Making a Living Playing Poker

by Henry Jablonski
on June 30, 2017

You’ve probably heard interviews or read articles before with professional poker players talking about the glitz, glamor, and occasionally the hard work that goes into making poker your living. The problem with a lot of these articles and interviews, though entertaining, is that they often neglect to give you precise details and raw insight into the who, what, when, where, and how of being a professional poker player.

If you’re serious about pursuing poker as a profession, you need to have an accurate depiction of what it’s like and actionable steps that you can take to get yourself closer to that goal. Today, I’m going to do my best to walk you through as much of this as I can and hopefully give you some insight into the lifestyle and what it takes/how to get there.

Why You Should Listen to Me

I am not the best poker player in the world. I am not even close. However, I have been playing professionally for over 12 years with poker being my sole source of income. I have made a lot of money from poker and lived a pretty great life because of it. None of this is being said to toot my own horn, but merely to let you know where all this information is coming from.

While it’s great to aspire to be the next Phil Ivey, it’s not realistic. Aspiring to be the next me is much more feasible. If I were forced to classify myself throughout my career, I would say I’m an upper middle of the road player. On average, I make six-figures a year from playing poker. I have had some years under that and some years creeping up the ladder, but that’s a good average for my career without getting into exact specifics.

It should also be noted that I was mainly a tournament poker professional and played minimal cash games. I did have a lot of close friends that played cash for a living, though, so I do have a lot of insight there I can offer. It will be from an observer’s point of view. This article is directed at any form of poker for a living but may seem slightly skewed towards tournament pros.

The purpose of this blog is to give you a REALISTIC look into what it’s like to be a professional player and give you REALISTIC information that you can use to hopefully propel your game to the next level and play for a living. I’m not here to glamorize the lifestyle or to try and make myself look cool. I’m merely posting this to try and help out aspiring professionals know what the game might have in store for them.

Things You NEED to Know

Most people have an overly-glamorized view of what it’s like to be a professional poker player. It’s a lot like looking at what someone’s life is like by looking only at their social media feeds. You’re getting a highlight reel of the best moments and never seeing any of the downsides. Now, I’m not saying the career of being a professional poker player is bad in any way. I’m just saying that there are a few things we need to clarify before we go any further.

Again, remember that all of this is in regards to most poker pros. If you happen to end up being one of the best in the world, your experiences are going to be different.

Professional Poker is Not as Glamorous as You Might Think

Booo, here comes the buzzkill. Being a professional poker player is not as great as everyone makes it out to be or the movies might lead you to believe. Also, professional poker players probably don’t make as much money as you think they do or that they may lead you to believe.

Why? Poker winnings are often reported as winnings, not as profit. You may see that someone has $5 million in winnings. Does this mean they made $5 million? Nope. This means that they cashed for $5 million in tournaments, but you have to subtract out all of the buy-ins including all the tournaments that they lost and didn’t make any money.

Tournament poker pros usually cash somewhere around 20% of the tournaments they play and win somewhere under 1-2% if they’re really good. This means that 4 out of 5 tournaments they’re playing in they are getting zero dollars and that is not reported in their “winnings.” For example, let’s say that I play 5 $1,000 buy-in tournaments and I cash in one of them for $10,000. My winnings would be reported everywhere as $10,000, but my actual profit is $10,000 – ($1,000 * 5 tournaments), or $5,000. My reported winnings would show up as DOUBLE what my actual profit is.

I don’t point this out to bash the reporting system or even to bash players for reporting things this way. It’s the industry standard on how things are reported, so I don’t fault anyone for doing it. The point is that you need to realize that the profit numbers are usually nowhere near the winnings figure. Make sure you realize this, so you don’t have aspirations that are impossible to achieve.

You Don’t Always Make Money

Continuing on the above point, you’re not always going to be making money. You can be the best in the world and go on cold streaks where you do nothing but lose. If you’re used to a guaranteed paycheck, this can be a huge nightmarish wake-up call. Not only will you not be making any money during those losing streaks, but you’re going to be losing money. It’s not just like you’re working for free during those time frames. You’re actually going to have less money every time you go to play.

Now, if you’re a good enough player and budget your bankroll and life properly, you’ll be able to weather these storms and eventually come out on top in the long run. The problem is that a lot of players struggle in that department or can’t handle the emotional swings that come along with the financial ones.

