My Journey As A Professional Poker Player

Anthony Martino

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Back in December 2019 I let the cat out of the bag that I had quit my job at the end of September to play poker for a living, by creating an Ask Me Anything thread. Now that we're about 10 months in, I figured it was time to begin a thread to follow along on my journey.

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To provide some background, I'm now 43 years old, having left my job at 42 to pursue this change.

My background is that I grew up poor, in a family that survived on Welfare and Veterans Assistance. Got my first job at the age of 12 (as a paperboy) and had a high school friend whose parents owned a local hotel, so got a job at the front desk at the tender age of 16! Went to community college in the town I grew up in, got my Associates in Business and went to work. Always been a jack-of-all-trades, some highlights from my time working for "the man" include:

On-Call Firefighter & CPR Instructor
Communications Manager for a Ski Area
Emergency Medical Dispatcher for a private ambulance company
IT Support for multiple companies
Dispatch for multiple companies

The job I left last year to pursue this dream was as manager of a trucking company. We were a local auto-hauler, moving cars to and from dealerships and auctions, doing home-deliveries and brokering anything out-of-state. We had (7) seven-car haulers plus (4) tow trucks, and then office staff I also managed. We averaged 650 cars moved each week, although we had weeks that hit over 800.

The problem was, we operated 9am-9pm, Monday - Friday, but because we were so busy and it was difficult to find truck drivers (especially reliable ones), we were often short-staffed with our fleet. This meant we also were generally running guys in rotation on Saturdays as well, plus occasionally a customer would have a tent-sale we'd service so we might work Sunday as well.

So the job essentially became my life. If I was home for supper, I wasn't "home", and I certainly wasn't "present". I would have drivers, customers and staff calling me at all hours, whether it was 6:30am or 11pm. I might not physically be in the office, but I was putting in 70+ hours per week and did it for three years, and it was taking its toll. I was coming home exhausted and angry, and it was affecting my marriage. Eventually Jenn said "you need to quit, go play poker".

One of my friends that I had met in a local tournament here had told me he thought I'd do well playing PLO cash games. What's funny is I had always viewed them as essentially coin-flipping and gambling, as I hadn't really studied it much. My background in poker was growing up Italian, so at family gatherings we'd play 7 card stud, 5 card draw, roll dice, etc.

When the Moneymaker boom hit I learned Hold Em, although I didn't become competent until I had read Harringtons books on them. Then I learned fixed-limit Omaha hi/lo and from there branched out, picking up 2-7 Triple Draw Lowball, Badugi and other mixed games. I actually preferred fixed-limit games, I didn't enjoy the pressure people could apply to me in No Limit or Pot Limit games.

But anyway, jumping ahead to September of 2019. I'm beat up, I've reached the point where if I don't make a change somethings gotta give, and I'll either wind up fired, divorced or both. So I gave my boss my two weeks notice. He wasn't happy to see me go, but I didn't want to burn any bridges and left the right way (the ass you kick today may be the ass you kiss tomorrow!)

Going into this change in life, I had saved up 6 months of living expenses plus a separate bankroll just for poker. But, I hadn't really played PLO, and I was making the jump! I got Hwangs and Slotbooms books on PLO, read up, and jumped in!

At the time the Tampa Hard Rock would get a 2/5 PLO game with a rock (a $10 forced straddle posted by the winner of the previous pot). Buyins were $200-$2,000 and suddenly I was playing for much larger sums of money than I was accustomed, and playing a game I had no track record in! But, I had confidence. I knew I was a capable player and could pickup new things, and felt I had a strong enough background in a variety of poker formats to make the switch. I wasn't out there looking for glory, to be the best and beat the best. I just wanted to find players that were weaker than me and would pay me off so I could feed my family (just the wife and three cats, but hey, they gotta eat too!)

Screenshot_20200627-204211_Poker Income.jpg


This is my graph since I started, by session. I might play multiple sessions per visit to a poker room, as I might jump between different stakes of PLO, Big O or mixed games. I am not showing the part of the graph that reveals the total dollars won, as that's not something I'm comfortable sharing. However, I know folks like to have some inkling of what someone in my line of work is making, so I'll provide a range of between $60-120/hr overall across all game types. Some games my rate is above or below that, depending on stakes and location. But my combined hourly is somewhere within the 60-120/hr range.

