With the Worlds Series of Poker’s summer schedule kicking off early next month, there are thousands of home game heroes heading to Las Vegas vying for the opportunity to call themselves a world champion. If you are an aspiring poker pro, you might be thinking to yourself, what does it actually take to play poker professionally?
In this article, we are going to give you our top 5 tips on how to become a professional poker player. If you want to be in the spotlight, winning millions of dollars in televised poker tournaments, or even if you are just looking to grind it out playing cash game poker for a living, in order to truly be a professional, you need to operate and play like a professional.
That is where we come in, as we are here to tell you the steps you need to take to be a real poker pro. With that, let’s jump into TheSportsGeek’s top 5 tips on how to become a pro poker player! Let’s get started with our first tip, arguably the most important one on this list, be honest with yourself!
Be Honest With Your Self
There is a lot of lying at the poker table, and while lying is part of the game, the one person you can’t ever lie to is yourself!
“To thine own self be true” – Polonius in Hamlet
When you are losing at a poker table it is easy to say that you aren’t playing bad and are just getting unlucky, when that is indeed the case. In order to be a long-term winner at the poker table, you have to be hyper critical of your own results and be very honest as you evaluate your level of play.
Is your recent hot streak just a lucky run of cards, or are you exploiting your opposition, and your wins are a direct result of improved play? Knowing the real answers to these types of questions is key to being able to adjust on the fly, a skill that all pro poker players have in their arsenal.
One of my favorite poker quotes is that you are never as good as you think you are when you are winning, and you are never as bad as you think you are when you are losing.
The greatest poker players of all time, guys like Doyle Brunson, Phil Ivey, and Chip Reese? They always were able to have an honest opinion of themselves and they used that information to make them even tougher at the table.
Build A Bankroll Playing
Playing poker for a living is unlike any other job in the world. At most jobs, if you need money, you go to work. But when you are a pro poker player, you need money just to go to work!
The best way to prepare for your life as a pro poker player is to build your bankroll from playing, BEFORE, you quit your normal job and start playing for a living. If you aren’t able to comfortably build a large enough bankroll to sustain both the swings of gambling for a living, as well as paying for your lifestyle, you aren’t ready to be a pro poker player. You want to be careful when building your bankroll, as this gives you a trial run of what it is actually like to play cards for your sole source of income.
If you keep finding yourself borrowing from your playing bankroll, or needing to tap into it to pay bills each month, you aren’t winning at a high enough rate to cut the cord and go pro.
There are a lot of differing opinions on how big your bankroll actually needs to be to play poker professionally, but I keep it simple. If your bankroll isn’t big enough to sustain a 100 buy-in downswing, or you are having to change your lifestyle due to a lack of funds…
Depending on what games you play, and how good your results are, your bankroll can be different sizes, so I try not to set an arbitrary number. But one thing is for sure, if you are sweating having enough money to get into the game, it isn’t nearly big enough!
Keep Detailed Records
This tip plays off of our first tip of always being honest with yourself. When you keep track of all of your play, it is much easier to separate your emotions from your results. Once you get a nice-sized sample set of data to analyze, it is just that, data.
You want to keep as detailed records as possible. When you played, where you played, what game you played, the limits, your buy-ins, and any rebuys.
Once you get a big enough sample to start evaluating, at least 100 sessions of play, then you can start to see trends emerge that can be used to maximize wins and limit losses.
Maybe you play better in the mornings. Maybe you win more often playing limit Texas Hold ‘Em than you do playing pot-limit Omaha. Are you beating the bigger games or are you winning at a higher rate at lower limits?
You should be able to evaluate your own results, which will help you manage your decision-making when it comes to developing a plan on how to best use your time to maximize your expected value.
One key to record-keeping that you need to keep in mind is that you don’t ever want to overreact to a small sample size of data, good or bad.
I constantly hear poker players say things like I am making $100 an hour in this game.
When, in actuality, they have played it twice for a total of 4 hours. And on the flip side, if you run bad in a couple of sessions, that doesn’t always mean that you can’t beat the game.
That is where the self-reflection and honesty come in to help balance what your short-term results may be telling you.
Don’t Play Above Your Bankroll
Game selection is very important when you are playing poker for a living. Being a professional poker player isn’t about the bright lights and the fame and fortune that come with it.
If the fame and fortune come with it, great, but you won’t ever end up on the cover of a magazine if you are consistently playing games that you shouldn’t be playing. The biggest mistake we see amateur players make is playing games above their bankroll.
That’s not to say there is never a time where taking a shot at a bigger game is the right play, as there certainly are times when you want to explore other options.
We already talked about how I am not a stickler for a set amount of cash to have in your playing bankroll, but if you are in a position where you are paying in a game that could wipe out 10% or more of your entire bankroll all at once, you can be sure that you are playing too high.
If and when you decide to take some strategic shots at bigger games, make sure that you track the results closely and do your best not to overreact to small sample sizes of data.
But you have to be very careful when you do it, and you must make sure that you have the bankroll to sustain the rough times that are most certainly coming at some point.
Plug Your Leaks
Failure to follow this final tip has been the undoing of more pro poker players than anything else, and shockingly it has nothing to do with playing cards! When you are playing poker for a living, you are constantly surrounded by temptations.
It is very easy to fall into the trap of spending a lot of time in a casino, and that can lead to what we in the industry call leaks. What makes the best poker players the best, is their ability to find an edge to win money.
Sports betting, video poker, craps, poker players are always looking for ways to stack cash, and once you start gambling on negative expected value games, it is only a matter of time until you go broke.
I know it can be tough to have to walk past that Louis Vuitton store and not stop by to treat yourself when you are running hot at the tables, but as an aspiring poker pro, you must be able to avoid these temptations.
Playing poker for a living can be fun and exciting, but in order to actually make a living playing the game, you must be disciplined, and following these 5 tips will set you on the right path to success.
If you are looking for a way to dip your toes into the poker waters without risking a bunch of money, you should give online poker a try! When you are playing poker online, you can play tournaments and cash games for pennies, so you can cut your teeth without the risk of going broke.
If you are interested in playing online poker, make sure that you swing by TheSportsGeek’s online poker sites page, where we bring our readers exclusive offers at all of the top online poker rooms. Thanks for reading and good luck on the felt!