Poker Coverage: Poker Legislation Poker Tournaments U.S. Poker Markets

Poker Vlogger Brad Owen Breaks Down The Las Vegas Mid-Stakes Cash Game Scene

Owen Explains How Much A Pro Can Expect To Make Grinding In Sin City

Print-icon
 

Brad Owen makes one of poker’s most popular vlogs (video blogs) with a YouTube channel that documents his time playing $2-$5 no-limit hold’em cash games in Las Vegas. He has more than 95,000 subscribers to his channel, making his vlog one of the most viewed in the burgeoning entertainment space.

Owen moved to Las Vegas in 2012 playing on a semi-professional basis. In 2015, he transitioned back to full-time hours, eventually starting his vlog at the end of 2016. Much like his good friend and fellow vlogger Andrew Neeme, Owen gives his followers a first-person view of his poker experience, sharing the ups and downs of the grind.

With poker vlogs increasing in popularity, Owen and Neeme have introduced their ‘Meet Up Games,’ where the duo leaves Las Vegas and hits the road to host cash games in other locations. Since the two vloggers have sometimes met resistance from the casinos when it comes to filming at the poker tables, these games give them a chance to keep the camera rolling and play poker with their fans.

Brad OwenThe prevailing opinion about current mid-stakes cash games in Las Vegas is that the action is dying and that the ceiling on how much someone can earn in those games is much lower than it used to be. Card Player caught up with Owen to find out if that notion is true, and further discuss the state of live no-limit hold’em cash games.

Steve Schult: Give me a general overview of what a typical $2-$5 game looks like for you. When you sit down, is it mostly pros? Mostly recreational players? What is the general ratio?

Brad Owen: It’s definitely a good mix. Typically, I play at Red Rock Casino if I’m going to play $2-$5. That’s a game that was great when I first moved out here. It’s gotten much tougher. When I first moved in 2012, I was usually sitting in games with one or two other pros. Now, it’s probably one of the toughest $2-$5 games in Las Vegas. There are generally three to five other professionals in the game, I’d say. Everyone just has a pretty good idea of what they’re doing.

I think on the Strip, the games are a little bit easier. But since I’ve played at Red Rock and got used to it when I first moved here, I just really enjoy the atmosphere. The room is great, the staff is great and I’m really good friends with everybody because it’s kind of a local’s casino. As you get to the Strip, games tend to be softer, but they’re not generally as friendly. Maybe there’s three or four other pros in the game at Aria or the Venetian.

If I go to Bellagio, I pretty much only play $5-$10 because that’s kind of the natural progression. It’s the smallest $5-$10 game in Vegas. It’s a $1,500 cap. The $2-$5 is a $500 cap there and I just don’t enjoy playing 100-big blind poker for $2-$5.

SS: The Strip obviously has more options in terms of tables and rooms than some of the more local casinos. If you were to go to the Strip, how many of those rooms will have a $2-$5 or a $5-$10 game running on a consistent basis?

BO: On the Strip, there are five places that have $2-$5 on a daily, or almost daily basis. There’s Caesars Palace, Bellagio, Aria, Wynn, and Venetian. If you’re looking for a $5-$10 game, there’s only three properties that have it regularly – Bellagio, Aria and Wynn. The $5-$10 is smallest at Bellagio with a $1,500 cap and then there is a $3,000 cap at Aria. It’s uncapped at the Wynn. Generally, if you’re working your way up the ranks in Las Vegas as a $5-$10 pro, you typically start out at Bellagio, then go to Aria, and then go to the Wynn.

SS: It seems like there aren’t many consistencies with regards to cap buy-in amounts at these stakes among these properties. How do the different buy-in structures affect the quality of the game? Are there more pros in the Wynn $2-$5 game than at Bellagio?

Owen Books A Nice Win At Red RockBO: Yeah, I think there’s definitely more rec players in the Bellagio $2-$5, but since it is a smaller game, it kinds of plays similarly to the $1-$3 at the Wynn and the Orleans. Both of those properties have a $500 cap on their $1-$3 game. You’re able to open to $15 in those $1-$3 games just like you would in the Bellagio $2-$5 game. I think that some of those other $1-$3 games are more profitable than a Bellagio $2-$5 game just because it is so small.

The Wynn is interesting because it is pretty tough regardless. It’s regarded nearly unanimously as the nicest poker room in Las Vegas. You have a lot of wealthier businessmen come in there that aren’t necessarily the best poker players. They’re willing to splash around a lot. But there are a ton of other $2-$5 players there that could be playing $5-$10 profitably. There’s just kind of a big mix and wide spectrum of players with regard to skill level at the Wynn. And for $5-$10, I think Bellagio is the softest. Aria is a little bit tougher and the Wynn is by far the toughest.

SS: What are attainable hourly win rates for these games?

BO: In general, 6-10 big blinds per hour is what good players typically make. Anything beyond that and you’re either a phenomenal player, you’re running well, or both.

SS: Are there any crazy outlier win rates that you’ve heard about or gone through yourself?

BO: My friend last year made $140,0000 over 2,000 hours playing almost exclusively $2-$5 in Las Vegas. I’ve never heard of anyone making more at that stake, that I believe anyway, over the course of 12 months. My friend is one of the very best $2-$5 players in town, but he’d probably be the first to tell you that he ran extremely well too. If he were in a different city like Phoenix, Austin, Tampa, or Baltimore, I think he could’ve potentially made more than $200,000.

SS: It seems like you think there are better cities than Las Vegas to grind poker full-time in. If you decide to play a session in Las Vegas, how often do you find yourself switching tables to get out of a bad game? Or even switching entire casinos as a whole?

