The 4%…

Bitmap in the 4 percent

This blog was originally going to be called “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Marbella”?  I had a great time, 5 days of poker went well, 5 days of holiday went well (the problem that was to be solved was how to balance poker & paradise, it got solved by the way), 2 of the 8 trophies were won by friends who I gave lifts to and from the airport (TKP, The Firm & my group picked up a combined 11 Hendon Mob flags between us, from a group of 12 players, pretty good going), the hospitality of the Spanish & UKIPT staff was incredible, David Curtis, Natalie Besate, Kit Thompson, you put on an amazing event, what a brilliant stop for the tour.  I took part in the activity day, the player’s party & match experiences…

Alas, a culture clash at one of the world cup matches shown on big screens as part of the PokerStars festival saw good guy Dale Philip lose his PokerStars sponsorship.  Football banter in the UK regularly sees good friends needle & verbally abuse each other as opposing teams lose, this is purely done for fun & without malice and gets given back with the same fun spirit when your own team loses.  Unfortunately, this banter with accompanying gestures was seen as offensive by some of the Spanish fans, some of whom I consider friends, and they felt that salt was being rubbed in the wounds of a woeful Spanish performance.  They expressed their offence, and I assume they campaigned and after a few days PokerStars acted and stripped this popular player of his sponsorship.  Read more about it from Dale’s perspective here –


“no interest in promoting poker”

A few days ago, Dan Coleman won 1st prize in the $1,000,000 buy in ‘Big One for One Drop’ at the World Series of Poker.  He beat Daniel Negreanu heads up to win $15,000,000 but upon winning he refused to take part in the usual media interviews and photo shoots that accompanies wins at these events.  The media backlash was severe, many people appeared to be personally offended by his apparent snub to the poker industry.

Much chatter on twitter followed and Dan Coleman subsequently answered back with this response.

This leads me to what my blog is actually about.  Dale Philip just lost his sponsorship deal, Dan Coleman doesn’t want a sponsorship deal because he sees the poker industry as exploitative, so my question is, can the average player win at poker?  Or is it all a giant pyramid scheme, where a few win but the vast majority are losers who are being used & exploited to fund the lavish lifestyles of a few?


pyramid-schemes-demotivational-poster-1238865630 pyramid_scheme


“How many people actually make a living, even a modest one, playing poker”?

I read somewhere years ago that 96% of all people who play poker lose money at it.  I’ve struggled to find where I read that, but everything I’ve seen and heard since I started playing poker tells me that number is correct.

This article is 9 years old and although it doesn’t factor in the modern world of profitable on-line grinders, I think the key points are still valid and it ties in closely with my 4% figure.

Another more topical article discusses why it’s extremely difficult to play live poker profitably.

You need to be in the top 4% of poker players in the world to be in profit. That still won’t give you enough to live from.  The people winning at poker by a big enough margin to actually take a wage from it are going to be an even smaller percentage, but if you are in profit, if you are in the 4% club, congratulations, well done, we’ve made it, we’ve beat the game.

But what about the other 96%?  The people who aspire to be in the 4% and who the winning players want to keep aspiring whilst they’re paying our wages.

Is poker evil?  Is it the exploitation of the weak by the strong?  Is it the “very dark game” that Dan Coleman believes it is?

I had the honour to sit with Steve O’Dwyer at Edinburgh UKIPT in January.  A fantastic player, widely regarded as one of the best players in the world and considered by most to be a genuinely nice guy.  And I’m sitting with him in my home city playing a £1k buy in that I’d satellite in for £7 (because that’s how I roll).  He’d just come back from a disappointing PCA where he’d played a $10k buy in Main Event, a $25k buy in High Roller and a $100k buy in Super High Roller.  So this guy, 15th in the Global Poker Index rankings for 2013 was sitting there, next to a guy who got his seat for £7, and Steve’s sitting with no sponsors patches on, drinking his own tea that he brings with him when he’s playing, from his own cup.  I like to chat at a poker table, and he’s being very courteous and engaging with me, and I ask “why no sponsorship”?  His answer was one similar to Dan Coleman’s response.  He’s not completely comfortable with the business he’s in.  The business model of the poker sites is to constantly attract new players, and he’d need to let himself be used to sell that dream to those people, and that idea made him uncomfortable so he chooses not to.  He likes the game, he enjoys playing, he’s a huge success and despite being highly sought after and despite making this very good living from the business he’s in, he wants to be a guy who plays poker not a guy who sells the poker dream.  This impressed me greatly, ethics & a strong moral code from a guy whose job is to exploit weakness and to be ruthless, yet he is compassionate & caring and doesn’t want to be part of leading others into a career where it is incredibly difficult to succeed.

I learned a very good lesson at a young age.  Gambling, the bookies and the house always win.  I saw the lives of many relatives negatively affected by problem gambling and as such I don’t gamble myself.  Not a pound on the Grand National, not a pound in a fruit machine.

