January 2010

I made $99,620.00 Yesterday Playing Poker

Well, not really. But this guy did.

I’ve been playing poker for quite some time now and what I used to consider a “gambling” game, I now consider a game of math, game theory, strategic thinking, science, risk assessment, and money management. I’m not the only one. In fact, there is an entire society called the Global Poker Strategic Thinking Society that was founded on this very theory.

Jesse Linker, who is one of my good friends and is someone I have known for a very long time,  has been playing online poker as a full time job for the past 2 years. The fact that he has been playing poker full time is not what is amazing. What’s amazing is, if you look at his earnings over time (see image below), you’d notice a steady increase. No real losses. All consistent earnings. Key word here being: consistent.

In shedding some more light on this topic, Jesse agreed to share some of his secrets below by answering some questions. He is also the first person to be featured in a new series of posts called Student Profiles.” These posts will profile individuals who are consistently looking to learn and get better at what they do. Jesse no doubt fills that profile.

Student Bio – Jesse Linker
Jesse Linker is currently 24 years old and graduated from the from University of Maryland in January of 2009 with a degree in Finance. Since graduating, Jesse has been playing poker professionally. He has tentative plans of attending law school and if asked, he would say his biggest accomplishment is being from the same hometown as The Situation (Manalapan, NJ.)

Dan Reich: How long have you been playing poker for?
Jesse Linker: I’m not exactly sure when I first started, but it was somewhere around 13 or so. I first played online when I deposited $50 into an online poker account almost exactly on my 18th birthday. One of my other good friends made close to $1500 in one night, which he used to pay for spring break. I remember thinking how incredible it would be to play a game that paid so well, and was hooked.

DR: How many hours per week do you play?
JL: It varies a lot, but on average it’s probably close to 35 hours a week of actually playing.

DR: Do you consider poker to be “gambling?” Why or why not?
JL: In the sense that nearly everything you do is “gambling” when your actions do not guarantee an outcome. As the financial recession has shown, there is huge risk inherent to investing. In poker you are immune to a much larger degree of variables, whereas in typical investing, you are exposed to the macroeconomic effects of the global economy and global events. Even taking a job in a large corporation which has traditionally been seen as a “safer” leaves you with little control. I engage in a zero-sum activity, where my income is directly tied into my work ethic and improvement, something that very few other jobs can offer.

DR: Is there a difference between playing poker in person and playing poker online?
JL: There is, but I rarely play in person so I’m not the most qualified to highlight the differences. In general I do not like casinos so I would much rather sit on my couch with a laptop.

DR: How do you minimize risk and maximize income?
JL: After I graduated in January of ’09 I began to exclusively play heads up (1 on 1). I used to play 10-12 tables at once of 6-max tables and would inevitably get sick of that grind and stop playing because I did not enjoy it. In heads up I can play 1-3 tables at a time and I do not burn out to the same degree.

There is so much information available, that it makes it easier to effectively minimize risk while not effecting your income to a large degree. There are websites that track players results, with relatively detailed information. The results are not exact, but they give you a good idea so even before I start playing a person I know the limits they usually play and how they do at those limits. In addition there is software that logs every hand I play on my laptop so I will have information on people I have previously played, which helps.

DR: Do you have a “secret sauce” for showing such steady growth in the amount you’ve made?
JL: I think a lot of people play as high as they can as long as they think they have an edge. It sounds weird but even though I just turned 24, I am old compared to a lot of successful internet players. At 18 or 19 I think it’s easier to take more risks, and I definitely did. Now with most my friends working and the economic recession, I have a greater appreciation for the opportunity that poker affords me. Personally, I have found a good balance where I can make an amount I am satisfied with without taking risks and experiencing downswings I am uncomfortable with.

DR: Do you use analytics tools to monitor your performance? Does it inform the way you play?
JL: Not really, playing heads up allows you to closely pay attention to an opponent’s tendencies and then tailoring a strategy that you think is most effective. I like to have basic information in order to have some ideas on how they play but past that I do not really use any. When playing 10-12 tables this was close to impossible, and your play is more robotic.

DR: Do emotions ever affect the way you play? Have you ever lost money because you were angry or upset?
JL: Of course, and its something that even the most successful players in the world are not immune to. You try to minimize how much it effects you, but pretending that emotions never affect you is probably more detrimental than acknowledging that they always will.

DR: What advice would you give to people that are currently playing, or are thinking about playing poker online?
JL: I think its considerably tougher now than it was a couple years ago to build up a bankroll. There are so many training sites out there such as cardrunners.com that have made it exponentially easier to improve and become competent. I think if you are intelligent enough to start poker today and become successful you are probably better off focusing your energies somewhere else.

For people currently playing I would say the most important piece of advice is to be critical of yourself. There is a lot of information to process, and even when you make the best decisions possible you will often get a negative result. Its easier to blame things out of your control, such as luck rather than realize that even if you were unlucky you should concentrate on your actions and what you can do to improve. In the same vein, when people make a poor decision sometimes they are rewarded and again they are not critical of the actions they control.

This is why poker will always be profitable because it is a flaw universal that people by in large are far too results oriented. An NFL coach who goes for it on a risky fourth down play is largely judged on the outcome of the play, regardless of how correct or incorrect the decision was. Investors are similarly affected with the outcome being the source of criticism or praise rather than the soundness of the decision. Most decisions have a myriad of outcomes that are out of your control and all you can do is make the best one with the available information. Being too concerned with results makes it impossible to best focus on improving your decision-making.

