So you have decided that being a professional poker player is the career path for you. Now how exactly do you go about doing that? I was going to say that there is no WikiHow page on becoming a professional poker player but as it turns out I was very much mistaken on that front. While somewhat informative the simplicity depicted in that article is a massive underestimate of the challenges you will experience and preparations you should make.
Firstly, let’s get an obvious point out of the way that most people never consider: poker is a card game that was invented to be fun. It was not devised with the intention of being a person’s livelihood any more than snap was. The contrast between playing this game for a living and having a ‘normal’ job is vast and, in reality is suitable for very few. The way we are brought up and the way in which society functions prepares us for a regular job. A fixed reliable income with predictable levels of stress and set hours. For the vast majority, this results in living life in a relatively low-risk environment that offers small increasing rewards over time until eventually a cap is reached. Poker offers you almost all the opposites from the status quo. If the numerous pitfalls of stress and financial uncertainty don’t faze you then consider that your job will likely never be widely accepted by society. Most people will never be able to fully respect your achievements in poker, how could they? The average person doesn’t understand that you putting ATs into your button 4 bet bluffing range against that guy 3 betting 15% in the small blind gave you a 4% edge in the hand, and they simply don’t care. Madness, right? We all know you’re a genius but unfortunately they never will. If validation is something you need a lot of in your work, then you should think again.
Think about the repercussions this will have on your life if you decide in 10 years that poker is not for you anymore. Perhaps the games dry up, or maybe the government makes poker illegal in your country. Do you have skills to fall back on that will support you comfortably? Are you willing to do that? How are you going to explain the 10 year gap in you CV? None of these problems have to be detrimental to your future after poker, but they can present significant challenges of which you should be aware and, before making any decisions, consider the resulting consequences.
But you know this is what you want. There is no better option for your personality, and you are as sure as you can be of that. Well, now you need to start considering the necessary framework needed to transfer to being a full-time pro.
When I say ‘full-time pro’, I am assuming that you have already been semi-pro for quite a while. This is really the first prerequisite. Going ‘all in’ so to speak, and diving head first into being a pro poker player as a recreational player is suicide unless you have so much money behind you that it doesn’t even matter if you fail. Showing consistent results over large samples at a stake that can sustain you comfortably is essential to being able to justify going pro. You should have been able to cut back your 40 hours a week at work down to 20 and still make a good living.
So you’re actually that good. Well props to you first of all, not many people get there. So we’re quitting our job now, right? Well… not so fast. You are going to need capital, a lot of capital, and no, your bankroll probably doesn’t count. Having a minimum of a full years living expenses, as well as a backup emergency fund, is the second requirement. Of course, the amount required varies drastically depending on your circumstances. What you should not do is consider your bankroll to be a part of any of your liquid funds for that first year. When you are transitioning into a full time professional, living out of your bankroll is inadvisable. If you do, you will probably underestimate how large it needs to be and will likely dissociate yourself from that money in a negative way making poor management decisions as a consequence. That is not to say that we will not be withdrawing and adding to our funds throughout the year, we very much hope that will be exactly what will happen. By planning ahead with the condition that these funds will not be available, we protect ourselves against the worst case scenario and don’t end up homeless and unable to eat. Getting this kind of money together may seem daunting but with a combination of putting in some more hours at work, some more hours at the tables, and spending a little less, it is far from impossible. Savings are important for financial security even if they don’t seem to fit in with the ‘baller’ lifestyle that poker culture propagates. This step helps minimise the stress we are under which helps us feel and play better.
Sweet, it’s finally time to quit that job you hate. Speaking of time, how are you going to use all that free time you have now? I mean you have the rent for a year on hand already thanks to your brilliant planning. You’ve earned a little time to chill out. You will definitely start grinding tomorrow… although you still haven’t started watching The Wire like everyone keeps telling you, and you don’t think you ever actually watched the first few episodes of Breaking Bad so maybe a week off then start the grind. Before you know it its 2 months later and while your knowledge of the American Drama category on Netflix has infinitely improved you’ve somehow only managed to log about 20 hours at the tables. But the volume had never been a problem for you before so what changed. For a lot of players, the motivation to grind hard and be good at poker is to quit their job and realise financial independence. When you achieve this all at once it takes a disciplined person not to indulge. Managing your time will now become one of your chief tasks. Getting into some kind of routine is important. It doesn’t have to be the kind of routine that is the same everyday, but it should at least be goal based. Goals such as playing so many hands per week or studying for so many hours help enforce that you have a purpose. Ultimately you gain the new motivation of maintaining the freedom you earned in the first place.
What you really need to go pro is just strong willpower and sufficiently pessimistic planning. Unfortunately humans are usually extremely lacking in both of these traits. Adapting these attributes effectively is what separates those who fail in going pro from those who succeed. The transition is not simple, you need more than a chip and a chair. Just like in poker you need a strategy. The one I suggested here has been tested with good results. I suppose you can always win the Sunday Million… but we will call that plan B.
Zach is a poker writer at sportswriters.us/pokerwriter