Poker Economy Follow-Up: Identifying the Four Types of Poker Players

Steve Ruddock : January 28th, 2016

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In a previous two-part series on the poker economy I detailed (in general terms) how the poker economy works for both players and the poker rooms. I also looked into the different ecosystems within the larger poker economy, and how money enters and leaves each of these ecosystems.

This time around I want to talk about the different types of players in poker, and how they fit into the poker economy.

Explorers

A lot of people have a lot of different names for these players from recreational players to depositing players, but to avoid any confusion and clearly delineate these players from other non-pros, I’ll simply call them explorers.

An explorer is a player who has yet to find their place in the poker world. They hop around from site to site and game to game as they try to find a home, both in terms of where they play and what they play. ¬†Most explorers are new to the game, but they can also be players who’ve grown disillusioned with their current poker room or the games they routinely play. ¬†However, there is a commonality among all explorers. Because they’re new or looking for a new home, they have to deposit money.

Before I go any further, I should mention that “Explorer” is a term I borrowed from poker consultant Kim Lund, but the description is mine, and is unlikely to line up with Kim’s definition of an explorer – which I’ve never really seen.

If they have any at all, they’re first-hand experience with poker usually starts and ends around a kitchen table with a change jar, and/or they’ve seen poker on TV and think it’s interesting. When they show up at an online poker site or in a brick & mortar card room, these players are just dipping their toes in the poker pool and it’s unclear (to even them) what their poker future holds, and that future will largely be influenced by their first impressions of the game.

Only about 10% of brick & mortar poker players are explorers, while they represent as much as 25% of an online poker site’s players.

Hobbyists

A Hobbyist is what most people would call a casual player. My definition of a hobbyist is someone who plays infrequently and within their means, generally in low or mid-stakes games. Hobbyists represent about 50% of the players in a brick & mortar poker room, and about 5-10% of online players

Most hobbyists understand the basics of the game and possibly possess a decent grasp of strategy, but, because they only play sporadically, they’re rarely winners (although some are), generally don’t practice bankroll management, and tend to either completely deplete their most recent deposit or withdraw most of it if they run it up to some arbitrary amount.

From a pro or serious player’s perspective, these players do a lot of things wrong, but most hobbyists are perfectly content with their poker decisions since they have vastly different motivations to play.

Whereas most pros think everyone wants to excel at poker, and aspire to be a poker pro, this isn’t the case.

First, most people wouldn’t enjoy playing poker all day every day. Poker is an escape for many people, and turning it into a job would ruin the game for them.

Second, most hobbyists have decent jobs, and responsibilities and commitments that prevent them from switching careers and making a go of it as a poker player – this is why the poker ranks are full of single, college aged individuals, and not married 30-somethings with two kids and a mortgage.

Third, most people don’t consider risking a few hundred dollars (win or lose) here and there a gambling problem, but they do consider gambling large amounts of money day in and day out (win or lose) a gambling problem.

Point being, most people in a poker room are very content with their current skill level and how much time and money they devote to the game. If the choice is to be a slightly -EV player and thoroughly enjoy the experience, or be a slightly +EV player by devoting 30 hours of their life to poker every week, most choose the former.

Even though they’re just as likely to blow their money at a blackjack table or playing slots, hobbyists are good for the game and good for poker rooms. They are willing to redeposit every time they want to play and usually have the money to do so.

Settlers

A settler looks an awful lot like a hobbyist with one exception. They play a lot more and more consistently, usually in low or middle stakes games. Most settlers fall into one of two categories:

  1. struggling players who would like to become poker pros;
  2. or, poker enthusiasts whose free time is almost entirely devoted to playing poker.

Like hobbyists they can be winners, losers or break-even types, although everything being relative, because they play more often, they tend to be more skilled than hobbyists. Settlers make up about 25-33% of the players in a brick & mortar poker room, and 25-50% of online poker players.

Since they play consistently, and since many are losing or break-even players, they tend to bring new money into the poker economy. Because they play a lot, and because grinders can beat them, the presence of settlers tend to keep games running which makes them desirable to poker rooms and online poker sites.

Grinders

Grinders are settlers on steroids. these are the winning players and represent about 5% of the people in a brick & mortar poker room, and depending on rewards and the poker format being played, as much as 33% of all online poker players, but probably closer to 25%. In addition to playing a lot of poker, they study the game, use software and training aids, and are constantly trying to improve.

Because they rarely deposit, and withdraw quite often, grinders seem to be the least desirable of all players. That said, grinders are a necessary evil. Someone has to win, so there will always be grinders – if you barred every current winning player from your online poker room the best 25% of players from the remaining players would suddenly start winning, which would cause them to start playing more.

Online grinders are far worse for poker’s ecology than live grinders (evidenced by the fact that there are 5-6x as many of them), as these are by and large the mass multi-tablers who make a large percentage of their profits by playing a really tight, boring style, and cashing in on the site’s rewards program.

Because of this, grinders usually make the game less enjoyable.

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