Calgary’s Jason “Prairie Hawk” Grad reached Super Nova Elite status on PokerStars this year once again; a feat only a small percentage of online players in the world have managed to accomplish.
According to various sources, only 39 players made the top tier when it was first introduced in 2007, though that number has climbed to see hundreds of players hitting the mark in recent calendar years. Those like Jason, who put in the “true grind”, are pretty much guaranteed to earn around an extra $120,000 year at the PokerStars felts. With fresh announcements being made regarding changes to the way VPP points are calculated, PokerStars and rake-back itself have certainly been one of the “hot topics” in the poker world to start the new year.
Just before the holidays, we took a simple look at rake-back basics and some of the different ways programs work; while we certainly know where to find some rake-back deals, there are certainly players out there with much more expertise on the “practical” application of these programs…and that’s where Jason “Prairie Hawk” Grad comes in.
We were first introduced to Grad after he decided to challenge the Guinness World Record for the longest single poker sitting; Phil Laak had just finished his highly publicized attempt, leaving Jason inspired to challenge himself by an interview Laak did describing the experience as “almost spiritual”. In the end, Grad played live $1/$2 NLH for more than 88 hours straight at the Stampede Casino good enough to beat the “official” record, and profiting more than $3000 for the sitting. Shortly after, we noticed his name again after a deep run at the Grand Final in EPT Madrid.
Since, we have also discovered that when it comes to “rake-back pros”, Grad is definitely one of our countries more consistent, qualified and most importantly, willing to share his thoughts on the subject. We thought we would ask him a few questions for our readers to ponder as they set their 2012 online poker goals. Please feel free to leave any questions or comments here and to check out his “Prairie Hawk Poker” page on Facebook. We hope you enjoy our Rake-Back Q&A:
CP: “There are still a lot of players who tackle the game without considering rake-back; what influenced you to include take the route of “rake-back” pro?”
Jason Grad: In this era of tough games, it would be foolish to ignore the rake back portion of the game. I like primarily because it allows me to project my earning for the year much more so than most other players. I am older than most my opponents, with a wife, three kids and a mortgage. What did Knish say in Rounders? ’My kids need to eat… ’. That’s me.”
CP: “Do you focus on cash tables or SNGs to put in volume?”
Jason Grad: “I play only cash games. I will only play tournaments if it is a free-roll.”
CP: “What would you consider is the “standard” strategy for coming out ahead in this approach? Is it true that high volume, “ABC” poker can turn some great profits?”
Jason Grad: “When you play 1200+ hands per hour, the standard ABC poker strategy is really the only way you can play. You simply do not have enough time to make the more complicated plays without timing out repeatedly. I think average players would be surprised how complicated ABC poker has become. In this era you can no longer be assured a profit by playing this way.”
CP: “What percentage of a players bankroll would typically get put into play in an average session/days work, or how many buy-ins would a player need to expect to sit down with each day?”
Jason Grad: “Wow, this is a very complicated questions and goes way beyond the scope of an article. I seriously think I could write a 20 page essay on this alone. It also includes a little bit of calculus and playing experience to fully understand it. Bankroll management is one of the most important topics in poker and is so frequently overlooked.”
“The amount of bankroll a player needs has several variables including: stakes, win rate, playing style, stack size, rake back. The one variable that is so tragically overlooked is your monthly expenses. Are you taking out money every month to pay the rent and groceries? If you answer yes to this, you are going to need a much more significant bankroll than you do if you answered no. That is why I am a big proponent of aspiring pros in keeping their day jobs for as long as they can or until they have a signifgant bankroll established.”
“I would put good starting bankroll at about 100 buy-ins for a cash game or 200 for sit’N’goes. This may seem very conservative to many new players. I am telling you now that is it not. If you play long enough you will eventually have down swings bigger than this. If you have a significant win rate, you could likely get away with less. If your win rate comes at the expense of a high variance game style, it may not be enough. Short stackers get a break here obviously because their buy-ins are smaller. The number one sin any gambler can do is to go broke. Don’t do it. It is better have an income, then it is to win big at first only to go broke soon after.”
CP: “You put in a lot of hours; does this ever get tough, boring or feel like any other job that you just want to skip for the day? How do you keep it interesting?”
