Wednesday, October 27, 2004

On Being a “Professional”

I just noticed this quote from Iggy, who is himself quoting someone named "AJ":

I'll probably make the jump to [playing poker] full-time Jan 1 but we will see. For those of you who care I am starting a new category - I will call myself a "full-time poker player" rather than a professional poker player. I don't belong with the likes of the true professionals ... I'm just a guy making a living from it.

Well, if that's not a professional, AJ, then what is? You wouldn't say, "I'm not a professional musician, I'm just a guy who makes his living by playing the sousaphone." You wouldn't say, "I'm not a professional artist, I'm just a guy who makes his living sculpting clay." If it's how you make your living, you're a pro.

I know why you have the trepidation, though. When I quit Lowes, I wrote something like, "So now, unbelievably, I am a poker pro ... but dammit, I don't feel like a poker pro." My own problem with using the phrase "poker pro" is that I associated it with the pros you see on TV, the Doyles and Johnnys and Phils and Annies that when they aren't in tournaments, play for giant-sized bets and win and lose with style. That's not me, and I'm guessing it's not you.

But we've been applying a distorted view of what a "professional" is. The image we have from pro poker players and pro sports players and a couple of other things is that a "pro" is someone who is among the handful of very best at his job. But in every other line of work, a "professional" is just someone who makes his living from his job. One can be a professional burger-flipper or ditchdigger just as well as one can be a professional poker player.

There is one important thing to understand here: To be a professional, you don't even have to be very good! You only have to be good enough that people will pay you to do it. Gil's business provides the best example of this. He'll book any of a number of acts for your corporate event, including comedians, magicians, bands, DJs, speakers, ventriloquists, and a few other things that don't focus so much on a single person. But Gil has talked about some of the acts he books, and doesn't book, and some of his competition. He had a tape in of an old set of performances at the annual magicians' get-together in Colon, Mich., and some of the acts were frankly not very good. But most of the acts came from people who were making their livings performing their acts. Gil himself has been doing more-or-less the same act for fifteen years now. But as long as their performances keep them from a "real job," they're professionals.

There's something here that ties in with the usual definition of "profession" or "a professional," without qualification. Those usually refer to doctors, lawyers, accountants, architects, and a few other things where one has a "practice." But I think the key point, which ties in not only with what Gil and his compatriots do, but with what a professional golf or poker or tennis player does, is that the "professional" is working for himself. Even the notion of a professional burger-flipper sort of requires that you think of him as someone who just loves burger-flipping for its own sake, who doesn't really care who he flips burgers for, or where, so long as he is allowed the nirvana of being able to flip a burger. In other words: Someone working for himself, who sees McDonalds or Wendys as a customer rather than an employer.

So, AJ, whatever you want to call it, if you quit your job to play poker, then may the gods help you: You're a professional poker player.


Last weekend Gil and I returned to Mt. Pleasant for another afternoon of poker. This time Gil wasn't truly staking me, as I was expected to pay back any losses, but since I had been running good (see the last several posts) I didn't expect any losses.

I was disappointed for the first hour or so, as my $100 turned into $50 through a couple of second-bests, but then I got on a rush and found myself $80 ahead, where I stayed for the next four or five hours. But then Gil said something about leaving in a half-hour or so, and my $80 profit suddenly disappeared. I felt that my play had opened up a bit at the end of this session, but thinking back after the fact I was unable to think of any hands I played particularly badly. I saw a couple of flops with questionable hands, but for one bet in a loose game I'm not bothered by that as long as I'm able to make the determination postflop whether I'm beat or not. And even in that last half-hour I don't think that I made any horrible misjudgments. But I was sucked out on a couple of times, and had a couple of strong preflop holdings that failed to develop. And so, I left down $16, which extended my streak of losing sessions at the casino to seven.

It turned out that the deal with my debit card is that they closed out the card because my checking account was overdrawn for so long. So, I called the bank, and they're sending me a new card. I'm very tempted to take $200 or $250 and head to Manistee whenever I get up tomorrow, to play the $4/$8 game at my favorite local poker room. If I go, hopefully the streak will then read: One win.

Gil went to Greektown Casino in Detroit today. I was invited, but he left only a couple of hours after I got off of work, and I hadn't been able to get to sleep. If I had gone with Gil, I wouldn't have got any sleep for something like thirty hours, so it's good I didn't go. But it was also very good that Gil did go. He went up $200 in a $5/$10 game, then took $110 and sat one of their new sit-and-go tournaments ($100+$10, payouts $600/$300/$100) and won that. So, his $700 profit on the day made it worth taking an afternoon off.

