Discussing Poker Staking with Collin Moshman
Online poker is becoming more and more businesslike and recently has been compared heavily to investing and stock trading. So much so that the online staking industry is booming and often resembles some of the activity that goes on in the City. One such example is Sit and Go expert Collin Moshman, the author and Stoxpoker coach also has a lucrative stable of horses whom he coaches and stakes to play in SNGs online. We caught up with Collin to find out more:
Pokernews: How did staking thing come about?
Collin Moshman: My wife Katie suggested it. I was coaching a couple of guys that were playing great, yet at low stakes due to real life impositions on their bankroll. I was pretty sure they would be winning players at higher stakes, which my money could allow them to do at everyone’s benefit.
PN: Are SNGs the best format in poker to stake players in? It seems like the steadiest format to make a regular return.
CM: I started staking in only SNGs because that was the format I knew best, and it’s also the steadiest. There are a lot of different SNG formats, so if you are backing some Double-or-nothing, some HU, some 9max, some 45man etc you could find the right exposure to risk-reward. Now I am happy to stake in cash and MTTs as well.
PN: How big is rakeback in your overall staking turnover?
CM: Rakeback is great, however in practice, the best performing players are killing games, sometimes with no rakeback at all. Players like this can generate much more profit than chasing high rakeback deals from lower traffic networks. So whereas some backers seem to have set their business up as some kind of rake farm, I am happy to back players that are solid winners in their games and let rakeback take care of itself.
PN: What measures do you take to avoid being grimmed by players and also, what assurances can you give to players that you will treat them correctly?
CM: Grimmed? I’m guessing that’s Brit for scammed :) My preferred route is personal recommendation. When a respected player puts their name to an applicant, it carries more weight for me than any other source. Even if their stats are inferior to another applicant without references, they have a much higher likelihood of getting a stake because we can start with a high level of trust. As for assurances from me, I'd like to think I have a reasonable standing in the poker community, and I would never jeopardize that. Also the players and I both sign a contract, which maps out exactly what is expected of them and what I will provide for them in return.
PN: How many applications do you receive each month and what percentage do you accept?
CM: It varies, something in the region of 60 per month, of which maybe 10% will be accepted. Many of these players later transition to being staked however, after initially accepting a coaching-for-profit share arrangement.
PN: What do you look for in a potential horse/what can potential horses do to help their applications?
CM: Applicants should treat this as a job application. They need to provide me with evidence of why I should send them money. I ask a set of specific questions to help guide them through the application process. Thorough answers, and a commitment to play a serious volume, are very important to me.
PN: Why should someone approach you for staking? Is the bankroll the biggest motivator, is it the discipline or is it the coaching?
CM: Reasons include: (a) Requiring the bankroll (b) Ability to play higher (c) Eliminate bankroll stress (d) HH swaps with other winning players (e) Structure/discipline of the stake (f) Backer who believes in you (g) Incentive eligibility.
Almost all of my coaching is on a 'no win, no fee' basis now, which gives players the opportunity to work with me for more elongated periods than they could otherwise do with traditional fixed fee coaching. There is only so much you can teach a player in 2 hours after all. Some players will want some kind of a hybrid deal; perhaps they have sufficient bankroll for their current level and are looking for coaching to move up, but the pressures of real life mean that they need bankroll assistance to do so.
PN: What separates you from other potential backers/staking sites?
CM: That I am always looking to put players in the games where they are highest EV, even if they are making a “safe” profit at lower stakes. I won’t move up a player against their will as I want the best for all my horses, and am always willing to go the extra mile to make sure players are happy.
PN: How fast do players develop under you?
CM: I’ll move good players up as quickly as their skill set and motivation allows. It makes more sense for me to promote a solid player into $50 games rather than suppress them in $10 games, and that’s an aspect of staking I greatly enjoy — having the same goal as my players. A couple of particular successes were moving a player from $3 to $75 MTT SNGs, and from $5 to $200 heads-up matches, both in very quick order.
PN: Other than coaching, what other perks do your horses get?
CM: Once I have established a relationship with a player and they have proven their worth, I will offer longer term incentive plans. These can be financial but may take other forms. Want the best two tickets in the house for an event? A flight and hotel in Las Vegas? Cash? Let's sit down and work out a plan which will get you there. The important thing is that the reward is tailored to the individual player’s personal goals.