I’ve placed 8 football bets in my life and I’m up £1,000 on them.  One was a free bet from joining a poker site, 2 were from Scotland beating France in 2007 when I was at the games and I felt the price offered was too good to miss and others were similar value too good to be missed in 1 off opportunities, but still placed with offers from joining a betting site and getting losing bets refunded from your 1st bet etc, with the option to cash out if I lost.

I don’t like gambling.  Like Coleman & O’Dwyer’s comments, I see corporations that want to exploit the poor and sell an unattainable dream.

I spend a lot of time in Casinos, but I only ever play tournament poker.  I have a qualification in Statistical Analysis Techniques and know if you play casino games with a house edge of between 0.5% & 6%, in the long term, you cannot win.  When I see poker players who I know are close to being maths geniuses punt off significant amounts at casino games, I’m gob-smacked.  I don’t like to gamble, so I don’t, I understand they may get a thrill & a rush from it, but it only ever has 1 outcome in the long term, the house always wins.



So why do I play poker?

People who know poker know the difference, but people who don’t will think I’m deluding myself.  I sometimes think I’m deluding myself.  I question my own ability regularly and have occasional crises of confidence.  I consider myself of only moderate competence at poker, my own perception of my skill level means I shouldn’t be winning.  If I deduct my 2 biggest live wins, instead of having a 467% ROI over 50 games (where the buy in was <£100), I’d have a 5% ROI.  Equally my on-line tournament play, deduct my 2 biggest wins and instead of 71% ROI, I’d have 20% ROI over 1,000 games.  My on-line SnG stats have me losing at a rate of -5%, mainly playing hyper turbos as a learning game for short stack short handed play, so technically an investment 🙂

So I am beating poker, but only by 4 results.  I still fear that long term I will lose, although that fear doesn’t seem to be panning out.  Last year was my best year until then, this year is even better, I am doing okay and I can see the game and the business a lot clearer.



#LoveTheGame #HateTheGame

I like poker. I’ve been watching it since the late 90s, Late Night Poker on Channel 4, learning the game by watching the Hendon Mob, Vicky Coren, Devilfish etc, having a very British take on Texas Hold ‘em.  I liked it, I liked the social interaction that appeared to be going on but back then I never thought I’d play it.

I played a little on-line in the mid 2000s, enjoyed learning the game but didn’t really get more seriously into playing until I started going regularly to a local weekly pub game in the late 2000s. Then Casinos, then UKIPTs, which needed to be won through satellites, so online poker became something I played.

I much prefer live poker, the social interaction is enjoyable in itself, randomly seated with strangers and hearing their stories.  I’ve had the fortune to sit with Tom (Jabracada) Hall a few times at UKIPTs.  One day, once I’d got to know him a bit, I asked him, as a hard working dedicated pro, do you still enjoy playing poker?  His opinion may have changed, as since then, he’s won UKIPT player of the year, just missed out on a final table at the PCA, chopped 2 EPT side events, still crushing online and firmly fixed himself as one of the top 10 players in the UK, but his answer at the time shocked me.  He said, poker for him was work and the sheer amount of time he puts in online makes it a proper grind.

I have so much respect for Tom, for how he plays, easily 1 of the best players I’ve had the pleasure to play with and watching how he does his work close up is a treat, but for him it is work.  It is his job, he doesn’t play poker, he works at poker.  And that for me is why I’m a recreational player and he is a professional.

I don’t rely on poker for an income and I’d play if there was no money involved, I like the game and I like the challenge and I like the people I meet while playing.

I asked the same question of EPT winner Rupert Elder when I played with him at a £200 local casino game last year, he was part way through taking an extended break from poker, but his response was, “even though this has a 1st prize smaller than some of the buy ins I’ve paid, I’m still here playing, so yeah, I must enjoy playing or I wouldn’t be sat here”.

I’ve had the same conversation with a few others and I’m always interested to hear peoples thoughts.  Dara O’Kearney in his latest blog here

He quotes David Lappin & Daragh Davey saying if they could make less money doing something they enjoyed more, they’d quit poker.  When Doke told me this, a tear ran down my cheek but fortunately for my manly image, it evaporated immediately in the Marbella sun.

I do love poker but I’m also fortunate enough to have not been jaded by it.  The relative success also means the inevitable down-swings will be softened.

I find myself trying to protect my enthusiasm by limiting how much I play.  I’ve had spells of disliking poker.  Playing perfect, mistake free poker over a decent duration, but having variance just slap me down with improbable turn & river cards.  I don’t enjoy that but I’m also aware that my big wins have always seen me hit at least one 2 or 3 outer over the course of the tournament.  I’ve yet to win a significant amount without having a little of the variance go my way, I’d like that perfect tournament, I got my chips in front in every significant pot and it held each time, that’s yet to happen for me.  But I’ve been dumped out of plenty of tournaments with people playing terribly and getting rewarded for their stupidity.  Those moments are much easier to take when you can see the bigger picture and have the bankroll to take those hits, even then, when they seem to come too often, it can be a real drag.



Can recreational players win long term at poker?

