I have played poker now longer than anything else I have ever done prior. I started right around the poker boom in 2003 and have been playing fairly consistently for the past 17 years. That is a near two decade hole in my resume where I have basically done nothing else outside of the poker world and would preclude me from pursing any other profession. But now I find myself in an interesting position as becoming an agent for online poker clubs has left me not needing to play for any part of my income as my work garners for both my family and I enough money to live. While this is a situation that many players would very much welcome, I can only describe how I feel as ambivalent. The truth of the matter is that I do not wish to stop playing as I still really enjoy the game. But more than that is the fact that I do plan on continuing to be an agent and I do not feel I can perform that task effectively if I were not only still playing, but winning to a certain extent. Otherwise I am just some guy spamming my friends on social media, pushing a product that I have no personal knowledge of whether or not it can even be beaten. If I am no longer a player, there would be no legitimacy to what I do.
I lived in Las Vegas from 2006 to 2011 and towards the end I started to go broke. One of my friends who was the poker room manager at the Palms at the time offered me a job as a dealer, even though I had never dealt in a licensed room before. He was being a really good friend and was providing for me a real lifeline. But in the end I declined the offer for much the same reasons I now feel ambivalence regarding no longer having to play. I knew many dealers in Vegas and since a great number of them remain close friends to this day and are some of the best people I ever met, I do not intend what I am about to say as a slight. Most of the dealers I knew were once full time players and had come to Vegas originally for that reason. But not being able to make it as a player alone they turned to dealing, often telling themselves that it was only temporary and that they would soon return to playing. The number of them I knew to actually accomplish this and leave their profession in order to return to playing, I can probably count on a couple of fingers. It was a black hole from which most never returned and I did not want to enter that void. Some may consider all this to be rather silly as I ended up getting a "real" job anyway and saved up enough money to rebuild my bankroll. But perhaps it was the fact that a job such as dealing is close enough to the game that most never return to it. In this way being an agent is very similar in that it keeps me around the game of poker, but can also easily take me completely out of the loop as a player.
I do not wish to make it sound as if I have done nothing else but play poker all these years. I have had a few odd jobs here and there and certainly I have worked in the industry as a manager of live poker rooms. But whether it is dealing with politics of a live game in the third world or dealing with bosses who do not understand why they should not cap the rake at 25 big blinds, it almost seems as if working in the poker industry is a hazard for players that one should want to avoid. But truthfully the reason I have worked these jobs is simply because I have needed to. If it were the case that I could survive as a player alone all these years I would have done so. There was a time when playing was all that I did for a living and I do not hesitate to say that it was the coolest thing I ever did in my life. A very good friend of mine who still lives in Las Vegas used to say, and still does I'm sure, that those who win simply do not stop playing. If I ever stopped playing or took on a job, it was never because I wanted to but rather because relying on poker alone financially was no longer possible. Some of these jobs in the poker industry that I have held over the years I have enjoyed immensely and have had the chance to meet and work with some really great people. But still I admit that my biggest disappointment of my adult life is that I could not continue my career as a poker player.
I do not think that I would ever attempt again to be solely a player. Having a wife and two little kids it seems irresponsible for me to even entertain the thought. And yet I have set up a home office recently, got out the old laptop and hooked it up to a huge monitor and try to play 8 tables whenever I can. Setting aside the issue of what I do for a living I simply just want to play and perhaps prove to myself that I can still beat this game. Of course the parameters have changed drastically as for one I do not play live anymore and I also do not play hold'em, but rather 6-card omaha. Let's just be honest in saying that live games have been horrible in the past year in Phnom Penh, especially hold'em. And while I can think of one club online where hold'em games are still good, they can be far and few in between. About two years ago after the last poker room I managed in Sihanoukville closed down, I returned to Phnom Penh and decided to change my main game to Omaha. At first I played 4-card and did so while my best friend and I started our online poker agency. The agency grew and picked up some momentum and I was able to save some money. I did a couple of quick stints helping some friends run two different games in the small cities of Bavet and Kampot, but still continued to play. I even went back to Sihanoukville to become a house player for the WM Casino and did quite well. I was able to save even more money and while still running the agency, moved onto playing 5-card omaha and then eventually 6-card. And just as I was starting to feel as if I can really beat the game the Corona pandemic hit and the online poker industry blew up as players were forced to stay home. Due to this I have not had much time to play these past few months as the agency simply requires too much time, but still I have managed to sneak in a few hands here and there and am now approaching 100K hands in 6-card omaha. With my win rate sufficiently and continually moving upward, I have decided to play on and try to increase my volume going forward.