It's more money than anyone is going to pay my Associates-Degree having ass in a 9-5 job, that's for sure. So now you'll ask what games and stakes I play, well, I'm glad you asked, here you go!

Primarily I focus on:

2/5 PLO with a $10 Rock (buyins 200-2K)
1/2 PLO with a $5 button straddle and unlimited restraddles (my most profitable game each week, buyins 200-1k)
1/2 PLO (buyins 100-500)

I also play a 40/80 fixed-limit 27-game mix, although the variance is higher with so many draw games and generally I prefer PLO overall, but it is a nice change if the lineup is right.

In March I got a gym membership for an entire year, plus a personal trainer for 8 sessions, and then a few weeks in I was going to the gym every day and Covid hit, shutting the gyms down. They've since re-opened and I'm back in there doing my thing, plus I try to rollerskate once every week or two as well, which I enjoy and I'm quite good at.

Switching to poker has really helped my relationship and me personally as far as my mental health. I focus on cash games and play very few tournaments, because those lock you in for 8, 10, 12 hour days. With a cash game, I can go and play for 2 hours, win $1300 and head home, see my wife, watch some shows and enjoy life outside of constantly grinding. Some weeks I'll only put in 25 hours, other weeks 30-40. But nowhere near the 70 hours I was putting in working for "the man".

Don't get me wrong, it's not all sunshine and roses. In February I suffered my first (and crossing my fingers, so far only) losing month. It started off great, I think for the first 11 days I had made more than my monthly goal and was on track to match or exceed what I did in December (my first five-figure month) and I was feeling great!

Well, PLO has variance, I was warned, it wasn't going to last forever. Suddenly I went on a horrible downswing. The donks were getting me! Guy raises 3456 preflop to $30, another guy repots all-in for $150, I spring my trap with AAxx and repot to $450 and the guy with 3456 just calls off half his fucking stack and spikes the 667 flop, which looks good when you have Aces, since this guys calling range shouldn't include a 6 in it for half his stack, lol.

Flop top set and nfd vs a weaker fd and an open-ender? He binks the river straight. Have a guy drawing to ONE out on the turn in a $1,400 pot when you hold top two and the nfd vs his K944 with 2nd nfd and only one four in the deck is good for him since the other gives us both the flush, and he binks it on the river as a 2.5% to 97.5% underdog.

Most of the other losses were standard fair, flop straight and flush draws vs top set and I miss my draws, or flop the nut flush vs top set and get it in and he pairs the river, etc. I will say about $800 of my losses were bad play/tilt induced. I'm certainly not immune to it.

When Covid hit I wasn't able to play live anymore, and I'm fairly nitty so I'm not getting invited to any juicy private games either. I found a site online where I was able to play multiple tables of PLO, Big O and 5-card PLO and would play up to 6 tables at a time, sometimes tossing in a NL Hold Em tourney or PLO tourney into the mix as well. Helped keep me sharp and was profitable, although not as much as live poker. But it helped me get used to making a lot more decisions, getting more hands and experience in and also dealing with the ups and downs of this life I've chosen.

Anyway, we're closing in on almost a year of doing this, and I'm still happy with my decision. I will say I don't get the joy out of poker that I once did, as it's more work and less entertainment, so I do miss some of that aspect of it. But being able to pay my bills without having to punch a clock, having the freedom to choose my hours, to adjust to things in life I need to take care of without having to worry about dealing with my bosses needs, has been really freeing.

So stay tuned and subscribe to this space to follow along, and I'll continue to keep ya posted!
 

FDLmold

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I wish I had a casino or card room big enough and near me that they had a variety of games. Mine basically runs 1/2 NL only unless super busy, like on a Fri or Sat. So all the sharks don't have higher stakes to play at most of the time. Although the sharks probably travel to better casinos with better games.
 

Anthony Martino

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I wish I had a casino or card room big enough and near me that they had a variety of games. Mine basically runs 1/2 NL only unless super busy, like on a Fri or Sat. So all the sharks don't have higher stakes to play at most of the time. Although the sharks probably travel to better casinos with better games.

