Sunday, September 18, 2011

Moving to Costa Rica for Online Poker?

I used to play a fair amount of online poker. This was a while ago, around 2004-2005 or so, so 6-7 years ago (wow, I am old). But it was the golden age of online poker, as ESPN's new camera actually made televised poker interesting, and the availability of internet poker allowed so many of us to indulge our Rounders fantasies of rolling up a stake and heading to the World Series.

The game exploded, which was great for anyone who actually did a little homework or could do a little probability math in their head. Tons of people flocked to all different kinds of sites, although I remember Party Poker seemed the largest at the time. I think they even advertised on TV (Note: Indeed they did. I forgot about their 'oooooooh Party Poker!' jingle)

And I liked playing, for a while. But the game is a fickle mistress, and I eventually had to end our relationship. If for nothing else, my desk was taking a beating from all the punches I threw after particularly bad beats. It's not that I wasn't a decent player (38-40% ITM across my SNG's, which if I remember correctly is a pretty good clip [For those unfamiliar, ITM refers to my in-the-money percentage, or the number of tournaments where you take home prize money. SNGs refer to Sit-N-Go's, a tournament that starts immediately once enough players join. I really only played one table sit n go's, which would take 10 players and pay out the top three])

I stopped playing because, while I liked the game, I didn't see what I was really getting out of it. I never played for serious financial stakes (risk-averse, sue me), so the potential rewards were never that big. And even if it as great to outplay someone (or even to get lucky), a win only leaves you with smug self-satisfaction as you sit alone at your computer. What does that really get you at the end of the day? (Answer: Not a girlfriend)

So I cashed out, and was content to play only when I'm at a casino.

However, I do still pay attention to developments in the online poker world, particularly the legal problems it's been facing.

The U.S. government really doesn't like online poker. Leaving out their rationale (which I think is absurd, short-sighted, and hypocritical), they don't want U.S. customers playing poker online.

Recently, the feds shut down the biggest poker sites around the country in what industry players refer to as 'Black Friday'.

Bad news. Particularly for people who gave up other potential careers to 'play online full-time'.

While I typically don't like to generalize, the full-time online player has been profiled enough times in enough articles that I could tell you exactly how any of them will be described in any article that talks about the situation.

Rules for profiling an online poker player in popular media

1: They have to be young, in their 20's usually

2: They have to have abandoned a traditional career path. This is almost always college, but sometimes could also include a job of some kind

3: You have to talk about how they'll play multiple tables at the same time

4: You have to talk about how their parents don't really 'get it'

5: You have to talk about how much money they've made (which will be some ungodly high number, I'm guessing which is self-reported by someone who certainly doesn't want to tell you if they aren't making money)

All poker profiles will have those items, pretty much without exception.

But that wasn't what got me thinking about poker. It was this article in BusinessWeek, an article detailing how poker players are relocating to other countries where they can continue to play online.

What I'm trying to figure out, is if some of the U.S. legal action will have an impact on pro poker players ability to earn the same amount as they did previously.

The article focuses on a couple guys who are now in Costa Rica to play poker. Now, they obviously did this because they want to keep making money the 'easy' way (if by 'easy' you think sitting in front of dual computer monitors for long shifts without leaving the house sounds 'easy').

But isn't it going to be harder to do that now?

When the U.S. basically shut down major online poker sites, they effectively raised the costs of playing online poker for all American players. If you really wanted to play, you'd have to find another site, move your money around, and have questions as to whether the new site would actually be trustworthy. This wouldn't really stop the professionals, who you can assume will usually find a way to play. But the additional transition costs, combined with a new federal government boogeyman hovering over your poker budget, would be enough to scare the amateur, no?

And aren't amateur players how the professionals make most of their money?

So if all of a sudden these guys and girls leave, does the quality of competition improve? And do expected winnings decline as a result? If the online poker community is mostly international, maybe it's not an issue, but I've always assumed it's been primarily American.

I certainly would've thought about that before I moved to Costa Rica. But then, some of us have other employment options.

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