It Takes More Work Than You Might Think

A lot of people think that all there is to being good at poker and playing for a living is putting in a lot of hours at the table. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Successful professional poker players spend countless hours away from the table studying, watching training videos, reading articles, and talking hands over with other players. This is on top of the countless hours that need to be spent at the tables to make sure you’re bringing in some money.

Being a professional poker player takes a lot more work than most people would have ever imagined. This is especially true as other players are continuously working to improve their games and new hard workers are always coming onto the scene.

It Takes More Discipline Than You Might Think

Not only does it take more hard work, but it also takes more discipline than a lot of people are ready for. There is no one telling you that you have to go play or that you need to go study. There is no one telling you how to budget your money or when you should or should not play. No one will be advising you when you’re playing badly or doing something you shouldn’t be. All of this falls on you.

In a “normal” profession, your coworkers will help you to be better at your job. In the poker world, some will help you, but most of your “coworkers” are going to be trying to take your money at the tables, so they’re going to want you to slip up.

People Are Going to be Better Than Your Home Game

If you’ve got dreams of coming to Vegas and making it on the big stage, you need to know what you’re in store for. I have seen WAY too many people that crush their home games in the middle of nowhere USA come to Vegas and get destroyed at the tables. I’m not saying the lower to mid limits are that difficult to beat, but they’re going to have a lot more good players playing than you probably do at your home game.

The best advice here (which I will talk about more in a few) is to make sure that you dip your toe into the hot tub before diving in.

The Positives You Need to Know

After bashing professional poker and what I’ve done for the past 12 years so aggressively, I thought it was only fair to talk about some of the perks that come along with the job if you’re able to be successful. I’ve added an additional section to each of these positives that will tell you things you need to be careful of. These tips will help you to make sure that you don’t let the perks of the job get in the way of the job and force you to end up having to leave the industry and head back to “normal job” city.

Freedom and Flexibility

There is nothing like having no boss and no fixed schedule to follow. I am free to play when I want, go to bed when I want, eat cookies in my bed when I want…I have no boss. The freedom and flexibility that comes with being a poker professional are incredible. Got an event you want to go to but are supposed to play? You don’t have to ask anyone for the “time off.” You just don’t play that night or day and go to your event.

Where to Be Careful

This freedom and flexibility can cause a lot of issues for people that don’t have discipline. I HIGHLY recommend having some sort of fixed schedule and structure to your life that you follow along fairly closely. Don’t abuse the freedom and end up letting your game or playing time suffer. If I had to skip a tournament or a session for something when I was planning on playing, I always made it up. I picked another event or day to play extra to make sure that I was still putting in an adequate amount of time on the felt.

Potential Profits Through the Roof

It’s no secret that there is a lot of money to be made in the poker world. On any given day, there are new millionaires being made and people moving from the low limits to the high stakes glitz of the upper echelon. Having the ability to make an endless amount of money is amazing. My biggest issue with a lot of normal jobs was that you were capped on how much you could make.

With poker, you’re free to play as much as you want and work as hard as you’d like and ultimately make as much money as you want. Sure, it’s not THAT easy, but the opportunities are there for those willing to go for it. The uncapped potential is something you just don’t see in a lot of industries.

Where to Be Careful

Mo’ money mo’ problems. For a lot of people, poker gives them an income they’re not even close to used to. When you take a 21-year-old kid and give them several hundred thousand dollars for playing a game they love, it can create problems. How do I know this? I was that 21-year-old kid.

It becomes easy to blow your money on useless stuff and take on a lifestyle that may or may not be sustainable. I didn’t do much in the way of savings or planning for a rainy day, and it ended up biting me in the butt years later. If I could impart any sort of wisdom on new and aspiring professionals, it is this. Save some of your money and make plans for the rainy days. If you don’t know how to save money, ask someone who can help. I GUARANTEE that you know someone who can walk you through a budget and a savings plan in no time at all.

Also, be careful of the moochers and those wanting to take advantage of you. As soon as your success gets out, they will come running. Trust me on this one. People that you thought would never ask you for money will ask you for money. People that you lent money to will suddenly feel like they don’t have to pay you back because you’re “so rich.” Be prepared for this and don’t let people take advantage of you. This was the biggest shock for me and one I wasn’t ready for because I was too nice at the time. I’m a lot more sharpened as a person now and wish I could have passed that information back to the old me.

