Poker Cats

Monday, May 29, 2006

Freakonomics and poker

So if crack dealing is the most dangerous job in America, and if the salary is only $3.30 an hour, why on earth would anyone take such a job?
Well, for the same reason that a pretty Wisconsin farm girl moves to Hollywood. For the same reason that a high-school quarterback wakes up at 5 a.m. to lift weights. They all want to succeed in an extremely competitive field in which, if you reach the top, you are paid a fortune (to say nothing of the attendant glory and power).
The problem with crack dealing is the same as in every other glamour profession: a lot of people are competing for a very few prizes. Earning big money in the crack gang wasn't much more likely than the Wisconsin farm girl becoming a movie star or the high-school quarterback playing in the NFL. But criminals, like everyone else, respond to incentives. So if the prize is big enough, they will form a line down the block just hoping for a chance. On the south side of Chicago, people wanting to sell crack vastly outnumbered the available street corners.
These budding drug lords bumped up against an immutable law of labor: when there are a lot of people willing and able to do a job, that job generally doesn't pay well.
-Freakonomics, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

On Saturday, Daniel Negreanu said he hit $1 million in the Big Game this year.

Sometimes I wonder about the ripple effect announcements of huge poker prizes _ like last year's $7.5 million for the WSOP Main Event win _ cause. I think of one of the theories of poker _ if someone is winning money, someone else is losing money. I eagerly hunt and seek toasters, but rarely think about their losses. It's been estimated that maybe 6 percent of online players actually win money.

From a previous Negreanu blog, I happened upon Freakonomics. I didn't really catch the things he mentioned about the book after reading it (if you clear $1 million playing poker cash games, you don't have to be the world's best book reviewer). But I did come across a fascinating look at why crack dealers are forced to live with their moms.

And the reasoning, as partially given in the block quote above, seem very similar to poker and gambling. Lots of people want to win lots of money without doing much at all. Few are any good at it and even when you become proficient, you find throngs of others who are just as good (or better) than you are.

The authors say that what all these low-level job entrants have in common is they are playing "a game that is best viewed as a tournament" one where you have to start at the bottom to have a shot at the top. They say the work is long and the wages are substandard. (Sound familiar?)

"In order to advance in the tournament, you must prove yourself not merely above average but spectacular. ... And finally, once you come to the sad realization that you will never make it to the top, you will quit the tournament," they write.

This may be where the comparisons end. Certainly there are those who may become completely broke before even realizing they won't make it to the top. Others will donk countless dollars before they quit. Things can become even worse, as a recent news service series on gambling shows.

That's why it's important to keep track of your play, monitor your bankroll and evaluate whether it's best to continue.

As a game, poker is something that can be done forever, for small amounts of money or even pebbles. But once you start looking to the apex, the stacks of $100 bills, the fancy cars, it's best to look inward. Endless bling may be the American dream, but it likely won't be your reality.

"Dream on, but don't imagine it'll all come true," the Billy Joel song says. You likely won't be climbing to the top if you aren't successful at it already. Don't get lost in the process.


  • No, I cant agree with you on this.

    First things first. I truly doubt 6% of players wins money. Think about how many players you know, that can be trusted, have made money, whether in the long run, or in streaky fashion... there are a lot of bonuses out there. Let's see the small picture, in order to get to the big one. I win around 500-700 a month. That is, playing the smallest NL game, for many hours, and endless bonus offers. My PokerOffice shows I'm not winning a lot per hour, but its a green number.

    For any single chilean student its good money. The minimum salary in Chile is around 240 USD a month, that is you win 260 flipping burgers, and around 450 bartending. Even more, military officers win around 400-900 the first 4 years (22 to 25 years old). An engineer just out of college is likely to win 900-1000 a month. (24-25 years old)

    So! Whats really money? Sure, if you're an american citizen with 2500 USD as month expenses, you'll have a hard time achieving this through NL 25. But then you wont start with a 200 bankroll like I did.

    Its very important to keep the dream alive. I would love that this new "american dream" would live forever, as its good business for us. I really cant care less for "toasters" and "about their losses". They'll suckout on someone, so they'll keep playing. And very likely wont leave their day job. We should try to encourage this action, and not try to open their eyes. We should think that they may be paying off their entertainment, or the escape of routine, bad marriages or whatever. Sometimes they'll win a small tourney, or a satellite and will have the time of their life playing.

    I can think of many things that are far more sad or dangerous and unworthy. And well, if they just end their lifes because of gambling, I can think many things that are worst you can do for a living, that are as likely to wont get you to the top.

    In the small countries like my own, you dont need just education and willingness to succeed. Sometimes even your connections wont do. You'll need luck, like playing any other tournament.

    By Blogger Victor_Enriq, at 6:19 PM  

  • When the "dream" interferes with your ability to know when to quit is where people get into problems.

    The poker dream, just like working anywhere, is a rat race and can serve as the catalyst to crush unwitting people in the end.

    Of course poker should be played for money but also enjoyment. And as a gambler you have to be able to determine for yourself when a gamble is no longer +EV in the end.

    By Blogger kurokitty, at 7:32 PM  

  • Please check my blog for my last tourney result and tell me what you think!

    By Blogger Victor_Enriq, at 1:13 PM  

  • Please note that my comment above has nothing to do with the tourney results!

    By Blogger Victor_Enriq, at 12:48 AM  

  • The Freakonomics guy is doing some sort of poker thing as well--I'll try and dig it up.

    By Blogger cc, at 9:17 PM  

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