I am fortunate to have 4 rooms within 20-40 minutes drive, although only two of them get PLO action
 

chipsncoffee

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When COVID hit, I was laid off and was fortunate enough to take my shot at playing professionally as well. I grinded like crazy and was able to work my way from playing $50NLHE to $500NLHE online. The swings can be rough, and it’s important not to get caught in the “I gotta get that money back” mentality because, if you work hard and play well, it’ll come back, just maybe not as quickly as it left.

I’m glad to hear that you’re pursuing this, Anthony, and I’m glad it makes you happy!
 

Anthony Martino

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When COVID hit, I was laid off and was fortunate enough to take my shot at playing professionally as well. I grinded like crazy and was able to work my way from playing $50NLHE to $500NLHE online. The swings can be rough, and it’s important not to get caught in the “I gotta get that money back” mentality because, if you work hard and play well, it’ll come back, just maybe not as quickly as it left.

I’m glad to hear that you’re pursuing this, Anthony, and I’m glad it makes you happy!

Great point. It's easy to get into a "gotta get even from last session" mentality.

But you just need to focus on making good decisions, playing when you are fresh and targetting weaker or tired opponents

Most sessions are made or broken by one or two key hands, make sure you play them well. Sometimes luck will turn on you, even that guy with 1 out will get there. But be happy he won, he'll give it back with interest in future sessions
 

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Good luck man. I am good friends with a lot of pros in my area trying to grind out a living. The swings can be tough on u guys. Stay strong and don’t go on tilt. Leave that to the amateurs like me!

I am on the other end of the spectrum. If there is a decent game in the Tri-state area I probably know about it and have been invited to it. I am not a pro so all the invites say something about my game. I think I should be insulted every time I get a text invite but I play anyway. I love - bangers/waterfalls/bomb pots, big o, 5 card plo hi, plo and plo 8. I also love the mixed games - badugi, etc.

btw, the kennel club has a pretty decent plo game. I have played there a few times when I go on Florida golf trips. Great action.
 

Anthony Martino

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I think I should be insulted every time I get a text invite but I play anyway. I love - bangers/waterfalls/bomb pots, big o, 5 card plo hi, plo and plo 8. I also love the mixed games - badugi, etc.

btw, the kennel club has a pretty decent plo game. I have played there a few times when I go on Florida golf trips. Great action.

Never heard of bangers or waterfalls, care to elaborate?

I know bomb pots but rarely see them done. At the crazy unlimited straddle game we'll do $50 or $100 flips when the dealer changes. Some guys will do savers or side bets on top of that

I've heard Oxford downs has a great Big O game, but it's private, plus it's over 60 miles from me, and I have more than enough action in under 20 miles
 

Goldfish

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Never heard of bangers or waterfalls, care to elaborate?

I know bomb pots but rarely see them done. At the crazy unlimited straddle game we'll do $50 or $100 flips when the dealer changes. Some guys will do savers or side bets on top of that

I've heard Oxford downs has a great Big O game, but it's private, plus it's over 60 miles from me, and I have more than enough action in under 20 miles
Banger/flip - everybody who is in Puts up bet and gets a hand. Dealer runs out flop turn river (unless is 7 stud banger). Best hand wins. 7 stud midnight baseball bangers are my favorite.

waterfall - everyone who is in puts up initial bet. Dealer peals the flop. Hand is played normally from that point.

Bomb pots - everyone who is in puts up initial bet. Dealer peals two flops. Hand is played pot limit from there usually with a cap. 2 turns, 2 rivers. spilt pot game.

no saving in waterfalls or bomb pots.
 

Anthony Martino

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So here's an update as June winds to a close. Poker opened back up around May 21st, with 6-max at the Tampa Hard Rock.

As a self-confessed nit, I'm not a fan of short-handed games. They tend to be more aggressive, require you to widen the hands you play, etc. I was perfectly content with 9-handed games where the liklihood of a fish paying me off was far greater

But, I figured a lot of nits would avoid the 6 max games, and the degenerates who NEED to gamble would come out in droves, figured it was an opportunity not to miss, even if it was somewhat out of my comfort zone.

