This blog post is about a local pro poker player; we’ll call him Maurice, because he’s low-key and he doesn’t want random people knowing much about him. He’s a young guy, in his twenties, who’s one of the best players on our local poker scene. He went from playing small stakes online ($.05-$.10 NLHE and small buy-in SNGs and MTTs) in 2009 to playing $1-2 live after April 2011, to moving up in stakes live to $2-5 NLHE in 2012 and $5-10 in 2015.
I play with Maurice regularly at $2-5 and $5-10 NLHE (mostly $5-10 these days). He plays a lot more than me; he’s in there basically 30-40 hours a week and I play anywhere from 8-16 hours a week on average lately. I sat down to interview him for a few minutes recently, asking him about his progress as a player.
Why is his story interesting enough to write a blog post about? I think it’s interesting for a couple reasons:
- His story is kind of inspiring, as it shows anyone with a real willingness to work on their game can get better pretty quickly, and get better than a lot of other regular and experienced players who don’t work on their game.
- He plays in a local cash game that has zero rake; it just has a $10 daily cover charge. So his estimates of win rate and what he thinks is possible is interesting with regards to rake and tipping and how much those things impact the game.
First, I should say that we’re talking live poker here, so the bar is set pretty low. Most players in the local poker scene (and live overall) are pretty bad, so it’s not surprising that a dedicated serious player would be a significant winner. What is interesting about Maurice is his dedication to the game; he is always thinking about poker hands and is never content with resting on his laurels. He regularly talks about hands he’s played with poker acquaintances, and thinks about math and ranges and ideal strat away from the table. He goes on poker forums like 2+2 to post hands and talk about strat.
So here are a few questions I asked him and his responses.
ZE: What was a major catalyst in your improvement?
M: Talking hands with a friend I met playing $1-2. He’s probably one of the best players in town; he played a lot online and was playing $1-2 after Black Friday, because that was the biggest game at the time. We used to Skype like an hour every day talking about hands we’d played. He was very aggressive with a lot of 3-bets. He taught me to open my game up and think about opponent ranges more and to be more aggro.
Before that, I was playing way too nitty. I’m not a natural gambler at all. I’ve always enjoyed playing games, but I’m not a gambler. But I eventually got comfortable playing more aggressive and being willing to put money in in borderline spots.
ZE: Did you read any books that influenced you?
M: I think most books are terrible. I guess the biggest book influence was Super System, which I read years ago. Mainly I just think about hands I’ve played. I think talking about hands with better players than yourself is the best way to improve.
ZE: What are some of the mistakes you see other players who are trying to improve making?
M: I think most players think they’re much better than they actually are. They’re not aware they need to improve.
Also, most players aren’t really aware of their image and how to use it. They’re not picking the best bluffing opportunities; in order to bluff profitably, you have to really think about their range and yours, to see how yours looks to them. Most people bluff way too much or not at all, when it’s all about looking for good spots to develop and picking those spots carefully, because a lot of spots where people choose to bluff just aren’t profitable.
Patience is important. A lot of people just get bored. Even many good regs play too many hands I think. I go to the flop with less than 25% of my hands, but a lot of regs have a VPIP of 40% or higher and that’s too loose. I think you can get away with playing a lot more hands live than online but there’s still a limit.
ZE: What kind of win rates are you looking at?
M: Well, keep in mind it’s not that big a sample. I only started playing $5-10 in August of 2015 [that’s when the games started running for the first time locally].
[Remember; his figures are from a game with no rake. Also, it’s post-tip, and a standard tip is probably $4/hr for the $1-2 games and $7/hur for the $5-10 games. In Portland, the cash games are set up to cash out every hour and tipping is only permitting at that point, so it’s easier to know what you’re tipping on average.]
For $1-2, when I started out, I was playing far from good, and I was making $10an hour. Then when I improved, I had an average of about $30 per hour.
For $2-5, which I played from 2012 to 2014, while playing $1-2 a good amount, my best hourly was $50/hour.
My sample from $5-10 is obviously small [estimated 600-700 hours], but I’ve averaged $100/hour and I feel that that’s pretty sustainable assuming the games stay as good as they’ve been.
I think the maximum possible would be higher. If I had to make a guess, I’d say the following are max rates [assuming about $5/hour tipping]:
$5-10: $110/hr, maybe $120/hr
ZE: What do you have planned for the future?
M: Not sure. I had been going to college and was a year away from graduating. I was planning on maybe being a teacher of some kind. But I’m not sure what I want to do and think I’ll continue doing this for a while. I’m not sure I want a normal job. I don’t want to get locked into doing something I hate. I’m not really interested in the money; I’m not a big spender. I really enjoy what I’m doing right now.
[At this point, I advice Maurice to finish his college classes and graduate, because it’s good to have something to fall back on, and it’ll be hard to get the motivation to go back and graduate the more he waits. Plus some classes might expire and need to be taken over again.
Maurice also tells me that because everyone knows he’s a significant winner in these games, he’s had several players approach him for staking, for both tournaments and cash games. He has only said yes to a couple offers.]