There comes a time when every poker player wonders if they’ve got what it takes to go pro. With so many gaming opportunities now available to players, including both live cash games and online tournaments, this classic card game can seem like a viable career option.
But the question is, can you make living playing poker?
Theoretically, yes, you absolutely can. However, becoming a successful professional poker player isn’t as clear cut as it might seem.
Even if you’re consistently scoring wins and refining your strategy, there’s a lot more involved in playing poker as a profession, including your current lifestyle and your work ethic. Some players simply thrive on the ups and downs of playing poker for a living, while others fall flat at the first hurdle.
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The Realities of Playing Poker
It’s well known that poker is a game of skill. Like all games of skill, if you play better than your opponents in a game of poker, then you’ll be the one to win. Yes, elements of chance are involved, hence why it’s also played in casinos, but there’s one simple way to keep winning at poker, and that’s becoming great at playing poker.
Just look at the top pros in the game right now; they’re all competing at the same level, so it’s those tiny differences in skill levels that make the difference between whether player A wins or player B.
This makes poker one of the most demanding disciplines you could choose to pursue as a profession.
It’s not enough to just play lots of games and build up your practical experience, you must invest time and resources into playing better, whether that involves working with a poker coach or taking advantage of the wealth of learning resources there are available online.
There’s another, crucial element involved in success at the poker table, and that’s being completely in love with the game. Because you’re going to have to spend so much time playing it, studying it, practicing it, and eventually, traveling around the country, continent, or world to take part in tournaments you need to be fascinated with poker itself.
Even if you have an innate talent for the discipline, poker isn’t one of those games that you can make a quick buck at and retire before you hit 35.
Sure, there’ll be times early in most peoples’ playing careers where they win big, but to do that on a regular enough basis so that you can keep a roof over your head and pay your electricity bill from month to month – well, that takes a lot of commitment.
Of course, there are a lot of benefits to playing poker professionally too, not least of which involves being able to set your working hours.
Professional poker players can experience a lot of freedom and flexibility in their working life, which serves to benefit their career in the long run because they can choose to take time off during those moments when poker fatigue begins to set in.
Then there’s the earning potential that’s involved in the game. For a dedicated and skillful player, live poker can be a highly profitable venture, but making lots of money shouldn’t be a driving force behind pursuing the game as a career.
How to Become a Professional Poker Player
First, you need to be confident and comfortable at playing the game. Pick one variant and dedicate yourself to mastering it. Rookies can make the mistake of jumping from one variant to another, or even one format to another, without spending enough time in any of them to truly master the fundamentals.
Texas Hold’em, for example, is the most ubiquitous poker variant in play throughout the world, even being the game of choice at prestige events like the World Series of Poker, so sticking with this will serve you well as you establish your career path.
Once you’ve decided on your chosen variant, it’s time to learn all you can about the mechanics of the game and become proficient at playing it. Luckily, for a modern-day aspiring poker pro, the internet is on hand as one of the most useful tools you can use.
Not only can you gain practical experience by playing poker online, but you can also access in-depth poker coaching and tutorials to unlock the most effective playing strategies.
You can also learn a lot from watching other players, especially those who are at the top of their game. YouTube is a useful resource for watching past performances and bite-size clips of those moments that have made poker history, while Twitch is great for being able to study current pros and their poker methods.
You also need to realize that playing poker for a living will require a significant capital investment. You can’t just enter no-limit tournaments requiring whopping great buy-ins with zero bankrolls behind you!
As much as you’ll apply strategy to playing a poker game, you need to apply a sensible strategy for building up your bankroll too. During the early days, you shouldn’t only be thinking about keeping your wagers below a safe limit, but you also need to keep your winnings in your bankroll. As tempting as it could be to splash out when you get a run of good wins, you’re essentially throwing your money away.
Remember that playing poker as a career is very much a long-haul process, so let your bankroll mature so that it can support you on those occasions where you take a beating at the poker table.
The general guideline for building up your bankroll is that it should be worth between 25 and 40 buy-ins. Pot Limit Omaha, on the other hand, is subject to more variance, so a starting bankroll for that variant needs to be between 60 and 80 buy-ins.
Throughout your poker career, you will have to take many risks, but your bankroll is an area that should never be compromised.
While it takes a lot of hard work to turn pro, poker is a rewarding and enjoyable career path. Hey, even if you don’t quite pull a Phil Hellmuth, having played the game to a substantial level, you’ll be left with plenty of key soft skills that you can easily transfer into other careers and professions.
Take things slowly, to begin with, and build time to study and practice into your day to day schedule. Keep an eye out for signs of poker fatigue as you go along and don’t be afraid to take some time off from the game, especially if you’re at risk of heading into Tilt when you’re playing.
Choose the events that you enter wisely too, remember there’s very little value to be gained from being the best player at the table all the time, sometimes you need to play your absolute worst for a couple of games to truly develop as a professional poker player.
Remember that a successful poker career won’t fall into your lap, so build it and work for it as you would in any other profession.