The Ability to Travel and See the World

One of the coolest parts about playing poker for a living was the ability to travel the world freely. I had the money, the means, and the reason to get out there and see what was beyond my countries borders. Not only was the international travel great, but I was able to see areas of my country (the US) that I would have never dreamed of going to.

Where to Be Careful

This one just requires a little common sense to be careful. When you travel to other countries or other cities, make sure that you take precautions to protect yourself. This is especially the case if you are traveling with larger sums of money. Here are a few tips for moving money around.

  1. See if you can wire money to and from the casino you’re playing at, so you never have to carry it.
  2. See if you can bring a cashier’s check to the casino to cash. Remember, if you cross the border and they ask you if you have $10k or more, a check counts towards that. They aren’t asking if you only have $10k in cash, but any financial instruments for that amount.
  3. If you MUST carry cash, don’t flaunt it and don’t let other people know about it. Go directly where you need to go and secure your money.

I’ll probably end up writing an entire blog about what to know when traveling for poker, but in the meantime, I want to add that you need to be aware of the laws where you are traveling. Don’t get in trouble or let a foreign government take advantage of you because you don’t know your rights. I was getting off of a plane from the Bahamas once when customs decided they were going to tell anyone that was a poker player to go to some back room and get interrogated for several hours. I knew they couldn’t profile me like that after I had already gone through the customs process and I just kept going. My friends ended up going back there, and several of them had money confiscated and were grilled by interrogators for hours.

Complete and utter bullshit. For the record, I’m saying to disobey customs or TSA by any means.

I’m just saying that you should read the rules and laws about what they can and can’t do and don’t let some Paul Blart tool bag over exert his power on you.

How to Improve Your Game

I’m sure you’ve read a million articles about how to improve your game. Usually, they just gloss over some options available and don’t really give you actionable steps to get better. What I want to do today is tell you what I personally did to get better and what options are available to you and which I think is the best to take advantage of. I’ll also let you know what options I think are garbage and a waste of your time.

Training Sites

These were a big factor in the growth of my game. Training sites allow you to watch great players play online (and some live now) and get inside their heads and their thought processes. I think this is a must for anyone looking to take their game seriously.

The biggest follow up question is which site should I join since there are so many. You need to look into a few things before selecting a training site. If they don’t know it out of the park on all of these, then find another site.

  1. Make sure the site has legitimate pros that are making the videos. Do your own research into the success of their pros. Make sure that the big-name pros are actually making the videos. A lot of the time sites will have one big name player and then a bunch of nobodies who actually make the training videos. That’s garbage and not what you should be paying for.
  2. Make sure that the site is current. There was a big influx of training sites a few years back, and a lot of them are still up and running but not making any new videos. Check to see when the latest videos were uploaded.
  3. Check to see how much content there is and how often new content is uploaded. Some training sites only have a few videos and only add new ones every couple weeks or months. You want to be at a site where you feel overwhelmed with the amount of content that is there and being uploaded.

Network of Players

Being friends with other players that are playing for a living is crucial to being successful at poker. Being friends with other GOOD players is more crucial to being successful at poker. You need people that you can bounce ideas and hand histories off of. You need people that are willing to tell you when you played a hand badly and how they think you can improve.

The good news about this is that it usually helps both players or the entire group to get better. Poker pros seem to run in “cells,” and the cells live and die together. Don’t have any of these friends? Look online in forums, or it’s time to get social. Don’t be a tool that is only looking to make friends to get tips. Work on building genuine friendships and all of that will come. The forums are a great place to get involved in discussions, and you don’t have to worry about making friends. Everyone is there to talk poker and get better.

Books

Books are interesting. Have I read a lot of them? Yes. Did I feel smarter and like a better player after reading them? Yes. Was I? Hard to say. Books seem to do a great job of making you feel like a better player without giving you a ton of groundbreaking information. Here’s where I think books fit into the equation. If you are brand new or new enough that you still have a ton of basics to learn, I definitely recommend getting some books. If you’ve got the strategy basics down, finding a book that will help retool your game is going to be rare. Frankly, I think you can become a strong player without wasting your time with any books.