So as I mentioned I set up a home office, not only to work on the agency, but also be able to play and increase my volume. Here are my results the last couple of days and for the month of May thus far:
• 2,481 hands
• Win 38,337 Baht ($1,194.41)
• Blinds $0.30-$0.60 USD
• 80.23 bb/100 hands
One can easily look at these results and wonder why I am still playing so low if I am beating the game. The answer to that is simply that I did attempt to play higher and my results were not as good. In fact at blinds of $0.60-$1.20 USD at 6-card omaha I did quite poorly and decided it was a better idea to step back down and continue to win while I try to learn more aspects of the game. And 2,481 hands in a half month is not a terrible amount, but it is enough for me to consider myself on the right track and that I should continue on playing. I am going to start a Twitch stream soon to make my playing sessions public. One reason for this is to promote my online agency of course, but perhaps also to keep myself more accountable. Any poker player will tell you that stability is often a difficult thing to achieve in this sort of lifestyle. That having been said, I think it would help immensely if I had a set time I had to play every day with others expecting the same.
In anything I write I always struggle with the concluding paragraph, which is where I find myself currently in this writing. So I will just end things by saying that at the end of the day, I want to be considered a player above anything else. Whatever success I have as an online poker agent should really be a byproduct of the fact that I understand other players because I am one myself. Not every game is good, not every club soft and not all rakeback deals are created equal. It is my hope that I can navigate players that have entrusted me to be their agent through this terrain to put them in the best position possible, as I would want for myself. I do not always succeed at this I admit, but neither does anyone else. I just hope I am a little better at it.
Many of you already know that I lived in Las Vegas for six years. The city will forever have a firm hold on my heart as it is where I lived my dream of being a professional poker player. That is why it pained me to see the announcement that the Nevada Gaming Control Board made this past Friday that all poker tables in the state are to be limited to 4 players maximum once the casinos are reopened. Make no mistake about it, this is the death of poker in Las Vegas, not only as we knew it but in any shape or form. Some may say that this was the path the game was already on and that recent world events only hastened the inevitable. Others will argue that the game can survive this limitation and is only temporary until we are past this period completely. But given the climate that poker was already in prior to the virus, this is a development from which the game cannot survive in Sin City. In fact this will have repercussions the world over that will impact live poker scenes everywhere.
Let us not forget that this is where we were headed already. I have friends that are much younger than I and I always chuckle when they talk about the "glory days" of poker back in 2009 or 2011 or some other period that I would consider to be much too recent. They really have no idea how good the games were back from 2003 to about 2006, just after the poker boom and the Moneymaker effect. I used to joke that I could walk through a Vegas poker room blindfolded and come out with at least $200 and this was not too far from the truth. Every game in town was great from $1-$2 all the way to the nosebleed games at the Mirage then at the Bellagio. When I first arrived in Vegas back in 2005 there were about 50 poker rooms in town. Due to the growing popularity of the game this number would eventually double and the city would house over 100 rooms. But things quickly changed and by the time I left in 2011 many rooms had already closed and currently the number stands around the same 50 mark that I saw when I first arrived. I remember during the end of my tenure the Palms Casino had built a new poker room, adjacent to a new sports book and had spent millions in the process. I played in the room with my friends for a few days and it was quite busy. But I remember wondering to myself if this new room had actually created any new players or were they just recycling the same finite number of players that were in town? The room was closed inside of 1 year.
