Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Becoming a Pro (Professional Poker Player, that is)

So You Want To Be a Professional Poker Player: 5 Things You Should Know

Although the game of poker has been around for a while, at least as far back as the early 1800s, its popularity is a fairly new phenomenon. Some would attribute its fame and notoriety to the World Series of Poker but in actuality the WSOP has been around since 1970 and for close to 30 years only a very few hard core gamblers participated.
Doyle Brunson

The lure of modern poker can be traced back only a few years to the 2003 WSOP, won by aptly named Chris Moneymaker, and the introduction of the World Poker Tour on TV. Helping its rise to almost universal acclaim was the introduction of high stakes poker tournaments and especially online poker.

Poker is a game of skill. How do I know that? Two reasons – one, I’ve played it myself for years and know that the skilled players are the ones who win out in the long run over time and two, a Federal District Court judge in the Eastern District of New York State said so! That’s good enough for me.

Anybody can win at poker but only a few can win consistently over time and for me that would be the definition of a “professional” poker player. Luck and chance come into play on any given hand in any given game but skill is what makes the difference.

Everyone wants to be a professional poker player but few have what it takes. From the numbers of online players winning big prominent tournaments these days, you would think that anyone can accomplish this feat. The odds are against you! For every major tournament winner who honed their skills on the internet, there are literally tens of thousands more who never make it to a final table.
Puggy Pearson

What should you know before you decide to be a professional poker player? Consider these thoughts:

  1. You will need to have anywhere from a year to three years of consistent profitable winning under your belt before you can consider yourself a pro. You not only have to hold onto your grub stake but you have to increase it to cover all your expenses.

  1. You have to study! Poker studies take place in the game and outside the game. Reading some of the many good books out there about the game is essential. When you finish reading a book, read it again. Study also takes place at the table or on your computer. You will have to be an excellent judge of human nature to make it as a pro.

  1. Professional poker players make most of their money in high-stakes side games and they garner most of their fame at tournaments. You will need to do both to succeed. The former big names in poker, the “old-timers” whose fame and notoriety precede the TV fascination with poker, now make most of their money in endorsements and sponsorships. Fame is important.

Stu Ungar
  1. You cannot do it part time. Your apprenticeship cannot be half-hearted. Save up an initial stake – enough to live on for a designated period of time, pay entrance fees, and cover losses – and take the plunge. You will have to travel although there are ample poker games around so you can limit yourself to the east coast or the west coast of the US or a bunch of European countries. Poker must be your life for this trial period. “Do or die,” as they say!

  1. Last but not least, know when you are done! Some of us, most of us, in fact, are not destined to make a living at playing poker. If you can’t make it through a trial period you can’t make it. Admit it! Be honest! Relegate your poker playing to the status of “hobby” and enjoy yourself. No sense in “kicking a dead horse,” as they say too.

There’s also a litmus test for figuring out if you have the “cojones” for a life of playing poker. Answer these two questions? Would you take odds on how long a fly was going to sit on an over ripe orange in a fruit bin? Do you consider money as a valuable commodity? If you answered “no” to the first question and “yes” to the second, don’t quit your day job. If your answers were the opposite you may be the next Titanic Thompson, Johnny Moss, or Stuey Ungar.


I wrote the piece you just read about 3 years ago. I just re-read it and my views haven't changed but I have added a #6 to the list. At the risk of alienating some very nice people here is my sixth requirement:

6. No Obligations To Hold You Down. The many people, especially young people, making a go at living the life of a poker professional, have few if any life obligations to hold them down or to create undue pressure for them. I am willing to bet that the vast majority of people exploring this life-style today have no children, no mortgages, minor car payments, few college loans that must be paid off in a finite period of time, and scant emotional ties to anyone outside the poker community. I'm not judging, but playing poker comes with a major dose of guilt all its own - losing a sizable entrance fee, letting down backers, the general over-all feeling of being a loser when things go bad. Why exacerbate the feelings that are inherent in the game with obligations and restrictions that will make you feel worse. If you already have a family and other goods that need maintaining, maybe being a poker pro is not the life you should pursue. Of course, if you have all of those things and just sold off your $2 billion software business, by all means try becoming a professional and keeping all those obligation balls in the air at the same time. Possibly you can do that!

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