‘My job? I play poker online’

November 12, 2009 |

This recent poker story appeared in the BBC’s websitewww.bbc.co.uk, and truly illustrates the rapidly growing popularity of online poker. Despite having attended one of the world’s best universities, Mark Maxwell prefers to play for a living. Play poker online, that is.

‘My job? I play poker online’

Poker Hands

Royal flush: high cards (ace, king, queen, jack) of the same suit in number sequenceStraight flush: cards of the same suit in number sequence

Four of a kind: cards of the same value (e.g. four kings)

Full house: three cards of one value, two of another

Flush: all cards are of the same suit

Straight: cards are in number sequence, but not of the same suit

Three of a kind: three cards of the same value

Two pair: two pairs of cards with the same value (e.g. king, king and ace, ace)

Pair: two cards with the same value

When I meet someone new and they ask what I do, I just say ‘I play poker’.

I used to have more of a problem with it, not least because I’d end up explaining it at length, as people are often more interested in online poker than in talking about what they do.

I make about $40 an hour on average and play poker 30 hours a week – it’s not quite a full-time job, and it leaves me time to do a bit of web consultancy, read a lot of books, and go off on holiday without having to arrange leave.

Mark’s tip: only bet if your hand is good

I just got back from several weeks in Puerto Rico, and I’m happy to say that I didn’t miss playing poker at all – that was quite reassuring.

If you’re familiar with gambling in casinos, playing poker online is essentially the same thing.

Unlike at a bricks and mortar casino, online you can play at more than one table at a time. So sometimes I log into more than one poker site at a time, which means that I don’t have to be as good a player to make the same amount of money.

‘My poker face’
But in some ways, online poker is a very different game. It’s a lot faster, as there’s no banter around the table. For casino players, this interplay is a central element of the game, whereas for me it’s more mathematical.

In fact, at a casino I’d be at a disadvantage because these people know all about body language. I don’t even know if I’ve got a poker face.

One of the few times I went to a casino, I got a royal flush – it does happen occasionally – and my hands were shaking so much that everyone realised something was up. [The odds of being dealt this winning hand are about 650,000 to one]

But online, I could be shaking like a leaf in front of the computer, yet it would just look like I was making a normal raise.

I’m trying to write a computer program to help me play better. While I could try to program it to play while I’m not there, I’m not sure this is my aim. I don’t think I’m a good enough player to write a winning program, and other players probably wouldn’t like playing against a robot.

There’s nothing secret about the way I play. The most common mistake that beginners make is not folding [stopping betting on a weak hand] early enough. I had to get over that and learn to sit a hand out.

‘I lost $5,000’
My biggest wins have been about the same as my biggest losses – just hopefully they occur a bit more frequently. In one day I’ve lost close to $5,000, but I’ve also won about the same amount. One day I’m buying the beer, the next I’m getting my friends to buy it.

My first big loss came when I had first started to get cocky. I thought I was doing very well, when in fact I wasn’t.

Over about three months, a friend and I had built up about $4,000 from an initial pool of $300, and I lost $1,500 in one day.

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