It beats the average student job because it pays more, carries extremely flexible hours, and you have better chances getting a raise. Colin Sweetman speaks to semi-pro student poker player John Daly to see what’s so perfect about his job…
Many of us have been woken by our phones as our boss calls frantically, trying to get us to go to work because we’re already an hour late – and so we cycle/walk/run hysterically to work, arrive there, only to be berated and told to clean the toilet.
But in some students’ lives, there is no such early morning anguish. John “Poker John” Daly is an engineering student in UCD who has managed to find the perfect job for himself: online poker. But how did it all begin?
“Well, very bored one Christmas Break in first year, I was on my own in the house. I found Paddy Power’s website, and saw that they took Laser payments, so I just went onto it. It was just me being really bored, and I said, ‘Oh, poker – I’ve heard of that, I’ll give it a go.’ I had no interest in card games – I didn’t know too much about them. But I started playing, and then I think what motivated me to get better was that people were berating me on the tables – [saying] ‘Oh, you’re doing it so wrong’ and all that.”
But surely it couldn’t be that easy? Surely you’d need a rule-book to find out more? “Eventually I did – I had to try get down on the rules. Eventually I started realising that there is strategy, method and information out there to approach these things.
“At the time I was incredibly broke and I wasn’t playing for the money,” Daly continues. “I mean, I wouldn’t have gotten any decent money out of it so it was just for fun. But eventually, I was getting very poor in the pocket and noticed my skills were getting better, so I decided to start making money from it.” Shortly thereafter, he informs me, Daly managed to pay his rent with money won from poker.
Playing with your own money is risky, however, as you could lose a lot of your hard-earned cash. This is why John doesn’t play with his own money. Instead, he plays as an investment to others. “I played about $5 stakes. I found a community of poker players, on a site called parttimepoker.com, learned the strategy and began playing seriously. I also found a site that tracked your results, so it tells you your profit and loss… With those statistics, people can check and see if you’re a good investment to them. In terms of investors, if you lose money, you’re only losing their money… if you win, you get to keep part of the profit and so do they. When you’re playing poker like me, you’re referred to as an investment because you will get money out of it if you are playing correctly. This in the long term will always make you money.”
One of the major differences between playing poker online and in person is that you cannot read your opponent’s face expression. John believes this isn’t a problem: “It’s such a common misconception that there is no reading into your opponent’s gameplay. There’s so much information! Even the best poker-players will tell you that when you’re playing live, the facial expressions count for about ten per cent of your read. The rest is about betting patterns. Players typically play consistent strong hands and then you see that they’re playing something really small or vice-versa. You look for a pattern, and when you see something out of character, you say, ‘Something’s up’, and then you can tell.”
But if it happens to you, and you’re out of character? “Well, then you have to manipulate them. Be aware that you have a character too,” Daly advises. “You should try to mislead them, as if you had a bad hand. Then they don’t know what to believe.”
Of course, the main attraction to playing poker comes from the monetary benefits. “My earnings depend on the volume of games that I play. When I was playing full-time, in a typical week I’d play 200-300 games a week. So I’d earn about $600 a week, which I get 70 per cent of, so that’s $420. Usually you get a 50:50 ratio for profit, but a player’s cut can go up depending on their skill-level.”
So does John see this as a viable career? “I’d like to keep a balance of both, but having a degree and a job is far more stable a life than just depending on poker. As a full-time income it’s hard to rely on – it’s just too stressful for that kind of thing. Hopefully I’ll keep it as a money-making hobby, which I hope to make a lot from. But I certainly don’t want to count on paying my rent and bills from it, which I was doing for a long time.”
I conclude by asking how someone gets started on the road to financial security. “The absolute hardest thing is finding the right information… But you should find a good coach – they only take a certain amount of your profit, so you don’t have to pay them directly. If you’re not winning, neither are they.”