How to become a professional poker player

Poker.Org Staff
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Posted on 06/20/2021

Playing poker for a living is the dream of many gamblers. The lifestyle seems amazing. You travel around the world to play cards, with no boss and no 9 to 5 job. And of course there’s the potential to make some serious money doing something you love. But if it were as easy as it seems on TV, everyone would be doing it. Before you quit your day job, understand that knowing how to be a professional poker player isn’t easy. There are a few things you need to know about this difficult occupation before you make the leap.

1. Get your finances in order

When you’re playing poker for a living, you should think of it as running a business. You wouldn’t start a business without a large bankroll, so you shouldn’t jump into a poker occupation with an empty bank account. The fact of the matter is, poker can get expensive even if you’re playing at low stakes.

No matter how good you are at this game, bad runs will pop up from time to time. If you don’t have enough money to withstand those runs, you’ll go broke and be forced to get a job. At the very minimum, you should have at least 25-30 buy-ins for the game you play, along with 3-6 months living expenses in the bank. And that’s just the bare minimum. Some poker players won’t quit their job until they have six months of expenses covered and 40-50 buy-ins.

2. Leave your ego at the door

You’re playing poker for a living to make money, not to prove you’re the best. Until you’ve built up a massive bankroll and can live comfortably, avoid stroking your ego with games against top pros. Players like Daniel Negreanu can afford to dump $1.2 million to Doug Polk in a heads-up match. He’s set for life financially, so a loss like that is a “bag of shells” to him. But most poker pros can’t afford to play in a high-stakes duel against players of Polk’s caliber.

Stick to soft games against fish — especially rich fish. That’s where you’ll make your money. Proving that you’re a great player is pointless, and will do nothing to help your bottom line. Winning at poker professionally is all about paying the bills. It’s not about showing off how amazingly talented you are.

3. Give yourself an honest assessment

Having your finances intact before jumping into becoming a professional poker player isn’t enough. Even if you start your career with 40-50 buy-ins, if you aren’t good at this game, you’ll lose all your money eventually. Poker is a game of skill over the long-term. You can’t rely on luck to pull you through, because good luck never lasts.

You shouldn’t quit your job until you’ve demonstrated some success at playing poker. That means logging at least 200-300 hours of winning play. Until you can do that, you haven’t proven that you’re ready for this game as an occupation. So — make an honest assessment of your game. Track your wins and losses for an extended period of time. Taking the time to evaluate your play objectively will give you an unbiased, impartial view of your poker skills.

4. Be prepared to ‘work’ weird hours

Most of us are accustomed to working the 9-5 routine. We go home to a family to eat dinner, watch TV, and then go to bed by 11 pm. To become a professional poker player, someone in that life will need to make some changes. The pro player’s hours are random. Most pros prefer playing in the evening, sometimes until the wee hours of the morning. That’s when the games are juiciest. The key is to seek out the action games, and most of those take place late at night when recreational players are drunk or playing on tilt.

For this very reason, it’s always been difficult for poker pros to balance relationships and poker. Many poker pros are single because it’s tough to find a significant other who can comfortably endure the random — often late night — hours. Professional poker players often travel, especially those who grind the tournament circuit. That geographical uncertainty puts more strain on relationships. Before you jump into being a poker pro, understand that you’ll either have to be satisfied being single, or find someone who can accept the lifestyle.

5. Always be learning

Most of the top poker players in the world 10-15 years ago are no longer considered elite. Poker strategy is always changing, and those who refuse to adapt will lose. It’s that simple. In 2003, when the poker boom hit following Chris Moneymaker’s WSOP Main Event title, millions of people began playing for the first time. But most of them didn’t know what they were doing, so the pros took full advantage.

Since then, the younger players have taken over, with their analytical approach to the game (game theory optimal). With the change, most of the old-school pros have faded away. Those older pros haven’t learned modern poker strategy, which is a superior way to play the game. The game continues to evolve, both for online and live poker players. If you aren’t constantly studying the newest strategy, you won’t last long.

6. Just do it

Poker is a game of risk, like any form of gambling. That’s part of what makes it so enjoyable. There are no guarantees, and most don’t make it. But if you know you’re ready, don’t worry about what your friends and family think. Most non-poker players are critical of those who do this for a living. Once you have the necessary money in the bank and have proven you can win over the long run, you’re ready to go. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

This is a great game, and the most successful pros make enough to live comfortably. So, forget what your friends and family say about poker. Chances are they’re working boring 9-5 jobs and are jealous that you’re doing something you love. When you’re ready to play cards for a living, just do it. Don’t hesitate and never look back.

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