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Becoming a Professional Poker Player

Thinking of Going Pro?
By Loki Luchs

Becoming a professional poker player is easy: lose your job. Becoming a winning professional poker player is a little more tricky! One thing that needs to be considered before making that step should include the size of your bankroll. If you're planning to make the move to “live the dream,” I would suggest that you have an extremely large bankroll with an extremely good long-term win record before doing it. Playing poker as a professional is much different from playing poker as an amateur or semi-professional. You must be willing to put in at least 40 hours of live play a week (Internet players see more hands due to their computer’s speed and multi-tabling, so they can probably get by on less). When you're living out of your bankroll, there are many different aspects to consider:

• What do you need for your monthly bills? (Rent, car, insurance, electricity, etc.)
• What do you need for your weekly bills? (Food, gas, etc.)
• How much are you expecting to need for non-essentials? (Going to the movies, DVD's, etc.)
• What are you going to need to pay taxes?
• Is the financial strain going to be a problem for your home life?

Opinions range from having an initial bankroll of 3 months life-expenses to one year’s life expenses paid for. My personal opinion is that 6 months is probably enough. You want to keep in mind that you'll need enough money to endure variance, losses, and still have enough money for your bills.

One method of payment that players use is to set up a weekly income from their bankroll. This is an effective way to pay yourself for several reasons: first, you have a certain level of security when you know that you will have a paycheck coming every week. This is paycheck is the same size every week, regardless of how much you won or lost. Your paycheck should be enough to cover all of expenses, so you'll need to keep track of what you (and your family) spend on bills every month. Another benefit is that as time goes on, if you're profits average more than your paycheck each week, then you'll be able to slowly build your bankroll. By building your bankroll, you will help protect yourself on the weeks where you don't make enough to cover your paycheck. Slowly building your bankroll also helps so that you might one-day move to a higher (and potentially more profitable) game. A final reason for this form of payment is that you can tell weeks in advance if your dream of being a pro isn't going to work out.


Another payment type that some players choose is to take a percentage of their weekly wins. The advantage of this one is that you give yourself a good motivation to play in the same way that waiter’s have an incentive to give good service. If you play often and you play well, you'll be living the good life. The downside of this is that there are going to be weeks, even months, where you're not in the black. When you've gone a month without a paycheck, the good life doesn't look so good. The key to this form of paycheck is to save, save, save! When you go on a rush and you take home a couple grand, don't blow it! Put it in the bank, separate from your bankroll.

One of the biggest dangers that new “pros” face is that they run good for a few weeks and spend all of their winnings. If they do this, then they have no way to compensate when they catch a cold run of cards, take some bad beats, or just don't put the proper amount of time in. Suddenly, those players’ bankroll are depleted and they have to start skipping bills or getting rid of their nasty habit of eating everyday. The psychological affects this can have can hurt the player’s decision-making at the table. Being afraid destroys a player’s A-game. This strain will have affects off the table as well. Financial strains will inevitably work their way into your relationships with friends and family. This is doubly true for a player’s spouse who has to share the burden of the bills. There’s more than one lonely professional in the world; keep all of this in mind before making that kind of a commitment.

On a personal note, for those of you that are considering going professional, please keep in mind several things… for every pro you hear about making millions, there’s a hundred more that are barely paying the bills. Another problem is that the game itself loses a lot of its appeal… to many professionals, poker isn't fun. Playing poker is a job like any other and it can be much less satisfying at the end of the day. There aren't many jobs where you may work for forty hours a week and have less money than when you started. Another complaint that is often lamented is that most players offer little to the world as a whole; short of donating winnings to charity, many have nothing tangible to say they contribute to their communities. Before you dedicate yourself to this as a profession, be sure to ask yourself (and your families) whether this is something that will improve your life!


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