While catching up on the latest round of poker podcasts, I was surprised to be reminded of the fact that so many big name players are staked.
I understand, of course, the need to sell action when playing live events due to higher variance and lower volume. But I started to wonder what percentage of them also use backing for smaller online games that can be multi-tabled? I had been under the impression that the best players won enough from these games to play them on their own dime, but that may not be the case.
I have used backing for both types of games — live events and small online games — but I only use it in the smaller games when my bankroll is busto. In other words, when I can afford to play on my own dime, I always do.
Here are five reasons why I prefer to play on my own dime, if I can.
1. I like keeping all of my winnings
If I ship a big tournament for $10K or more, then I don’t mind taking as little of 20% of it. In my world, $2,000 is a decent score. If on the other hand, I am playing a $10K guarantee online and ship it for $2,000, I don’t want to walk away with just $400.
Sure, being backed cuts down on the variance when you lose, but I tend to play games online that have small fields and inexperienced players. This in and of itself lowers the variance enough that I’d rather not trade the lion’s share of my winnings to lower it further.
2. No restrictions
I’ve talked with guys who are backed online and there are occasionally games that they would like to play that they can’t due to the restrictions placed on them by their backers.
When playing online, you often will want to maximize your screen space and play the most tables you can comfortably play in order to obtain the highest hourly rate you can. If you bust early and cannot find an allowed tourney to fill that spot, then you are not being as efficient as you could be.
I want to have the freedom to play the micros, satellites, double-or-nothing tourneys, or occasionally take a shot at something bigger, and sometimes being backed takes away that freedom.
3. Easier to handle losing
News Flash: Losing stinks. There’s no way around this, but I found that it felt twice as bad when I lost someone else’s money. It’s possible this is just a function of me often being staked by my friends. If I were a part of a large staking group whose owners were used to the swings, maybe I would not feel so bad.
That said, I am thinking from the point of view of someone who is not playing professionally for 100% of his income. Being a semi-pro makes losing my own money easier since it does not put me in too much of a bind. This would not be the case if losing meant the bills wouldn’t get paid.
4. No volume requirements
One of the biggest benefits of being a poker player is the freedom to be your own boss. You can play on your own schedule from anywhere in the world at almost any time of day. But this benefit goes away if you have a staking deal. You have to play according to the agreed upon terms, which might include playing a certain number of tournaments. If you are not putting in the type of volume that is expected of you, then your backer will not be happy.
When playing on your own dime, the only requirements are those that you place upon yourself. If you only feel like playing 30 tournaments this month, you can make that call without ticking off a boss.
5. No make up
Before I ever got into being backed, I had heard horror stories from other players about “make up” — that is, the amount of your staked bankroll that you have lost which must be regained before you can take out any winnings. In fact, those stories kept me from getting a backer for a long time.
The feeling you get from shipping a tournament to get yourself out of make up just doesn’t seem as good as the feeling you get from shipping a tournament to get yourself back to even during a month of losing your own money. The two scenarios are practically the same thing, but at least in the latter case you get to decide whether or not you want to reinvest the winnings.
There are plenty of reasons to play backed and there are plenty of reasons to play on your own dime. Josh Cahlik has written a good introduction to selling action that spells out some of the reasons why getting backed can be a good thing to try. And as I realized while listening to those recent podcasts, it does seem that playing backed is what many successful grinders are doing nowadays.
Personally, though, I think if you are a winning player and are using conservative bankroll management, then it makes sense to try to play the smaller games on your own dime. At the end of the day, each player should look at both options and decide which is the best fit for his or her own situation.