BO: People see the YouTube videos of Andrew [Neeme] and I doing meet-up games a lot of the time. And we’ll generate seven $2-$5 tables or something like that, or more. We were just in Maryland Live! and we had 22. In the videos, I’ll be changing tables all the time, but when I’m in Las Vegas, I’m typically not table changing that often.

If I go to a place like Aria that might have four or five $2-$5 games, then I’ll definitely table change once or twice on average to try and find the most profitable game. But typically, like in $5-$10, there aren’t that many options for tables. If I go to Bellagio, there might only be two or three games, and one of them might be a must-move, or two of them might be a must-move. You can’t really table change as frequently in $5-$10. Sometimes you can’t table change at all.

Owen Shares The Felt With Dan BilzerianAnd as far as going to different properties, I think that’s something really important if you’re going to be playing poker for a living. If the games aren’t that good at one property, you definitely need to be moving around. That’s something most people generally don’t do. There are a few problems with that. The biggest one is that it does factor into your hourly a little bit. If you show up at Bellagio and the games aren’t that good, and you want to go to Caesars, you have to walk over there and wait on the list. That’s a half hour or 45 minutes or more possibly that you’re not actually playing, but it’s still a work day for you.

SS: Do you find pros playing smaller than $2-$5 no-limit hold’em? Would you ever recommend playing smaller full-time?

BO: There are definitely pros that play $1-$2 and $1-$3 for a living. I don’t know how much they’re really able to make, and I would not suggest people play it for a living. It’s just extremely stressful and impossible to save any money. I think anything that you do for a living, you need to factor in how that’s going to affect your future and your ability to have a family and retire. You just can’t really do those things if you’re grinding those games for a living for the most part.

SS: Do games above $2-$5 and $5-$10 run very often?

BO: $10-$20 no-limit hold’em really only runs consistently at Bellagio. And then it runs a little bit at Aria and maybe once in a while at the Wynn. Those player pools are tiny. When you go upstairs at Bellagio to the high-stakes area, you’ll notice that the $10-$20 game is filled with pros. It’s basically eight pros in a game and maybe one recreational player.

SS: Tell me a little bit about the other places you have played. Recently, with the meet-up games that you have been running with Andrew Neeme, you’ve gotten to play a lot in Texas and were just up in Maryland. How do those games compare with your normal game at Red Rock Casino?

BO: There are fewer pros in those games. The games are softer and there’s a lot more limping. People don’t seem to have as firm of a grasp on proper poker fundamentals, and in general they’re more profitable to play.

SS: If someone were aspiring to become a poker pro, would you even tell them to move to Las Vegas? Where do you think is the most profitable place to start a mid-stakes poker career right now?

BO: There’s a few things you have to consider when you decide you want to play poker for a living. I think Las Vegas is great for a lot of different reasons. There’s a lot of different games you can choose from across the different stakes, so that’s a huge plus. It’s the entertainment capital of the world, so there’s a lot of things to do when you’re not playing poker, but there are a couple other things to factor in.

Vegas can be kind of a depressing city to live in for sure. If you don’t have any friends here, it can be a very lonely city. And poker is one of the loneliest professions that there is. Every day you show up and how you do and regardless if you win or lose, nobody really cares outside of you. If you lose, no one cares, or can relate to you at all. You’re just completely on your own.

The games are not softer here than they are in other locations, so I don’t think that you can make as much money, as much gross revenue from playing poker here. But when you compare it to California, I mean, the cost of living is so much more there that it might make it difficult to play for a living in a place like Los Angeles for instance.

But yeah, I would recommend playing for a living in place like Florida where there’s a lot of options and the games are soft. Texas is the same way. Also the Maryland area, the games are pretty soft and you have a few different options. You want to go places where your opponents are not highly skilled and where there’s a lot of money in the area, and the cost of living is cheap. That’s the ideal combination of determining factors.

Check out some of Owen’s most popular vlogs below.

Photo Credit: Brad Owen/@bradowen1

 
 
 
 

Comments

notCIA
26 days ago

"My friend last year made $140,0000 over 2,000 hours playing almost exclusively $2-$5 in Las Vegas."
So, 2000+ hours, a full-time job. He made approximately $70 an hour on a job with no benefits: no pension, no contribution to a 401K, no health care insurance, no paid holidays or vacation. But a job for which he needs a pretty healthy bankroll which carries a "lost opportunities" cost; that bankroll could be invested profitably elsewhere. And he turned a pleasant, modestly profitable hobby into a grind.
Gee, that sounds a lot like a career path with little to no redeemable qualities.

 
Reply
 

keeentd
24 days ago

Be very skeptical of anyone who utters the words "soft" when describing cash games. If there were in fact "soft" games. they'd be littered with players looking to take advantage. A large factor in winning in these games is the rake, and the cap. That, nore than your opponents, will often be the cause of not winning much.

 
Reply
 

agehv6
22 days ago

Comments from notCIA and keentd are spot on. Low limit professional players quality of life cannot be good, just a brutal grind. I think I'd rather be a trash man. At least I can have fun with the other guy on the back of the truck all day.

The comment on beating the rake is the absolute truth. The average amount of hands per hour in live poker is around 30. If we estimate that 2/3s of them go to the flop, you're usually looking at a max rake at $5. So $100 is coming off the table every hour. Wow, so if you put in a 6 hour session, you're looking at $600 coming off the table into the casinos pocket that is coming off you and your opponents stacks. Tipping and now parking fees in Vegas just keep piling on to rip apart your hourly rate.

 
Reply