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How to Become a Professional Poker Player

Written by Jason Frakk. Last updated on

A fair warning though: accordingly to poker experts, only an estimated 10 percent of poker players are considered long-term earners of the game.

It’s every poker player’s dream.

That means there’s a load of poker players who think they’re good, but they’re not.

They often overrate their skill and once faced with sleek opponents, they often get up from their seats empty-handed.

It’s a tough and grueling sport and lifestyle.

So, are you still up to it?

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Do you win consistently?

Are you a winner?

Are you a winner?

The first thing you need to consider before you turn professional is your skill level.

While it’s true you could kill every home game in your backyard, the big league – the casinos, the professional card rooms, the office that is open 24/7 – is a different ball game.

Objectively assessing your skill level is crucial to ensure that your chosen path is worth pursuing.

Going professional means being able to pay for bills relaying only on the money you make from playing poker.

So if your skill level isn’t high enough you might run into some financial problems if playing poker is your only income stream.

So in here lies a much needed reality check: How good are you at poker?

I mean really. There’s a difference in “knowing” if you’re really good at poker and “believing” you’re good at it. I used to “believe” that I look better than Brad Pitt, but my friends “know” it isn’t true.

You need to know in your heart of hearts that you’re not kidding yourself because the mind is a prison and it’s quite an expert in deception to make us believe what we want to believe

Keep a record book

Keep a poker record book.

Keep a poker record book.

What you should do is to keep tabs of your poker performance on a regular basis.

If you want to become a No-Limit Hold’em professional poker player, you need to treat it just like any other job – professionally.

In your day job, your employer keeps score of your performance and you get that (dreaded) monthly employment appraisal.

Why not do the same with your game?

You need to have a baseline of data to compare the number of your wins to the number of your losses. According to poker experts, you need a minimum of two thousand hours to play poker and use the results of those games, win or lose, in order to make a sound case

Target Monetary Gains

Money, money, money...

Money, money, money…

Picture this: you’ve had enough professional work experience and you’re vying for a position in a new company.

You aced the qualifying exam, the interview went well, and it seems that you blew your competition away.

The CEO of the company was pretty impressed with your answers and he’s dying to have you on board.

But there’s one problem.

The salary range is not what you expect.

Sure there are benefits, but you feel the monetary offer won’t cut it.

Do you think the offer is an insult to your capabilities and sense of worth?

If your answer is “no” then you should treat your decision to turn poker pro the same way.

Of course, you’d say “poker is different.

Yes, poker is different. As opposed to your regular job that pays you a regular monthly wage, winning at poker on a regular basis is not easy as you think.

You need to consider the target amount of cash that you need to pay your mortgage, your tuition, your credit card, etc. (and if you’re like Joey Knish in Rounders, alimony).

Get your record book that we’ve suggested above.

Go to the page of your wins and losses, and compute how much you’ve won and lost each given night, each week, and each month as per the number of hours you played.

You’ll be your own manager and employee, founder and accountant.

It’s a tall order if you ask me.

Poker is fun if you’re winning when you’re losing a little bit during your spare time.

The story takes on a new face when it becomes the main source of your survival and lifestyle.

What separates men from boys: Pros versus Newbies and your bankroll

men vs boys poker

Men vs Boys

The harsh reality is that poker is not easy.

Growing up, we’ve heard old folks say you have to grind and work really hard, day-in, day-out.

You subject yourself to harsh boredom of doing repetitive and monotonous things in life.

How to become a No-Limit Hold’em professional poker player is no easy task and requires commitment more than you can possibly imagine and the most important thing you need to consider is your poker bankroll.

Your bankroll

Poker bankroll management.

Poker bankroll management.

How much money do you have or need to support your playing time and your life away from the tables?

Do you have enough to keep you afloat when you’re game is moving downstream?

Sooner or later you’ll suffer a big loss as is the case of most professional No-Limit players.

No one is exempted.

Some even disappeared from the poker universe radar after going “bust” big time. Others have sunk so deeply in debt they couldn’t get back up.

Determining your bankroll is a continuation of the importance of keeping an honest record of your game’s performance and your financial targets.

Your bankroll ultimately determines the stakes you’ll be playing. It will help you identify the blinds you’re most likely to find yourself playing and the maximum buy-ins you’d allow yourself to have.

The bankroll that you will set must be pegged with the persistent probability of you getting badly hit by variance and losses.

Preparing to become a professional poker player is no different from an entrepreneur who’s starting a business – there must be capital involved that you’re willing to risk.

Do you know how and when to walk away?

Time to walk away?

Time to walk away?

I remember watching a cash game poker in one of the local clubs and there was one player whose stack was so short and yet would continue to soldier on.

From what I’ve heard, this player asked money from other poker players there.

Seeing this made me question myself, “is this the kind of pro poker player that I want to be?” “How could he allow himself to be put in that situation?” “How could he be so square?”