Online Articles

These I would probably rank after books as most everything that is out there now is garbage. I say that as I write an online article for you 🙁 Hopefully, you find this useful and don’t think it’s garbage. The problem is that a lot of sites have content being written for search engine optimization purposes only and rarely care that there is quality content.

You also have a lot of sites trying to draw you in to purchase something that gives out strategy articles with click-bait titles that don’t really deliver on what they say is in their content. They’ll typically have some very general advice and a lot of times the same thing said over and over again in different language. If you can find a source of great online articles from notable writers or great instructors, awesome! However, from my experience, it will be a challenge to find some of that.

Practice

I do not like the phrase that practice makes perfect. I think a more accurate and effective phrase is that INTELLIGENT practice makes perfect. By just going out and playing a lot of poker, you will not get better. You need to be working on your game and constantly practicing things that you learned and worked on off of the felt. Banging your head against a wall repeatedly is not going to get the wall to move.

Make sure that when you’re playing, you are working on the things you’ve learned. You need to be practicing to get better, not just playing and calling it practice. Remember, “practicing” in poker can become expensive as you’re not going to get legitimate reactions if you’re playing for free money or playing for super low stakes. I can guarantee you that things that work at home when you’re playing for pennies with the family will NOT work when you start playing for real money at the tables.

Online vs. Live

One of the biggest decisions that you’re going to have to make when becoming a professional poker player is whether you’re going to be predominantly an online player or live player. Most players do a bit of both, but for the most part, they have an area they specialize in. While it might be the same game you’re playing, the experience is going to be completely different. Ultimately, the decision is going to be up to you for whatever works best for you and your style.

I’m going to do my best to give you the most important nuances of live and online so that you can hopefully make a more informed decision about where you “belong.” These points for each might not be interconnected and may seem a bit jumbled, but there is a lot of information and I’d rather you get it through word vomit than not get it at all.

Online Cash vs. Live Cash

The cash games are significantly different than they are live. A $1-$2 online might actually be a tough lineup where a $1-$2 game in the casino is going to be full of morons. Online cash games are all about volume and squeezing out a few big blinds per hour. The secret is playing multiple tables at once and making fewer mistakes.

On the flip side, playing live cash is more about getting people to make massively huge mistakes. The players are going to be worse live and are going to be much more likely to make big mistakes. The drawback is that you can only play one table at a time. A live $5-$10 game will usually have 2-3 pros/regs (regular players that are decent), and the rest fish (bad players). A $5-$10 game online these days is going to be filled with good players and will be tough to beat. Your hourly win rate will be much lower per table online but should come up with the fact that you’re playing multiple tables.

Rakeback Online

One of the perks of playing cash games online is that you may be able to get a rakeback deal from certain sites or you may be able to get some cash back bonuses. Check with the support of an online site before you start playing and see if they have anything they might be able to offer you.

What is rakeback? Rakeback is when the site gives you back part of the rake that they take from the pot. They pay that out to you at the end of the day, week, or month depending on how the deal is structured. This means that you can break completely even at the game and then make money thanks to your rakeback check at the end of the time frame.

Why can’t you get this live? You get this online because their costs are lower to run each game. They don’t have to pay for a dealer or an actual table or a physical location to run the game. It’s as easy as them opening another table which allows them to charge significantly less and still make a profit. Rakeback might be called bonus points or frequent player points or something like that. Just check with the site’s customer service reps before you start playing to see if they have anything they can offer you.

Using Software

This is going to come down to your personal preference about what style of poker you want to play. Online poker has taken a very statistical turn thanks to a lot of new software and Heads Up Displays that will track the other players at the tables stats and display them to you in real time. You end up making all of your decisions based on statistics, and it becomes a data game and less of “classic poker.”

Playing live is, of course, the exact opposite of this. There is no software to track what players are doing live, and you have to use your mind to remember things and spot trends yourself. A lot of people consider the HUDs to be cheating and despise when players use them.

This brings up a ton of questions. Is it better to play online where the HUDs are used or to play live where they aren’t? Well, it’s 100% up to what you prefer and more importantly what you’re good at. People that are great with quick data analysis are going to love the online style and will be able to excel even if everyone at the table is also using the HUD software. People that are more feel players and don’t like getting neck deep in data are probably going to enjoy playing live more.

