He wakes up at three in the afternoon. Then he may play some sports and catch a video. For the rest of the time, he plays poker.
Rio Lim, 25, is a professional poker player and monthly pay cheques of USD10,000 are not uncommon for him.
To find out more about the engaging lifestyle of Rio, who also has a degree in banking and finance, do read on for my interview with him.
I hear that you have a great lifestyle achieved through playing poker.
Poker has allowed me to travel and to have a very flexible lifestyle. I wake up when I feel like waking up and I go wherever I feel like.
So my unique lifestyle is more of the travelling and flexible hours that I get as a poker player. I usually don’t fix times (such as for appointments) unless it’s just two or three hours in advance. I don’t like to have deadlines like tomorrow.
I also travel to quite a few places in Asia and now I am mostly based in Thailand because I like it there and it’s a place where people are really friendly. For example, when you go out, you always see smiles. It’s not like in Singapore where the pace is very fast and people are caught up in the rat race.
I have also visited lots of other Asian countries like Macau. I stayed in Cebu in the Philippines for a while and have friends who play poker there. I’ve also been to Hong Kong and Taiwan, Korea and China. And I have been to Europe too, but I don’t like being so far away from home so I travel around Asia. My idea of travelling is unlike the mainstream idea of a five-day getaway tour package to visit all the tourist attractions. My idea of travelling is to be able to go to one place and stay there for two weeks or beyond just so that I can try to understand and appreciate the culture and the daily routine of the people there.
When and why did you start playing poker professionally?
I didn’t want to have a job because in some previous holiday jobs, my supervisors used to irritate me quite a lot because they would give me an inferior method of completing my task and were not open to alternative superior solutions. That, plus the whole 8am to 5pm routine, made me want to look for something else where I had no superiors to abide by and where I am rewarded base solely on my capabilities – so I started playing poker four years ago.
Before playing poker, I was trying out Forex trading but I couldn’t make money after six months and just so happened that my friend, Xavier Fok came to me with a business proposal regarding poker. I was like, oh sure, if it’s a business. I never liked the idea of gambling but when Xavier said he had a SMU undergraduate friend who made USD$10k while studying and playing poker and he could show me how to do it, I decided to give it a shot.
How much winnings per month do you generally get from poker games?
My hourly rate is comparable to someone who gets USD$10k a month or more in Singapore. How much I get though, ranges from how much time I work and variance (or known as luck, which evens out in the long run). If I work only an hour a day, it is highly unlikely that I would end up making US$10k that month.
The number of hours a day varies. Like last month, I worked barely 70 hours but last December, when I worked 170 hours, I made US$25k in that particular month.
How easy is it for you to win in poker games? For example, I understand that the probability of having a winning poker hand ranges from 0.0015% for a Straight Flush to 50.11% for a High Card Hand.
If you were to play poker with a bunch of beginners, it is really easy but if you play with people who play tens or thousands of dollars a day, it would be much harder.
There are a lot of mathematical calculations. It is not just about how often you hit but also how often the guy decides to throw away or fold (discard) his hand. There is a lot of psychology behind it. It is a combination of strategies and the skill of your opponents. It is a strategy game (akin to a complex version of rock paper scissors) and these strategies determine whether you win or lose.
You mentioned that poker players make use of psychology in their games. How is this used?
There is a lot of psychology involved. The simplest example is employing fear by betting big. By doing this you put a lot of pressure on people to make mistakes and they would be fearful of calling, because it could lead to heavy losses.
Another type of psychology is figuring out a strategy, based on your opponent’s past actions. For example, previously, you may have been really aggressive and the other party may have reacted one way or another, so you can use this to work out the opponent’s present behaviour. If you are a good player, you can figure this out.
I am not an expert in reading opponents’ and their body language because I play online but this is another type of psychology that poker players may use.
Tell us about bluffing in poker
Bluffing (bet made with a hand that’s unlikely to be profitable) is very important and is a core fundamental of poker.
For example, you could three-bet (to put in a third bet) with a worse hand than your opponents – and win. Say, he opens with king nine suited and you have queen nine suited. You three-bat and he folds. That is a bluff by you because he folds at a better hand than you.
