Why playing Tournies for a living SUCKS!

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.

9) “Hoping-for-a-Miracle-attitude’”

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 ;)

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17 Responses to Why playing Tournies for a living SUCKS!

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  8. Conor says:

    You played MTT’s for 6 or 7 months and became disillusioned… So you are justifying quitting by telling the world why you quit, and that’s it’s an impossible living for the ‘unlucky’. The truth is i play MTT’s for a living, have been for 5yrs. And a very good living i must add. I take on avg, about 10k from FullTilt and PS, every 2 weeks, and have always maintained a 100% healthy bankroll. The top MTT players know something you don’t, they know how to grind it out, you will win 70 days and lose 30, but learn to limit the 30 and understand that they are just bad days. Stick to your strategy and don’t tilt. Learn how you could play better and move on….
    When ‘luckboxes’ come first, you come last, or bubble or barely cash, most get disheartened. But in the long run after countless position plays and resteals and note taking. You move up a level. No one tells you when you have, like, in cash games, moving up a level. In MTT’s YOU know you have.

    So my advice to you is play ur cash, but keep quiet when trying to dishearten my customers (lol) There is plenty of money in leanring MTT’s. BUT YOU GOT TO PRACTISE/LEARN PRACTISE/LEARN PRACTISE/LEARN PRACTISE/LEARN PRACTISE/LEARN PRACTISE/LEARN As my old friend Belabacsi says, it’s an ever repeating cycle, like running a scientific experiment over and over, while learning to narrow the margin of error.

    Poker is after all a gamble, game factoring skill, but a gamble in the short term. And you Mr 6 Months, are a short timer.

    Re-Think your logic, and go deep.

  9. Nate says:


    thanks for your comment. I don´t quite understand on what you actually disagree, as you haven´t attacked any point i´ve made in the article…
    Let me know, i´m curious and possibly missed it somewhere.

    Let me clarify some things:

    - i have never said its impossible to make a living with MTTs. I´ve done it myself, even winning the TLB on Stars (without playing the sunday million; you drive your conclusion what that must mean…). Just hated the lifestyle …

    - your comment says its learn-practise-learn-practise ; This is true for any kind of poker. My main thesis is that there simply is a better way than spending your days in underpants.

    - your comments about Bankroll managment and being aware of loosing at least one third of days is completely normal and true for most other forms of poker as well

    - people are free to do what they want. I´ve got some tourney friends, they are the “TOP guys” you´re talking about

    - there are very few top MTT players that i would even give credit for beating poker. Most of them can´t beat NL 100 cash game if their life depended on. Well, i don´t blame them, and that doesn´t make them worse people. However it says a lot about MTT´s ;)

    - cognitive bias is a very interesting topic.

  10. Conor says:


    Do you not get a sense that the whole purpose of your thread is MTT bashing. Sure the lifestyle is crappy. I hate it when a big final table is tainted by a missing a mates birthday etc…
    I’m simply offering a different opinion, not attacking you, just taking the edge off a little.

    But all forms of full time poker take sacrifice, it’s a cutthroat world. So what if it’s a mate’s birthday, you have to work, if he was that good a mate you would have taken the night off anyway, and some weeks you can’t afford a night off, simple as. That’s just the commitment you make to the game.

    MTT’s really mean weekends spent playing and not in the pub. And for a beginning MTT player this is a great thing for their PNL and minimizing overheads. Then in time when $ dictates. Sundays can be one long run of majors freeing up the rest of weekend. Poorer standard of living? Definitely, but i spent 50hrs – 60hrs a week at a job i hated, so I think my life now is much more sane. Believe me it was not easy being a full time male model – joke.

    On the finance side of things, wtf dude.

    A blossoming MTT player can grow his BR up to putting anything up to say $7k or $8k in buy ins on the line a night, especially on weekends…
    And at a roi of even 20% – 25% that beats the $3 ‘factory wage’ you were talking about.

    On diet. So simple. Full Tilt has synchronised breaks now. 5 mins every hour. You preheat the oven. Bang on the food. And just time it so it’s ready when you have 5 mins to enjoy it. Next break rolls around. You take a walk or get rid of the old stock.

    Restricted but not far off the 5mins smoke break i used to get in my old job.

    But anyway…..Cash games specialists and MTT specialists are 2 different animals in my opinion, requiring diff skillsets so comparison is unfair. I would prob struggle in a 100NL cash game if i’m honest, but only because of the MTT conditioning. Very few players can master tournaments and cash, eg Phil ‘c*ck’ Hellmuth.

    I have a few friends who are v good online cash players. And many who quit because they became basically unmotivated and bored grinding out xBB/hr.

    Tourneys have such pure incentive built into them. You call this the ‘dreamer’ syndrome, but I use it as a motivational tool, and it works. I always set a new target once one is achieved. And you must know, nothing beats taking the next week or 2 off after a big win.

    Confirmation bias is another interesting concept…

    I wish you all the luck in the world working at cash and i wish my cash game was stronger, the WSOP side games are full of fish like me killing time :)

    - Conor

  11. Nate says:

    - There is money to be made in MTTs like everywhere else if you learn and devote yourself to something.
    - money made in MTTs beats most other forms of “work” . So when i call it a “suckers choice” or anything like that, its criticism on a very high level.
    Its a “problem” 99% of people would love to have. I´ve failed to put that more clear into perspective in my article

    Anyways, wish you all the best. I´m by the way one of those guys who has quit poker beginning of this year, precicesly what you said, because it got boring ;)

    Best wishes and may the flips be on you ;)

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