It may not be what your family dreamed of when you set off for
university - but the poker boom and modern approaches to financial risk
management have led to real opportunities in becoming a professional gambler.
But then - in the view of
former management consultant John Conroy at least - one person's gambler is
another's City trader. Both require a professional, disciplined approach from
talented and clever people, backed by a supporting infrastructure (not that our
financial markets are one huge casino).
Conroy has formed the poker
sponsorship business BadBeat, which bankrolls, trains, and mentors poker
players, and splits their online winnings half and half. As an illustration of
intent, BadBeat operates out of the offices of the Knightsbridge-based
financial trading company Manro Hayden.
"There are lots of similarities with traders,"
says Conroy. "We provide the risk management team; all the players have to do
The undergraduate life allows the time, online access, peer
encouragement and mental approach to get to grips with the game. John
Tabatabai, 23, graduated in law from the University of Reading and also from
Ladbrokes' online poker rooms. There he met Luke Trotman, 26, who graduated in
English from Oxford University and then funded his MA in screenwriting at
Bournemouth University through poker. At university, Trotman borrowed
£1,000 and turned it into $250,000 (£125,000) in a year. He joined
BadBeat after blowing $100,000.
"BadBeat instilled good money
management in me," says Trotman. "A lot of the guys I used to play with became
millionaires playing poker, but 90% of them have lost that. They can quite
easily drop $1m to $2m in a couple of months and they're bust." He makes a good
living and spends a lot of time involved in charity work.
BadBeat you have to provide trading evidence from your online account that you
can consistently not lose - it will teach you to win. But where BadBeat really
develops talent is through the discipline of money management. "There are lots
of full-time poker players, but not many professional poker players," says
Conroy. Trotman feels it's a key skill. "You can be an average player but have
good bankroll management and make a living from poker."
It works even
better if you're good. Tabatabai, who won $1.7m last year, was known as a
reckless but talented player until he came to BadBeat. Even after joining he
was a loose cannon and needed a second chance after losing $24,000. He was made
to come into the office and work business hours in a suit, with a restricted
The company is looking to grow to 500 players by the end of
next year, and Conroy estimates they lose 30% of trainees because they don't
perform while on trial. Software allows mentors to view all the hands trainees
play and give advice through instant messaging and Skype.
sums of money that Tabatabai and Trotman have made make playing poker for a
living sound easy and glamorous. Tabatabai has recently been in Las Vegas,
playing in the World Series of Poker with the world's best players. Before that
the pair were in South Africa playing tournaments and cash games. Tabatabai won
$126,000 in the All Africa Poker Championship.
However, the reality is
that most winning players grind out small profits, playing full-time on their
own. Though online poker sites don't announce what proportion of their
customers actually win money, professionals estimate around 98% of players
lose. And talented though Trotman is, he thinks standards of play are rising
and that it's harder to make the money he was making four years ago. "Everyone
I meet says they're making $50,000 a month, and they're not," he says.
Dr Mark Griffiths, professor of gambling studies at Nottingham Trent
University's International Gaming Research Unit, has researched problem
gambling among students. His 2007 study revealed a worrying trend. "We had a
large proportion of people who were coming out as problem gamblers, but these
were people who were winning money. But it's very small amounts and they can't
make a living out of it. You had individuals playing 14 hours a day, but it was
significantly impacting on their life."
Trotman also works as a mentor
for BadBeat, advising trainees on technique, lifestyle and mental approach, and
recognises this behaviour. He's currently taking a rest from playing and says:
"Because of the isolating nature of poker, and the swinging nature of winning
and losing, it's important to take breaks. You can sit in a room and not see
anyone for months, and just be addicted to the game."
its traders play either 40 table hours or 3,000 hands a week. Because good
players can play several tables simultaneously it doesn't take as long as is
suggested, but Harminder Akali, 19, expects to play four to five hours a day to
complete his 3,000 hands. Akali will go to Birmingham City University to study
quantity surveying in September. "I'll have to fit both in, but my priorities
are with quantity surveying," he says.
Akali came to BadBeat via its
sister company, the University Poker League, which promotes online competitions
among students, but also creates a way for it them to spot promising players.
Akali will have a daily limit of $50 to bet and has been assigned his own
mentor. "Becoming a professional is a dream," says Akali. "If it was going
somewhere I'd put in as many hours as I could. I've seen the lifestyles of some
of these guys - it's just great."
But like the experience of high
earning City traders, there is a price to this level of success. Trotman,
having lived the dream, is feeling a little jaded. "I wouldn't recommend it to
someone I cared about," he says.