Yearly Review, Part 1.

Awhile back I mentioned that I’d be evaluating my yearly performance in this space. I got a little sidetracked since then, but now I think I’m ready to begin my review. Instead of something comprehensive, I’ll post my self-review in a haphazard piecemeal fashion. That’s how blogs are supposed to be, right?

At the beginning of the year, having very little idea of what to expect, I sketched out a number of goals. Each of them was pretty vague in January, but over the course of the past 11 months I’ve been able to attack them somewhat systematically. And now, with the aid of my compiled statistics and hindsight, I can do a decent job of determining where I’ve succeeded and where I’ve failed, and speculate on the reasons why.

Goal #1: Make a living playing poker.

I’m starting with the most fundamental goal of them all. Can David Zeitlin turn in a legitimate tax return for the year 2006 with “gambler” listed in the space next to “profession?” The answer is an unambiguous yes. I’ve made much more money that I expected to make in my rookie year. In fact, I started the year with legitimate concerns about whether I could be a profitable poker player while living in New York City. Today those concerns seem distant.

But my 2006 results don’t provide an entirely satisfactory answer. I’ve done well in the short term, but what about the future? Regardless of their current balance sheets, all businesses need to analyze their prospects going forward, and this sole proprietorship is no exception. Delving into my statistics, the second relevant question is thus whether I can expect similar (or better) success in the years to come. Or, to phrase the same question in a negative way: Am I a fluke? If we ignore some external factors (e.g. the continued availability of online poker, the level of competition, etc.), my statistics offer up some possible answers.

One simple statistic suggests that I’m in good shape: I’m averaging only 31.5 hours of poker per week. While this total only accounts for the hours I’ve spent actually playing—the hours I’ve spent reading about poker, traveling to play poker, discussing poker, writing about poker, logging time, etc. are not included—it is still a light work week. The numbers seem to indicate that I could ramp my work week up to 40 or 50 hours and make more money. Right?

Not necessarily. A closer look at my output shows that I’ve made my money in three big chunks. One could throw out the vast majority of the roughly 1500 sessions I’ve played, retain only three of them and still account for over 80% of my income for the year. The three big scores, of course, came in tournaments. And it is the nature of tournaments that long periods may elapse between huge scores, which is exactly what happened to me in 2006. Have I been unusually lucky, i.e. is three big scores more than I can realistically expect in future years?

I’m not sure. I do not have a very impressive number of final tables to my credit, so my tournament statistics are indeed imbalanced. In my tournament play, I have washed out, cashed for a relatively insignificant sum, or won the entire tournament. Rarely have I made the final table and then gotten bounced. What does this mean? The optimist in me tells me I’m a closer, that I know how to finish the tourneys off. The pessimist in me says that a better player would have made more final tables, and thus made more sizable cashes.

One thing is definitely true: I ended up playing more tournaments and fewer cash games than I expected I would. After the big Foxwoods score in March, I became sort of tournament-obsessed and devoted a much larger percentage of my play to tournaments from that time forward. This obviously contributed to the skewing of my statistics. Cash games are a much steadier source of income than tourneys. In poker nerd parlance, tournaments are a “higher variance” pursuit than cash games. Perhaps in the future I will remedy long droughts by focusing my efforts on cash games.

Emotionally speaking, I am proud of my undeniable short term success as a professional poker player. While I was confident I could pull it off, I never thought my bottom line would look as good as it does. And, after eleven months, I feel neither bored nor complacent, so my effort going forward should remain steady. There are numerous flaws in my game, but those are topics for the next few blog entries.

One thing I’m not totally used to just yet is the social stigma attached to gambling for a living. It’s the holiday season, and I’m seeing various member of my extended family for the first time in months, so I’ve been a little more exposed than usual. Witness the following exchange I had with an elderly aunt at Thanksgiving:

Aunt Shirley: “So, how’s the lawyering?”

Me: “Actually, I’m no longer practicing law. I play poker for a living now.”

Aunt Shirley: “What?!”

Me: “Yup, no more law. I just play poker now.”

Aunt Shirley (looks at me, then my mother with wide eyes, then back to me): “Oh, that is such a shame.”

Me: “If you saw my bank account you might think differently.”

Aunt Shirley: [horrified silence].

For some reason, I found this exchange rather satisfying.

3 thoughts on “Yearly Review, Part 1.

  1. Next family event tell Aunt Shirley you are an actuary…just to see if you get confused silence.

    Life insurance companies pay out tons of death benefit claims annually. Each year there are also some very large claims, sometimes much larger than expected. Ultimately these are not outliers. Percentages say that each year there will continue to be some level of large claims.

    Hence, don’t think the big chunks are outliers. You don’t expect to get big wins too often, but percentages say that you shouldn’t be surprised to get a big chunk every now and then.

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