Jason Grad: “Yes, I do put in a lot of hours, particularly toward the end of the year. It is a job and there are days when you just aren’t 100 percent; but like any other occupation, you can’t just take the day off whenever you want. You have to listen to your body however. There are times when you are sick, or just plain tired and you are going to lose more money then you ever could recover through rakeback. You have to sit those days out and get some rest or spent it with family. 10 – 12 hour days can get real tedious as well. I often will put on a movie or the game while I play. It likely cuts into my profits a bit, but it really helps get through the long boring days.”
CP: “There are other perks for players generating high rake; swag, gifts,trips etc. What have been some of your favorite benefits so far?”
Jason Grad: “I’ve got so much swag that I usually just throw it out or give to anyone that wants it. I have every book, DVD and gift that I want from PokerStars store. I have enough points for the Porsche but don’t really need a sports car right now. The biggest perks are obviously the tournaments. I have played the WSOP Main Event 4 times, 3 EPT major events, and 3 WCCOP ME. I have three cashes so far, so its worked out well for me.”
CP: “We’ve seen rake-back players and rake related challenges/prop bets in the poker world where a player can have some massive downswings, is there a panic point and how does one mentally handle this?”
Jason Grad: “I typically feel this panic late in the year; when I am making the final push to Supernova Elite. It is a point where you really have to rely on on friends and family to help you out a bit. When you are playing 70 hours a week, simple day to day things tend to go ignored. When you aren’t playing all you really want to do is sleep are go out drinking. If you can break even in times like this, you are doing pretty well. Being in good physical shape helps and keeping your diet from sliding too much is important.”
CP: “There are also cases that we have read where players are actually losing money playing a huge volume; but after their rake bonuses, end up actually earning some very significant hourly rates. Would you say even an average player could make money this way? What would be the biggest pitfalls?”
Jason Grad: “I actually fell into this category myself this year for the first time. I have completed Supernova Elite 4 years now and this was the first year that I actually lost money at the cash tables. I did however, still have a successful year. I like to think that I am better than an average player, but I do have a lot of work to catch up to my peers once again. I would say an average player could only reasonably expect a small amount of profit even with rakeback. I have seen some players incur some very significant loses attempting to reach SNE. The biggest potential pitiful for a new player would be exhausted one’s bankroll before reaching the year end bonuses.”
CP: “What advise would you give in selecting rake back deals?”
Jason Grad: “The PokerStars Supernova Elite rack back deal is clearly the best in the industry;but is not realistic for everyone. There are also some players who are good enough to make more money playing fewer tables and hands and per hour. You have to find the balance for what is best for you. Every good player now seems to have a specialty that they employ. Other sites may offer good deals as well, but on the smaller sites you should be able to do a bit more ’bum hunting’ which will increase your profits as well. I personally do not like keeping large amounts of money in these smaller sites. As we have seen in the last year, you may not always be able to get it back or even be sure the games are fair.”
CP: “Anything else you can you would add for players who really want to take full advantage of what they can actually earn from the rake?”
Jason Grad: “Rack back is an important part of the game now. If you aren’t taking advantage of, you are starting from behind from the start. It is however, only a part of the overall game plan. You have to make sure all parts of your game are strong to be successful.”
CP: “As for the recent changes to the VPP program at PokerStars; any thoughts?”
Jason Grad: “PokerStars made two changes that effect me directly this year. The first was to the SNE benefits which no longer gives the members automatic tournament ticket to the WSOP or PCA. They changed it to a $20K bonus plus discounts to the major tournament on the side. This is likely due to their lack of presence at the WSOP from now. This means that I will likely be skipping the big tournaments myself this year and taking the cash. After attending these events now for several years, it doesn’t hold the same luster that it once did.”
“The second change they made this year was to the way they calculate the VPP points. Essentially points are only awarded now to people who put chips into the pot. This is a zero sum change, but will benefit some and hurt others. Tight players are likely to see their VPP/hand averages will drop while loose players will see it rise. I personally wasn’t happy to hear about this change, it will likely mean a lot more work for me this year. As of writing this, I haven’t yet started playing for the year. I am not quit sure yet how big the changes will be.”