Game Selection and Your Lifestyle (Part 2)

Published on Aug 11th, 2008

(continued from Part 1)

You see this all the time in tournament poker players. There will be a kid who at 19 or 18, a lot of the time even younger, decides to stop playing his home game so much and just throw fifty dollars onto a poker site. He's typically a male, typically a kid who has always known he was smart but maybe didn't get the opportunities he felt he deserved in life because of his intelligence, which always seemed unfair to him. Maybe he had some glory in high school playing sports, but hasn't felt a competitive thrill afterward, and is wondering where his place is as he sleepwalks through college or a real job.

After he burns through a few deposits he starts understanding a few things. He will start reading poker websites and looking up to some of the bigger tournament players, and keep learning from them. Soon, he gets beyond competent. In fact he'll start doing really well in his smaller tournaments. He wants more though. He's not just out to play poker and make a living, and keep from working at McDonald's. He wants to be one of the guys he's watched for years. The only problem being he doesn't have the bankroll to play with the big boys in the 1ks and 100rs.

So he convinces a backer to take him on, or better yet he just jumps into the big tournaments head first with his own money, even though he doesn't know enough to play and beat the biggest tournaments. He might have some results, but it becomes apparent soon that while he knew enough to beat mid-limit games he is playing with people who know all his tricks now, and have a few more of their own he's never seen. Some guys grow in this environment. A large number of them do not. They get in makeup, and instead of moving down to games they can beat they start taking larger and larger shots hoping to grab a tournament score, which often just runs their debt up even more. The backer, often a young guy himself who never had experience with leadership or management before, lets him continue to play sky high instead of forcing him to go back to his smaller games. So now, the kid who was making a good living at mid-limits is playing every day in the hopes he'll get out of makeup, but really doesn't care as much deep down because if he wins this particular tournament he will not see a cent. He doesn't learn. He doesn't progress. He just plays because he doesn't know what to do anymore.

If the kid in our example had stayed at his own games though, and not shot for the stars so quickly, he might have gotten there on his own accord, or learned to beat the biggest limits for much cheaper. If he took small shots whenever his bankroll was a little plump and he had been running well he'd have approached the bigger games with more excitement and focus, instead of getting into a pattern of "please get me out of debt."

That is not to say you shouldn't play tournaments. They are easier to learn than cash games, and give you the chance to turn a little money into a lot much faster, but you have to be intelligent about it. You have to evaluate what you want out of the game and balance it with what will make you a stable income, which may require you to continue playing games you might be a little bored with. You need to ask yourself, why do you play poker? Is it for the glory, is it for the lifestyle, is it for the money, is it for the intellectual stimulation, or is it for the rush of gambling?

If you want the glory then tournaments are more for you. There are very few feelings in poker that rival the feeling of winning a tournament. Seeing yourself on the top of tournament lobby after all is said and done is very satisfying. There is a price to pay though. Tournaments will not provide you as much freedom as other poker games. If you want to make serious money from them you will have to buckle down and play a large volume, which will require you being at your computer a large majority of the time. Most games you will play will end up with you losing. To win one hand where you're an 80% favorite is very likely, but to win 10 in a row is much more unlikely, and you will have to do just that often to win a tournament. That's if you're running great too and you always have a pair-over-pair situation when your chips get in the middle. Add in a few coolers and coin flips and it's even more unlikely. Most of your tournaments will end with you playing your absolute best and just not succeeding, which is unbearable to many people and their ego.

You will also go through long downswings, which affects many people emotionally. Two of my friends in poker, both of which could be considered among the elite online tournament players, have told me they have gone through $100,000+ downswings. These are not average guys either, they are both phenomenal players. They have won some of the biggest tournaments online and have some of the largest profit margins. Many people simply cannot stomach those kinds of swings. Your family might notice a difference in you. A number of people who were very positive individuals become very bitter and cynical after becoming tournament players.

If you really enjoy the rush of gambling I always found SNGs to be amazing in satisfying that particular appetite. Once you learn correct ICM they are just a degenerate's paradise. I used to love the feeling of blasting my music and just playing 20+ tables of turbos. It was so action-oriented and addicting I'd play hours and hours at times. In addition, the money was pretty stable, but after a while the edge wasn't as big as it was before. SNGs are not brain surgery. Many people are smart enough to work SNG Power Tools. For this reason they are also not very intellectually stimulating.