I imagine there will be many rooms that will try and move forward with this new restriction and play on with only 4 players per table. Let us keep in mind that the norm for online poker has become 6-max and now the live rooms of Vegas will attempt to move forward with fewer players. There are so many reasons why this could never work that I could hardly contain it in one paragraph. First there is the issue of rake as we remember that Vegas poker rooms typically offer a discount in rake when a 9 or 10 handed tables gets down to 5 players, sometimes even 6. This is a practice that they can no longer employ as the tables would be in a perpetual state of discount. So either they discount the rake and make even less money than the little that poker rooms already generate, or they have to keep the rake full and essentially make the games unbeatable for most. I say most because for others this will present an exploitable situation. Surely some poker rooms will attempt to continue and run 4 handed games and ultimately some regulars will give it a go as well and attempt to play on. But shorthanded games are not the live room norm and those who are not accustomed to it will surely suffer. As this type of game is an online specialty, there are those who will swoop down on the live games to take advantage of this situation and pick at the carcasses of the players that are left playing on. But even these players may not deem this to be worthwhile given the rake situation I just discussed. And lastly, these short handed games will essentially bring an end to most, if not all, promotions in Vegas poker rooms. The rake situation will already be bad and to try and take more of it in order to fund promotions will be an impossible task. But once again, I imagine that some rooms will try to carry on as if business as usual and still run promotions. Regulars and locals are known to game promotions by standing up and leaving the table as much as possible, to limit their risk and maximize their gain. A full 9 or 10 handed game can shield the rest of the table from this effect somewhat seeing as how there are more players on the table. But in a short handed game this practice will basically bring the table to a halt every few minutes.
And what of casinos outside of Las Vegas? There have already been stories of casinos in other States such as Louisiana installing what are essentially sneeze guards on every gaming table. In this setup, plexiglass shields would be screwed onto every table separating the players from the dealer and the players from one another. This seems to defy the main aspect of live gaming, namely the social one. I have to admit that whether I have lived in Vegas or Cambodia, an essential element as to why I played live poker was to socialize not only with my friends whom I often played with, but also other players on the table that I had never met previously. It would seem odd if I had to sit there on a table and literally be separated from every other human in the room. I would think to myself why I did not just stay home and play online? And what about when I cash out or need a drink; how am I going to be protected in those situations? I applaud the gaming industry in these areas for trying their best as they have the unenviable task of saving thousands of jobs in the casinos. But these efforts seem so impractical when thought out to their natural conclusions that I can hardly see any of them working. Of course there are some parts of the world where poker continues to run and I happen to live in one of them. Here in Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville poker games continue to run in some venues and may appear as attractive destinations for those looking for a game. But many travel restrictions are still in place and without an influx of new tourists into the country, the situation seems barely sustainable at best and certainly not ideal. And desperate times seems to bring out the worst people, especially in the case of poker. There already have been a few incidents of scammers in the poker community here in Phnom Penh in recent months and such cases seem even more magnified when the playing field is limited as it is now during this pandemic. I have to admit that I have played live poker a handful of times recently and when I look around I see a bunch of unfamiliar faces. With no new tourists coming in, I always wonder to myself just exactly who are these people?
So what will poker look like moving on and what will become of this great game? Online poker will certainly continue to be a thing and will most likely continue to boom until this period of time is over. Being an agent for online poker clubs myself I can say that there has been an uptick in the amount of players jumping online and the games have greatly improved because of this influx. But this growth will also have its limits as poker in general, and the online version especially, depends on disposable income. With most of the world in lock down and people not able to work, extra money to play poker with will become scarce. And I previously wrote on my belief that live and online poker depend on each other for their respective growth in the industry. With the live scene suffering as much as it is currently, this will certainly have an effect on its online sibling. The challenge of all this will of course be to find new players and not just recycling the old ones, something that was already difficult enough prior to the pandemic. Those of us involved in the poker industry have a great responsibility going forward not only in helping the game grow, but also in maintaining the integrity of the game in a time where those that would take advantage are many. To the live players reading this article I would advise them that the transition to online poker is one that has to be made. Of course I have some self interest in making this point, but it also happens to be the truth. The days of game selection are over when it comes to live poker as choices will be limited, and in the case of Las Vegas perhaps an end to things altogether.
As I stated in the opening paragraph of this article, Las Vegas holds a special place in my heart as a poker player. It is forever for myself and many others still Rome in the center of the poker universe. But going forward the scene will look drastically different as the focus of this universe will shift elsewhere. More than ever players will seek games in other parts of the country and the world at large. But with so much of the world still choosing, and in some cases forced, to stay home players will often find themselves just playing each other. While not ideal the game will continue to run and perhaps even thrive in the online arena. I hope for a day when live poker can return to its previous state, but for now and for better or worse the game will carry on in the virtual world.
Life in the Third World
Just a collection of random and not so random thoughts from my daily life here in Cambodia.