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Are Poker Tournaments Still Profitable?

In 2003 there was a perfect storm in the poker world: Hole-Card technology was being perfected; James McManus best-seller Positively Fifth Street was giving amateur players hope that they could compete with the big boys armed with nothing more than some home game experience and a copy of Theory of Holdem in hand; ESPN expanded their WSOP coverage and luckboxed into the fairy-tale “Moneymaker” story; Rounders had started sending younger and younger players into poker rooms; and online poker was coming into its own.

Now there is another perfect storm brewing, but it’s taking poker in the opposite direction. It started in 2006 when UIGEA legislation was passed, and at the same time the overall knowledge-base of poker players was on the rise thanks to a slew of new poker books, televised poker shows, online poker training sites, and the rise of poker forums –poker outlets were making their coin by being affiliates for online poker sites and to be a top affiliate you needed winning (or at least break-even) players. Gone were the days where winning poker players made money off of the uneducated rubes; now winning poker players found there was more money in educating the rubes and making money off of them.

This storm has now reached a crescendo after Black Friday, as the US government has deterred all but the best and the most degenerate of poker players from playing online. With the overall quality of poker players at an all time, and no infusion of new blood, the poker world is a very barren world, with few prospects for aspiring poker pros to ply their trade.

While cash-games will always be profitable for winning players, poker tournaments are starting to become –EV for even some of the game’s greatest players. Not only are the usual culprits of rake, travelling expenses, and so on siphoning off most of the players’ money, but the edge the best players use to have over the field is practically non-existent, as most players are at the least capable tournament players.

Backers have also started taking larger and larger pieces from their horses. Gone are the days of the 50/50 deals where a backer bought a player into the event for 50% of their profits and NO MAKEUP! A deal like this will NEVER be offered in today’s poker world.

A final issue that has made poker tournaments tough to beat is the lack of sponsorship dollars players can expect when they pull off a few big wins. In the past a WPT or WSOP win was the pathway to a sponsorship deal; in today’s poker climate sponsorships are few and far between, and the perks have dried-up considerably.

All of these things are making playing poker as a profession almost untenable for new players. Current poker pros are grinding away, doing what they can to survive in a poor poker climate. New players no longer have the leeway to learn the game as they go while still being profitable; now even mid-limit games are exceptionally strong, and tournament fields have very few soft spots.

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