Why playing tournaments professionally is such a terrible choice:
This article is especially about tournaments that take 4+ hours. I´m not talking about 3 table turbos. I´m also not talking about STTs (single table tournies) or smaller SNGs (sit and goes). They have their flaws in my opinion and I will address them in another post. If you happen to play MTTs for a living and if you like your life, keep on doing what you like. I´m the last one who wants to stop people from doing what they love. Don´t be offended. If you do feel offended, think about why.
1) Limited Income
At tournaments you can only improve so much. There is a limit (besides the natural limit/limit of talent). You can only play so many tables and you can only have a certain winrate. 75% ROI for big MTTs long term is around as good as you can get. Of course there might be higher numbers out there, but the 75% ROI is a product of playing the highest stakes in MTTs and playing multi tables.
Most likely even less, but I´m using the highest numbers to demonstrate the case even more clearer. To be honest, this is my weakest argument, because if taken to the extreme, one can say that about all poker games. I believe though that the leverage is lowest in tournies and the “maximum” is reached earlier than eg. in cash games. Rough calcs make this an hourly von maximum $200ish.
Don´t make the mistake of showing me some players (“luckboxes”), who´ve made more. It’s to be expected. In tournies you either win or die trying. I´m talking about pure EV here. And I clearly doubt there is anybody who has a higher hourly in EV. If you think 3 players in the world have, I take this as proof, not disproof of my reasoning.
2) Bad win rate
While the competition in MTTs is far inferior and players are way worse than in cash games, the win rate still remains smaller. There is only so much of an edge that you can have when playing 20BB Poker, even against the biggest amateur. We´ve talked about 75% max (at mid+high stakes) and 100%ish at low stakes. Now the other side of the medal with this reasoning is that it seems to assume that a player who does well in MTTs will automatically do well in cash. I can´t disagree more. There is a different skill set needed. Some will be able to learn, some not. But in general I like to think “if you´ve got it, then you´ve got it”. Yes, you might be worldclass in tournies, but only local class in cash. I personally believe that in most cases you can still make more $ using some of the great skills you possess. Will dig into skill sets in another article.
3) Unreliable source of income
Even the best tourney poker players can easily have a 100k downswing, playing “only” as high as 1k Buyin. I still think that the best of the best tourney players online don´t have a true hourly win rate over $200. With that low (relatively, considering the player in the example is worldclass) of an hourly to have those big swings seems not like something to be looking forward to. 100k downswings simply due to variance in cash games happen like at the 2000 to 5000 buyin level. And even that is hard to achieve. People who are winners at that level usually have an hourly greater than $350. If you´re staked, great deal! Nice way to cut your hourly in half. Not like a great solution if you´re a high winner (with the exceptions of course).
What I´m trying to say is that as a tourney poker player you´re not only on the worst side of variance, but also a big sucker if you´re not among the chosen few to run hot. At cash games that happens way more rarely. It happens, but in a way, cash games are more “fair” if we wanna use this word.
4) Even if you´re the best, you still have a sucker deal
Ok, this might sound harsh. What I´m trying to say is: If you are the best tourney player in the world and put in a lot of work and you have basically figured things out. For each one of you guys, there are 10 cash players, who put in half the work and earn double in EV, basically variance free. Kind of readdresses points 1-3, but this is nailing it for me.
5) You never know how good you are
Variance is a bitch. In poker in general, but especially in tournies. While you have the run good phenomenon in cash games, it is still extremly hard for a sucker to earn consistent income. At tournies basically anyone can win. (Vice versa, anybody can lose.) That’s one reason why they attract so many bad players. Deception is big, but humongous in tournies. You can basically make a million while being -EV. That’s pretty hard to achieve in cash games. Now if you did make a Million, grats. But chances are you think you´re better than you are. And of course you will hate me for this. Telling somebody that they were the “chosen ones” and not due to their amazing skill is a big hit for anybody´s ego. But well, that’s how it is, like it or not. Doesn´t make you a worse player, but many MTT players have the “I´m god” (who wouldn’t if they won millions?) syndrome, which netted me some nice days, when they sat at my tables.
Anyways, my point basically is: You need a huge sample size in tournies to find out where your game stands. Chances are you won´t get there most of the time.
6) Your social life sucks
On whatever day you decide to play, you´re stuck in front of the computer. If you do have friends to go out with, you´re going to disappoint them 3 times before they stop calling you. Your best working time is on weekends. This is also the time where most people interact socially. That’s the time where they´re free from work/school. While this is a problem for most poker players, for poker tourney players, not playing weekends is basically like quitting their job. The action on weekends is proportionally way higher than on weekdays. Cash players best days are also weekends, but the EV is not double or triple of other days.