The next question is if you choose to play online, should you use the software? The answer is almost always going to be yes as long as the site you’re playing on allows it. If you’re not using it, you’re putting yourself at a huge disadvantage and are going to struggle to be profitable. Whether you like the software or not, if you elect to play online you need to be using it.

An important side note here is that you need to put in just as much time into learning the software and how to use the stats properly that you put into your actual poker game. The only thing worse than not using the stats while playing online is using the stats poorly and incorrectly.

Game Availability and Volume

When you decide to play live, you need to be a bit more selective about when you play. Why? There may not be games available at certain off points, or the games might not be as good. Games on the weekends and at nights are always going to be better than mid-day or mid-week games. This is because those are times that the fish and recreational players are usually at work. You can play at those times if there are games, but you can expect to be playing against a lot more good players.

Remember, if you do choose to play at the peak times to catch the fish, you need to plan on being there early before the action starts to guarantee you get a seat. Showing up at 9 pm on a Friday night will most likely end up with you waiting a few hours to get a seat (depending on your casino of course). You need to be playing as many of these peak hours as possible and taking advantage of the drunks and the fools that come in to donate.

Playing online is a little different in finding the optimal times to play. If you’re playing tournaments, it’s pretty easy. You play when the big tournaments are. Most of the time these are going to be at night or on the weekends. Cash games, on the other hand, are going to be a little different than they are live. You’re still going to be looking for the peak times to play when all the fish are on, but this may be different than what you think it is.

You need to know where the bulk of the players on a site are located. If they’re in the US, you are going to want to play during the late hours of the US time zones. Personally, I’d find after about midnight Eastern Standard Time on the weekends, the games would get incredible. If you’re playing on a site that has a lot more European players, you’re going to want to adjust to that time zone if you’re not located there.

The easiest way to figure this out is to pay attention and look at the lobby at various days and hours to see where the volume is. You can almost certainly count on the fact that when the volume is the largest, the games will be the easiest. Don’t use that as an absolute rule, but it’s a good starting point.

In regards to tournament volume, you’re obviously going to be able to get much more when you play online. If you’re capable of multi-tabling, you’re going to be able to get a lot more volume in. This usually means that you’re going to be able to overcome the variance and cold streaks that are inevitable with tournament poker.

For me, this is personally why I am a big fan of online poker over playing live for tournaments. My swings online have always been smaller and shorter in duration than those in live poker tournaments. The only issue with this now if you live in the states is that the volume just isn’t as big with the sites available. While it’s still much better volume than you’re going to get live, it’s just not what it was back in the glory days. Euro players and the rest of the world need not worry about this as the volume is still there for you.

Tournaments vs. Cash Games

When deciding to pay for a living, a lot of people ask if they should be playing more cash games or more tournaments. As an aside, if you’re having to ask this question, you are not ready to start playing for a living yet. I’ll get into this a bit more later in the When to “Go Pro” section.

The simple and most accurate answer to this question is to play what you’re best at. If you crush at cash games, you should be devoting most or all of your playing time to playing cash. If you’re a tournament rock star, you should be playing predominantly tournaments. Now, the cold streaks and swings can be a bit more aggressive for tournaments, so I actually advocate playing a mix if you’re a tournament stud. Play mainly tournaments but mix in some cash of sit and gos to help keep the bills paid in the meantime (as long as you aren’t a terrible cash game player and ONLY good at tournaments).

Now, that answer sounds like one you might get in one of those online articles I was giving a hard time. The reason is that the answer to that question doesn’t need to be over complicated. You should play what you’re best at and what makes you the most money. Don’t play what you enjoy more or what your friends think you should play. Play what you’re best at.

I would assume that anyone reading this article is aware of this, but in case you’re not, I want to make sure I mention it. Cash games and tournaments are WILDLY different. I won’t get into it today because I could write another gagillion pages on it, but you need to be aware that the strategy and how you attack cash games is wildly different than how you attack tournaments. If you’re currently playing both exactly the same, it’s time to start doing some homework before you even step foot in a card room again.

