Most people are first exposed to poker by watching a prestigious tournament on TV. But many others may learn about poker through a night out or a “home game” or at the college bar. Regardless of how they first learn about poker, new players generally do not have the ambition to become millionaires at the tables.
Who wouldn’t take advantage of the fact that there are many thousands of players who only take poker as a diversion?
It is clear that becoming a millionaire poker player is a remote possibility. In fact, it is a possibility that even thousands of the best professionals are not able to reach. Being a professional player is workable. The millions are not within reach of everyone. But whether it is in cash games or tournaments, it is possible to become a professional poker player. Thanks to the very nature of this card game.
Let’s talk about what it takes to “go pro” and make a full-time life dedicated to poker.
1. The three aspects to take care of when we advance in our dedication to poker.
Before we get to the interesting parts of “going pro,” let’s be honest for a minute. Being a professional poker player is not about having fun and picking up money from the table every day. While TV shows have glorified the lifestyle of a professional, the reality is that it can be an exhausting endeavor.
For the purposes of this article, let’s make a general assumption that areas of our lives can split into three distinct parts:
- Relationships: there is no turning of the page, poker takes up a lot of time and can even be an addictive game. If we get to the professional level of the game, other areas of your life will begin to suffer. For this reason, many of your new friends will be other poker players… and that should have an effect on our relationships with family and partners. Spending a lot of time working on the weekends (when the most important tournaments are being played either online or live) or the fact that you often travel a lot are clear realities for the professional player. So it is quite easy to be “outdone” by circumstances.
- Health: poker players can fall into a very sedentary lifestyle. They sit, play for hours on end, eat, keep playing even longer, and go to sleep. That’s their routine. Getting up from the table, taking a walk, and getting fresh air are basic necessities to avoid routine. As we will see, it is even more important to have a proper diet and to exercise. It is to take time to exercise every day (running, walking, going to the gym, etc.) and also to eat healthy, so as not to condemn our brain to slowness and not to be able to work.
- Money: while professional poker players make a living at the tables and live off their annual earnings, money management and progress on the levels are issues that many fail to address. Poker does not guarantee a regular and identical income at the end of the month. Our payroll is not such, so we must control this situation and train for it. So we can reduce the impact of variance and bad spells by implementing certain strategies that will prevent the downward phases of our income from having a serious impact on our economy. Even the best poker players in the world have bad spells, so it’s how they handle those spells that define whether they’re professionals or amateurs.
2. Mental resistance
From the above point, we see that the most important factor required to be a professional poker player is mental stamina. This attribute is something that is rarely addressed in other mainstream poker training materials so in these articles we will focus a lot on it.
We believe that this is the most important factor in determining whether or not one is going to be a successful player (and also the substantial difference between amateurs and professionals) boils down to realizing whether one possesses the qualities necessary to become a professional poker player. If we don’t have them today, it should be our number one priority to get them.
Of course, we may already be close to knowing and applying the optimal strategy at the tables, but what happens when you start to let emotions begin to dictate your game lines? How do you react when you encounter bad spells or bad beats? What happens when you start to lose that bankroll that we had worked so hard to put together?
If we remain calm and focused on the right mindset, this will determine our success in the long run. The qualities and personality traits of poker professionals should include the following: patience, discipline, emotional control and attention.
On the other hand, personality traits that can be detrimental to a successful poker career might include: emotional instability, irritability, inattention, addictive or gambling personality.
If you feel that you possess any of these traits, you can already tell whether it will cost you more or less to pursue a professional poker career. Please try to cultivate the more positive characteristics mentioned above.
In general, there will no doubt be a learning curve as you discover the strategy and tips to win the game successfully, but it is important to maintain a winning attitude as the most important influence on long term success.
3. Poker can beat us
Players who wish to make the jump from amateur to pro must also ensure that they have good enough skill to understand the game and the nature of any card game. Having favorable statistics on a large sample, and a large enough bankroll can help counteract and balance the variance, which you will be faced with along the way.
We’ll discuss some of these other prerequisites in more detail in the next chapter, but first, let’s talk very briefly about why poker is a game that can beat us. It can beat us in our attempt to dedicate ourselves professionally.
We know that poker is a game of “player against player”. Almost all other card games and many other games are of the “player against the casino (the house)” type. That makes the expected value (or EV) of the seconds always negative because the house has the mathematical advantage (we see it for example in roulette or blackjack) where we have in the long run a 48.6% probability of winning, and the reason of this slight decrease is due to the games’ own rules (with the zero in roulette or with the option for the dealer to raise with the 17). This means that in both games, the casino ultimately wins about 52% of all money invested.
For a “player against player” game like poker, the commission that takes the house is a problem to make this activity profitable; but many people can become so; you have to be a better player than your rivals. Players make decisions and dictate their own EV for each hand against other individuals – those people make their own decisions too. Many times, players have certain tendencies that other players can pick up on and exploit to their advantage.
Thus, poker is one of the few casino games (if not the only casino game) that is very possible to win in the long run. But that has its negative side if we are the ones who don’t manage to impose ourselves. In that case, poker will defeat us.
4. The different types of players in this section, we will discuss the 3 different types of poker players.
- Semi-professional players: a semi-professional poker player is someone who has another main source of income outside of poker, but at the same time plays poker well and that makes it possible for him to make money from this activity. They usually play between 2-6 hours a day, although most of their hours of dedication come during the weekend, which are the days when they don’t work on their main dedication. There are many profiles taken from the life of people who play poker semi-professionally: university students, players of other games such as chess, amateurs who take things seriously, card game fans, casino players, sports bettors, etc.
- Professional players: a professional poker player is someone who plays poker for a living, i.e. his winnings constitute his only (or main) source of annual income. Those winnings are probably so high that they have enough bank to support themselves in the months they lose since variance can be cruel even to the best players.
Professionals can play online and live. But no matter where they play, they are the winning players in the long run. They enjoy choosing their own “work” hours and can live a life that is congruent with the lifestyle we can all think of as leading a “poker pro.
To summarize, we can say that we have seen how poker is a game with which we can lose a lot. So the main aspects to analyze to decide to become a professional (and be able to take advantage of it) are focused on our mental recovery capacity and emotional control, both inside and outside the tables.
Yet, there are other prerequisites and gambling considerations that we must take into account to make our poker playing career profitable.