I´ve played MTTs for around 6 months. I was aware of that problem. Tried to find solutions like having 4-5 work days and 2-3 days off. Now there are several problems with this. First of all, it doesn’t solve the weekend, and going-out problem – even if you´re not a party hopper and clubbing person. Second, it’s not like you have other people in your life for 2 days and then shut them off for 5 days. I´ve had endless discussions how “normal people” don´t understand what we´re doing. Cash games can usually be quit easily within one hour tops. Tournies… well, gotta wait a day!
7) Your lifestyle is unhealthy
Most likely your nutrition will consist of sandwiches and food delivery. If I would not have been a complete nutrition snob ( I still am) and loving sports, my weight would be measured in tons. And in order to survive the 13+ hours in front of your computer, you´re going to smoke weed. Now I´m a true American libertarian at heart. So in my opinion you´re free to do whatever you want to yourself. If that means smoking weed or even sniffing cocain, or – god forbid, play poker online – I truly believe it’s your free right to pursue this as an individual.
It’s just nothing I personally look up to, or would advise anybody to do. Taking drugs on a regular basis and eating badly without exercising just isn´t really appealing to me. For what it’s worth, I´m NOT talking about social smoking or “gourmet smoking” like cigars, pipe or w/e you prefer.
8 ) Working hours like an assembly line worker
Your working hours suck, unless you live in ET time zone (New York). Even then, they do. If you live in Europe, your schedule is basically turned around from everybody else. Euro-sites added some tournies etc etc… but the main action for a pro is still at night. Isn´t one of the reasons many of us play poker is that so we can choose whenever to play? Isn´t one of the reasons you play poker for living is that so you DON’T have to work crazy hours like your friends in the factory? Looking at the numbers, I´m not to sure who is worse off. Ok, I guess you get paid a royalty instead of $3/hour. But money is the only difference. This point is kind of repeating earlier points, but I thought it’s important to mention it again, because so often the reason why people play poker is said to be “freedom”. Well yeah, if you wanna take a day off, you can. But most MTT-er I´ve met are workaholics – which I will use in a negative connotation here, but keep in mind, this is a great skill set as well to use. In another article this will get the deserved praise.
This seems like a repetition of the “variance is high” arguments. It’s not meant to be that way. I mean the psychological component of wanting to make the “quick million”. Nothing´s wrong per se with wanting quick, fast cash. The problem is more that you build your foundation on this belief when you play MTTs. Very few people would tell me they “have a solid hourly at MTTs” and want to “get better at this game”. Most of the time it’s about “hitting a big score”. Again, nothing “wrong” with this. But ask cash game players. You will hear of “hard work”, “improving my game” and the occasional “run good when taking shots”. The big difference is the attitude. MTTs is about running hot or dying while trying. Cash games are about long term hard work paying off. Ultimately it works similarly with tournies, but people go into it with a different mindset.
And I feel this mindset is the exact reason why you see so many people showing up, winning some and going broke soon or abscond in the woodwork.
Deep inside you´re hoping for the big hit. This one big time, where you´ll outluck the rest of the world. Those donkeys, moneymaker, jamie gold and jerry yang have made it, “why not me” is what you think. You see your friend banking 500k at FTOPS. WHY NOT ME?
I also have hopes and dreams to “hit it big”. But I´m glad that my daily work and income didn´t rely on me winning the lottery one day. It would be great, but I´m fine without. Most tourney players wait, consciously or subcounciously for the big hit. Why else would you sacriface so much? If you´re waiting for a miracle, you´re misguided. But if you´re not even waiting for a miracle, wtf, have you ever thought about what you are doing?
10) Tourney pokersimply suck
This kind of summarizes all points. Ok, kind of polemic blatant statement. Take it as an emotional “fck it” . Many of us play poker, because of the freedom it provides. Now, I´m not going into a discussion about absolute freedom. I´ve done it 7 Months of my life. I look back at the time learning things, enjoying a decent salary. If I could rewind, I would have learned cash earlier. Don´t wanna start a lot of “what ifs”.
I´ve been talking very negatively about tournaments. And you probably won´t hear me saying lots of positive stuff. It’s not personal. I just realized over time what a great sucker I´ve been by playing tournies for over 6 months. I hope the few minutes reading this article might save you months chasing something that isn’t there. If not, some have to try out to find out. That’s fine. Yeah, it had the positive aspects and it’s not all bad. Was the first time I made bigger bucks, opened my eyes in many ways. But just in case you still wanna ask me if you “should” play MTTs or something else, GTFO and DIAGF ;)