I’ve been playing poker professionally for over 10 years, have had relationships with poker-related businesses, and also have a bachelor’s degree in economics from Cornell University, so I think I’m about as qualified as anyone to talk about the poker economy. I realize that some readers will disagree given their own personal biases, but here’s how I see things:
The Game Itself: Poker at its core is a type of customer service. It’s a game meant to be enjoyed by a wide variety of people. Poker is different from most games in that it’s played for money, and there will be winners and losers. Due to the fact that games are raked, there are more losers than winners. The winners are players who usually play for a living, work hard, and have strong technical knowledge of the game of poker. The losers are mainly recreational players who can afford to lose some money playing poker, as well as some former winners who have mental game leaks and/or are unwilling to work hard enough to continue to win in today’s games. For the purpose of this post, let’s just assign losers = recreational players.
The key point is that the losers are willing to lose their money playing poker only if they are being entertained in the process. They need to have compelling reasons to take their hard earned money to the poker table rather than the baccarat table or a concert or whatever other hobbies they enjoy.
So what makes recreational players enjoy their experience?
- For one thing, they enjoy playing the game of poker itself. When a recreational player sits down to play a game of poker, he is expecting to have a good experience. This makes the winners’ job easier; they mainly have to just not fuck it up.
- I think most rec players enjoy engaging with their tablemates and getting to know them a bit. This isn’t universal, but it’s true in most cases in my experience and aligns with the views of people such as Daniel Negreanu and Phil Hellmuth.
- Many recreational players like to gamble; after all they are playing poker for fun. Making friendly bets at the table, whether on sports, how large a tournament field will end up being (I’m a huge fish at this one lol), flips, etc., is a fun thing for many rec players.
What makes recreational players have a bad experience?
- Rec players almost universally hate being berated and having their play criticized. Many of them are well aware they are not great poker players, and they are fine with that until some hotshot pro makes a big deal out of it. So when a pro berates a rec, the rec is both (a) offended, and (b) motivated to play better poker in the future to avoid being berated again.
- Rec players dislike it when they try to engage with their tablemates and the tablemates blow them off. It makes them feel like they are not respected and are basically considered bait rather than actual people. Rec players enjoy poker both for the game itself and for the social environment, and when the social environment is not there, the game is much less fun for them.
I think many pros fail to realize the above points and, for various reasons, do not work hard at trying to make recreational players have a good experience at the poker table. Personally, early on in my poker career I didn’t quite grasp the big picture and often chose to just listen to music and keep to myself at the table, because I was a shy, introverted guy and this was more comfortable for me. Over time, I’ve realized that the poker professionals who really “get it” are those who both (a) are technically skilled at poker, and (b) are skilled at providing the recreational players a fun environment to play poker.
Training Sites: Disclaimer: I made videos on CardRunners starting in 2005 or 2006. The last video I made was in 2013. I’m unsure of future plans to make videos at the moment. I also consider myself good friends with Phil Galfond, who runs Run It Once.
Over the years, I’ve seen quite a few people (mainly a very vocal few) complain about training sites and how they are bad for the game. I couldn’t disagree more strongly with this point-of-view. Training sites are businesses that provide several benefits to the poker economy:
- Training sites promote free exchange of information about the game of poker. This helps to advance poker theory and gives players an outlet to discuss the game with like minded people including top pros. A novice poker player can post a thread on Run It Once and get advice from people like Phil, Ben Sulsky, Brian Rast, and other brilliant poker minds free of charge. That is an invaluable resource for them.
- Training sites also offer customers the option to subscribe and watch videos made by professionals, which IMO is the best way for poker players to learn the game. If customers have questions about the videos, they can post them and they will be answered by smart people who can help, including the videomakers themselves.
- Training sites employ poker pros, whose income is generally very unstable, and give them an opportunity to make poker videos to make some stable income on the side.
Of course, not everyone likes training sites and thinks they are good for poker. My opinion is that those who are in the anti-training sites camp have these characteristics/beliefs:
- selfishness/entitlement – “I’ve worked hard on my poker game, now I’m entitled to profit off of my learned skills. It’s not fair if others are given outlets to learn about the game at a quicker pace than I did x years ago and catch up to my skill level.”
- unwillingness to work hard themselves to continue to keep up with modern poker theory
- lack of understanding of Econ 101/supply and demand
I mean, how outrageous would it be if Isaac Newton said “Wow, look at these cool things I’ve discovered! I guess on some level it’d be cool to help others to learn what I’ve learned, but that wouldn’t be fair considering all the hard work I put in, so I think all of my ideas should stay to myself.”
One of my biggest inspirations in life is Elon Musk. Mr. Musk has spent his life innovating and trying to solve major societal problems. I highly recommend watching this 18 minute video of his latest invention, the Tesla Powerwall. Mr. Musk also has a policy (at least for Tesla, I think for all his companies but not 100% edit – friend informed me that it’s 100% true for SpaceX also) of open sourcing all his company’s patents so competitors can learn from him and help solve these societal problems. Mr. Musk is certainly quite wealthy, but money is not what motivates him. I think many poker professionals could learn a lot from him.
The Other Players: There are certainly other major players in the poker economy (casinos, online poker sites, media, poker authors, fans of the game, other poker-related businesses) but this blog is long enough for now and contains the main points I wanted to make. If there is enough interest I’d be happy to do a part 2 at some point.