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If You’re Spendin’ More Than You’re Makin’ Then You’re Fixin’ To Go Broke

by Bryan Devonshire |  Published: Jan 08, 2014

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Bryan DevonshireThe tournament trail has always been an alluring path to follow for any poker player. You get the opportunity to travel to any corner of the world for work. Costs become tax deductions, vacations become business trips. Success brings notoriety, money, and the rare sponsorship deal. However, traveling the tournament trail is expensive. Everything adds up, and with rakes rising and return on investment (ROI) falling, turning a profit on the tournament trail is becoming increasingly difficult.

If playing poker professionally, your primary concern should always be to put yourself in the place that will yield the greatest hourly rate. Often your gross hourly rate is greater in places far from home, so the trick is evaluating whether the greater hourly rate is enough to compensate for the cost in money and time of getting there. It is important to objectively evaluate what our actual hourly rates are, and that is becoming increasingly difficult as players get better and rakes get higher. Historical precedent is becoming less and less relevant, since the opponents we played against five years ago are different than those we play today, and the fees we’re paying to play in tournaments and cash games continue to rise.

For example, five years ago a $300 tournament carried a rake of $30 and was full of awful players. The best players could easily expect an ROI of 100 percent, therefore expecting to earn $330 for an average time investment of five hours or so, generating an hourly of $65. Nowadays, rakes have doubled and structures are better. Assuming players are just as bad, this makes projected earnings about $300 for seven hours, dropping the hourly to $43. It turns out that opponents are much better today than they were five years ago. ROIs are much lower across the board now than they were then. So now you’re making less overall and spending more time doing it.

You can’t ever be too nitty with travel expenses. Don’t wait until the last second to buy flights, buy them ahead of time as cheaply as possible. I’ve seen many on the circuit who buy one-way flights so they can get on the next flight out after busting the main event. Why not buy a cheap round trip ticket and spend the gap between busto playing cash games or enjoying where you are at?

Hotels will often be your greatest expense. In Europe for WSOPE I discovered hotels.com and saved myself heaps of loot. The Hotel Majestic Barriere was something like €259 per night, Hotel Gray D’Albion was €159 and where I stayed. Using hotels.com I found Suite Affaire on the other side of the harbor and behind an Irish Pub for €75 per night. I promptly moved and saved myself over a thousand dollars just for that trip.

Consider expenses such as cabs and such. It is often optimal to drive yourself to the tournament or to rent a car at the location. Getting off campus will give you a greater access to better and cheaper food and will save you money on cabs when you’re getting around town.

Make friends on the circuit. Splitting a hotel room saves a lot of money. Splitting a rental car does the same thing. Having somebody to beat at credit card roulette will greatly reduce your food costs.

The optimal way to play credit card roulette is not to put all the participants’ cards into a hat and let the waitress pick one to pay. All players pass their cards to the gamemaster. Anybody who does not want to play must buy out for the price of their meal plus tax and tip. The gamemaster shuffles the cards under the table and players take turns making decisions. First they tell the gamemaster to stop shuffling. The stack is brought above the table concealed between the gamemaster’s hands. If there’s five cards in the stack, the chooser says “first, second, third, fourth, or fifth card is safe.

That card is removed from the stack and the process is repeated until two cards remain. When heads up, the chooser may say top or bottom card is safe or pays. The gamemaster can never be the chooser. The best credit card roulette players have a lucky card that they use for only the biggest tabs, and use instruments such as player cards for smaller tabs. For added degeneracy, award all of the buy-out money to second to last card remaining.

Cash-game play is an absolute essential supplement to any tournament player these days. It’s nearly impossible to be a tournament specialist in the States unless playing high stakes. Even in Vegas, the full schedule of tournament series supplemented by dailies isn’t a viable profession. Yeah, you can make money doing it, but not nearly as much as you can make playing $1-$3 no-limit. If you want to be a tournament specialist, move to Mexico and grind online. If your cash game has holes, it’s time to plug them.

Consider your hourly rate at home in whatever you would play if you didn’t travel somewhere. Consider how much money you expect to make on a trip and deduct your expenses from that. On the modern tournament trail, without working a bunch and playing cash games, it’ll usually be more profitable to stay at home.

Life isn’t all about turning a profit though. If you merge business trips with vacations then you’re doing it right. Go somewhere that you want to go when there’s a tournament in town. Then you can write off your vacation while making some money. Budget time to go do things that aren’t inside a casino. Adding life expected value is an excellent reason to take a poker trip, and will ensure that regardless of results, you will look back on that trip favorably. ♠

Bryan Devonshire has been a professional poker player for nearly a decade and has more than $2 million in tournament earnings. Follow him on Twitter @devopoker.