Finding the Edge in Poker and in Life: Part 1

The movie Casino has a line where the Joe Pesci character says, “I had to earn, didn’t I?” after being barred from the casinos in Las Vegas permanently.
Though he resorts to questionable means of making a living, this idea of looking for ways to survive applies to poker.
Poker players who want to stand the test of time need to find an edge. This ability to find and exploit an edge is the main factor in who makes it and who doesn’t.
The following story illustrates how you can have both earning power and an edge at the same time. I was heads-up with a player named Mike Harthcock in the last satellite for the World Series of Poker Main Event.
I got Mike all-in. We turned our hands over, and Mike showed ace deuce against my ace king. On the flop, an ace hit. Mike was dead to a deuce with two cards to come.
Mike spoke up and said, “Robert, if I don’t win this satellite, I can’t play. What do you want to do?” I said, “Mike, if a deuce comes, I get 20 percent of you. If not, you get 5 percent of me.” He said, “Thanks, Robert. You have a deal.”
The satellite was worth $10,000, so I could potentially earn $2,000 in value if a deuce comes. If not, Mike earns $500 in value.
The river was a deuce. That was a bad beat, but my consolation prize was I now had 20 percent of Mike for my earn.
I could sell that 20 percent, or I could gamble. Mike was a very good player, so why not keep the 20 percent? As it turned out, Mike finished second in the WSOP Main Event that year for $300,000. I earned $60,000 for that darn, I mean, golden deuce.
Let’s talk about tournaments in today’s changing landscape. Nowadays many have multiple starting days and rebuys. Some of these are a bad value. Even though I was partially responsible for creating this new landscape, I realize it is not a good deal if you are trying to get an edge and earn.
Deals are made all the time in tournaments, but you first have to cash to earn. The large fields and high variance of these multiple starting day tournaments make cashing extremely difficult. The cardinal rule of tournaments is cash first and win second. Cashing always come first.
There are tournaments running every day, so while a thousand dollars in prize money may not seem like a lot at the table, it is a lot in your pocket the next morning.
You must treat your poker playing like a business, not just a game. I cannot emphasize this point enough. You must calculate all the costs of running your poker business.
Let’s say your expenses to travel to a tournament where you play a few events are $1,800. On the other hand, if you could stay and play tournaments closer to home, or even play online, that decision may be a way to earn, using that $1,800 you saved to play another tournament or two.
One of the best articles I have ever read on the difficulties of becoming a live tournament specialist nowadays is called “Why You’ll Never Make a Living Playing Live Poker Tournaments” by Darrel Plant. I highly recommend reading it if you are serious about becoming a poker pro.
In my case, I was fortunate when tournaments were introduced in the early 70’s, I was able to parlay tournament wins into buy-ins into bigger tournaments, and I did well enough to be able to retire at 36.
I remember the early days of my poker career when getting an edge was the furthest thing from my mind; I just wanted to play. In those days I would go to Las Vegas on junkets several times a year.
The routine was the same. I would check-in, leave my bags at the bell desk, take a taxi to the Stardust and play poker for three straight days and nights until my plane was scheduled to depart. I remember always thinking there may never be a game like this one again.
I destroyed any possible edge by my lack of discipline, but experience is the best teacher. Getting your butt kicked until you decide you can’t take it anymore makes you re-evaluate your game and habits, and when you conquer those demons, you’re well on your way to making money at poker.
In Part 2, I will discuss specific strategies, such as choosing the best games and taking advantage of casino promotions, which give you an edge in your game.
Every time you sit down at a poker table, remember the immortal words of Joe Pesci: “I had to earn, didn’t I?”

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