PN: What skills should a backer have? Is it something anyone with the funds should consider or is it a full time job?
CM: A good backer needs to have the knowledge, resources, and desire to put his players in the games where they will make the most money. The time commitment depends on the scale of the operation, but always requires more than just handing players some money and hoping for the best.
PN: What would you say the biggest mistakes are that you see in other backer/horse relationships?
CM: Not agreeing comprehensive terms before starting. Something unexpected happens along the way, and now they have to have a heated discussion about what is fair. Much better to cover off that eventuality at the start. "That's not going to happen" usually does happen.
PN: How do you manage bankroll for your combined horses?
CM: It is combined in the sense that it is all coming out of my pocket! It is segregated in the sense that players don’t share results; they have an assigned amount of money to play with and they are rewarded for their results alone.
PN: Do players sometimes do very well quickly, think they don’t need staking/coaching anymore and then try and leave/change the terms of the deal?
CM: While I am only looking for long-term backing and coaching relationships, I fully understand that circumstances change and that is fine. The stake is on an ongoing basis and all winning players can quit at any time they want to. It is a bit different for coached players as I have an agreement with them for a set period of time. If it was a losing player to begin with and I am coaching them on a percentage, I stand to make no money out of them for a while, but that’s fine as I get a chance to cover my fee from them when I have turned them into a solid winner. The only time I have a problem is when the agreement specifies, say, 6 months of coaching, and the player wants to leave after two intensive months when I’ve just revamped his entire game.
PN: SNG traffic is a lot lower than it once was, is there any concerns that you are taking up too much of the player pool/your horses will be playing each other too much?
CM: As long as I am being accused of this collectively with every other coach, training website etc out there, then I will take my share of the blame, but I think it’s a bit much to say I am personally responsible for it! Some players do their post game homework together and review hands for each other, and therefore choose to avoid loading up SNGs against each other. But many horses will have no clue if there is another horse at the table or not. I’m fine with that too as I know with absolute certainty my horses are playing the game totally on the up with no possibility of soft play or other wrongdoing.
To people that complain the player pool is drying up; believe me there are still a lot of great games out there with recreational players simply handing out money. You just have to get off your backside a little bit more and look for it, unless I am coaching you I’m not going to tell you where to look.
PN: Does staking get in the way of your own playing?
CM: I still play, and I think it is important as a coach to keep up to date with the game as it continues to evolve. But there are only so many hours in each week, so inevitably I do play less now.
PN: A player goes on a massive downswing/losing streak, how do you manage this?
CM: Dropping stakes on a player is usually unfair and a good example of sharp practice. If someone rattles up $2k in makeup playing $20 games, it is crushing to then force them down to $10 games and expect them to play out of it. A stitch in time saves nine; much better to discuss with a player earlier on what is happening. I may look at some hand histories to see if their game has slipped before re-loading them, but big swings are fairly common. When they happen, I think it is important that players don't feel under additional pressure from their backer. A quick health check, reassurance that their game is good and then let them get on with it.
PN: Likewise, a player is crushing, how quickly are you looking to move them up the ranks? How do you manage taking shots at bigger games and such?
CM: It would always be a joint decision, as I said previously some players don't want to move up. Players get a chance to move up pretty swiftly when results dictate it is prudent. Sometimes it is important for players to 'learn their trade' and make necessary adjustments as play changes through the levels. Other times, it might be a proven player who went busto, left poker for a year and has now come back in a couple of rungs below. As soon as they shake the rust off, they are likely to move up pretty fast also. As for taking shots, I will sometimes tailor that in to an incentive plan for a player that is particularly keen to take big shots. I usually encourage players who are attempting to move up to the next level to take shots to start with rather than jumping in head first.
PN: Do you stake players for live play and is this a prudent venture?
CM: I do, but it has to be someone I have extensive history with, or games I can closely monitor. But yes, I have backed a few players for live MTTs and cash games.
PN: Do you have any particular funny stories from staking?
CM: Most of the laughable stuff comes from ridiculous applications. Players who are losing badly at micro-buyins write and ask for a stake into WSOP events. Or players who tell me in earnest that their current backing arrangement is coming to an end because their current backer is accusing them of stealing money, so now they (naturally) need a new backer. For the most part though, the players turn out to be very good people, and I’ve developed lasting friendships that I greatly value with students and horses.
You can find out more about Collin Moshman and his stable at his blog