By this time just about everyone that plays poker has seen the 1998 movie "Rounders" and we all have come to love or hate its cast of characters. You immediately think of the memorable KGB, Knish and Worm, who top the list, but this movie was more than just about a few backroom, ruthlessly seedy characters, it was a two-hour story that delivered a very appropriate and powerful message: that everybody don't win!
We all remember, Matt Damon, a law school student loses his tuition money and everything else he has saved in a high stakes poker game and we are reminded throughout the movie about the consequences of gambling with taglines like: "Trust everyone...but always cut the cards," "It's immoral to let a sucker keep his money," and "In the game of life....play the cards you're dealt." Those quips where constant reminders of the cutthroat world of being a rounder can be detrimental to your health as well as your savings.
The incredible explosion of poker throughout the world, fueled in part by television coverage and on-line growth, has certainly captivated and captured the interest of millions of new players. These players have a variety of reasons to be sitting at your table and it might be helpful to understand and appreciate what brings them to the table in the first place and what keeps bringing them back.
Poker tables everywhere are made up of a diverse cross-section of individuals, some who cannot speak your language (but can let the cards speak for them); some that never had an opportunity to play poker in their own country; some that play for a small profit; some that play for entertainment value and oh yes; yet some that make a tidy sum from their play (they refer to that as "making a living,")! Ah yes, the Rounder...but why else do so many want to play these days?
Entertainment Value - There are people who have been exposed to the hidden cameras used on the World Poker Tour (WPT) and find the game so exciting that they want to try their hand at it, and there's no place easier to discretely play than the internet. They can play for free and learn the game, or play for free and just have some fun. A number of them will get hooked and all of a sudden want to "learn" about the game and realize that winning more often brings an unbelievable rush.
The underlying greatness of being in cyberspace is their anonymity. They can assume a name not known to anyone, and make mistakes, blunders and occasionally an ass out themselves without anyone knowing who they are, or much more about them. The funny thing about that is, that in the beginning no one wants you to know who he or she is, but as they improve, they want everyone to know who they are. Being cloaked undercover with a cyber-name also allows some players the opportunity to "lose" with dignity.
In the end a final decision is made, players either continue or they get bored and move onto something else. Those who choose to continue playing poker order books and begin to READ, and seek on-line and personal assistance in their quest to improve their play and become an overall winner. By combining my personal experience with the reading of many forums and posts, and the results of countless personal interviews with players across the spectrum (novice to pro), I am able to offer the following non-scientific conclusion: about 50-60% of new players stay longer than a month and are intrigued by the game and the magic that provides instant achievement. Of that number, about 15-20% attempt to study the game and learn more about it, while the other portion of players flounder and show little progress or profit, and eventually quit. Note: those having mathematical back grounds, and other analytical attributes do succeed at a higher rate by far. Of the 15-20% that really get involved, I find that about one-third or less make money steadily, one-third or less stay about even, and one-third or more lose on a regular basis. If you do the numbers, I'm estimating "less" than ten of every hundred new players will stick around and show a true profit. Are you one of them, or are you a Flounder?
Free Roll Value - The internet offers both entertainment and value to a host of players who just enjoy playing the game and not risking a dime of their own money (and who can blame them). With so much "free" money being put up to "lure" in new players, they come in droves in search of their "pot of gold." I've seen as many as 300 players compete for a $5 added prize pot and as many as 5,000 compete for $7,000 added to the prize pot. Some play for fun and enjoyment, others to win a few bucks, and yet others to get a bankroll going and eventually move to real games to spend their money. What I found very surprising was the quality of play from the "top" free roll players who regularly cash in on the prize money (without taking a single rebuy). Free rollers have 10-20 sites downloaded on their machines and have no allegiance to any particular site unless they have a personal favorite. The event, the prize pool and whether they can have a great time while doing it are what drive their involvement. Seldom are free rolls over quickly and most of these players have ample hours to dedicate to their free rolling endeavor. Free rollers, as they acquire real dollars, do feed into the low, lower limit real money ring games and this in turn leads to more players and a poker hierarchy/food chain that eventually could end up at the high limits. The greatest phenomenon of freerolls is the chance to compete and win entry into larger events for really big money, or on some sites this past year, an all expenses trip to Las Vegas and a free ($10,000 entry) into the World Series of Poker (WSOP).
Profit Value - Although the number of winners is lower than the number of non- winners (wink), there is money to be made in poker and there are a great numbers of players taking full advantage of the opportunity that has presented itself. Brick and mortar (B & M) casinos are packed with players, waiting lists are swelling daily, some casinos have even reversed their recent years trend to shrink the size of poker rooms, and are now adding tables. New internet poker site destinations are springing up weekly, and the major poker sites on-line are doing a booming business. Not lost in this explosion of poker, are the newest icons of poker, promoted and marketed by television, print media and the internet. Poker endorsements and book deals are being signed, WSOP past champions are pitching new poker products and celebrities from sports, tv, movies and theater have crossed over to share the spotlight and the profits to be made from personal appearances and the lure of the inter-activeness this now raging sport seems to offer. Just a level below these individuals are the players cashing out weekly in higher paying tournament events, those who are also playing high stakes casino ring games and those higher limit on-line tables. With the frenzy of new players, a mix of high rollers have also been attracted to the sport possessing little to moderate poker skills and they are willing to risk great sums of money as they begin their journey and indoctrination to high stakes hold'em poker.
Right below this group is another echelon of players, some leaving their boring, and mundane jobs to join the ranks of the professional poker player (to become Rounders). There is still good money to be made at this middle level and many players will continue to dominate and eventually move up to the upper tier. However, a number of these players will be content to stay where they are (without so much pressure associated with traveling the poker circuit), while others will lose their bankrolls and return to a lower level again. This level can still be lucrative and players make enough money to healthily supplement their day job income or their retirement. There are some that make good enough money to take several annual vacations or purchase a new toy (like a car, computer, or golf clubs).
The very bottom layer (the feeder system to the whole poker ladder) is brimming with all the new players (many so called fish), who have been exposed to the game the past two years. As I mentioned earlier, only a small percentage will advance to the next level where again they will continually be put to the test, sink, swim, or be gobbled up. This entry level has so many new players the numbers are staggering; hence the entire poker world is swelling at a phenomenal rate. Some new flounders have even gone to school (www.pokerschoolonline.com), yet others are "schooled" by the growing number of Rounders who feed daily off the "catch of the day."
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