What Makes Someone a Pro or Not

If we’re talking about becoming a pro at playing poker, I guess it’s important to define what being a pro means. It’s funny that this is so widely debated because I really think it’s fairly easy to determine. Now, I do understand why it’s become so debated. If you watched the WSOP on ESPN a few years ago, there were only a few people that identified as pros. Now if you turn it on, literally every single player on their claims to be a professional. I can assure you that a large chunk of these “pros” are not that great at poker.

Here’s my definition of what a pro is (at anything). If you make over 60% of your income doing something, you can consider yourself a professional at something.

If you make >60% of your income from playing poker, you can consider yourself a professional.

To be honest, it really doesn’t matter. It’s just a label that doesn’t mean anything. In some sports, it means you have the ability to compete in different competitions for money, but in poker, it means absolutely nothing. It’s really just a title that people typically use to feel cool.

I remember when I first started playing poker and told people I was a professional the reaction was that it was super cool. Now if I tell people I play for a living, it gets met with mixed results. This is because so many people that are terrible at the game and unable to maintain long-term profitability have taken ownership of the term. As these people fall off and have to return to normal jobs, it tarnishes the cloud that comes with the term. This isn’t really important at all to being a “pro, ” but it’s something I wanted to share and rant about.

When to “Go Pro”

Now that we’ve talked about what it means to be a pro (at least by my definition), the obvious follow-up question for anyone aspiring to play professionally is when they should “go pro.” I put that in quotes because I want to draw attention to the fact that I think the question is a little silly. When I “went pro,” it just happened. There wasn’t a day that I woke up and said today I’m going to be a professional!

I have asked a lot of other pros, and they all said the same thing. It’s just something that happens. Now, this may be because most of the people I asked started in school or when they were young and didn’t have a lot of other commitments that they were required to uphold. If you’re a bit older or have an established career/job, your experience is definitely going to be different.

You’re going to have to decide at some point to stay at your job or leave your job. For those people considering this, I put together a question checklist below to help you decide if the time is right or to figure out what you need to work on to get to that point.

  1. Do you really want to be a professional poker player?

Make sure that you read the negatives that come along with the profession outlined above and make sure that this is really something that you want.

  1. Do you have the correct bankroll to withstand downswings?

A lot of people forget that downswings can happen starting the first day you start playing for a living. They aren’t something that makes sure to wait until you’re established. There are PLENTY of bankroll guides online that should walk you through this much better than I could.

  1. Do you have the correct life-roll to keep you afloat if you go on a downswing?

Your bankroll and your life-roll NEED to be two different things. You should have completely separate funds for both. Make sure that you have money put aside to pay your bills for several months (ideally six) without touching your bankroll.

  1. Are you good enough/do you have a high enough win rate? Also, is there enough volume of tournaments or games to sustain you playing more hours or more games?

I’ve attached a link to a page about gambling math that you need to peek at. Specifically, you need to look at the section about calculating your win rate. You need to know how much money you are making for every hour that you put in. Here’s a quick teaser that should show you why you may need to read this.

Let’s say you make $20 an hour playing 10 hours a week for a total profit of $200 per week. If you play for 20 hours (twice as long), how much will you make total? If you answered any amount, you need to read this section. Your win rate is never going to be linear meaning that it’s not going to just jump up to $400 a week.

Make sure that when you’re calculating your win rate that you accurately calculate your expenses. This is addressed in the page above, but I need to reiterate it. Improper win rate calculation is the number one mistake I see from people that are wanting to go pro. They want it so badly that they’re willing to lie to themselves about how successful they are and how much money they are actually making.

Remember, your win rate is not something you have to share with other people. It should only be for you and your decision-making process. You need to report your winnings accurately AND your losses, your time commitment, and your expenses. Think a session doesn’t count because you were drunk? No. That needs to be calculated in. Make a stupid call that you “normally wouldn’t make” and don’t want to count that? No. It gets counted.

You HAVE to be as accurate as possible if you want your win rate to mean anything. Neglecting this by any means will result in you struggling and most likely falling short as a professional. You may only get one shot to make it as a pro, and you don’t want to fail because your ego couldn’t take admitting you weren’t ready yet.

One additional thought on win rates is that you need to make sure that you calculate in EVERY expense that you have. For example, tipping at the casino counts as an expense. Gas to the casino counts as an expense. Paying for a babysitter or a hotel room counts as an expense. All of these expenses (and more) count against your win rate. Remember, the more accurate and honest you are, the higher your chances of success will be.

