Saturday, November 7, 2009

Turning Pro

I’ve had a few people ask me what it takes to be a professional poker player so here are some of the more important things needed (in no particular order).

Good Work Ethic

There are no schedules, hours to work, or projects to do like a normal job so it’s really important to have a good work ethic. There’s no one to tell you whether you’re doing a good job and no one to let you know when you’re slacking. So, you need to be self motivated to put in hours at the poker table and play to the best of your ability at all times, even times when you’d rather be doing something else.

Mental Toughness/Ability to Handle Stress

Poker is an exceptionally stressful profession. I remember watching a WSOP broadcast a few years back and one of the players they were talking about was a former air traffic controller. The ATC said that poker was more stressful than his job and I believe him. There are very few professions where you can work hard for weeks or even months and make no money. Or worse, lose money. And it isn’t that you’re necessarily doing anything to cause yourself to lose, it’s often due solely to bad luck. It’s human nature to second guess, question, and assume you’re doing something wrong. And that can be stressful and frustrating especially if you’re not doing anything wrong or doing anything differently than you had been doing.

A Proven Track Record of Winning

Poker can be very deceiving in this way; I’ve had 50,000 hand stretches where I’ve lost money and 50K hand stretches where I’ve run 2 big bets per hundred above expectation. If you are a live player with the same expected win rate as me, you could play 40 hours a week for a year and lose money. If you’re a small to marginal losing player, you could get lucky and win money for a year. The point being, you need a long proven record of winning, preferably hundreds of thousands of hands. Absent this I’d want a good enough understanding of the game to realize that I know more than the people I’m playing against. This requires honestly assessing your abilities.

Discipline/Self Control

It’s important to always play within the limits of your bankroll even if this requires dropping down in limits. One of the biggest mistakes I see poker players make is playing limits too high for their bankrolls. Ideally, I’d like to have 1000 big bets for the limit I’m playing. At a minimum, I’d want 500 big bets and some type of rakeback deal.

Also important is the ability to recognize the times you’re not playing your best game and to have the discipline to get up from the tables and call it a day even when you’re stuck or losing. I struggle with this one a lot. My mind plays tricks on me, especially when I’m tired, and I’ll continue playing for hours when I’m clearly not on top of my game. Recording videos while playing can help with this.


Poker isn’t about being the best, it’s about winning money. Being able to recognize when you’re in a bad game and having the discipline to leave it is an important skill. Unless you’re Phil Ivey or Tom Dwan, they’ll always be somebody better than you.

Desire to Learn and Improve

The level of play in poker has improved the last couple years and I expect that will continue for years to come. It’s important not to get complacent with your game and stop studying, reading, learning, etc. I’ve been reading more and more stories lately of previously successful players calling it quits because they can no longer win. I’d guess many of these people stopped improving at some point and too many players surpassed them in skill.

A Significant Other/Balance

It helps immensely to have someone who supports you and understands what you do. Having someone there on those days where you’re stressed out is incredibly helpful. It would be impossible to list all the benefits of a significant other but suffice to say it’s tough to make it as a professional poker player without one.

I put balance with significant other because your significant other provides you with balance. Life isn’t all about poker when you have somebody to share it with. Poker can be all-consuming as any job can be and that’s not healthy.

I was asked whether poker is lonely and isolating. It can be but it doesn’t have to be. Having other things to do in your life and having someone to share your life with prevents this

This list isn’t all-encompassing by any means; it’s just what came to mind when typing this.

Last, I thought I’d share one of the last emails I sent from old job at Bank of America. I sent it to myself and it was a list of rules to follow when I first started playing. I’d encourage anyone starting out to make a list of rules, list of goals, or both before you start playing full time.

>Subject: poker
>Date: Tue, 11 Jan 2005 14:28:31 -0500
>1-2 Hours Reading/Watching Poker
>1-2 Hours Gym
>4-6 Hours Playing Poker
>I will stick to this schedule at all costs.
>I will not play when tired, emotionally upset, or not at my best.
>I will not play limits above my bankroll in an effort to recoup losses.
>I will take shots at bigger tournaments if my bankroll permits.
>I will play more live poker to gain experience.
>I will take breaks between sessions and extended breaks if I'm feeling
>worn out.
>I will be selective in my games unless I am looking and feeling up to a
>challenge (bankroll permitting).


  1. Good post! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Man, you are right about having a supportive significent other. I dont know what I would do If I didnt have mine. I guess we are just Lucky!-JG