I’m currently enjoying success, but I have no idea if that’s a short term blip, or if my poker skills are adequate to give me long term regular big scores.  When I first started playing seriously I wanted to play well, so I found myself railing successful players.  The collection of Irish lads called ‘The Firm’ mentioned above.  I looked at their stats and was blown away.  Just a steady lifelong upswing.  If there was ever a correct way to play poker they certainly knew ‘the secret’ and were clearly successful in poker.  I chose to rail them and engage with them to see if I could somehow discover ‘the secret’ for myself.  Sheer force of personality & perseverance made it difficult for them to ignore me and eventually through observation I figured out ‘the secret’ they have.


The secret to the success The Firm have is…

Super User Accounts!   No.

Bots! Nope afraid not.

Luck o’ the Irish! Maybe a little.

‘The Secret’ is they work really, really hard.  Both in the study of the game and while they’re playing the game.  They have a work ethic second to none and approach the game as a business.

This revelation was a little disappointing to me. I was looking for a simple answer to make easy money. Working hard was not what I wanted to hear. It’s not that I’m lazy, but I do consider myself efficient with my efforts.

Poker really is a difficult way to make easy money.

I guess what I’m ultimately saying is, not everyone can be winners in this game, but that’s okay. Because 99% of the people who play football down the park on a Sunday are never going to play in the Premier League, 99.9% of the guys who enjoy Go Karting are never going to race in Formula One.  The gap between the grass roots and the elite is too far.   The same goes for poker, if you like playing the game, that’s all you need.   The enjoyment of the pastime.

But what poker does offer, is occasionally for a few pounds investment, you’ll spin that up through a satellite and one day you’ll be sitting next to one of the top 10 poker players in the world.  No matter how often you go to the park, you’ll never get to play with Ronaldo or Messi.  No matter how often you go Go Karting, you’ll never get to race with Vettel, Hamilton or Alonso.

And I may not compete financially with Jake Cody or Steve O’Dwyer over the long term, but I got my 4 bet in and I check raised on the flop.  In that one hand, in that one tournament, I was competing.  The Pyramid looks very flat on days like that.

I may be pretty far down the food chain of the poker pyramid scheme, but I was able to look up and touch the tip…

Toby Stone did give me a warning though, touching the tip is considered inappropriate sexual contact and is grounds for disqualification 😉




Am I the exception to the rule?  Is my success an anomaly?  Small volume, small bankroll, big wins.

I agree a more professional approach is a more sure way to steady long term success.


My tips for a successful career would be –

Bankroll Management – Play within a budget and stick to it. Bust players can’t win anything.

Study, Study, Study! – Educate yourself, read as much as you can, watch everything you can & discuss hands & strategy with better players.  Never believe you’ve learnt all there is to learn and you have a foolproof way to play, you should be constantly trying to improve & adapting to how the game is evolving with current trends.

Game selection – choose games where you will generally be the best player at the table. Look for overlays, added value, look to increase your edge over the field & the format.  And play satellites. They are the best way to get massive ROI and play bigger games without risking too much.

Play a lot of volume, work hard, put the hours in.

Regularly re-evaluate yourself and monitor your progress, get feedback form others on your game.

But most important of all, ask yourself…

Am I enjoying myself?

Do I like playing poker?

These are the 2 most important questions.

If you can answer yes to these, then it almost doesn’t matter if you’re losing money at poker, you just need to limit yourself to stakes low enough so that the funds used to play aren’t causing a problem in your personal finances.  There are games on-line & in casinos for every budget.

A very interesting debate is currently taking place on twitter & in blogs between 2 of the best players in Ireland, David Lappin & John O’Shea. The issue of Bankroll Management is at the heart of it, how much of the available money to play poker should you be investing at one time, or over a specific series of games. David described this to me once as “dreamers” & “cowards”. David is the coward by his own admission, he believes the best approach is low variance, risk avoidance. I’m inclined to agree.

The blogs are here

Had I won in Nottingham, I would have been a dreamer & taking a shot for the WSOP main event.  I didn’t, so I’m not.




Is it morally and ethically alright to try to encourage new players in to poker when 96% are not going to profit from it long term.

For me, the answer is yes, as long as they enjoy it.

It’s not an easy way to make money, but it is an enjoyable way to try.

I don’t have a problem with sponsored pros & ambassadors making newcomers feel welcome and making poker a positive experience for them.

In a recent blog Vicky Coren Mitchell despaired when she was being her usual chatty self at a game in the WSOP, someone said “Don’t talk to her. She’s a pro, she’s just trying to get information to exploit you.”

That made me sad to hear that said. Poker needs to be enjoyable, for amateurs & pros alike. Whether I’m winning or losing, I want the people I’m spending time with to have enjoyed my company. I know I grate on a few of them and not everyone wants a chatty table, some people are there to work, not to have a good time. Fair play. I’d recommend doing both, if you can.


I will never be a professional player, poker will never be my full time job. I already have one of those looking after this guy.

WSOP Gordon

And thanks to poker, we get to have a nicer life.

Thanks for reading and remember, play on PokerStars (© Stapes 2014)


Edited to add a blog by Daniel Negreanu on the very same subject;