What are your biggest challenges as a professional poker player?
At the start, the main goal is to get good in poker. This is made extra difficult because your parents and friends are against you and can’t see or understand the results. They just think it’s gambling and a waste of time playing games and you should go out there and get a proper job.
Eventually when you start making money there are different challenges because you tend to get complacent and you start to think that you are good so you don’t put in any more effort to keep up with the game and consequently, your results will suffer. So there are different challenges throughout.
What do you feel are the biggest rewards gleaned from you being a professional poker player?
Basically the freedom and being able to do whatever you want and whenever you want to. You don’t have to be at one place all the time and nobody will force you to do something that you don’t want to do. That’s probably the biggest benefits I get from playing poker.
As a professional player, what is your typical day like?
I wake up in the afternoon at about 3pm and go out to play ball or do sports like Muay Thai and then come back, shower and eat some food. Then I may watch some videos about stuff that I want to learn about, for example poker, psychology, or finance, etc. Sometimes I would also go chill out with friends or go for a massage and then towards like, 9pm or 10pm I would start playing poker all the way until about six in the morning.
I usually play until really late but in between this whole session I would have breaks when I would eat, take a walk or drive around, play some games or watch some entertainment videos on youtube.
Why do you prefer to play poker at nights?
I play at nights because I generally enjoy this time a lot more – it’s quiet, peaceful and has less noise and you don’t hear any traffic. I spend a lot of time doing things at nights – for example, there are parties to attend and soccer games to watch. I’m a big fan of Man United so I would stay up to watch the games and that’s two out of seven nights in a typical week.
Also the traffic for poker is higher at nights because right now there are a lot of USA and European players.
Where do you play poker?
I play 99% of poker online. I don’t enjoy playing live poker so much. Most of my play is on Pokerstars. I also frequent twoplustwo.com and pokerstrategy.com to get abreast on poker news.
Have you ever thought of taking up a standard 8 to 5 job?
Yes, that was way back when I was about 16. I wasn’t working in an office then, but I did have an office job once. Anyway, I had three different jobs and I didn’t like any of them. An employee is usually in a very negative environment. There is no motivation to do the job better, but there are huge incentives to avoid making mistakes so as to avoid getting punished. In an environment where positive actions are not rewarded and negative actions are being punished, the attitude of the people in that environment also becomes negative.
How does a person become a professional poker player?
You don’t just become a professional poker player. I don’t even want to give myself that title. You don’t turn into one. It usually happens when you start playing and learning and you realise that you can do this for a living. When you do it for a living, you then consider yourself a pro.
You do not need to have a passion for playing poker. For example, you blog. That might be your passion but some may not blog for passion. They blog because it makes money for them. Most people play poker online because they enjoy playing games. It need not be a passion but they enjoy doing it.
What qualities do you need to play poker well?
The most important quality is being able to be rational. Secondly, you need a good emotional control. Actually, I would put emotional control over being rational.
Basically, you can be very smart but you might not be able to handle money well in the sense that money affects people very easily so it’s very easy to make wrong decisions. For example, you are rational and you are faced with a money making decision, but you might make the wrong choice. It’s usually because of fear and greed that affects the logical functioning of the brain. I believe that financial markets are fundamentally based on fear and greed as well.
So having emotional control and being able to be rational is very important.
Do you intend to move away from playing poker?
I plan to move away from poker now despite how much it has given me – so that I can focus on my real life.
I am now exploring a lot of things. One is going back to Forex and exploring into other businesses. I am open to anything but my problem is that I have no strong passion for anything. What makes me choose which direction I go will be the people whom I meet. I really believe in that.
What are some tips you can share with us on how to play a good poker game?
If you have aces and kings, try and put as much money as early as possible into the pot. Never slow-play your aces and kings and queens. That’s one good tip.
Always play your draws aggressively. That would be a good side to fall on. So if you have a good flush draw, play it.
If you are faced with the option to raise, call or fold, and you are caught between raising or calling, raising should usually be better.
Anything else you’ll like to tell readers about your poker games or your lifestyle?
In life, money is not everything and balance is the key. So go out there and find your balance in life. Everything has to be a balance, especially so when it comes to playing poker.
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