Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Seven (and Eight) Percent Solution

'Poker Winners Are Different' (2009) by Alan SchoonmakerAt the start of Dr. Alan Schoonmaker’s new book Poker Winners Are Different, he begins by pointing out that overall the great majority of people who play poker lose at poker. Thus, poker winners are not only “different” -- they are uncommon, too, relatively speaking.

According to Dr. Al, “many experts estimate that -- because of the rake, tips, and other expenses -- 85-90 percent of all cardroom and online players are long-term losers, but they have no solid data.”

So basically an anecdotally-based claim there, somewhat supported by the fact that “many experts” are making it.

For further support, Schoonmaker then quotes Jay Lovinger, who had that “Jackpot Jay” column over on ESPN.com for a while a couple of years back. I remember reading that column, which I believe predated the “ESPN Poker Club,” Phil Gordon’s Poker Edge podcast, and all the other pokery stuff they have going on over on the site these days. Glancing through the archives, it appears Lovinger hasn’t written for ESPN since 2005.

Jackpot JayIf I remember the column, Lovinger was kind of an “average Joe”-type of poker player who wrote about his experiences trying to make it as a professional poker player for one year. Lovinger played both online and live, and in his columns talked about how it was going, including reporting his wins and losses. He went to the WSOP that year and wrote about that, too (à la James McManus and others).

My memory is that Lovinger didn’t fare all that well, or at least didn’t seem to from the columns I read. Which probably made the columns all the more interesting, actually.

In his book, Dr. Al points to one particular column Lovinger wrote called “Jay Delivers the Commandments” and looking at the column I see the headnote saying that it represents his last piece for ESPN. One of his “commandments” is titled “It’s a Tough Way to Make an Easy Living,” and it is from that one that Schoonmaker quotes Lovinger referring to a conversation he had with two different members of “online poker site management” who wished to remain anonymous.

Those two online poker site managers told Lovinger at the WSOP that summer that “only 8 and 7 percent, respectively, of all players on their sites finish the year in the black.” Lovinger also notes how even though the sites do track this information closely, “they are not about to publicize the results.” (Kind of relates to the point I was talking about yesterday with regard to tracking and reporting how people do in tournaments.)

Thus does Schoonmaker present some relatively hard evidence that yes, indeed, most players are losers, at least online. The rest of the book then discusses numerous qualities that the winners possess, providing a lot of useful advice and strategies for self-assessment along the way. A good read, and definitely helpful, I’d say.

I was very glad to see this reference early on, though, as I remember reading something very similar in an issue of Card Player about three years ago. It was an article about the booming online poker scene -- this was prior to Bush signing the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 into law (in October ’06). I remember distinctly reading how an online site manager who wished not to be named said that only 7 percent of the players on the site finished the year with any profit whatsoever.

One has to assume a good number of those among the players being tracked are those who make small deposits, lose it all, and never return. Even so, of those who make another deposit and stick around, one can probably assume the winners are in the minority.

I’ve mentioned that statistic on Hard-Boiled Poker once or twice, and have noticed when looking at traffic that a number of people have found those posts after searching for stats about winners and losers online. Some people want to know this stuff, it seems. Have more than once searched back through the old issues of Card Player to find the exact reference, but never could.

'The Seven-Per-Cent Solution' (1974) by Nicholas MeyerSo I was very glad to see Schoonmaker’s quote of Lovinger at the beginning of his book confirming that statistic. Indeed, reading it kind of felt like finally solving a long-term mystery for me.

So if you happen to be up online -- even just a few berries -- welcome to an exclusive club. Even if the forums suggest otherwise.

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