I had written previously that it seemed as if everyone you speak to these days in a poker room is a pro. But seeing as how that is statistically impossible, I thought it may be cogent to discuss what it actually takes to be a professional in this game. The obvious disclaimer is that I myself am not a pro. But I still put in a significant amount of volume each year, have a positive win rate and have discussed this issue with a myriad of others who do play for a living. And I fully admit that I do not do everything that I am about to list off here in this article. But the best advice often comes from those who do not follow it themselves and perhaps this is one of those situations. I have played this game for 17 years, many of them for a living, and I have seen just about everything one can see in this game. Becoming a professional is not something I advise anyone to try normally, but let us forge ahead since this topic seems to be the obsession of even the most recreational of poker players.
ABSOLUTELY NO BOOKING WINS!
If it is one thing I hate hearing is when players tell me they only played a short session in order to "book a win." I would go on to define what this phrase means but I am still not exactly sure myself. You often hear this term from live players and this is the one area in which they are completely different from online players. In the mind of the online player there is no such thing as today, tomorrow, this week, month or year. This is just one long game that goes on seemingly forever until the day we die or go broke. For live players it seems to be all about this day, this session or this hand. The thought of losing even one big hand repulses them to the core, even if the truth is that they played it correctly. Just ask a live player to tell you a story about any time his aces got cracked and you will know exactly what I mean. Any online player who multi-tables has aces cracked multiple times in a session and for us it is no big deal because it is simply supposed to happen. There is no such thing as a hand that has 100% equity preflop and that includes aces. If you are a losing player and book a win, all that means is that you are delaying your losing by one day. If you are a winning player and heaven forbid you book a win, all you are doing is missing out on a chance to win more that day and delaying such winnings for one day. If you win you play and if you lose you play. The whole point of beginning an endeavor to play poker for a living is to find out if you can actually do it, to know whether or not if you are truly a winning player. And if you are one of the lucky few who knows that you are a winning player you should take every possible opportunity to play and continue on in games where you have an edge.
BUM HUNT UNTIL EVERYONE HATES YOU
There is so much hatred centered around this word and I have never understood it. If you are reading this article and are considering becoming a poker pro but do not know this term, perhaps you should reconsider. Bum hunting is the practice of following terrible players and only playing in tables they are on for the purposes of winning their money. It mostly applies to heads up matches online in which those who practice this refuse to play anyone not weaker than then they are but I think it could easily apply to those who play in regular 6-max games as well. The entire purpose of this game for those who endeavor to play it professionally is to win money and to win as much of it as possible in the shortest amount of time. The notion that one should play stronger opponents as a regular practice sounds rather ridiculous when said aloud, but there remains an immense amount of vitriol surrounding this practice. Much of it has to do with some sense of machismo I suppose, a belief in the idea that you are only the best if you beat the best. I could care less about being the best player in poker and while there is a certain amount of arrogance and confidence needed to play this game, the end goal simply remains to win as much money as easily as one can. Poker is a predatory game and concepts that include the word "hunt" or "hunting" should be entirely appropriate towards how one approaches this game. If we consider the world of actual predators in the wild, a pack of lions after killing their prey will not then turn on one another. They will simply wait for the next opportunity to hunt another weaker prey. In much the same way the notion that good players on a table should battle it out against one another after a mark has left seems ill advised at best.
This is a word often used when discussing this game, but one that is hardly practiced. People underestimate just how much discipline is needed to play this game, especially for a living. If you are reading this article and are the type of person who already has their life in order and practices a great amount of discipline in areas of life, health and love then playing poker for a living is probably the furthest thing from your mind. The truth is one has to be at least a little "off" in order to consider doing this for a living. Those attracted to this notion are usually those that are more attracted to the lifestyle more than anything else; the late nights, the money, baller lifestyle, hookers and blow and all that. And in truth those elements do and should exist in the poker lifestyle to a certain extent. After all, what is the point of doing this for a living if you cannot enjoy it like a true baller. But all of that should come after your session and only up to a point that it does not bleed into your session the following day. However f'ed up your life is for the majority of the time, everything better come together in the right way for those 6-8 hours that you are seated in front of your computer to play because if it doesn't there are plenty that will gladly be on the other side of the table waiting to relieve you of your funds.
