7 Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Poker Career

by Jeff Harris
on January 2, 2018

Tension is thick in the room, cards glide on the green felt, chips are pushed in stacks to the middle.

Anything is possible.

Then the calmness shatters, and the table erupts in euphoria. The life of a career poker player is anything but dull, stagnating, or predictable. Cards draw out the primordial beast within us, and watching a game of cards is an opportunity to see raw human emotions playing out in their purest forms.

You can go from being at rock bottom to floating on top of cloud nine or vice versa in a single card game.

Poker’s just crazy that way.

But for some, that’s what it’s all about–the jubilation and despair. It’s all part of the game for them. Those are the ones who crash and burn out; for those adrenaline junkies, it’s all about the rush that comes from taking big risks.

But that’s not what poker means for a career poker player.

Yes, poker can be a roller coaster ride. That can’t be helped.

But a real pro will get over the elation that comes with winning and the depression that a prolonged cold run entails. It’s all about the long-term plans. Winning and losing is just part of it. They won’t crumble in defeat or let a big win get to their heads. If they do, it’s the end of their career as a poker player.

So behind these stoic faces, what goes on in poker players’ minds?

And what kind of questions do they ask themselves about their career, their game, and where poker is taking them?

Here are a few questions every player who takes their poker seriously considers at one point in their career.

Question 1

  Does My Poker Career Lack Creativity? Am I a Copycat Forum Reader?

It all seems easy. You get on a forum like 2+2 and read about strategy, tried and tested tips, and plenty of how-tos to help you deal with the difficult and unpredictable situations you might find yourself in while playing poker.

But is it really that easy?

While some people get fulfillment and even elation from challenging the cards, other players, and life itself, this is not what the game is all about.

You need to have inherent creativity to do battle in the arena and come out victorious. It’s that creative energy, not the cold canned tips, that will carry you out in the competitive world of poker. Without this creative energy, your playing style will be no better than that of a preprogrammed bot.

Having strategic creativity is crucial to achieve a long-term success. When to raise after the flop, and when it’s a good time–necessary even–to donk are all questions that need creative answers.

And only your own creativity can offer you the right answer at the right moment.

The game of cards is fluid, and things like your table image, the players you’re up against, and your stack all challenge the predefined notion that there’s only one answer to every situation.

On the other hand, at the table, it’s only you assessing the situation and making the right call. If it makes sense to you based on your intellectual framework and experience, then it’s the right decision.

Developing a framework that’s totally your own is your number one priority if you’re serious about your future as a poker player.

Question 2

That Existential Crisis:What Do You Do When You Realize You Don’t Want to Play Poker Anymore?

This is one of the most frightening experiences you’ll go through.

And you will.

Most poker players experience something like this, especially after an extended cold streak. It’s because you feel that your entire identity, everything that defines who you are, is totally wrapped up in the game.

This kind of deterioration can happen spontaneously, or can be induced by:

  • a close loss of a big hand
  • a long losing or winning streak
  • a bad play or bet
  • entering a higher-stake or a lower-stake game
  • an upsetting remark
  • boredom or weariness
  • a personal problem

But outside of poker, you feel you know very little about anything meaningful. It’s scary, and you only have two courses of action to take.

You can suppress it, since the implications of this crisis frighten you, and inertially you barrel on.

Or you take a step back, inhale deeply, and decide to take a break. Learn a hobby, go on vacation, or do something, anything, as long as it has nothing to do with poker.

When it passes–and it will pass–you can go back to your game and pick up where you left off. Crisis averted. With a fresh mind and energized soul, you sit back at the table and take your game where you want to take it.

Question 3

How Do I Stay Ahead of the Game and Keep Playing My Best?

When played correctly, poker can be boring. Poker is fun; otherwise, you wouldn’t be doing it.

But if you think of your game as adventurous, thrilling, or exciting, chances are you’re in the wrong game.

Winning at poker can be tedious. Think of the all the grinding and sitting for hours throwing away garbage cards.

And it takes a toll. So before you let the boredom get to you, consider these tips to keep you sharp and always playing your best.

  • Learn another game: To break the monotony and discover fresh angles to approach the game, consider learning other games. Mixed games, in which players have a go at alternating rounds of hold’em and other games such as Omaha, razz, seven-card stud, or triple-draw lowball, are growing in popularity. You can’t hope to win a mixed-game tournament or beat a cash game without playing all these games at a high level of competence.
  • Never go on tilt; never play less than your best: Controlling emotions in the heat of conflict is a never-ending battle players have to fight with themselves. When that smug player you hated from the moment he sat at the table deals you a bad beat, your skill, expertise, and common sense jump out the window. This is the time when you tend to make the most costly mistakes in your entire career. That’s why it’s also the best time to just get up and walk away from the game until the fire within your own soul has eaten itself out.

