Poker can be many things to many different people. For some it’s a hobby, for others it’s a passion and a way of life. For those with the skills, discipline and experience to make it work, poker can be a profession. However, playing poker professionally can look a lot different from the glamourized TV version. It’s not all about six-figure scores and flashy self-promotion. The ‘Phil Hellmuth’s’ and ‘Gus Hansen’s’ of the world are more image than substance. In fact, the vast majority of professional poker players are people who you will never see on a television screen. They don’t have publicists or personal branding, instead they quietly and consistently earn a decent living month to month like any other working person. Poker pros come in all shapes and sizes, their monthly income can vary month to month and player to player. Some earn huge amounts of money and others earn an income similar to the working class. In this series we will take a deeper look inside the day to day lives of true poker professionals of all types.
‘Qjuice’ is a live poker professional based in Las Vegas. Prior to ‘Black Friday’*, he had amassed over $400,000 in online tournament winnings. He currently makes a living playing live cash games.
*’Black Friday’ refers to Friday April 15, 2011, the day online poker was shut down in the USA
What’s a typical day like for you?
My typical day has changed a lot since Black Friday. I have transitioned into an almost exclusively live player. I can only play one table at a time, I pretty much just play cash games now. Variance in tournaments is substantial, and I’ll never reach an adequate sample size live, so I basically play 5-10 high value tournaments per year, and play cash games as my source of income. Playing cash games also helps my sanity. It is much better to win almost every day playing cash. Playing live tournament you can go through very long stretches where you are making great decisions and are a big loser.
How many hours per day do you play?
The hours I play vary considerably day to day. I try to play 5 days/week with the length of the session determined by the quality of the game. I live in Las Vegas and the games can be very hit or miss. You can go a couple of weeks with terrible games, where I’ll put in 30 hours in a week, and then there will be a 2 or 3 day stretch where the games are can’t miss and I might put in a 30 hour session, and 70-80hrs in the week. This usually happens during big sporting events or when there are conventions in town. That is one of the biggest drawbacks to playing live. You have to play a ton when the games are good and that makes it very difficult to achieve a good work-life balance.
What kind of atmosphere do you like while playing? i.e. do you listen to music? How do you stay alert? Any specific rituals while playing or preparing to start a session?
When I play live I never wear headphones, and am rarely on my phone. I think it is important to not only listen to everything happening at the table, but also engage the people you are playing. This is a game of partial and imperfect information, the more you can inform your decision making process - the better your decisions will be. There are times that I completely abandon my plan or any convention of hand reading, and I base my decision solely on the physicality of my opponent and the way they conduct themselves. Headphones and other distractions can prevent these “live reads”.
I don’t have rituals rooted in a superstitious nature. I do try and get up and walk around frequently to keep the blood circulating. Poker can be a very unhealthy life-style. Sitting for long periods in smoke filled casinos isn’t great. Whenever I can make a health based decision I try to make it. The more active I am and the healthier I am eating, I find I stay sharper longer when I have to put in long sessions.
At what point did you realize you were good enough to make a profit?
Immediately. I was lucky to be part of the Moneymaker Boom. Everyone I knew wanted to play poker and no one was good at it. I was bad too, I was just less bad than most people. I lost my first $100 deposit. I waited a few hours, deposited $109 and jumped into a $109 sng and never looked back.
It probably took about 9 months for to me to realize that I could make decent money. I was going to school for Mechanical Engineering and playing 10-15hrs/week. I was consistently winning and decided to take it full time in 2005.
Can you remember any specific changes you made to your style of play which allowed you to make the leap from amateur to pro?
When I went pro, I was still just playing sngs. I played a very nitty style. People were looking to gamble every hand and the sng structures used to be much deeper. So I just played very tight starting out and let other people make mistakes. I was playing full time for about a year before I started playing tournaments and had to learn to make adjustments to my style. Playing tight got me into the money a lot but I had almost no chips deep. I started comparing some of my general statistics against some top players and realized I was cashing almost twice as much as lot of them, but they were killing me in profit. I realized I needed to be more aggressive in certain spots and started to open up my game at different inflection points.
What is the biggest factor related to poker success outside of in-game strategy?
Self-control. I’ve known a lot of players that have more talent than I do but they have no self-control. When you’re at the table it is important not to view the chips as actual money, rather you should simply view them as pieces in a game. If you’re forced to make a call and you think to yourself: “that call represents a mortage payment” you’ll drive yourself insane. You need to be able to divorce yourself, while at the table, from the real world value of money. The problem most people have is they can’t change that mode of thought when they step away from the table. The same trait which leads to their success at the table is often their undoing away from the table. I think I’ve done a good job at finding a balance between my management at the table and away.
