Ready to play?

While you may be sick of the nine-to-five grind, have you really got
what it takes to go pro? We get the low-down from the
players who have done just that and are living the dream

If you don’t have a big enough bankroll, you’re going to be under pressure. And if you’re under pressure, you won’t play your optimal game

You might have seen them on TV – louche yet cool pros playing god over a mountain of chips and gambling more money in one hand than you’ve seen in your lifetime. It’s a seductive lifestyle, but if you’re tempted, it’s time to come back down to earth. Being a successful pro could well be the most difficult thing you ever try to do.

What do you need to be a poker pro? Firstly, you need to be very, very good. If you’re serious about turning pro, you should already be keeping accurate and detailed records of your play over time. Are you registering a healthy upturn in your current bankroll each and every month? That’s the first step in what can be a long and perilous journey.

It’s something Birmingham-based poker pro Marc Goodwin can attest to.He’s been playing high-stakes poker for about 30 years with the likes of Devilfish, Dave Colclough and Lucy Rokach.He tried to make it as a pro, but with four children to support, he found he had to get a steady job, and sold conservatories and windows for a living. That is, until theMonte CarloMillions tournament in 2005. ‘I was down to the last 15 when my boss phoned me up and said, “This isn’t working – we’re going to have to let you go.”’

For Goodwin, this would have been a major blow if he hadn’t gone on to post a third-place finish, picking up $325,000 on top of a sponsorship deal from USA Poker. That was a life-changing event for him and he maintains he wouldn’t be able to survive on the live tournament circuit without sponsorship. ‘I’m sixth or seventh in the European rankings this year so far, andOmaha number one’, he says. ‘My total winnings for the year are $180,000 and my total expenses are $182,000. Don’t get me wrong: I’m $180,000 in front because my sponsor pays everything. Otherwise, I’d be in the top ten in Europe and in the red.’


However, trekking around the live circuit isn’t the only way to change your lifestyle, and the poker world is full of stories of stayat- home millionaires making a living from playing online. For a young university graduate with no commitments, there’s little to stop you throwing $100 into an account and spending a month trying to build a bankroll. It has an immediacy that’s hugely tempting: you can literally change your life overnight.

For British pro David ‘Pommo’ Pomroy, it was his own worries that were holding him back.He was working as a civil servant and wanted to go pro, but kept ‘bottling it’. Then a close friend passed away and he decided life was too short to prevaricate any longer. He jumped ship and was lucky enough to start winning immediately.

Pommo plays around 30 hours a week and worked his way steadily through the levels. He says that the hardest part about being a pro is that he never knows what he’s going to make in a particular month. ‘I’ve got a target that I set as a minimum and I usually make that and more, but you always know there could be a cold run round the corner.’


As a pro, your bankroll is the most important part of your life: if you’re not sponsored, it’s your only means of earning money. How much of a bankroll do you need to turn pro? It depends on who you ask, where you want to play and what sort of life you want to live.

Matt Broughton quit his job as European marketing director for Midway in August 2005 and hasn’t worked a day in the office since. He plays around 20-25 hours a week and supplements his earnings with various poker-related business ventures. ‘It’s not so much about your poker bankroll, more about your real-life finances. If you have ‘real life’ covered for a few months, you can start with anything.’ Pommo reckons you can get by on a few grand if you’re careful, but you’re not going to be travelling anywhere, and you’re going to be frequenting the low-stakes cash tables online.

What’s certain is that if you don’t have a big enough bankroll, you’re going to be under pressure. And if you’re under pressure, you won’t play your optimal game. Ideally, as well as your poker bankroll, you should have other assets that you can use to live on.

For Goodwin, the ability to face the fact that you’re likely to lose your bankroll is an essential attribute of a new pro. ‘Whatever level you’re playing at, I don’t care who you are or how good you think you are, you’ll lose money getting good. And if you do make money early on, you’ll lose it all. I know four young players who won a million plus on the internet and did the lot. They had won it by 19 and done it by 19.’

Back in the real world, you need to be disciplined to avoid going bankrupt, and you need to be able to keep your head in the face of a bad run of cards or a crippling loss. If you’re struggling at a certain level, you need to know when to back down.

If, however, you’ve read everything so far and you’re still determined to make it work, you might just have the characteristics you need to survive – nerve, guts, dedication, discipline, patience and a willingness to gamble. And if you can make it work, it’s a life without peer. ‘I love poker’, says Goodwin. ‘You live like a millionaire. You may not be a millionaire, but you live like one. I don’t know anything better.’


If you’re committed to the cause, be realistic and think hard about what you’re doing before you give up your job. Have a safety net of three months’ worth of rent, food and bills before you begin. Keep an accurate book on yourself and be honest. Take a couple of weeks off as holiday – this will give you a good idea of whether you’re happy with your new life. And then read Shut Up & Deal, Jesse May’s searing narrative on the hand-to-mouth existence of a poker pro. If you’re still up for the ride and you pass the questionnaire above, you may go with our blessing.

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