Bad Beats

For those who weren't trying desperately to win it overnight, PartyPoker's bad beat jackpot was hit at a record high, $476,688. They distributed 70% of that, so the "big part" was $166,841. But the interesting thing is that the table was four-handed, so the table share was over $40,000 for each of the other two people in the hand. The jackpot was also high enough that it reset to almost $100,000; expect to see it back above $200,000 in a few days.

I was on three tables when it hit, out of over 300, so one can decide that I had a 1% chance of figuring into the bad beat hand. That involves an incorrect assumption, but one can decide it anyway. I noticed that the play got worse after the jackpot hit; my guess is that the people who transferred $100 to PartyPoker from other sites in order to play for the big jackpots all left after the jackpot hit. Good, because what had before been only breakeven play before that turned into a $200 day.

It was also amusing to see the 300+ bad-beat tables drop below 100 within fifteen minutes of the jackpot hitting.


Thursday night, October 28, will mark the beginning of my semi-professional poker career. It will be the first night that I'm at work that isn't "training" of some sort. The last several nights I've played two tables there for two or three hours each night, but two of the three nights my results were drastically (but not dangerously) down. I attribute that to being distracted; my co-worker popped a DVD into her portable DVD player, and I already have experienced that I can't have the TV on while I play. I won't be working with her anymore.

One could question my judgment for playing at all with the DVD player on, but I tried to play my old $3/$6 game, which is very tight, very ABC, and very uncreative. This is a game that I try to employ when I know I'm distracted. I think of it as my "old A game," but I need a better name if I'm still going to employ the style in some cases. The style used to beat the $3/$6 games for something like 1.7 BB/c, so I think of it as a winning style, but maybe it's not anymore. Or maybe I've forgotten how to do it right.

There's another area where I think my judgment has been off. The last day of play I have logged is August 15, which is the day my PartyPoker bankroll effectively hit zero. I might be able to reconstruct something from these entries, and in fact I think my play is up overall since then (up about $1200 online and down about $500 in the casino), but the fact that I stopped logging when I got frustrated seems in retrospect to be far too tilty; I didn't handle busting out very well.

If I do indeed go to Manistee tomorrow, then my PP bankroll will enter the semi-pro period at about $730, after $600 in withdrawals, off the $100 that Party fronted me some weeks ago. And I'll begin a new log and new PokerTracker database at that point.

I'm kind of thinking that this semi-pro period will last about a year, at which point I could move to Vegas or L.A. actually ready to be a successful poker pro. I could see this time period being shorter (a five-figure tournament score or bad-beat win) but, by the gods, I hope it's not longer.


How are the games in Mt. Pleasant? I live over in Saginaw and have wanted to check out their poker room since it opened earlier in the year, but haven't had the chance. I've heard there is a 2-3 hour wait for a seat at times.

A good post but in regard to the statement that I have been doing essentially the same act for 15 yrs. a famous magician once said--

"a amateur does new tricks for the same old people while a pro does old tricks for new people"

I'm not sure there is a poker lesson here but maybe...
I answered the Mt. Pleasant thing on the last post.

Anonymous, above, is Gil.
I don't see where...that was the first comment I made here. I had sent you an email, but didn't get a response.

Nice post dude.

But I disagree with your definition of a professional, evn if it's in the dictionary.

All jobs where you're called a professional (except maybe poker) have an inherent conflict of interest built in, resulting in the need to behave professionally.

Doctors make more money if you keep coming back and they do unneccesary surgery. Lawyers make more if they drag your divorce out. Salespeople make more if they overextend their customers.

I think of 'professionals' as those in jobs that require a high degree of personal ethics since their interests are often in conflict of their paying customers.

My two cents, love the blog thanks for the link.
Ok...now they've showed up.
Well, a high degree of personal ethics is required in nearly all jobs. I am having difficulty thinking of one, even ditchdigging and burgerflipping, where it's not important to do your job without cutting corners, etc.

I know that at the crappy jobs I've held in the past, management has enjoined the employees to behave "professionally," which has always seemed odd to me because of the usual definition of what constitutes a "professional." But using your definition, that can make sense.

However, I still think the important point for a "professional" is that he works for himself. If a real-estate agent is finally able to sell the haunted mansion on Fifth Street, he is still a professional realtor even if he knows the ghosts are going to kill everyone in the house. He's unethical, but he's still a professional realtor.

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