How to stay a professional in the tough world of full time poker
STEP 1: TREATING IT LIKE A JOB
- Maintain passion for the game
- Take regular breaks
- Invest money
Once you have acquired a suitable bankroll and proved to yourself that you are a winning player at a given level, it’s time to embark on perhaps the most difficult part of your journey as a professional poker player – remaining one. Plenty of players have quit their jobs, turned to poker and then switched back again because they weren’t completely aware of the ramifications of a life sitting in front of a computer screen. There are three main areas that you have to excel in…
Forget the image of being paid to jet off around the world and play in huge buy-in tournaments. Few professional players will ever get to do this on a regular basis. The bottom line is that the life of an internet pro is fairly uneventful.
You will probably spend at least eight hours a day, five days a week in front of a computer screen with little or no company. That’s why a passion for the game is imperative, says Andrew Ward.
‘I love playing poker whether I’m winning or losing,’ he says. ‘The reason I love it even when losing is because I accept that losing is sometimes part of the game.’
To counteract boredom and diminishing returns, it’s best to keep your day varied, as you would in a regular job. ‘I try to play in short spurts, maybe for two hours at time,’ Dean says. ‘Sometimes I will play a tournament to break up a day of playing cash. I spend other time contributing towards poker forums, reading up on strategies, or updating figures and statistics.’
And just as you might receive on-the- job training in the nine-to-five world, Tim Richards, a pro sports gambler and part-time poker pro, recommends following a similar path.
‘Coaching is essential for those who aren’t inherent poker geniuses. Having experienced players evaluate your play is far more conducive to improvement than trying to do it yourself.’
‘Use the money you make smartly: invest or use it to start up something else so poker isn’t your sole source of income. As Johnny Moss famously said: “If you can make money out of poker, you can make ten times more out of business.” ’ John Tabatabai
STEP 2: MANAGING MONEY
- Withdraw a set amount of monthly winnings
- Treat winnings as if it were a salary
- Keep money for expenses apart from bankroll
You might have proved you can make money playing poker, but for it to be a long-term vocation, you must be able to keep hold of your winnings. This is a five-step process:
1. Bank at least what your expenses are for a month. ‘The figure you win has to cover your expenses or else you’re making a net loss,’ says Dean. ‘That way you always have a rolling cushion to work with. However, I will always try and keep a full bankroll at any given site for the level that I play.’
2. Keep your living expenses separate from your poker bankroll. ‘This is essential,’ says Ward. ‘A poker bankroll is working capital. It’s like the stock of a market trader and must be respected as such.’
3. Treat your winnings as if it were a monthly salary. ‘My poker withdrawals are paid into an account that has a standing order set to send my “salary” to my current account on the 21st of each month,’ says Bowler. ‘Additional winnings are split between savings and investments and bankroll building to move up the levels.’
4. Use bankroll to its fullest potential. ‘There’s no point in having $100,000 in a poker account if you’re four- tabling $1/$2 no-limit,’ says Dean. ‘You will simply never be touching a large proportion of your roll. This money could be much better spent invested and earning interest, instead of making interest for whichever site you play at.’
5. It’s crucial that you don’t set yourself a win limit in a given session. ‘If it’s a profitable situation, you should keep playing as long as you are able,’ says Alex Scott. As for having a stop-loss, he rates them as technically ridiculous (because you should not be results- based), but cedes that it can be useful to ‘prevent players from going too seriously on tilt’.
‘Donald Trump said you should never spend more than a quarter of your income on rent or mortgage. I would add that your living expenses should be no more than half of the remaining three-quarters of your income. The last quarter should be invested or saved.’ John Tabatabai
STEP 3: DEALING WITH DOWNSWINGS
- Stay positive
- Take time off
- Drop down levels when necessary
Let’s get the bad news out of the way now: you will experience a downswing at some point in your nascent poker career. It doesn’t matter how good you think you are, there will come a time when you start wondering if it’s all worth it as you’re outdrawn on the river yet again.
Ward is unequivocal in his belief that it is your ability to deal with misfortune which will decide whether or not you can stay pro. ‘The best players will always play their best game and lose the minimum, while others will go crazy at the inequity of it all and lose their whole bankrolls.’
Dean explains it’s about having the right mindset. ‘You must stay positive and stick to the game plan. As long as you haven’t lost all your poker skills you will be able to play through it.’ He believes there are two equally valid practical solutions you can take:
A. Stop playing – as simple as that. Take a few days off to regain composure, analyse your game and look for leaks.
B. Drop way down the levels and get back to playing aggressive, confident poker without the worry of losing half a dozen buy-ins.
When you finally step back up to your usual level, try testing out Bowler’s downswing recovery system.
‘I filter my PokerTracker to hide all previous hands so that past results don’t enter into things. Then I set out to play 10,000 hands without making any mistakes. The win-rate doesn’t matter, but make sure each decision is sound – imagine you are going to have to defend every choice you made in the boardroom of The Apprentice.’
‘You have to keep a strong head at all times and not crumble due to a seemingly huge loss. Review each session rationally, try to improve your play and discuss strategy with better players. While you are on tilt, you are not a professional poker player – you are a professional gambler and donator. The professionals love to prey on weak players who go on tilt.’ John Tabatabai
You should also read Poker Player magazine every month, because it’s now free!