Ace Speaks: Tournament poker or live poker?
When I started playing for a living, a bit more than seven years ago, some poker insiders claimed that, contrary to how things seemed to be, the real money was not in tournaments but in cash games. While many people would consider the tournament stars to be the best of the best - not in the last place because they would always have their face in all magazines -, on the surface it looked that one's ultimate goal should be to become the best possible tournament player. But the people who were really into poker knew better. Because of the costs of the buy-ins (that back then the players still had to put up themselves), because of the costs of accommodation and traveling (that, again, came out of the players' pockets), because of the juice and the more-or-less-required tips, and because of the swings that are part of tournament poker, because of all these things there were just not many players who could make a living in the long run by playing tournaments. There were even less players who could make a very good living.
In contrast to these well-known players who seemed to be doing so well but who in reality struggled to actually make a decent long-term profit, in contrast to them there were the people who were somewhat unknown to the public, yet they would have no trouble whatsoever in making good money. These cash game pros could often be found in the biggest games, and especially when they could handicap themselves against very-wealthy-but-not-very-capable players, they could make a fortune - and quite often, this is what they did. For years, this sort of status quo remained. There was a relatively small group of tournament stars who got all the attention but who didn't make much money, and there was a slightly larger group of cash game pros who didn't get much attention, but who did make good money. So, when I started playing for a living, choosing between tournament poker and live poker was not too hard. I made the - to me - obvious choice of playing where the money was: in live games, meaning I simply left tournaments aside.
A few recent changes
But then, slowly but surely, things started to change a little. I did not notice it at first, so I simply kept my old view of "tournaments are for making fame, cash games are for making money", even when it should have been clear to me that the situation had already changed considerably. Suddenly, the best tournament pros didn't have to put up the buy-in themselves anymore, didn't have to worry about const of traveling and accommodation anymore (as sponsors would take care of that for them), and when television networks also became interested in poker as a TV-sports, more and more outside money started flowing into the poker community, and it was the tournament stars who would get the lion's share of this fresh money - not the cash game pros. In fact, even though over the years I have made great money playing the live games and can back things up with results that quite a few players would be very jealous of, I know for a fact that nowadays there are some great European tournament players who get much more money just from sponsorship than I make in an entire year of playing! This influx of fresh money and the involvements of TV in not just American but also European poker, has led to a situation where almost everybody focuses on tournament play, and where there is just not much growth of brick and mortar cash games - despite the fact that poker as a whole is growing rapidly. What's more, because of the growth of poker on the Internet, a whole lot of regular cash game players - the good and the bad alike - have now shifted their attention to online play, meaning that the number of good live games in brick and mortar casinos isn't growing as fast as tournament poker or as Internet poker does. In fact, in some places it seems that there's not much growth in regular poker action at all: a lot of cardrooms in Europe actually lead a fairly marginal existence, and the casinos that have more than five poker tables going are the exception rather than the rule - even in major European cities. Because of all these changes and developments, it would simply be impossible to maintain the old stance that the real money is in cash games and not in tournaments. (Having said that, the very best cash game players still make an incredible amount of money, of course. Especially the people who play regularly in good high-stakes / big-bet games in the UK or in France for example, can still make a great income. Also, those cash game players who in addition to B&M play also focus on online games and who are successful there as well, could possibly make even more money now than in the past, because of the more or less constant availability of good games online. Please note that this entire discussion focuses on poker in Europe. The recent poker boom in the US seems to have led to a growth of live poker as well, with both more poker rooms that have opened their doors as well as more tables available for the customers.)
All in all, there can be no question that there's a lot of money to be made in poker nowadays, especially for those who don't adhere too rigidly to old conceptions and wisdoms. Those with an open mind about all the things that have changed or that may still be changing, have been able to profit from these new things, and all the financial possibilities that have come with this sudden influx of fresh money. It has taken me quite a while to accept the fact that I may have been focusing on the wrong things for too long, but recently I have decided to jump on the wagon and get along for the ride. While in the beginning this was mostly because of my involvements as a tournament reporter for Europe and a poker commentator for Eurosport, I am currently in the process of signing one or two deals that may cause some significant changes to the views I have always held. But as in real life, in poker one should always keep an open eye for circumstances that have been changing, or that are about to change. I guess it has taken me rather long to realize the impact of all the recent developments - but now that I'm aware, I want to take advantage of the different possibilities, and exploit them to the fullest.
Some final words
In the follow-up to this article, I will focus on a related issue in this respect: "Live poker or online poker?" Once again, I will analyze my own role as a B&M cash game player, the pros and cons of live versus online (and the other way around), and shifts of attention that may or may not be necessary for old-school money players like me.