Strategy

Do Poker Players Need an Exit Strategy?

During a recent episode of the Poker Life Podcast, Joey Ingram discussed a wide array of topics with poker pro Olivier Busquet. One of the paths the conversation veered down during the lengthy podcast was training sites and some of the other projects poker players who have fallen on hard times have turned to in order to make ends meet, something (the dissemination of strategic information) other players see as detrimental to the game.

Busquet sees it somewhat differently (paraphrasing), “it’s tough to beat poker and when you can’t beat the game anymore you need to do what you have to do to survive.” Busquet went on to opine about poker players needing exit strategies, and that’s the topic I want to focus on in this column.

You can watch the Poker Life Podcast episode with Busquet here.

When the gravy train ends

Before the internet and the poker boom radically altered the poker landscape, the level of knowledge was fairly static for several decades. Basically, winning players (and the strategies that made them winners) in the 70’s or 80’s would be winning players in the 90’s. But since the onset of the modern poker era, strategies in poker books are essentially out of date by the time they hit the shelves of bookstores.

A good analogy would be that poker before the boom was like a calculator, in that the technology barely changed over the course of 30 years, and poker during the internet era is evolving as fast as the computer technology it has been evolving with.

Why is this important?

Right now there are plenty of young, extremely talented poker players who have the poker world by the proverbial balls. But if the modern age of poker has taught us anything, it’s that the game is evolving at warp speed, and the lifespan of your average poker player has grown incredibly short.

These players have, to quote the fictional Dr. Ian Malcolm, “read what others had done and took the next step.” The problem for these players is this, there is now a new crop of younger, as-talented poker players who are building off of what these players have done, and taking the next step. To continue on with my Jurassic Park theme, eventually, this next generation of poker players will supplant their predecessors, making them all but extinct, and this cycle will continue to repeat itself every three to five years or so.

Another way of looking at this is through the eyes of an NFL running back; arguably the profession in sports with the shortest lifespan. Professional poker players in the modern era tend to have a similar lifespan, which is why it’s important that they formulate an exit strategy, and just as importantly, try to hang on to some of the money they pocketed during their peak years.

Essentially, if you are lucky enough to get to a point where you’re beating the game for good money, your window is pretty small (I’d put it at around five years), evidenced by the few carryovers you see in the upper echelon of the poker world. You can always drop down in stakes and grind out an existence, but for the people who were making well into six-figures playing cards for a living, grinding out $40k, $50k, or even $75k a year may not be overly appealing.

This is why what appeared to be a throwaway line by Busquet, of having an exit strategy, is excellent advice.

What else do you like to do?

The great thing about poker is, if you’re good at it, you have the time and resources to pursue whatever the hell you want to. If you want to go to school, no problem. If you want to open a restaurant or bar, no problem.

Another aspect of poker that can help players create contingency plans is that the game has an established industry connected to it, which offers real go-getters a unique opportunity to leverage their poker fame into a side business. Whether it’s an affiliate website, coaching, working in some capacity in the poker media, or some other poker-related business, there are plenty of opportunities for poker players to make money away from the tables.

In fact, several poker players have gotten to the point where they no longer need to play poker to make money, which is an incredible place to be, as it lets you play the game when you want and on your own terms.

Jason Somerville no longer needs to play poker thanks to his podcasting and ambassadorial skills.

Or look at what the likes of Taylor Caby and others have done in the poker training business. Many of them have moved on from the tables, and have the time and money to pursue other things that pique their interest.

Finally, if you have an exit strategy in place before your ability to beat the game disappears, you can get out when the getting is good. Rather than trying to hang on, and likely watching your bankroll dwindle in the process, you can start winding down the amount you play poker, and the amount you rely on poker for income, while you’re still at or near the top.

Upshot

Beating poker isn’t easy, and if you are one of the lucky few who happen to beating the game there isn’t any guarantee it’s going to last. This is why it’s important to have a few contingency plans in place.

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