So I dove in opening night, and sure enoufgh found plenty of action.

Now I quit my job so I could enjoy life, and typically play noon-8pm or until 10pm, so I could enjoy a normal sleep schedule, still see my wife, etc

However, about a week into opening, the games got terrible during my normal hours. Since we were some of the first poker action back in the country, many grinders from outside the area flooded Tampa

Lots of unfamiliar faces began to appear, and with 4 games running not one of them was good. It was 1 fish and 5 nits/pros, with no action

So, I made the adjustment. I would wake up at 2am, get ready and hit the rooms at 330am on key mornings (fri/sat/sun) to catch the tired and stuck players

I definetly found this to be much better, lots more action. Had a guy in the 2/5/10 PLO who called off $500 all-in preflop THREE-WAYS with J764 one suit.

When he busted, he went straight to the cage and bought another 2k. He raised EVERY hand preflop to $35-40

His VP$IP was 100%. He did not fold preflop EVER!

This past Friday I tried to resume my old schedule, managed to win $500, but still found the action lacking, so hit up the casino around 3am Saturday morning and found the action much better, winning another $800

The restraddle game on Mondays at Luckys is still good. The Colluding Cubans don't seem to play anymore, but we still get guys who will restraddle to $40 or even $80 preflop.

I just play patient, get it in with good equity and win my share.

I've been working on expanding my gamble a bit. I put in a restraddle to $40 one hand, and did a few $10 and $20 ones as well. But unlike the fish, I'm not doing it out of position in the blinds. I'm on the button or in the CO.

I also participate in the $50 flips. One day I won three in a row, and almost won the 4th one, but came in 2nd

I also had a policy of only running it one time, but another pro says it's best to do what the fish want and keep them happy. So I'm going to give it a shot and see how that goes.

Had a guy 3-handed raise pre, I call with QJ98 and the flop comes 67T rainbow, he pots, I repot and he stacks off with AA92. We run it twice and I scoop both

As June winds to a close, I am having my 2nd best month ever, only beaten by my 5 figure month last December

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My graph since poker opened back up

Screenshot_20200628-080509_Poker Income.jpg
 

Blaster

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I enjoy your updates, keep us posted.
It's also crossed my mind , about the loss of some of the "enjoyment" of poker, when it becomes a full time job. ( The guy who sets up and cleans fish tanks all day, is probably not too excited about going home and cleaning a fish tank).
Perhaps there's a way you can save / compartmentalize NLHE tournaments for the enjoyment factor..
Wishing you all the best!
 

Anthony Martino

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I enjoy your updates, keep us posted.
It's also crossed my mind , about the loss of some of the "enjoyment" of poker, when it becomes a full time job. ( The guy who sets up and cleans fish tanks all day, is probably not too excited about going home and cleaning a fish tank).
Perhaps there's a way you can save / compartmentalize NLHE tournaments for the enjoyment factor..
Wishing you all the best!

Marry a massage therapist and she's probably not thrilled to rub you when she gets home.

I think Jonathan Little had a video where he talks about playing for a living, and how you won't want to play 40 hours/week, and for me that's certainly true. I have no drive to be in action constantly, I just want to make my money and then enjoy my life.

In the past when I had a "real" job, playing poker was an escape from it, it was entertainment and sometimes profitable. So I relished being able to go and compete in a tournament or play some cash games. But now, with it a central part of my life, I look to other things to escape it I guess. I still enjoy playing, I still have fun and still keep it lively at the tables. But it definitely lost some of the luster it once had when it wasn't my full-time gig.
 

Poker Zombie

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Has the "luster" come off for poker during meet-ups?

Obviously, seeing friendly faces is a positive, but I know that my enjoyment of home games is greater than my enjoyment of casino games. Largely because during a home game I don't "care" if I win or lose. I wonder if that is a switch you can turn off to enjoy the poker more.
 

Highli99

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Good luck Anthony I enjoy your posts and seeing your success at PLO. Stay safe down in Florida that Covid is a real nit.
 

Anthony Martino

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Has the "luster" come off for poker during meet-ups?

