The Hustle: Professional Gambling

Bart Hanson is a professional gambler, broadcaster, and entrepreneur out of Los Angeles.  Through his site: seatopenpoker.net he gives lessons and produces a popular podcast and videocast.  We spoke about the ups and downs of being self-made and how the risky but rewarding world of gambling is like pursuing a creative career as an artist or writer. As an avid card-player and entrepreneur myself, this was a very exciting interview.  These answers are paraphrased from a longer audio interview which I look forward to publishing in full after some time-sensitive developments are resolved!

The Hustle: Pro Gamble Bart Hanson

Malcolm Gladwell famously reported that it takes 10,000 hours to master something. Do you think this is true of poker?

I don’t know exactly how the brain science works – but when you’re a young baby you’re brain pathways aren’t really written yet – the same is kind of true of poker because you will never see someone who only played poker for 1 year who will be good at poker.   So yeah 10,000 sounds about right.  You can’t just hop in and be able to compete with players who have been playing a long time.  Someone with natural talent will not be able to compete with a lesser player who has been around for a few years.

The freedom and flexibility of poker and entrepreneurship seems exciting to a lot of outsiders.  What is an average day like for you as a professional gambler? Is it as free and flexible as people might imagine?

The good thing is I basically can do whatever I want because I have other ancillary income coming in but one of the things that people might not consider with poker or another risky pursuit like being a writer or artist is it’s like running your own business. I don’t have to punch a time clock or answer to anybody so it’s not like I’m gonna get fired but if I oversleep or skip a day – that’s a day of 8 hours of income that is just gone.  Like anything else there are smart people who are very capable but just can’t work for themselves because they need structure.  You have to make that decision for yourself.  It is a business. Some people may even look at it as less freedom because you have to sometimes tell your social circles you can’t do things – they’ll say “You’re a poker player – you can do whatever you want,” when really you can’t, just like a small business owner can’t shutter a shop just to go out to dinner.

Is it possible to make a living solely on poker?  Or does one need to diversify with things like lessons, writing and broadcasting like you have done? Do you ever wish it could just be the poker?

I do have friends who solely make their living from poker.  Fortunately it was never really like that for me except in the beginning.  I think your goal should always be to diversify and make your money from other places.  It’s not healthy, even somewhat dangerous, to make a living solely from poker as people tend to underestimate the variance [the statistical swings within normal conditions] live poker is a short-term sample size so the variance, which would even out online, but you can go through these stretches live where the pressure will get to you.  People greatly underestimate the statistical risk of ruin because the standard deviation is so hard to estimate.  I’ve recently gotten into blackjack for comps (rewards that casinos offer to players) where it’s much easier to estimate your variance.

If you want to play poker solely – multiply your bankroll (liquid cash to play with) by 3!

I know few gamblers in my social and work networks but I know plenty of artists and writers.  Do you think pursuing those creative fields professionally is comparable to pursuing poker?  I have certainly seen some similar challenges.

Absolutely, I might be the only guy who has made money by podcasting in poker.  But I do a lot of other things like writing articles to drive people to my site.  But the actual lesson to be learned is to draw in money from other things.

You’re based in Los Angeles but have traveled to play poker extensively.  How do you think the west coast and east coast differ in terms of poker play?

I haven’t played as much on the east coast so I don’t know.  I would like to got to Foxwoods for some of the mixed games that run more frequently. To be honest, people always think that Los Angeles games are really good because there is a lot of disposable income and a lot of business owners playing – but because poker has been around so long in Los Angeles these recreational players are very experienced – I would take them over recreational players anywhere else in the country.

Also there is a simple difference that a lot of people don’t grasp where California has a drop rather then a rake – which means the casino takes a big cut every hand rather than on the East Coast where it is a percentage of the entire pot so small pots only have a small amount taken by the casino.  This means smaller stakes games are much more viable on the east coast.

With expensive casinos continuing to open in Maryland and drawing the wealth from the DC suburbs do you ever see it being competitive with L.A. or Vegas in terms of poker?

It sounds like a really good situation for players who have a grasp of the game!  A new market will draw lots of players without much experience.  Of course now you have casinos everywhere like Florida, the Midwest, Detroit even.  Any time there’s a situation where there is a concentration of wealth like in the DC suburbs, for a thinking player it’s a great situation.  I don’t know how long it will last because there are always good players moving around looking for situations like this.

 

I will be publishing the full audio soon

Bart can be reached here:

seatopenpoker.net

@BartHanson on twitter

 

Photo by Carlos Pando

Photo by Carlos Pando

 

 

 

Ezra Lefko

Ezra is a handsome writer, artist and performer. He is a member of What Works Studio, which produces What Weekly. When not working, Ezra is the third member of the Pet Shop Boys.