I know this sounds a bit discriminating, but you have to agree I have a point here. There’s a difference between a professional poker player and a gambling addict.

This is what separates the men from the boys, the pros from the amateurs.

The pros know when to quit, while the amateurs get stuck.

The pros know when to get up from the poker table and leave while they’re on the winning side. The losers will continue playing and sometimes embarrassingly leave the table without any cash left and with their chins down.

Do you know that feeling?

Both are difficult to do. That is, it’s difficult to leave the game when you’re still winning big. I’m sure you’ve experienced the same.

It’ sooooo hard to leave the table when you’re still winning and you continue only to realize you’ve lost more than half of what you’ve earned in the last 8-hour grind. How much more if you’re losing?

If you don’t know how or when, or should I say if you “can’t” walk away from the poker table, then you’re not a No-Limit Hold’em professional poker player yet.

The mindset of a No-Limit Hold’em professional poker player

Holdem wisdom for all player

Holdem wisdom for all player

In “Hold’em Wisdom for All Players“, Daniel Negreanu said that if you can’t forget and let go of a previous bad play, you’re not yet a professional poker player.

If you’re the type who keeps talking about your bad beats or you can’t believe your made Flush on the Turn got outdrawn by your opponent on the River and kept complaining about it, then you’re not yet a pro.

Trust me. You’re not yet a pro.

Dealing with sharp emotional swings

How do you feel today?

How do you feel today?

I’m not saying you can’t feel bad about it.

You should.

But you also need to learn to let go.

Here’s an example. I was in a big local tournament with championship prize money worth US$60,000. It was time for the “In The Money” situation and I was mid-stack at the time. It was a heads-up match between me and a known aggressive player.

My hand was among the last plays and I had J♠,10♠. The board was showing 4♣,9♥,Q. I hit my nuts when the Turn came. It was an 8♠. The aggressive player hit his two-pair 9♣,8♣. He was first to act and went all-in.

I called.

The River was 8♦. I was outdrawn. Out of shock, I couldn’t get up from my seat. And I couldn’t sleep for days.

After that experience I knew I wasn’t ready for the big leagues.

Variance and Psychology

Psychology of poker

Psychology of poker

However, I got an epiphany from that game.

There are two crucial things in poker: Probability (some call it lady luck) and psychology. If you don’t understand any of the two, then you’re in trouble.

You’re in bad shape if you can’t accept that variance plays a big role in poker.

Time and again you’ll hit a brick wall.

You seem to be capable of fairly calculating the odds and expected value of a hand you’re playing, but you can’t predict what’s going to happen next. That’s right. You can’t predict what the next card will be. All you can do is estimate what will come next.

The other thing is psychology.

“It’s not the cards you’re holding. It’s about the man.”

I bet you’ve heard this. if you’re in the game in a long time. It’s a grain of salt.

You need to learn to read other players’ tell – see their betting patterns, how they played in the previous hours, sessions, or last week.

Most important of all, it’s about controlling your emotions. I’m not sure how you do it, but when I’m in the zone, I could easily change gears and often tell myself not to tilt (which, by the way, still happens).

The Big Picture: Amassing A Lifetime Bankroll

The big picture

The big picture

We couldn’t stress further why your bankroll (management) is the be-all and end-all of a professional poker career.

Think of it this way: you should treat your dream of winning millions of dollars at the World Series of Poker a windfall, not a cash flow.

Unless you live off playing tournaments on a regular basis, the true source of professional poker income is in cash games.

The idea is to beat the game fairly and squarely, one big hand at a time. You don’t rush things. You wait for that big hand or play at the right moment and move strong to win enormously.

Your strategy should be to never give up what you’ve worked hard for and to get as much as you can in each game.

You need to build your bankroll, manage it, and protect it at all cost because everything depends on it. It’s your profession – you don’t want to get laid off, right?

Sure you wanna do this?

10 000 hours poker

10 000 hours poker

In summary, you need to show up day-in, day-out. T

hat’s what the grind really means.

Professionals, in all fields of expertise and not only in poker, are those people who show up and carry on with what they do even if sometimes what they do already feels like a drag.

You need to put your heart out in every game and you can’t slack-off because it’s your chosen profession.

Try slacking-off in your work environment and you get a memo. Worst, you can get fired, right?

That’s the same thing with playing poker professionally.

In the non-poker book, Outliers: The Story of Success, author Malcolm Gladwell posed a theory called 10,000-hour rule.

The theory goes that if you keep doing the same thing over and over and amounts to 10,000 hours then you’ll be very good at that chosen activity.

I think that applies to poker as well.

The 10,000 hours is roughly equivalent to three years if you’re playing poker eight hours a day.

That means making sacrifices.

Now let’s see a pro in action in this video. Will this be you one day? Start playing today and find out.

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