There is a great chasm between those who have money and those who know what to do with it.
While I may say that slightly tongue-in-cheek (and forgive me, I mean no offense), the truth is that it’s hard to make good staking decisions in poker. And while I am in no position to stake anyone right now, I do believe my experience with and observation of the world of staking in the past month has given me a little insight which comes from my unique (if I may declare so myself) perspective.
Here are a few things to look for in a poker staking candidate.
Results Over Volume
The number one indicator of a good poker player is a positive winrate over a large sample size. This should be obvious. But I believe one can extrapolate a fair amount from the data.
As of this writing, the smallest level one can eek out a living with online poker is multi-tabling 50NL and the smallest level one can eek out a living with live poker is 2-5 NL. So I believe these two levels have similar fields of opponents – some recreational, some trying to learn, and some trying to eek out a living. Likewise being able to beat 100NL online is like beating 5-10 NL live, and 200NL online is most like 10-25 NL live. (Dusty Schmidt says the same thing in “Treat Your Poker Like a Business.”) But I’ll say it’s much harder for a successful live player to become a successful online player than vice versa. The skillsets for winning online poker translate to live poker better than the skillsets of live poker translate online.
Likewise, if someone is beating a poker game (e.g. NLHE, LHE, PLO) against some of the toughest competition, I don’t think it would be a bad investment to stake them at another poker game (e.g. PLO8, Badugi, 2-7 Triple Draw) especially if the competition is weaker. Many of the skills needed to be a winning player at the highest levels of poker translate to almost any form of poker.
For example, I wouldn’t write someone off as a bad stake at PLO if they’ve only got 40,000 hands at .25-.50 PLO online and over 1 million hands at 1-2 NLHE online. They are probably a very good stake for any PLO game up to .50-1.00 online and 5-10 live.
How They Talk and Think About the Game
When you don’t have a large sample size, how your potential stake discusses the game and their thought process can be a big clue as to how profitable they will be for you. In “Ace On the River” Barry Greenstein gives a pretty sharp overview of what makes a winning player and I recommend checking it out.
In my experience, a winning player speaks in terms of flexible ranges, statistics, probabilities, table conditions, player tendencies, etc. The more factors they throw in when describing a hand, the more acute their sense of the game. Dan Harrington said as much in his first “Harrington on Hold ‘Em” book.
When a strong player describes a hand, they’ll say something like, “I’m in the hijack and it gets folded to a loose, fishy player to my right in MP who opens. His range is really wide, including suited junk hands, offsuit aces, most connectors, any two over 8, etc. My plan is to 3bet for isolation (since we both have 150bb stacks) with a moderate-to-strong value range and it is unlikely anyone else at the table will catch on to what I’m doing since I haven’t had the chance to be too active and I think my image is solid. I look left and see that the CO and button have looked at their hands and are ready to fold. The BB just sat down and the SB is a nit. So I look down at ATo and 3bet, trying to isolate the fish, in position. I expect him to call with many worse hands, including dominated ones.”
A weak player will say, “The fish raised from middle position and I called with ATo on the hijack. Standard.”
Not mentioned in Barry’s book, I think objectivity is a strong trait for a poker player to have. It’s hard to fold “when you know you’re beat” but you have an otherwise great hand. It’s hard to say to yourself, “self, you are tired/hungry/defeated, pack up and leave after you’re done with this very hand.” But if a player can look at themselves and the situation objectively and make these decisions, they possess a trait found in the strongest players.
A Student of the Game
I would want a NLHE staking candidate to understand and be able to reference anything from:
“No Limit Hold ‘Em: Theory and Practice” by David Sklasky and Ed Miller
“Professional No Limit Hold ‘Em” by Matt Flynn, Sunny Mehta, and Ed Miller
“Small Stakes No Limit Hold ‘Em” by Matt Flynn, Sunny Mehta, and Ed Miller
“The Poker Blueprint” by Aaron Davis and Tri “SlowHabit” Nguyen
“Elements of Poker” by Tommy Angelo
“Ace on the River” by Barry Greenstein
“Treat Your Poker Like a Business” by Dusty Schmidt
“The Mathematics of Poker” by Bill Chen and Jerrod Ankenman
And if they have the bankroll:
“Let There Be Range” by Cole “CTS” South and Tri “SlowHabit” Nguyen
“The NL Workbook: Exploiting Regulars” by Tri “SlowHabit” Nguyen
Live players should also have memorized:
“Mike Caro’s Book of Poker Tells” by Mike Caro
“Read ‘Em and Reap” by Joe Navarro
Also, experience with a reputable poker training site or several is a must. They should understand (what are now) key concepts like hand reading, table selection, isolating, polarizing, and merging.
This is less about being a strong player and more about having a solid staker-stakee relationship. The player being staked must be 100% transparent in their actions at all times. Arrangements for facebook updates, twitter updates, or text messages must be made and kept without fail.
If playing online, the staked played should be willing to grant access to the cashier to the staker, as well as send the staker any hand histories requested promptly.
If playing live, I’ve been willing to sit at the table until the staker comes by and takes the chips to the cashier himself. I’d rather the staker dole out the cash in the event of a score, at least until he trusts me enough to ask me to just pay him his share.
As a rule, I would rather stake someone who makes mistakes and says, “I made a mistake,” than someone who “never makes mistakes.” Admitting your faults is both part of objectivity and transparency.
Honesty / Pragmatism
Over the past couple years, I’ve been approached more than once about applying my poker skill or HUD towards making a bot for online poker.
But I’ve refused, and one of the reasons I’ve played an honest game is that it makes me more money. I made a decent income playing poker for a living for 2 years before quitting to focus on music. When I was playing, I didn’t want to jeopardize my living by being a cheater and facing the probability of being caught and no longer having a solid, honest source of income.
An honest and pragmatic staking candidate will view being staked in the same way. It is far more valuable to a winning player to establish a solid long-term working relationship between themselves and their staker than to cheat a staker out of a relatively small sum of money once and then have to avoid them forever.
Here’s another example. I once ran a home game. It was very profitable for everyone involved, and the dealer I was working with had a steady income. When I had proof he cheated me for a small sum of money, I simply hired another dealer who was happy to have the job. The new dealer made good money, and over the life of my home game, made about 20 times more than the amount the thieving dealer made off with.
So while it may be hard to judge to moral character of people, look for pragmatism and transparency in a potential stake and most likely honesty will be right there as well.
Responsible With Money
The best staking candidate is not someone who went busto and wants money to get back in the game, but rather someone who is playing a low limit and would like a chance at a higher limit.
Playing a low limit for serious amounts of time (while winning!) shows dedication and discipline – two qualities you want to see in a staking candidate. Players who have the discipline to drop down in limits and grind are to be commended, IMO. Players who want to hit that next big score or are super anxious to move up, may not be a solid choice for staking.
A strong candidate for staking also objectively knows “what he is worth,” so to speak. For example, I’m not going to be making $50 / hour or more at 2-5 live NL consistently. I know that’s not realistic. So I’m not willing to give up a large portion of my action at that limit. I demand higher percentages for lower limits and give up larger percentages as the limits at which I’m staked increase. This is to be expected for both tournaments and cash games.
To sum it up, stakers should look for someone with results, who thinks about and discusses the game clearly and logically, and who is objective, studious, transparent, honest, pragmatic, and responsible.
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