Yearly Review, Part 2

Moving forward with my one-year self-evaluation:

Goal #2: Become a big shot online poker player

I failed to meet this goal, which turned out to be much more difficult to attain than I had anticipated. I started out the year playing a lot of mid-level no limit ring games online. I did fairly well, but as the year progressed, emboldened by my live success and drawn by the notoriety achieved by the online tournament specialists, I chose to spend my online time playing tournaments almost exclusively. I did not fare especially well in this venture until recently. In the end, there is a big disparity between my live results and my online results. Over a long, statistically significant period, my performance in live play is much stronger than my performance in online play.


First, the widespread belief that the world of online poker is populated mostly by idiots is a myth. Maybe a few years ago, but not now. In my experience, at identical stakes, online poker is much tougher than brick and mortar poker. For instance, the level of play in a 1-2 NL cash game online is comparable to the play in a 5-10 NL game live. Similarly, the level of play in a $100 tournament online is comparable to the play in a $1,000 brick and mortar tournament.

Why is online play tougher? The most obvious answer is that most of the world does not live in close proximity to a poker room. So there are thousands of excellent players whose only poker outlet is their computers. Also, large buy-in tournies aren’t available online. When the biggest multitable tournament buy-in is $200, the best players will gravitate to that tournament, even though they would feel just as comfortable playing in a $1000+ tournament.

Further, and maybe most importantly, internet poker players can “multitable,” i.e., play at more than one table at the same time. While an accomplished player might sit in a 10-25 NL cash game live, he can achieve a higher rate of return by opening six 2-4 NL tables online. Thus, in the online poker world, an opponent who appears to be just another low stakes fish is often quite the opposite: a poker genius with two computer monitors completely covered with action.

Thus, contrary to popular belief, the typical $100 multitable online tournament is not stocked solely with horrible players. Instead, these tournaments usually feature three distinct classes of players:

1) The Fish. Some are long term losers flushing money away, some are still learning, and some are just having fun, but they’re all in over their head. Probably around 10 to 20 percent of the field of a $100 online tournament are fish.

2) Solid Players. These guys know the basics and have a few moves in their arsenal. If they catch a good run of cards, they might win, but the odds are stacked against them because of the presence of the third class of player. Anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of the field of a $100 online tourney is comprised of solid players.

3) Sharks. There is a select group of players, probably numbering around one or two thousand total, who are simply dominant online tournament players. does a great job of covering these guys, many of whom spend 12+ hours per day multitabling online tournaments. These guys have all the moves, and frankly, many of them are poker savants who rank amongst the best poker players in the world–live, online or otherwise. It is one of these players who I naively aspired to become within my first year as a pro. Anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of the field (perhaps even higher during the daytime) can be expected to fall into this category.

The typical online tournament is therefore quite difficult. One will consistently butt heads with very talented poker players when playing anything but the lowest stakes. I have learned this lesson the hard way throughout the year.

Another problem I have with my online play is that I’m unable to make accurate reads all the time. Even when I’m paying rapt attention to what’s going on, I have trouble making player-dependent reads. In a live tournament, within ten minutes I’m able to get a line on most of the people at my table. Part of the reason is that live poker is a very visual game. It’s easy to remember, for instance, that the guy in the hat is a calling station, or that the black dude with all the rings is hyperaggressive. But online, without visual assistance, these reads become more difficult for me. Remembering which hands “JX3948” has shown down over the past half hour is hard without those visual clues. Even when I’m totally focused, I am prone to making more errors online. Which brings me to my next problem…

I’m almost never completely focused when I play online. Sitting in the comfort of my apartment, the allure of the television and/or the internet is too much for me to withstand. When I’m in the middle of an online session, I am almost always enjoying some other diversion whilst playing. In particular, I am addicted to AOL Instant Messenger. My monitor is littered with that program’s flashing boxes while I work. I simply must know what my friends had for lunch! It’s hard to figure out where some of these issues begin and others end, but the final problem is…

I suck at multitabling. When I open two windows, it’s a challenge. When I open three, I’m overwhelmed. Open four or more and my brain fries. I have no idea how people can multitable. I know there are thousands of players who do it routinely. Some of these people play 12+ games at once. It’s a complete mystery to me how this is possible. Forget making accurate reads, checkraising, trapping, etc.; I can barely move my mouse fast enough to fold preflop when playing four tables.

Maybe with enough training, one day my brain will morph into a semi-computerized switchboard capable of raking in millions of online poker dollars. Until then, I will have to settle for simply being a very good poker player with limits on my online upside.

Sigh… I’m in no position to complain, but thanks for humoring me.

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.

Getting Analytical–creating an honest self-assessment.

As you know, I no longer have a boss. It recently occurred to me that a byproduct of my bossless existence is that I no longer have to suffer through my yearly review. I certainly do not miss “review day” at my old law firm. A man in a suit whom I’d seen maybe a handful of times in the hallways would come into my office. Then he’d let me know in stark terms what my superiors thought of me. Most of it was patently obvious stuff.

I don’t show enough enthusiasm, Bob? Golly. No shit, Bob. I hate it here!

Anyway, there were useful aspects to the yearly review. So for awhile now, I’ve been trying to sit down and write a summary of my strengths and weaknesses as a poker player. It hasn’t been easy to do (in fact, I still haven’t begun). And to be perfectly honest, the reason I have yet to write my self-assessment is pretty simple: I’ve been in a rut and been barely profitable since I got back from the World Series of Poker. No one wants to write an objective review of themselves when the plain truth is that they’re sucking.

But I now have at my disposal almost 10 months worth of statistics and observations. So today I present to you a very short version of what’s in store, focusing only the negative aspects of my game. I think i’m doing this more as a wake up call to myself than anything else. My very abridged review:

1. I lack motivation. This has been a problem throughout my life, but I didn’t expect it to infiltrate this particular job, which I unabashedly love. It has. Since I’ve gotten back from the WSOP, I’ve played much fewer hours per day and taken way too many days off.

2. My game selection sucks. For those unfamiliar with this term, “game selection” basically means playing the games that are most profitable. I am a much better player live than online, and I am a better cash game player than a tournament player. So what have I done for the last few months? I’ve played almost exclusively online tournaments. Duh.

In my next blog entry, I will attempt to discuss the causes and effects of these two problems. I’ll also detail some other problems in my game. And then, just to keep things balanced, I will also talk about the good parts of my game. It’ll be a full scale Bob-less yearly review, a self-analytical bonanza!

In the meantime, I’m addressing items (1) and (2) above. I started with a serious online cash game session last night. And I’ll continue by taking a trip to Atlantic City tomorrow and a trip to Foxwoods for the WPT event in two weeks. No more messin’ around!