Tips For Playing Poker Professionally

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

What it takes to be a pro poker playerFirst 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.

Still unsure, ask yourself these 10 questions about becoming a poker pro.

Why so Many Wannabe Pro Poker Players Fail

Why poker players failOne 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

Final thoughts on going proHopefully 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!

1How much money can I realistically expect to make?

In order to know the answer to this question, a large sample size of poker hands (and/or tournaments) is necessary. Of course, a player that was making good money playing part-time, for 20 or so hours a week over a long period of time, can generally expect to make quite a bit more when playing at least double that amount of time.

However, if the sample size that the player based his expectations on was in fact too small, this could result in an inaccurate measure of how much the player could reasonably expect to make. Having an accurate understanding of expected income will be individual for each player, but is a crucial component of the decision to go pro.

2How much are my monthly expenses?

The calculation of expenses will aid the potential pro in ascertaining how much room for error exists when calculating his required income from poker. Of course, the fewer the expenses, the less one needs to make from playing poker in order to maintain their standard of living. For those on the borderline, it may be wise to try to reduce monthly expenses to ease the burden as they take the plunge. Potential ways to do that include living with a roommate, moving to an area with a lower cost of living, and reducing entertainment expenses.

Additionally, some expenses may have to increase if the player decides to turn full-time. For those playing on the internet, purchasing back up internet in the event of a power failure could be a necessity, especially for those playing high-stakes. For those playing live, moving closer to their preferred casino could be costly.

Having an accurate view of monthly expenses is a fundamental component of ensuring success as a full time poker pro.

3What would happen if I lost my bankroll?

This question points out the necessity of having savings not directly thought of as part of ones bankroll. Generally, the other savings and investments a poker player has are referred to as a "life roll," and having an adequate one can ease the stress of turning pro.

Ideally, having at least six months of living expenses saved will allow one more options in the event that they lose their bankroll. Ideally, proper bankroll management would have ensured that the player was extremely unlikely to go broke. However, depending on the form of poker played, and the achievable edge, this can occur. Having a plan in place for such an occurrence is an important step in the decision to turn pro.

4How professional a poker player am I?

This question refers to the immense amount of dedication that is mandatory for a player to do well in the long-run from poker. As poker is a constantly evolving game, studying and lending critical analysis to hand histories is an important part of maintaining an edge in the game.

Also factoring into this question is the common issue of tilt. Players that have serious issues with losing a hand and subsequently making poor decisions are likely not ready to become full-time players. A calm demeanor and the ability to take bad beats in stride are two hallmarks of a long-term winner.

Really want to know how to become a poker pro? When players ponder how to be a professional poker player, the best advice is to focus on the professional part of the title. Consider what it means to be a professional in any field and apply that to playing poker. Take it seriously, treat poker as a profession ( a job) and not just a hobby and soon you'll really understand the answer to the question of how to become a professional poker player.

5How much do I enjoy playing?

For someone considering turning pro, the answer to this question is, most likely, that they like playing a lot. Yet, this is still an important question for one to honestly ask themselves. For someone that has enjoyed long periods of time off from playing, turning pro is likely not the best decision for their future. Playing poker for a living often takes away much of the recreational enjoyment for the game (due to the added pressure), so a love of poker is crucial to maintaining enjoyment at the tables.

6How self-motivated am I?

Being self-employed has many great aspects, and one of them is having a flexible schedule. But for those who can find it tough to motivate themselves to work, this could be a real downside. There are many ways to work on this important skill, and drawing up a work schedule, and adhering to it, is a great first step.

Of course, there are days a professional poker player just doesn't feel like playing. Perhaps the person has experienced a series of bad beats and is in the midst of the worst downswing of their career, or there are just many fun things the player would rather be doing. While taking a short break can be a good temporary solution, finding the motivation to play even when one would rather be doing something else is a necessary skill for a professional poker player.

7Do I have a solid support system?

A solid support system for a pro could mean many different things. It could be that the player lives alone, but has an even disposition and a lot of poker friends. It also could mean that the player has a spouse that supports and encourages them.

However, it does not mean that the player has a spouse that focuses on the taboo aspects of poker as a form of gambling. Turning pro in that kind of environment could result in a toxic relationship for both people. Of course, the other person in the relationship doesn't have to be a professional poker player, but having a significant other that respects poker as a viable profession will help a pro to be more successful in the long run.

8Am I prepared to work unusual hours?

Oftentimes, the best poker games happen late at night. For those people that are early birds, having a career in poker may not align with the type of schedule they hope to keep in their daily life. The ability to have flexible hours, based on being able to play in the most profitable games, is an important skill for a successful pro poker player.

Of course this depends on where you are located, but this is something to consider. When playing casually you can just log on and play. But if you're playing professionally you will be looking for the most profitable cash games or tournaments, and they don't always run on your schedule.

9Do I have respect for money?

We've all heard the stories of poker players that make a killing in a cash game, only to lose it all at the roulette table. The nature of being a poker player is that you'll be surrounded by many ways to quickly gamble or spend a lot of money. This is especially apparent for high-stakes players, as routinely playing for large sums can affect how one thinks about the value of money. Maintaining a clear-headed view of the worth of money is a key concept to remember when making the transition to being a pro poker player.

10Will playing poker for a living contribute to my happiness?

Even for those that feel confident from the previous questions about their decision to turn pro, this is an important one to consider. As a pro, you'll likely be faced with judgmental responses from the majority of people that inquire about your profession. You'll also be faced with people claiming your profession is not constructive, and will be asked, "You make money doing that?!" so many times that you'll lose track.

Conversely, if you love playing poker enough, and are willing to manage the broader aspects of this profession, playing pro poker online full-time could be the best decision you ever make.

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