Online grinders: Marc “Guma” Rivera about playing poker for living

Marc "Guma" Rivera is an accomplished online pro playing under "gumasta" name on Pokerstars. He won a PLO8 SCOOP event in 2013. 

1. When did you start playing Poker?

Poker and other card games were familiar to me from childhood, and I had an interest in games as pure strategy. In games involving money, it was a way of keeping score more than having an interest in financial outcomes. Gambling had no appeal to me when I learned about math and probability, and I never had any attraction to games of pure chance or lotteries with negative expectation. With the emergence of MAGIC: THE GATHERING and other trading card games, I had a very long love affair with strategic games that have some degree of luck and randomness but a preeminent skill element. Games with hidden information and some mental calculation involving probabilities were more enjoyable than games such as chess that have perfect information and require deep knowledge of the game tree for advanced success. The movie Rounders and the poker boom (WPT and Moneymaker at WSOP), followed by a mini "Magic poker" boom (including David Williams at the WSOP), converged to increase my awareness of poker as a modern phenomenon with wide mass appeal. Around the time I was working some boring office jobs, live games were sprouting up and growing in many places, and I spent a brief time as a serious recreational poker player in live games at low stakes. In 2008 I ran up a bankroll from freerolls and promotions and picked up various games: HORSE and Omaha-8 were my early favorites online.

2. When did you start to play for a living? Why?

The fact is that my mundane occupation as of 2009 was not paying very well, and I had no expectation of going far in that culture and environment. Meanwhile, what had started from freerolls gradually took up more time every day and soon exceeded what I was getting from a monthly paycheck. The decision to quit working full time in a daily grind was not entirely a decision to go "pro" but more of a change in lifestyle and an extended vacation of sorts that included a well-paying hobby with which I could support myself.

3. Do you have any regret when you think about this decision? Can you imagine what kind of life you would be living now if you hadn’t made this choice?

The simple answer is no regret, and I even wonder how I could have done much better as an online poker player if I had started years earlier. I see no better path, but I'm not the sort of person to guess about divergent life paths from decisions made long ago that can't be unmade. But I want to address a few other things about the life choice for me and for others. Life as a poker pro is not a career that will last for more than a few years for the vast majority of people, and especially for people who have the kind of personality that is attracted to games of chance. In my opinion, the outstanding poker players that you may hear about are very rare outliers. And in almost all cases, there is a very large risk of going broke at some point on the journey. If you don't start with a six-figure bankroll, you are very likely to lose all of it at some point if you follow the typical path of a full-time poker player. If you have a lot of money and don't respect variance, then it doesn't matter what you started with, and you will either go bust or go through a period of demoralizing losses. Truly successful poker players have a few rare qualities: emotional distancing from financial outcomes; competitive spirit and fierce will to win; good study habits and eagerness to learn and evolve in a changing environment; healthy and balanced living away from the game; and, good physical and mental health. Let me tell you, physical fitness is important. You can't expect to sit on your butt and cash out piles of money doing nothing else all day. Take a look at the real best of the best online players, and you'll see they're generally not couch potatoes. Mental fitness is paramount. Do something else with your time, especially when you're losing. Get a life!

SCOOP Ev 38-H FT (1)

Mark Rivera won a PLO8 SCOOP Event

4. What are the biggest difficulties you’ve had to face during your poker career?

I had no immediate answer to this, but after some thought, the best thing to say is related to life-work balance. At the end of the day, it's a game, and it's meaningless in the bigger scope of things. If the financial outcome is too much to handle, then by all means quit and do something else.

5. What recommendations / warnings would give to a talented 20-year-old poker enthusiast who wants to turn pro?

I will say that almost all Hold'em games are very saturated with pros, semi-pros, and serious enthusiasts. Don't play them and expect to have an edge. Non-turbo MTTs may be an exception, but then there's massive variance to pay. The most important thing is to have a bankroll. If you don't have an adequate bankroll, you need to find a person or a staking group that can provide it.

6. Only a few players have managed to stay on the top as poker players in the long run. Why?

I already addressed the topic a bit above. Luck. Marketing. And not all of them are what they seem on the surface. A big number of well-known names have significant financial backing.

7. What is your view on the current Asian poker scene?

I am very unqualified to answer this, and you should feel free to omit my opinion. I think it's great to attract dead money to our shores. Businessmen with too much money, criminal enterprises, foreigners seeking to wash their excesses—let them spend their gambling funds in our casinos. Poker is a red herring and a drop in the ocean of the vast gaming industry. Use it for publicity and use it to attract the sharks after the dead money, and then rake them for all you can. But don't dream of getting rich from this windfall as a poker player. The businesses will profit and mark a few lines in their books. Local players should put away dreams of grandeur at the tables and be part of the business if they want to have a piece of the pie. Poker professional is not the position you want to have; the money comes from running the room, not from sitting in it.

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