Anyone in the world of poker knows the difficulty of not only the game, but also making a living at it. On his blog at Full Contact Poker, professional player Daniel Negreanu demonstrated this reality with a thorough breakdown of statistics culled from the World Poker Tour’s (WPT) website.
Negreanu, in a posting entitled “I Am A Stats Geek Like No Other,” starts off the discussion regarding his statistical analysis by looking at the return on investment (ROI), for players on the WPT circuit. In his analysis, Negreanu looks at the average WPT event costing $10,000 and estimates roughly another $10,000 for travel, hotel room, and meals. In Negreanu’s opinion, players have to win over $20,000 per event to “break even” on the tournament poker circuit.
Negreanu limited the analysis to players who have played in at least 30 tournaments and found 176 players who fit the criteria. Not surprisingly, many of those in the top ten by Negreanu’s calculations of Earnings Per Event are some of the most highly respected players on the circuit today. Former World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event Champion Carlos Mortensen leads the pack with an average of slightly over $100,000 per event entered and is joined by such players as Jonathan Little, Gus Hansen, and Negreanu himself.
Perhaps the most telling statement on this ROI analysis from Negreanu is the discussion of tournament veteran Casey Kastle. Kastle, who was responsible for the non-smoking movement in poker rooms, holds the record for most cashes in WPT history. In fact, according to the number crunching from Negreanu, he has cashed in 30% of the tournaments he has entered. On the down side, Castle earns about $7,000 per cash, meaning that he is actually losing money.
“If you are going to make it on the WPT, the most crucial stages come late,” Negreanu says on his blog. “You can’t waste opportunities and you need to raise your game at the late stages. You don’t get tons of opportunities, but when you do, you have to get to the final table in order to make any money.”
The ladies don’t escape Negreanu’s gaze, either. Of the women who have played the minimum 30 tournaments, only five – J.J. Liu, Kathy Liebert, Jennifer Harman, Mimi Tran, and Vanessa Rousso – have over $10,000 per event entered and the latter two barely eclipse that number.
Finally, Negreanu presents his overall breakdown. Of the 176 players eligible, only 56 have an ROI of $20,000 or more. “Shockingly,” Negreanu continues, “of the 176 eligible, only 90 of those actually have an ROI of over $10,000. That means there are 86 people out there who have played 30 or more events and are overall losers to the investment.”
This, according to Negreanu, points out a couple of factors that players need to take into consideration. “It’s one of the key reasons that a solid satellite system is essential for any live tour to be successful,” he says. “Without smaller feeder tournaments, the cost of playing is too big. Now, I love the WPT, but I think one of the biggest mistakes they’ve made is not focusing more on a feeder system involving online satellites. It’s essential.”
The statistics also point out the importance of being able to play cash games profitably, according to Negreanu. “When I started out, I grinded in cash games and satellites in order to be able to afford the expensive buy-ins. I’m afraid I don’t think enough people really think about how they are managing their money when it comes to deciding whether to play an event.”
The statistical evidence presented by Negreanu is difficult to argue with and many should look at it before they decide on a career as a professional tournament poker player. His work shows that it is difficult to be a professional and that you need to have ample skills in not only cash games, but also in the tournament arena.