If you seek money, freedom, and intellectual stimulation I've found that cash games are the best route. With 200 BBs, like you can have on the newer deep stacked tables, poker hands can be analyzed on so many levels. Very rarely will you simply be able to Poker Stove something and be done with it. For that reason cash games have the steepest learning curve, but they can also be the most rewarding. You will find more points in which to exploit your opponent, and you will never stop learning. While in SNGs and tournaments there will certainly always be something to learn, the options are more finite given the limited stacks. The downside is that, unless you are one of those tools who feels the need to tell the paper boy every time you have a good cash session, there will be no recognition involved when you win.

The key is asking why do you play, and choosing the right game based on those motivators. Of course, the main reason you should always play, if you're pursuing poker as a profitable endeavor, is making money. At the end of the day it's about the bottom line.

That is not to say you cannot take shots, or that you shouldn't play tournaments. Many of the best online tournament players make a very good living and are happy individuals. When you are starting too it will be easier to learn how to beat a $20.00 tournament than it will be to learn how to beat a $1/$2 No Limit game. There are many though that still grind tough games only on the toughest sites who bitch to me and everyone who will listen about how hard it is for them. I don't care, and nobody else should. I do not keep those people around me in my life because their negativity gets me down as well. There are softer games and websites out there and there are training videos that will help you get ahead. They just do not bother to do the hard work.

If you are a true professional you should always be evaluating how profitable the game is that you're in now and what effect it is having on your life, because truly your outside life will always affect you as a player.

The reason I play poker is because I hate normal jobs and schedules. I hated how when I was younger I had no options but to work hard labor for 40+ hours a week to keep a roof over my head. I didn't have time to see my girlfriend, I didn't have energy at the end of the day to do anything, and I never had the money to do anything for myself. I love how poker is the most purely capitalistic game out there. It doesn't matter whether you're white, black, gay, straight, female, male...all that matters is how much work you put into it. To escape from the grind that was my former jobs, and to have the money I have today to do the things I truly enjoy in life is all I want. I never play higher than $5.00/$10.00 No Limit cash games, and often much lower. I play tournaments, but only the bigger ones, and I only have half of myself because I am backed. I don't put in the volume I once did, so I spend more time in makeup then I'd like, but I've accepted that as the price for having much less stress from poker. This might not be right for everyone but this is what works for me and my personality best.

Some of my friends have a much higher tolerance for pain than I do, and they love the feeling of beating a large group of people, so they continue to focus more on tournaments. They find a way to balance this with the other things they enjoy in their life, and be positive throughout the tribulations. They always put in a considerable volume too at the smaller tournaments they slaughter, so as to prepare themselves for the winter that can come with the biggest online tournaments.

The main point really is finding a way to understand what makes you tick as a player and incorporating it into your poker game decisions, and remembering the main goal is always to provide a living for yourself and to be happy. There is a lot of crap that surrounds the poker world, but you have to be true to yourself and not get caught up in any of it. There is a huge difference between being a good poker player and being a poker professional.

One of my favorite quotes about professional poker came from Chip Reese, when he was asked his thoughts on Stu Ungar, and how talented he was. "'Natural ability-wise, yes, he had the quickest mind. Stuey's problem is he doesn't understand the object of the game, which is to accumulate wealth, improve your lifestyle and provide for your family."

Good luck to you all.


* This is Part 2 of 2 of Assassinato's Game Selection and Your Lifestyle article. Read Part 1

Alex Assassinato Fitzgerald is a professional poker player, entertaining poker writer and MTT/Cash Games instructor at PokerPwnage, a top-rated poker training website. Our members can receive a free 6-month subscription to PokerPwnage by visiting our Free Poker Training page.


  1. <p>psh wut a crappy article and a waste of my time -  NOT!!!!! Couldn't resist, had to make a smartass comment.  But seriously though, this is probably either the 2nd best or 3rd best article ive ever read on this site. THX 4 the read</p>

  2. <p>Feels redundant now but great article, superbly written.</p>

  3. <p>Amazing article, I think most can relate, thanks for doing these.</p>

  4. <p>Also any of you who enjoy his writing and are unaware of his blog heres the addy</p>

  5. <p>great article one of the best reads on the site put things in line.</p>

  6. <p>gonna jump on the bandwagon here and agree...Superb Article. Appreciate the time and effort you put into all your writing.</p>

  7. <p>Great stuff. Thanks for this</p>

  8. <p>Superb Article. Thanx for sharing your sincere thoughts about the way it affected your life your ups and downs in poker.</p>

  9. <p>Very good article. You express your points soundly and write and play poker well beyond your years. Thanks for the read!</p>

  10. <p>WOW!!! This is exactly what ive been looking for.  Very good insight and detail on the trials and tribulations of becoming a professional poker player.  THANKS!!!</p>

  11. <p>well done</p>

  12. <p>Great one Assassinato, thx fo the sharing !!</p>

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