day. That window might be from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. I know those hours are not ideal working conditions but your hourly win rate might be 50% greater than playing the day shift. Would you rather work 60 hours/week during the day, or work 40 hours/week at night for the same amount of $? I understand that there are some of you that are dads, moms, or people with full time jobs that put a severe strain on when exactly you’re able to grind. Find the balance in your life that satisfies those obligations while also putting yourself in the best position to make the most money possible.
Getting seats into these aforementioned private games is incredibly difficult for any poker pro to accomplish. They go out of their way to keep the games friendlier for the recreational players and the guys who end up getting seats work the politics of these games very well. This aspect of these private games creates a huge barrier to entry for these poker pros. What are your barriers to entry in getting seats in the best games possible? Is it something as simple as changing the order of which online site’s lobby you look at? Is it committing to playing every Sunday for an entire day and moving your plans to any other day of the week? Is it changing your sleep schedule to accommodate the incredible cash games that run in the middle of the night?
If you’re unsure what exactly you can do to better optimize the games you’re playing, reach out to your fellow grinders or reach out to our management team. These small changes will make a gigantic impact to your bottom line.