MAKE TOUGH CHOICES
This leads to my next point which is that sacrifices need to be made if one is to pursue poker as a profession. The truth of the matter is that poker takes up a lot of time, both in the amount of time actually seated on a table and also the devotion towards studying the game in order to constantly improve. I have already discussed limiting one's baller lifestyle and practicing a certain modicum of moderation in one's social life. But apart from having fun and enjoying one's "poker life", sometimes other realities and responsibilities of life may intrude upon one's ability to focus on poker. I would like nothing more than to spend every waking moment of my daughter's life playing with her and enjoying her company. But I also realize that in two years I will have to put her in a private school and that she requires food, milk and a suitable place to live. I try to confine my playing hours to ones in which both my wife and daughter are asleep. And if I have to play during hours they are awake I will tell my wife that I absolutely cannot be disturbed and will lock the door. If she cannot follow these guidelines, I will simply leave and play somewhere else on my tablet. In the end the actual responsible thing to do is to sacrifice time with loved ones in order to devote yourself to a game that can potentially pay for all the things that they need. Or perhaps the toughest choice of all is the decision to leave the game altogether if it cannot provide for those that are in your care. I cannot think of anything more irresponsible than continuing to play a game in which one constantly loses when they have mouths to feed at home.
THAT DREADED WORD "BANKROLL"
During my time in Las Vegas I had a bankroll of about $70,000 during my peak. I divided this in several ways:
• $3,000 per month living expenses * 6 months = $18,000
• $12,000 in online poker accounts
• $40,000 to play live $2-$5
Regarding the last point I usually bought in for $500 for the $2-$5 game at the Venetian, meaning that I had 80 buy-ins for that level. I will readily admit though that is the last time I practiced such bankroll management and in truth most players I know are exactly the same. But this sort of strict management is exactly what is required and perhaps this is the primary reason that I do not play for a living anymore. To play your best game, one needs absolute freedom from the worries of life in order to make every right decision during a session. If you cannot stick in that 4-bet because you have to pay rent the next week or cannot shove all-in with air against a player that you have proper fold equity against, then you should not be pursuing this game as a profession. This sort of idea also applies in-game as well as one should be mindful of what stakes they play against the amount of money they actually have. I realize it is more impressive to tell others that you play $2-$5 live or $2-$4 online, but to play above one's means is a recipe for disaster. Poker is a game of mistakes and I can guarantee that your game will be riddled with them if you play above your means. There are those that actually play for a living who will be waiting on the other side to capitalize on every single mistake you make. If you cannot make the correct decisions in a game due to money concerns, then the proper thing would be to step down in stakes or have another revenue stream until playing higher is more comfortable.
KNOW YOUR SURROUNDINGS
Studying the game of poker does not have to be confined to strategies. One should also be aware of where they are playing and the conditions of their environment; how much rake does the room charge, how much are they dropping for the bad beat jackpot, how much do I spend tipping dealers, etc. It is the popular thing to say that only nits care about such things or as I like to call them, winning players. To be mindful of all these things means that one needs choice and options on where to play. If you are playing live then you should be living in a city where there are a multitude of rooms and tables at every stake level. And if you are playing online then you should belong to a high traffic site or belong to several sites and/or clubs in order for you to table select. I have players in my online agency that have an account and money in each and every one of the 29 clubs I offer. Every day they simply open up each app, look for the softest games and then commence printing. There is no point to pursuing this if you are going to play the same 10-15 people every single day as even the most terrible of players get better over time. And if you are to play online be sure to get a good rakeback deal, but do not sacrifice the quality of the games just to get a slightly higher percentage. I cannot overstate the importance of rakeback when going through a bad down swing.
I am sure there is much more that can be said regarding this topic, especially concerning the actual play of the game. But for this article I only wanted to cover overarching principles and issues of mindset rather than strategy. I realize that I am knee deep in a sea of hypocrisy in discussing this topic as there are many points that I just wrote about that I do not follow myself. But then again that is why I made the choice to no longer to play for a living and gain other modes of making money. A better way to state it may be to say that the game made the choice for me. I am still in the field of the poker industry, but I no longer rely on having to win in order to survive. Having said all this, I will admit that I do miss solely playing poker for a living as there is no other better feeling in the world. I may sound as if I am overstating it a bit, but there is something to knowing that you can successfully do something that so few can. For those that come across this article, I wish you good fortune whichever road you may choose.