I’d like to give you a little challenge: Go to Google and try to find information on hourly rates for live tournament poker professionals.
You’ll find links to cash-game hourly rates, online sit-n-go return on investment and all kinds of things for poker win-rates. You won’t find much, if anything at all, for live tournament grinders. I know I didn’t. I asked friends who frequently play $1K-$10K buy-in tournaments at casinos and they had no idea what their hourly rate was.
Let’s look at live pro Joe Shmoe’s 10-year tournament career. He’s among poker’s elite, has an ROI of 100 percent and plays 100 tournaments every year (about two per week). On average, Joe plays $3K buy-in tournaments that are two or three days long. According to 10 well-known pros with $3 million or more in winnings, the average time spent per tournament for someone such as Joe is roughly 12 hours. That means his hourly rate is $250 per hour, that’s pretty good right? Wrong.
I didn’t mention rake. I didn’t mention taxes. I didn’t mention the time and money spent traveling and commuting. I didn’t mention the years of playing poker it takes to achieve a sustainable ROI of 100 percent. More important, I didn’t mention Joe is backed like the vast majority of tournament grinders. (His current backing deal lets him keep 50 percent of his winnings). So let’s be extremely generous and say Joe makes about $100 an hour, still pretty good right? Maybe.
Joe’s supposed to be among poker’s elite and only makes $120K a year. He’s the guy on television you see with a online poker-room patch and a caption below his picture that reads, “$5 million in tournament winnings.” He was in the club spending $2,000 on bottles in the VIP section during the World Series. He’s supposed to be a millionaire. But, in fact, Joe’s broke.
Why is Joe broke? Because he doesn’t calculate his hourly rate and doesn’t know how much he’s actually making every year. Sure Joe won some tournaments in 2009 and was voted player of the year, but in 2010 he barely cashed in anything, bringing his average way down. And because Joe spent too much money in 2009 thinking he was a high roller, he’s now asking for stakes and loans, which he’ll get because he is a good investment.
I’m aware my quick and dirty math is terrible. This article isn’t about the math; it’s about the concept. Let me leave you with a question: If money is how we are supposed to be keeping score, and online mid-stakes cash-game winners have higher hourly rates than live tournament winners, why are the tournament players showered with the prestige? Please don’t say television. Hit me up on Twitter with your thoughts: @JayHouston.
— Jay Houston is a Team Pro with DeepStacks and a PLO specialist who crushes the mid-stakes online cash games.