"Poker is a hard way to make an easy living"

Playing Poker ProfessionallyIt's a popular poker quote and whoever was the first to say it was one very smart man. I think very few people have the ability to become a truly successful professional poker player. Notice the emphasis on successful. There are many people who play poker professionally and barely scrape by month after month. However, in my opinion those people are not truly successful professionals.

So why is it so hard to play poker successfully on a long-term scale? Surely it can't be that hard? Everyone thinks they are an expert at poker… "Surely all these idiots will just donate me money!" Well, it may sometimes seem that way but the games may not be as easy as you think.

What it Takes to be a Professional Poker Player

First of all you need the technical skills to be a winner in at least one form of the game. Second of all you need to be sure about it by putting in a large sample size. Thirdly, you need to be able to deal with the financial and emotional swings. And finally you need to play high enough stakes or a large enough volume of hands and sustain it month-in, month-out. Still think it's easy? Ok, give it a shot for 6 months and tell me what you think! Here are a few other traits that good professional players usually exhibit:

  • Self-motivation - You will not always want to play poker. Especially if you are in a downswing or your friends are doing something that seems like more fun. Sometimes, though, when a game is really good, other things just have to be put on hold.
  • Discipline - Sometimes you need to take a shot at a higher limit game when the table looks juicy. However, doing undisciplined things like chasing losses and playing on tilt will make you go broke before you even realize what happened.
  • Adaptability - There are a lot of things you may need to adapt to. You may need to adjust to a new schedule possibly, new stakes, new players, new styles and even new sites or new games. Change with the times or get left behind.
  • Creativity - You can't always play ABC poker. Sometimes you need to mix things up, confuse your opponents and try some new strategies.

Why so Many Wannabe Pro Poker Players Fail

One major reason why many players don’t make it is because they do not practice smart bankroll management. Always leave yourself with outs! It's ok to use aggressive bankroll strategies, that is fine. But you have to be able to move down as well as up fast. If you can't do that you may go busto like hundreds of other players who have gone on a hot streak, climbed up the stakes too quickly then eventually lost it all playing in games they cannot beat.

Other players play great when they are winning and are running good. But when things start to go the other way, they compound their bad run by tilting, spewing and generally losing their mind like a donkey. Unless you have experienced a huge downswing/break-even stretch over 75k hands in your career, you can't truly know if your good enough to make it. The best players in the world don’t have “downswings.” They play well enough during these stretches so that they become “break-even stretches.” If you get a graph of any top online pro, you will notice that they will have sections of hands where they make tons of money, then sections where they break-even/lose a little for a while and then repeat the cycle.

Other players don’t succeed playing professionally because they have other issues in life which aren’t directly related to poker. Say you are trying to play professionally and are 6 tabling NL100. Over the past 6months, you have earned $3500 a month playing poker, You also have a monthly nut of $2500, i.e., how much you spend on rent, food, gas, electricity, etc. This leaves you with $1000 a month left to play poker with. Smart people will spend that money on learning to increase your income, e.g., poker training, poker coaching, adding money to your bankroll. Dumb people lose money playing blackjack, sports betting or purchasing a $30k car on finance. These people put themselves in unnecessarily tight financial spots and put themselves in situations where they start to eat into their bankroll to keep up their lifestyle and ultimately go broke. See also, How Much Money can you Make Playing Poker.

Final Thoughts on Going Pro

Hopefully you are getting the idea by now. Becoming a poker pro isn’t as easy or as desirable as it seems. A lot of people can't deal with the stress of long break-even/losing stretches. If you go through some good times, put the money aside for the bad times that will most definitely follow.

Please try and stay level headed. Take it from someone who has succeeded in playing professionally for the past 2 years. Maybe I am not as skilled as some of the best players on the planet and my income hasn’t really increased exponentially over the past 2 years. I’m not struggling by any means but I’m not a millionaire yet either. If you are young and contemplating not going to college to pursue a poker career, its most likely a bad idea. I would only do it if you are earning over $100k a year already playing poker.

The games aren’t going to get any easier and you will continually have to get better as mid stakes are only going to get harder and harder as the fish lose their money, regulars get better, and there is not a constant influx of new players. I’m not going to say things look bleak since we have the possibility of regulated poker in the US (which of course may not affect players in the rest of the world anyway), but poker may never return to the days where there is an abundant supply of fish just giving away their money. Good luck at the tables. Play smart, play aggressive but controlled and don't go busto!

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