(Snapshot Below: One of Jesse’s online poker profiles)

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Negotiation Tactic #1 – Pretend Like You Never Heard Their Offer

This is a conversation I recently had with a NYC taxi driver, for the most part.

Because negotiating is just fun sometimes…

Me: Hey Taxi Driver. How much to go to Jersey City?

Taxi Driver: (thinking about it…) $50.

Me: Awesome, $25 is perfect. Let’s go.

Taxi Driver: What? I said $50. There is a toll and it is out-of-state….(hesitation… as I begin to back away from the taxi)…ok fine, $45.

Me: Ok, $25. Let’s do it. After all, it’s the same distance to Brooklyn and that fare only costs $18 dollars, so you are getting a sweet deal here.

Taxi Driver: No, not $25. $45….(hesitation..as I once more begin to back away from the taxi)…ok fine, get in, get in…$40.

Me: (I get in the cab thinking $10 discount off his original price wasn’t so bad. But I still wasn’t done…) Good deal man.You are a good businessman. You’re going to make $7 more for going the same distance you would normally go for a fare to Brooklyn. You are a smart dude. If you could only get $25 every time for this ride you’d be making some good extra coin. You’d be going the same distance to Brooklyn but instead of $18, you’d be making $7 more for the same time and effort.

Taxi Driver: No, I can’t do $25.

Me: Ok, pull over here and let me out.

Taxi Driver: Ok, ok, fine…$35..(he gives me a good explanation and I decide to flex on price a little bit..mostly because the guy seemed like a good guy…but I still wasn’t done..)

Me: Ok fine, $30. You win. You really are a smart businessman.

Taxi Driver: No, no..$35 my friend.

Me: Ok, that is better, but we are almost there. If we can do $30 then you have a deal. If you could give up $5 more than you’d be making $12 more instead of $7 for the same fare that it would cost to go to Brooklyn. Actually, if you did that, you’d probably be the smartest taxi cab driver ever.

Taxi Driver: Ok, fine $30.

Me: See, you are a really good businessman.

And after all that…I ended up tipping the guy back to $40 anyway because he seemed like a good guy.

M0ney Management Tactic #1 – Don’t give back the money you just saved from Negotiation Tactic #1.

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The “Do Whatever the F you Want” Decade – Past 10 Years in Review

After spending some time away from the computer over the past two weeks, I finally got some time to think back on the past 10 years and here’s what I’ve got.

The past 10 years have really just been about instant gratification. It has been the “I want it, and I want it now” mindset, thanks to a whole variety of toys (ie. Google, MySpace, AIM, Xbox, YouPorn, PartyPoker, iPhone, Investment Banks, TIVO, among many other things).

Looking back on the decade, here are a few things that really stood out in my mind as “game changers.”

  • Google – Obviously. I remember having to call 411 for information.
  • Call of Duty, Xbox Live, US Airforce, and Blizzard Entertainment – We used hover around Nintendo 64 in order to play Mario Cart and shoot each other with turtle shells. Then there was the emergence of Blizzard’s first online multi player forum which really set the stage for online gaming.  Now if I wanted to, I can sit back on the couch, load up Call of Duty on XBox Live and snipe Chad Ochocinco with an AK-47. And if the US air force wanted to, they too can sit back on the couch, fly some unmanned drones in the middle east and take out some Al Qaeda operatives.
  • Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Finance Degrees, and the collapse of the banks – I remember one of my engineering professors telling me a story about how his colleague spent years trying to invent new technologies in order to become rich. Well, after many years of failure, he decided the easiest way to get that paper was to hop on the Wall Street train, which he did. And now, according to my professor, he is very, very well off. Some of the brightest minds headed to Wall Street, and it is a movement that has already started to alter this country in a very bad way.
  • AIM, Skype, BBM, Twitter and iChat – Instant messaging and text messaging really took off this past decade. BBM officially lets us know when our friends blatantly ignore us while twitter makes you think your friends actually care and are reading what you have to say in the first place. Either way, this change has been all about real time communications.
  • ADD, Ritalin, and solitary confinement study sessions – “What, you have a test tomorrow and only 2 hours to study?” Cognitive enhancements have really changed things. Go to most major universities these days to see what I’m talking about. For some reason, it seems everyone has ADD. In order to deal with an extremely fast paced environment, as well as growing societal pressures, youth are beginning to turn to little white pills that make our minds focus better.
  • Party Poker, Sports Book, and online gambling – We don’t all need traditional jobs. In fact, many people make more money after work (or not working) gambling online than they do at their day job sitting on their couch. Years ago, if you wanted to gamble you’d have to consider bookies breaking your knees or would have to worry about large holes out in the middle of the Las Vegas desert (well, maybe some people still have to worry about these things).
  • Kaazza, Napster, iTunes, and MySpace – It used to be so easy getting music and it has only become easier. You could download it almost anywhere, at anytime, for free (and illegally). This dynamic changed music forever. In addition, artists no longer need record labels. When was the last time you actually cared about a record label? Today, music can be obtained whenever and however you want.

Bottom line is, the past decade has paved the way for mass, real time communication highways. In the coming decade, we will all be slaves to media and information. We will want, want, want because we can, and things will be so easy to obtain and access through these faster, more distributive digital highways. The next decade will be called the “Do whatever, however, and whenever the F you want decade.”

(although the video is a little dated, I think they were on to something)

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