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Five Things to Consider Before Becoming a Professional Poker Player

You’re having success at the game of poker, and you’re wondering if this is something you can do for regular income, maybe even give up your job and make this your primary source of income. Variance is real, think about what can go right, and what can go wrong, and think about what’s mentioned here if you are considering playing poker professionally.

Research and Understand the Game and Discuss it with Other Players

This should go without saying, but you need to consistently study the game and understand all of the rules and strategies if you hope to play the game professionally. This is also a process that never ends as the strategies players are using in both cash games and tournaments are constantly evolving. 

This used to mainly involve reading strategy books and articles, discussing strategy with friends, and ultimately paying for lessons on the felt, but there are so many more options available now with poker strategy and streaming videos with commentary, and coaching sessions online. Some players take notes while they’re playing live to go back through hand histories in a tournament or cash session, and playing online makes it easier still to go back through your hand histories that are saved automatically and review your play. 

Powerful poker solver software is yet another tool that has become popular recently, and many top professionals use it to analyze specific hand situations for both practice and review of their playing sessions. The main point is to never stop studying and deepening your understanding of the game, and to make sure you’re studying all aspects of the game, not only your strengths but more importantly your weaknesses.

Discussing hands with other poker players is one of the most important ways to keep up with the changing poker strategies in real time, long before books, articles, and videos have caught on to the shift. Stand outside of any major poker tournament in the world, and you see many players discussing hand histories and strategies on breaks. Many text each other about their hands or sessions in between hands of play. Develop a knowledgeable, trusted circle of friends and colleagues that you can discuss strategy with and bounce ideas off each other to enrich your game.

Don't Just Play One Type of Poker

Mastering all forms of poker gives you access to every cash game and tournament on the planet as opposed to having to pick and choose based on availability to your specialty. Of course, a strong background in No-Limit Texas Hold’em is important since it is the most popular form of poker - with the largest base of inexperienced players to face off against - but Pot-Limit Omaha, Seven Card Stud, 2-7 Triple Draw Lowball and Badugi are all popular variants of poker played by the top professionals in the world. Many of the highest buy-in cash games have some element of mixed games worked into the rotation.

Prove You're a Winning Player and Track Your Bankroll

Like Joey Knish said in Rounders, “I play for money.” That is your main focus as well if you’re deciding to play poker for a living and supporting yourself and your family. Many players think they’re winning more than they actually are, but if you want to go pro then you need to keep meticulous records of your wins and losses to effectively track your bankroll. This not only lets you know if you’re making enough money to support yourself, but if you’re on a prolonged downswing that is more than just variance, it can be a sign that you need to switch your strategy or study more to improve your game or adapt to your opponents. You also have to be honest with yourself about what your results are showing about your profitability as a poker player.

Building a big bankroll is the goal of any poker professional, but you need to manage that bankroll wisely along the way. This means maintaining discipline about what limits you’re playing in cash games, and buy-in levels you can afford for tournaments. This also ties into keeping track of your results so you know when you’re ready to move up after winning consistently at a certain level. It also means being honest with yourself if you need to step down in limits or buy-ins if you’re experiencing a downswing that has impacted your bankroll and your ability to play at that level any longer without putting too much of your cash at risk.

Evaluate your bad beats objectively

This is another aspect of your game where honesty is key. If you take a bad beat, you have to be able to look back at the hand and see if you really just got unlucky, or if you misplayed any part of the hand that gave your opponent an opportunity to stay in the hand on a draw. Simple poker odds calculators can help in this regard, but poker solver software, coaching sessions or discussing the hand history with other players can provide deeper insight.

Act Professionally and Play Consistently

This last one applies to any job you hope to make a living with, but since poker is considered such a fun job some players don’t approach it professionally or play consistently enough. 

Showing up well-rested, well-fed, and ready to play is important considering many tournament days and cash games last double-digit hours. Exercise can be helpful as well to help keep up your energy during long sessions. You also need to treat poker as a job you play consistently to keep your game sharp and yourself aware of the changing trends in poker strategy, and of course to give you enough time to earn enough money to support yourself. Vacations can and should be taken as well just like you do from any other job, and if you’ve won enough money to afford to take one, you’ve literally earned it on the felt.