The path to becoming a Poker Pro can be hard but ultimately lucrative
Should I become a professional poker player? Is it possible to live from poker?
Such fundamental questions can be seen plastered all over online poker forums and elsewhere and, unfortunately, the answers are not always useful. One reason for this is that very few people do indeed play the game professionally, so much of the plentiful advice given tends to be not worth the virtual ink it’s written in.
Of course, there are numerous advantages to playing poker professionally on the Internet, one of the most attractive being the freedom to work from anywhere in the world – for example, some choose the beautiful Thailand, others the Caribbean.
Another important plus is the ability to manage your own time and schedules, and, importantly, to be your own boss. These are all key benefits to factor in, and we haven’t yet mentioned what most probably find the most appealing – that you can earn a lot of money.
Variance is a dream-killer
Just when it was all sounding so dreamy, up pops Variance, which can be easily translated to “soul crushing downswings” and be relevant to just about everyone who has ever played poker. Indeed, variance is an occupational hazard for professional online poker players, as well as a major pain in the posterior for everyone else. Downswings will happen to anyone, and nobody is protected. Even the best poker player in the world does not win every game. But to survive and prosper as an online poker pro, it’s imperative that you’re able to psychologically (and practically) withstand downswings and accept variance. Many people, alas, simply can not.
Attitude is key
Being a professional poker player requires a strong, independent work ethic that you understand only when you work for yourself. This will be covered later.
To choose the right poker room is very important to be successful
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The attributes of an online poker player
When it comes to being a winner, we need to focus on a few personality traits that are important. It is interesting that the vast majority of professional poker players do actually have these key characteristics in common. With this in mind, it follows that for you to enjoy a certain level of success, it pays to share the same qualities as top players. Moreover, some might argue that without such qualities you might want to reconsider becoming a poker pro.
The ability to control your emotions and have patience in this game is absolutely critical if you’re going to enjoy a meaningful level of success. Many people are driven instead by impulses. A professional online poker player must have the discipline to make the right decisions no matter how they feel. The ups and downs are endless, and the professional is able to keep a clear head under pressure and make the right decisions consistently.
Make logical decisions
Logical decision making in poker is the ability to make the right plays over and over, while adjusting to each new game situation. That does not mean that mathematics has to be exhaustively studied to be a winner, rather that you should be able to understand intuitively why certain moves are better than others. This ability is extremely important when increasing stakes and being able to develop effective counter-strategies against strong opponents.
If you are employed in a conventional job you are obliged to work a certain number of hours every day. You have no choice and have to do what you have to do. If you are your own boss, you have to motivate yourself and often force yourself to follow your plan. If you want to become a poker pro, it’s like a normal job and you have to spend a certain amount of time actually ‘working’…
Many distractions are ever-present, every day, and it can be difficult to focus on getting the hours in for playing poker and, of course, working on your game. In the short-term, especially when enjoying a so-called upswing, such things aren’t a problem. However, when things do not go so well, it’s equally important to continue playing, and this is where long-term successful players make sure they can maintain a level of work. During a downswing this can be much easier said than done, but a poker professional makes a point of keeping an even keel during such difficult times.
Internet Poker is a solo adventure. Most people spend hours a day alone, staring at a computer screen. You have to be the kind of person who is content to be alone for long periods of time (bricks & mortar poker is, of course, a bit different). This can be difficult for many people. That isn’t to say you need to be a loner to be a successful online poker professional but, nevertheless, if you are the kind of person who is constantly looking for social interaction, then online poker is probably not the ideal job.
While poker is absolutely a game of skill in the long-term, in the short-term the luck element can play a more prominent role than we might expect, win or lose. A good player does not gamble per se, but tries to engineer situations that offer the optimal expectation of profit. Note that this includes finding the best playing environment through table selection, which limit(s) to play at, what kind of opposition and so on.
With everything in place, it doesn’t matter how things work out because a professional should always stick to the same strategy regardless, safe in the knowledge that consistent, correct play should lead to long-term profit. Successful poker is not based on luck!
Most professional poker players have above-average intelligence. People with higher intelligence often have a broader perspective and can more easily control their emotions. They will often be better at making logical decisions, staying cool in stressful situations, and thinking independently. In our experience, most people who play this game for a living have such strengths.
Who should NOT play poker professionally?
Let’s say you fit in well with most of the above categories. Importantly, there are nevertheless many people who are simply not suited to playing poker professionally. Here are a few key elements that need serious consideration:
Money, of course, matters. We play poker with the intention of ultimately leaving the table with more money than we started with. Whether it’s a Cash game or a Tournament, that’s the whole point of the exercise. But that doesn’t mean that we should be fixated on money. Indeed, if the first question that comes to mind when we think about embarking on a life of being a professional poker player is along the lines of ‘How much money can I expect to make?’ that’s already a bad sign. First, there is no exact answer to such a question. Games are constantly changing, everyone’s skills are different, some people are better at multi-tabling or table selection than others – the variables, and their combinations, are endless.