Obviously, seeing friendly faces is a positive, but I know that my enjoyment of home games is greater than my enjoyment of casino games. Largely because during a home game I don't "care" if I win or lose. I wonder if that is a switch you can turn off to enjoy the poker more.

The stakes at the meetups are low enough that it is more about socializing and having fun. Although the pressure to perform is high because everyone is like "oh, you're a pro? I ain't impressed!" Lol
 

Poker Zombie

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The stakes at the meetups are low enough that it is more about socializing and having fun. Although the pressure to perform is high because everyone is like "oh, you're a pro? I ain't impressed!" Lol
We've met you Anthony. You could be a TV pro pulling in 6 figures, and we'd still be "oh, you're a pro? I ain't impressed!" ;)
 

markleteenie

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Thanks for this thread it’s fascinating to see that side of it! I like seeing the updates and especially what you and others shove preflop in PLO.

I mostly try to play well but some sessions just want to gamble too, and since I play for fun I allow that to happen.


“I'd say good luck, but I know it's not about luck in your game.”
 

Anthony Martino

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Thanks for this thread it’s fascinating to see that side of it! I like seeing the updates and especially what you and others shove preflop in PLO.

Generally speaking, I am trying NOT to shove preflop, except in very specific instances

PLO is such a flop-dependent game, that I try to keep pots small and see flops to determine if there's enough equity to continue or bloat the pot

However, if I have a premium hand and can get it in preflop or create such a low SPR that my flop shove is automatic, I will do so.

I tried to isolate a weaker player preflop when I held JT87 double suited, ran into an ok player who had slowplayed AAXX and was committed three-ways AND a favorite because the fish had A256 so my hand had the most equity when the money went in.

Unfortunately I didn't win, the fish with the worst equity did, and the ok player got the side pot from me. But I'm happy seeing the fish triple up, he'll keep gambling with the worst of it every session, which is good for my bottom line
 

BarrieJ3

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Marry a massage therapist and she's probably not thrilled to rub you when she gets home.

I think Jonathan Little had a video where he talks about playing for a living, and how you won't want to play 40 hours/week, and for me that's certainly true. I have no drive to be in action constantly, I just want to make my money and then enjoy my life.

In the past when I had a "real" job, playing poker was an escape from it, it was entertainment and sometimes profitable. So I relished being able to go and compete in a tournament or play some cash games. But now, with it a central part of my life, I look to other things to escape it I guess. I still enjoy playing, I still have fun and still keep it lively at the tables. But it definitely lost some of the luster it once had when it wasn't my full-time gig.
The upside seems to by far and away outweigh the loss of a little enjoyment.

You know me, I suck at poker - don’t play too too much, have never sat and watched hands play out, never listened to strategy, and have never read a book. I’m not playing poker, I’m gambling.

I’d love to take time and improve, but compared to other games, sports, board games, work, family, etc., it’s the only thing I‘m not extraordinarily competitive and driven towards. Too scared I’d lose my only “relaxing” pastime, I’ll just try and limit my losses and follow along on your journey!
 

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I too enjoy reading about about your experiences playing for a living, especially because I'm more a fan of PLO too. Looks like the Florida games are juicy and fun like I should have been going there instead of Vegas ever lol.
 

Anthony Martino

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I too enjoy reading about about your experiences playing for a living, especially because I'm more a fan of PLO too. Looks like the Florida games are juicy and fun like I should have been going there instead of Vegas ever lol.

I haven't played anywhere else, but I've heard games in Texas card clubs are really good too.

I hope to someday play on Live at the Bike, as the PLO I've seen has had plenty of droolers who would just be handing me a blank check lol
 

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I haven't played anywhere else, but I've heard games in Texas card clubs are really good too.

I hope to someday play on Live at the Bike, as the PLO I've seen has had plenty of droolers who would just be handing me a blank check lol
Texas is the one other place Ive thought could be fun. After watching some of Fireman Scott’s videos it looks like action city. He plays super loose but supposedly a big winner, must be good games. Greg Vail also talks about going there to play Pot Limit Big O. I’ve actually been playing more Big O online than anything else.
 
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