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Marketing Myopia

by Alan Schoonmaker |  Published: Jun 11, '11


You may wonder why I’m discussing marketing, but it’s a central issue when you’re switching from online to live games.

Theodore Levitt, a famous business writer, coined that term in a classic Harvard Business Review article. He urged business executives to focus on what their customers wanted and ask themselves, “What business are we in?”

Answering that question is most important when conditions change, and they are changing very rapidly in poker. Levitt criticized the railroads’ top executives for focusing on what they did well (running railroads) and ignoring what their customers wanted: to move goods and people quickly and efficiently.

If the railroad executives had focused on their customers, they would have started or purchased trucking companies and airlines. Instead, they fought a losing battle against them. Borders just went bankrupt because its executives thought they were in the bookstore business and didn’t realize that their customers wanted e-books and other products.

To switch successfully to B&M poker, you must understand that it’s a different business from online poker. B&M customers have somewhat different motives, and the key to succeeding in ANY business is satisfying your customers.

The smarter B&M pros will tell you, “I’m in the entertainment business. My ‘customers’ are the donators. If they don’t enjoy playing with me, they won’t give me their money.”

I discussed this issue in my blog, “How Much Should Online Players Socialize In B&M games?”

Most comments were negative because the most serious online players don’t want to socialize. They see their job as simply playing as well as possible. Everything else is irrelevant. They don’t understand that alienating the weak players will reduce their profits. And they deny an extremely obvious reality:B&M games are IMMEASURABLY more social than online ones.

Online poker is anti-social. Most serious players isolate themselves to avoid distractions, but B&M poker is a social game, and many of the players – especially the weakest ones (the best customers) – demand socializing. If they don’t get it, they don’t play.

That’s why cardrooms advertise, “Friendly Dealers.” Who cares if dealers are friendly? Not the pros. They just want the dealers to be efficient. But cardroom managers know that they must satisfy the social players. If the social players don’t come, then neither do the serious ones. It’s the “food chain” principle that applies everywhere. If there aren’t enough prey to feed them, the predators go someplace else.

This recession has made this principle much more important. Because the total number of players – especially the weakest ones – is decreasing, cardroom managers must work harder to survive. The same principle applies to every pro and semi-pro.

My blog made several points:
• First and most important, being anti-social was an asset when playing online because it helped you to stay focused on the action. However, it’s a liability in live games.
• Every smart businessperson follows a simple rule: “Keep your customers happy.”
• The weakest players tend to be the most social. They aren’t there to win money. They want to have a good time, and socializing is an important part of their fun.
• Socializing intelligently will produce several important benefits (increased action, saved bets, more information, more pleasure, and reduced danger of tilt).

Most readers’ comments ranged from rants to misunderstandings. I’ll ignore the rants, but one commentator’s misunderstandings are instructive.

SawItOff wrote: “I went from playing online to live, and I’m not all that social and still do well. I keep to myself and don’t speak much. I’m never rude, but unless I have to talk, I have nothing to say. I’m there to win money, not friends…Maybe in a 1-2 game your info might matter. But in 5-10 and up your suggestions are worthless.”

He made three errors that many B&M pros (and successful businesspeople) would easily spot.

Your Goal Shouldn’t Be To “Do Well.”

Smart business executives and poker pros don’t settle for “doing well.” They try to maximize their profits. If they think they can make more money by doing something new and different, they change their strategy, even if it makes them uncomfortable.

Because SawItOff doesn’t like to socialize, he doesn’t do it. Then he rationalizes that it doesn’t hurt him because he does well. He is oblivious about what his customers want, and that ignorance costs him money. The question is not, “Are you doing well?” It is, “How much better would you do if you made your customers happier?”

I’m There To Win Money, Not Friends.

Of course, you are. But, if you make friends with your best customers, you will win more money. They will give you more action, occasionally soft play when you’re beaten, and tell you about other players, promotions, and games.

In addition, if you’re in a more relaxed social environment, your “work” will be less stressful. You wouldn’t want a 9-5 job where your co-workers disliked you. Why play poker with people who feel that way?

SawItOff said he wasn’t rude, but the weakest, most social players will often interpret refusing to talk to them as rudeness. Or they will see you as being “anti-social,” “too serious,” or even “cutthroat.”

You may say, “Who cares what those jerks think?”

A smart B&M pro cares, and, if you want to become one of them, you’d better start caring.

Motives Don’t Change As Games Get Bigger.

SawItOff made an extremely common error: He essentially believes: “We’re different.” Countless poker players (and people in general) make that mistake. There is a natural desire to think that people at our level are fundamentally different from the ones below us. He wrote that the players in smaller games might care about socializing, but “in 5-10 and up your suggestions are worthless.”

The bigger the game, the more skilled the players become, but they still play for the same old reasons. They want to win money, get the kick of gambling, challenge competitors, pass time, meet people and socialize with them.