You should want to play this game professionally because you have a passion for it. That’s it. People are very fortunate if they make a living doing something they love, which barely feels like work. If you’re constantly just thinking about money, then you’re looking at it all wrong, and it will inevitably have negative consequences. When we hear someone say they have a ‘dream job’ they’re referring to it being a pleasure – not how much money they make – and this is exactly how someone should be feeling if they play poker full-time. Money is important, of course, but it’s the right frame of mind and the positivity we derive from playing poker that anyway help us play and approach the game optimally.
Married with children
We do not want to say that it is impossible to be an online poker pro if you’re married with children, but it’s definitely a rarity! For obvious reasons, the vast majority of people who play this game for a living are not in this situation.
Young poker players, however talented (or however talented they believe they are!) are advised to complete their education before attempting to become a pro. The reason for this is that although human nature means that people tend to think they are different, most who choose to play poker online professionally will fail nonetheless. That’s simply the cold, hard reality. However, if you have a college degree, your life will be a lot easier if poker does not work for you.
Poker will always be there when you finish your studies…
Professional poker players are long-term winners
You have to be a successful poker player.
Right? The vast majority of people who play this game will lose in the long-run. Moreover, it can take a long time to overcome variance and thus be in a position to say with certainty that you are a successful player. In fact, it can take more than 100,000 hands to form a reliable conclusion in terms of meaningful results-based evidence. For many online players this process could take months, whereas a ‘live’ player would need a good year just to rack up a feasible sample!
In addition, you should know that once you play professionally you will develop a different attitude to the game. This is not something you will fully understand until you make the jump yourself. Essentially, if you have a regular paycheck, much less pressure is put on you, whereas playing professionally puts the onus on you to deliver, and your results are bound to feel more important to you than would be the case as a recreational player. Crucially, the rent can’t be paid with poker losses.
Bankroll management is key
It’s often said that you should have at least six months’ worth of living expenses saved up before considering playing poker professionally. However, we would advise that enough back-up finances to cover at least a year is a more prudent target. In other words, what this means in practice is that you take what you are currently spending on all expenses in a single month (and add about 10% for emergencies) and multiply that figure by twelve.
In addition, you need a bankroll suitable for the stakes you are currently playing. While as few as 20 buy-ins might be fine for many recreational players, as a professional you should have 50 buy-ins as a bare minimum for the limit you play. This ensures that there is little or no chance that you will ever go broke.
Remember, too, that your bankroll is for poker, and the money you have in the bank is exclusively for your bills and living expenses. Without well-thought-out, solid bankroll management, you will not achieve long-term success.
Final evaluation and test-run
If you want to become a professional online poker player you should do a test run over a prolonged period. This could take as long as a year, for example, of spending a few hours after work several nights per week.
If you are successful after such a period, hold a deep passion for the game (as opposed to seeing it as a way to make money by cutting corners) and your life situation is well-suited to playing poker full-time, then you’ll then be justified in giving it a serious attempt.
One of the biggest mistakes most people make is suddenly dropping everything, with no preparation or aforethought, to become a poker pro – often because they’ve been running well for a couple of months and entertain exciting thoughts and dreams of making it big and living the dream. This, clearly, is absolutely not the right way to go about it.
As we’ve already mentioned, there is so much more to being a professional poker player than playing some cards from time to time. This is a real job that you have to take seriously every day.
Meanwhile, you have to constantly update your skills at the table and look for ways to improve your game. This means reviewing your hand histories, studying the game, thinking about it, evaluating your approach and attitude, engaging in serious, honest introspection and so on. Rather than being an ‘easy’ way to make a living, poker requires a great deal of effort and dedication.
The perception of others
Although it might not seem to be of any significance, the way you might be perceived by family and friends (indeed anyone) might well change when you switch from a conventional life to full-time poker. And not necessarily in a good way.
You may well be the centre of attention at parties when people find out what you do because poker – not least due to the way it is portrayed in films and media – has associations that focus on it being anything but conventional. From romantic to even negative misconceptions, people have all sorts of ideas and opinions that, while not necessarily accurate or justified, you’ll need to deal with nevertheless.
You must be prepared, as a professional poker player, to seem like a stranger to most members of the public, who can’t be expected to appreciate key aspects of the life of a pro.
Playing poker for a living – if you are to do it properly with a view to long-term gains – is a very demanding task, and definitely not for everyone. Most who try will fail – that’s a simple reality.
But for those who are willing to work extremely hard and constantly adapt and improve to the ever-changing landscape of the game, earning a living and changing one’s own life can be a highly profitable and wonderfully fulfilling opportunity.