When you’re not at your best, it’s usually better to go to the movies or read a book than to continue to play. After all, an averted loss is money won and you live to play another day.

  • Narrow the target: The target here is yourself. You can’t present your opponents with a big target to shoot at and expect to win very much money. Narrowing the target is another way of saying “don’t risk too much money in unfavorable situations.”

Narrowing the target means you can’t play on a gut feeling or cold-call raises all the time because you hope a miracle card will turn up. You can’t play marginal starting cards in early position, and you can’t go on proving what a tough, tricky player you are by attempting to bluff players who call too often.

You will always earn more money in a poker game by taking advantage of your opponents’ mistakes than by being a genius. It takes great skill–along with a good bit of luck–to maneuver a decent player into making a serious error in judgment. It takes nothing more than basic technique to gather in all those extra bets that come from players who called when they really should have folded.

The point of narrowing the target is that there’s no need to give your opponents a handicap and then have to rise to extraordinary heights to beat them. Not when good play will get you the rewards.

  • Model successful behavior and play: This means to never throw cards, insult a dealer, or make a snide remark about someone who just beat you. This is not, after all, life and death. It’s just a game.

Think of the great players you admire and what perfect gentlemen they are at the tables. You should model your behavior and style after them. You can learn by watching them play, reading their books, talking to them, and trying to discover the secrets of their success in the hope that they rub off on you.

The truth is simple: if you’re not ready to play your best, don’t play. And when you do play, keep your own standards foremost in your mind. Don’t go down to the level of your opponents. Tell yourself it’s okay to play your best, and then do it.

Question 4

Is There a Way I Could Energize and Strengthen My Career Climb?

In terms of career climb, there is profound value in “owning” your circumstances. Be honest with yourself about your own faults and failings. If you won’t admit your own shortcomings, the game will be only too happy to show them to you–at a high cost.

When you look for ways to deal with the hurdles in your path and stay focused and energized, you won’t find a better place than within yourself. There are four sources of energy that can help you feel more engaged, motivated, and focused at the tables.

The four energy sources are:

  • Emotional: To give you the power to feel appreciated and recognized for who you are, with the ability to express your opinions freely.
  • Psychological: To have a healthy and optimistic view of yourself and your potential and your ability to grow and improve.
  • Physical: To be healthy and fit and able to grind for long hours without feeling tired or bored.
  • Mental: To stay focused and engaged at work without allowing challenges to put you down.

Having these four sources of energy allows you to barrel on no matter the challenges that come your way. By owning up to your failings and tapping these sources of energy, you will fortify yourself against crashing and burning out.

Question 5

How Can I Accelerate My Long-Term Career Trajectory?

When it comes to your career trajectory, there is no good or bad luck–only hard work.

When faced with a tough decision, first ask yourself what it is that you really want and why you want it.

As you think about your decision, you need to be aware and wary of the following:

  • Your emotions about the issue at hand. Don’t let them blind your decision-making process.
  • Incomplete information and knowledge of the subject. Making assumptions or interpretations will not lead to a good decision.
  • Lack of a perfect solution. It shouldn’t mean that there’s no solution. Make the best plan possible with the information and knowledge you have.

Question 6

Do I Have What It Takes to Stay Ahead in the Game?

There are certain skills and characteristics that you need in your poker journey.

These skills include:

  • Flexibility: Long-term success at poker requires adapting to the changing trends and tactics. The game is fluid, and players spend hours every day discussing strategy and analyzing data and numbers. Your flexibility will allow you to constantly adapt and always find ways to take your game to the next level.
  • Endurance: Poker is a tough game that requires relentless work. The problem is that you could go for long months of hard work without seeing any results. You might think your game is not improving, you might lose for a long time, and you might be tempted to give up. Only the players with high levels of endurance can withstand this punishment and come out victorious.
  • Mental Resilience: If you are one of those people who always need reassurance and encouragement, poker will prove to be a tough challenge for you. You’ll need to isolate your emotions and be honest about your performance.

Question 7

Can I Play Poker and Travel the World at the Same Time?

The answer is yes. Lots of players travel and play poker at the same time. Players like Jesse Sylvia and Nathan Williams are good examples. Some players like to travel to exotic places around the world to play poker.

And it doesn’t have to be all about poker.

If you make your trip a bit longer and arrive way before the tournament, you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy and explore the place, which makes it both a vacation and work at the same time. Poker doesn’t have to be all serious grinding. Take time off to enjoy the sun on a tropical beach and get a tan.


Poker is fun, so what’s the point of playing if you don’t enjoy it?

A rookie player will go to the tables with a hundred dollars, hoping to turn it into a thousand dollars. A good player will take a thousand dollars with the aim of winning a hundred bucks. But a career poker player sits at the tables with a thousand dollars and tells himself he’s going to play his best game for the next four hours. Poker is a hard way to make an easy living. But if you have what it takes and keep playing, it won’t be that hard.

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