Is your "poker trip" an investment or a holiday?

By: Edison Nguyen

We welcome Australian young gun Edison Nguyen to the Poker Asia Pacific blogging team with the first of what we hope will be many blogs about life as a poker professional. For those unaware, Edison is currently the #1 ranked online poker player in Australia, and #18 worldwide, under the online handle "googiemona".

Edison also has an impressive live record, with a previous victory in the Adelaide Autumn Classic, a 3rd place in the opening event of the 2009 Aussie Millions and a runner-up finish in Event #2 of this year's WSOP APAC series to his credit.


I’m currently on my way to Sydney. For the past few weeks, my brother and I have had a friend over staying at our house, creating sort of a “work” house where we all wake up around 4-5am daily to play online tournaments until the afternoon.

After a few weeks overseas I’ve begun to get back into my healthy ways, eating right & exercising. This month I’ll be playing the Sydney Summer Series after which I will be travelling to Prague to play in the European Poker Tour and collect my WCOOP (World Championship of Online Poker) bracelet for winning an event earlier in September.

Poker over the years has become increasingly competitive and tougher. I think it’s safe to say that anyone that still competes at poker for a living is very close to an ‘athlete’, but with the activity more intensely concentrated on the mind than the body.

Poker is fun as hell, but to compete and make a living from it is not an easy thing to do at all. At least not anymore.

I spent a few weeks in Macau playing the tournaments at the Asia Championship of Poker. I’ve begun to enjoy playing tournament poker more and more, and realized both the monetary benefits and the sheer fun of playing in a social setting makes it a clear thing to do more often. The unique blend of amateurs and “wannabe” professionals makes it a profitable possibility to “grind” them out.

Mathematically speaking, the ROI’s (return on investment) in live tournaments are much higher than an online tournament, and considering the buy-ins are larger, it’s a great money making opportunity, to a select few.

I’ve begun to map out any ‘poker trips’ as either holidays or an investment venture/opportunity. Let me explain what I mean by this.

Expenses & accommodation are a huge downfall to many poker players and will continue to be a crippling factor to the players that are struggling.  

Before I discuss this further, I want to reiterate that I’m not a math guy. I won’t put up stats and graphs to back up my points. But let’s use an example to see if an investment venture is profitable or not.

Edison NguyenLet’s say there is a tournament series on interstate. Let’s assume that there are five events with four of them costing $1,000+$100 and the Main Event at $5,000+$300.

Now to travel and stay there for the two-week period will incur $500 return flights (generous estimate) and $100/night in average accommodation.  That’s $500+$1,400 in expenses. Nearly $2,000.

Now in the specific tournaments that are played, let’s estimate your return on investment (ROI).

For each bad player in the field, we need to assign them an ROI that is negative. So for example, an amateur that is playing okay will still only have a negative ROI of about negative 20-60%.

What this means is every time they enter a tournament that is worth $1,100, they are mathematically losing 20-60% of the buy in that per tournament. The short term results are irrelevant, which means they could end up winning the tournament (maybe $200,000) but mathematically speaking, they are a long-term losing player. Just like people win against the casino sometimes, but in the long run they lose.

It is very rare for someone to be -100% unless it’s the first time they’ve played poker, and they really don’t have a chance at all.

Now assume you, an average poker player, think your ROI is 20%. Amongst the many “professional” poker players that play these events now, the amateurs’ negative ROI is split evenly (assuming the skills are identical amongst the professionals).  Now unless the field of players consists of at least 30% amateurs, a “semi decent” professional will NOT have a very high ROI. The math does not add up.

Let’s use an easier example. Let’s assume HALF of the field are amateurs that have an average ROI of -50% + -10% for the fee. This equals an ROI of -60%

The rest of the field are professionals. Assuming they are evenly skilled, their ROI should be +50% minus the 10% fee. Which equals 40%.

Playing an $1,100 event with 40% ROI means that on average, your return should be $440 in profit.

With poker becoming increasingly tougher, the % of amateurs in the fields is diminishing. Furthermore, the skill level of the amateurs is increasing and hence their ROI is mathematically speaking not as negative as they used to be.

All of a sudden, if you’re an average player, you’re ROI could now be 5-10% at best, let alone barely even. This begs the question, is this whole tournament poker and travelling thing sustainable for you?

10% for $1,100 x 4 + $5,300 = $9,700 or $970 in profit. This does not cover the expenses. This also is providing that you play all the tournaments and skip none.

Sorry if this math has got your head spinning around in circles, but at the end of the day, while tournament poker is a swingy game full of glory, highs and lows, the math has to be sound for it to be a profitable venture.

I will delve further into this in future blogs but let’s let that sink in for a bit.

On the other side of the coin, online poker has no expenses. It requires no travel, and the “casino” fees in general are lower and can be lowered even further with rake back.

You can put in much more volume, which thins out a bit of the variance of swings so to speak.

So the next time you plan a poker trip, is it a holiday? Or is it a serious investment venture?

You can follow Edison's poker adventures on Twitter @GooGieMonA