SawItOff has it exactly backwards. The bigger the game is, the more important socializing becomes. Of course, players don’t socialize as much in larger games, but some of them, especially the weakest players, do want to socialize.

Two top pros, Ray Zee and David Fromm, wrote (and I edited) a manuscript about limit games of $150-$300 and up. Here’s what they wrote about weak players: “If they enjoy playing with you, they may welcome you to their game and gamble with you… They don’t mind giving away an edge because they’re playing for fun.”

As games get bigger, the donators become more demanding, not less. Big customers demand more than small ones everywhere. For example, shoppers at Nieman Marcus demand much more than Walmart customers. High rollers demand more than small gamblers. In fact, casinos have hosts whose entire job is keeping high rollers happy.

High rollers can demand and get more because there aren’t many of them. If a $1/$2 player leaves, it’s not important. There are dozens to take his place. If a donator leaves a big game, it often breaks up.

As games get bigger, the number of fish slowly gets smaller. Card Player columnist, Barry Tanenbaum, worked his way up, level by level, to $40-$80, and he said, “For every level you move up, one weak player is replaced by a stronger one.” David Sklansky, poker’s foremost theorist, usually plays $100-$200 or $200-$400 limit or $25/$50 no limit. He told me, “I’m almost never in a game with more than two bad players.”

The biggest games are usually built around one donator. Top pros like Doyle Brunson, Barry Greenstein, Jennifer Harmon, and Phil Ivey can’t make much money from each other. So the biggest games may not even start without a rich tourist.

If you asked any of the top pros, “Do you socialize with rich tourists?” they would be shocked by your dumb question. Of course, they do. They couldn’t make much money without those people, and they must make them comfortable.

Don’t make SawItOff’s mistakes. Do what the smart B&M pros do: Make your best customers want to play with you. The happier they are, the more money they’ll give you.

If you have a question, please add it in any comment section, or e-mail me Before emailing, please check my first blog, “What is poker psychology coaching?”

Any views or opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the ownership or management of


over 11 years ago

Makes sense.


over 11 years ago

I don't understand why you haven't plugged yet another of your latest seminar/forum/lectures? Not like you to forget ....


over 11 years ago

Finally, after all these months of self-promotion, you have hit upon the essence of how the game was born and the effort it required to lure the "seals" for the "great white sharks" to feast upon. Oh and by the way, why the WSOP was ever held.


over 11 years ago

Is it just me or did he go on and on making the exact same point over and over. Not to mention that it is the most obvious points someone could make about live poker.

Does he really expect to help people make the almost impossible transition to being a live pro by telling them to socialize with fish? No seminar or blog is going to change the fact that you get 30hph, pay exorbitant rake, tip the dealer every time you win a pot, and on top of that have to pay high traveling costs just to play. Its just a simple fact that anyone playing under NL25/50 or maybe 50/100 limit is going to have a very hard time being a live professional poker player. You could play with a new group of first timers everyday and you would still have a hard time sustaining any profit at NL 1/2 after all expenses.

The sad part is that he is clearly going after the 1/2 players. I don't think many 25/50+ players are attending his webinars. He is trying to prey on players who were put in a bad spot due to black friday. The obstacles that keep people from being live pros are not going anywhere anytime soon, and this guys blogs say nothing about how he is going to teach us to overcome them.


over 11 years ago

I would like to start by saying thank you to Alan for reading my comment. What I wrote was from a personal account only. Im not suggesting that everyone or anyone play the way I do. Ive always been a quiet guy, and I cant help but take that to the table with me. All the regs, solid or fish, know how I am. If I see a fish who is starting to become a reg I have no problem taking them out for drinks after the game to bs a little. I dont speak much at the table because people that engage in life stories are probably missing vital info when they arent paying attention. I can assure you that nobody sees me as anti-social or cutthroat. Also, by saying that I "do well" is a polite way of not bragging. Well thats all I have for you Doc. Take care. (FYI theres an episode of PAD where Ivey says to the Mouth "Sorry I dont talk all the time. I only speak when I have some thing to say." Maybe Ivey has been doing wrong all these years lol.)


over 10 years ago

When I responded to “How Much Should Online Players Socialize In B&M games?” I didn't realize that yet another great post in the same subject was coming...


it's just pure gold. every single word.
The single most important reason I struggle beating the rake in the small stakes Vegas games I play is not socializing, being too serious, not satisfying the customers.

and it's not that I have poor etiquette issues. I know not to talk strategy at the table, avoid arguing at all costs. I don't yell at players/dealers, bitch, complain, blame the world, etc. but i'm not really trying to be nice. when someone nice talks to me, sure, i'll be respectful and friendly.

but i'm still being me, meaning: i'm the outcast, serious math kid, living in his own world, focusing on making +ev plays, when the biggest expectation play of all is lying right in front of me and I miss it time and again: make your customers happy, you dumb***!

not being mean or impolite just won't cut it. I need to play the game, reeeaaally play it...

Thanks again sir, you are very, very good!

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