How much time do you spend studying and working on your game?
Not enough. I’ve honestly never been involved with training sites or videos. I am a very introspective person and I am always thinking about ways to improve hands I just played, or even played months ago. But I almost never talk through them with other people. I know this is foolish and has probably impeded my development and growth. That is one of the reasons I have been a little more active in forums lately. Helping other people with situations they find difficult also improves my game. It keeps me thinking about hands from a more detached perspective, and it helps me to think about spots and lines that I wouldn’t have gotten into myself. This experience has definitely made me consider getting into coaching.
What are some of your personal interests outside of poker?
I love chess. I don’t have a lot of time for it and I got into too late, but I still play at the expert level. I have a very analytical mind and am attracted to a lot of other types of problem solving. I am also into sports, movies, and television. I started hiking this year to stay more active and get outside. When I do play online sessions I try to only play short 3 hour sessions and then get some exercise and come back refreshed.
What is your favorite moment in your poker career?
My favorite win was in an online tournament where I had a top 5 stack wire to wire. On the first hand of the tournament I opened in middle position with A9dd. Both blinds called and the flop was 278dds. They checked to me, I cbet and they both called. This hand was pre black friday so I won’t attempt to butcher the bet sizing. The turn was the 3s. They checked again. I considered checking back and taking the free card, but I thought they were either drawing or had medium showdown value and decided to apply pressure. They both called again. The rivered paired the 7 and they both checked a third time. Every draw bricked. I didn’t think it was very likely either had a 7. The 7 on the flop was the 7s, so they couldn’t have called the flop with a 7 and picked up more outs unless they had 73, so all 7s should have been folded out on the turn. If they had 7dXd they probably would have raised the flop, so I didn’t see a 7 likely at all. I put out a bet which committed me to half of my starting stack. The small blind folded and the big blind check/shoved. I went into the tank and just couldn’t see a hand he would take this line for value with, except maybe 73ss. If he had a set there is no way he wouldn’t have raised in a muli-way pot before the river, when nearly 75% of the cards on the the river are bad for his hand. If he did have 7x, he still probably wouldn’t raise on the river because of how strong a line I was taking. It just felt like he had a draw, missed it, and was throwing out a bailout prayer bet so he wouldn’t have to start the tournament in such a hole. Since my hand beat every draw, I called with A9 high on the river and was right. Even to this day, I’ve never called an all in on the first hand of a tournament on the river with a weaker hand.. That hand gave me an amazing confidence the rest of the tournament and I trusted every read moving forward and things went my way and I won the tournament hours later. (Though I did correctly make a J high call on the river at level 1 during the wsop this summer. The call represented about ? of my stack).
What do you love about being a pro poker player?
I love the freedom and the competition. I like being able to set my schedule and not have to answer to anyone. I also love any type of strategy based competition.
What do you dislike about being a pro poker player?
It can be hard to strike a perfect work-life balance. When the games are good you have to play and that can make it difficult to maintain healthy relationships and enjoy life away from the table. I also don’t the uncertain outlook for the games future. The games are getting tougher and with people from the US unable to play on major online sites it is increasingly harder to grow the game and attract new players. I think the use of HUD’s also hurts the growth of the game. When new players jump into a game online now it so much harder for them to experience success when strategies have become more sophisticated and players understand tendencies better than they do. If a new player just gets shredded when they start playing, they’re less likely to come back.
Have you had any trouble getting your family or friends to understand what you do?
My family has been very supportive. I am sure they would rather I did something else but they never offered me anything less than their fullest support. My friends are the same way, but it is always interesting when I run into old friends I had before poker. It’s always a shock to them. Me doing this is the furthest thing they would have imagined me doing and the whole idea and lifestyle is completely foreign.
Tell us a crazy story…
In 2006 I was going through my first rough patch at the tables. I was near busto and started taking a class to learn how to deal poker. I thought it would be a good way to make money and rebuild my bankroll while still thinking about poker. My friend was in grad school at time and had a 24 hour drive home the next day for christmas. He decided to stake me into a $200 sunday tournament on party poker. I ended up getting 10th for 6k. When the tournament was over he started his drive. We agreed I could I play any freezeout under $50 and any sng under $100. If I lost $1000 I had to stop. If I made $2000 I could take one shot in a bigger tournament. I ended up winning a small $30 tournament and a bunch of $100 sng’s. I played $109 mtt that night and my friend reached his house I was getting heads up. I ended up chopping it for about $14,000. My friend and I divided up the money and in just over 24 hours I went from days away from dealing poker to having a workable bank roll.
(Psssst! Play our Poker game here).