The Intangibles

I’ve got a few closing thoughts that are equally as important as the information up above. These just didn’t fit well into any of the above sections.

Emotional Stability

Something people rarely talk about is the emotional roller coaster that playing poker for a living is. Imagine going to your job and not getting paid a dime. Imagine that you actually have to pay money and come home with less than you started with. That would piss you off, correct? Now imagine that happening over and over and over again for months. Think you can stomach that and come back every day with your A-game?

If the answer is no, then you have no business playing poker for a living. The financial ups and downs are a lot for people to handle. You need to have control over these in the short term and in the long term. If you lose a hand at the table, you need to be able to get over it immediately and not allow yourself to go on tilt. I’ve known very few successful poker players that had tilt problems.

Vices

I’ve seen so many great players or players with great potential crash and burn in the industry thanks to their other vices. This could be drugs, alcohol, sports betting, or the pits (table games). You MUST have control over these things before you try your hand at playing professionally. The flexibility and freedom that comes with being a professional poker player coupled with the increase in disposable income can be a nasty recipe for someone with a problem.

I can’t give you much more advice here other than being honest with yourself and seek help if you need it. The best way to get a handle on your vices is to stop them in their tracks before they get out of hand. I’m not going to tell you how to live your life and not tell you that those things can’t be fun. I’m just saying that everything is better one in moderation. Make sure that whatever you do it does not affect your success or productivity at the tables.

Some People Don’t Have It

This can be a tough pill for people to swallow. Sometimes you just don’t have what it takes. Now, I’m not saying that to discourage you in any way, shape, or form. It’s going to be a tough road, and you’re probably going to want to quit quite a few times. You may have a lot of people tell you that you don’t have what it takes, but most likely that is going to be coming from jealousy or a lack of understanding.

I’m not saying it from either of those points of view. I’m just saying that not everyone in the world is built to play poker professionally. If that were the case, everyone would be doing it, and it would no longer be a lucrative endeavor.

Be honest with yourself and with your progress and keep detailed records of how you’re doing. Know when it’s time to push harder and persevere and know when it’s time to hang up the towel and move on to something else. Sadly, there really is no formula for knowing the difference. The only advice I can say is to be honest with yourself and set goals. If you are constantly falling short of your goals (and they’re not absurd goals), it may be time to reevaluate.

Burn Out

Poker can take a toll on you after playing it for a living for years. It’s long hours in sometimes crappy conditions and constant stress day in and day out. This can cause burn out pretty quickly if you don’t make strides to stay ahead of it. I am telling you this from experience because I have hit burnout several times in my career where I lost all desire to play and all love for the game.

Here are a few tips to help keep you from this. First, take breaks. Don’t play and study seven days a week 365 days a year. You need to take some time away and clear your head from the stress. Second, you need to have some sort of balance. This means have some other hobbies. Find things that release stress, and you enjoy doing. For me personally, I work out and do martial arts. It gets the blood pumping and strangely relaxes me off of the felt.

The most important thing you can do to fight burnout is to take care of your body. Get sleep, exercise, and eat healthily. You don’t have to be a fitness model by any means, but you need to take care of yourself. This will allow you to be sharper and work harder and ultimately be more successful as a professional poker player.

It can be tempting to fall into bad habits and abuse your body. You have to ask yourself what is more important to you, having short- lived fun or having long-term success in the industry. The choice is up to you and you alone.

The Wrap Up

This post definitely ballooned a lot longer than I expected it to be, but I think that’s ok. There is so much that goes into making such a big life decision that I felt like I couldn’t leave anything out. Hopefully, you got a lot out of this and can make the proper decision or your dreams and goals are at least a bit more realistically aligned.

Remember, be honest with yourself about everything and never let your ego get in the way. The player who can’t get out of their own way is one that will never make it in the industry. Being a professional poker player is not about being able to hack it for a year or two. It’s about being able to survive and thrive in the industry for many years to come. Before I start sounding like a motivational speaker, I’ll climb off my soapbox and let you get to the decision-making and planning.

If there’s anything you have questions on or want to be clarified, please comment below, and I’ll gladly check back in and try and offer as much insight as I possibly can. Thanks for reading!

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