Don’t let the movies fool you. The life of a professional poker player is not all big tournaments and winning big pots. But that’s not to say it doesn’t have its glamorous moments, and there’s a certain freedom to basing your livelihood on playing games whenever you want.
Still, when you’re a professional poker player, playing the game becomes about more than just winning the hand. It starts to mean that if you lose the hand, bills do not get paid. Of course, I would never dissuade anyone from answering the call if professional poker is what they want to do.
Instead, I want to point out that playing professional is a job that has similar concerns as any other job. A lot of poker pros who are just starting out don’t always enter the profession with that mindset. They just want to play the game and worry about things like insurance and groceries some other time.
Fortunately, when you decide to go pro, that won’t be you. You’ll be prepared, because I’ll show you some things you must have as part of your poker playing career.
1 – Motivation
Starting off as a poker pro, you might not think that motivation would be something you need. However, there’s a lot more to the life of a poker pro than you see on television and, after a while, it can start to seem like a grind.
You’re going to need to be sure that when you’ve played 12 hours of poker on real money gambling sites, you can play a few more if you have bills due. You need to make sure that even as things aren’t going your way, you will still want to play.
Fortunately, motivation can be tested before starting life as a pro. Put yourself in a few extreme poker situations (playing for hours everyday after a day job or entering a marathon of tournaments) and make sure you always want to play. If not, just play for fun.
2 – Savings
If you’re considering the life of a pro, you probably know how much money you need to be successful in a given tournament. Now, you need to start thinking about exactly how much money you’re going to need to be successful in a tournament and still eat, pay rent, keep the gas on, etc.
How much any given pro needs to live varies based off of their lifestyle, whether there’s a spouse with their own income, etc. If possible, though, a poker player should look at what they’re doing as if they were starting their own business. Experts say you should have at least three months’ worth of expenses in the bank before starting on your own. That money does not include what you think you need to gamble.
We’ll talk more about poker bankrolls later.
3 – A Deep Understanding of Downswings
Every poker player hits a run of bad luck in the casino and online. There are some nights where no matter what, the slot machines keep coming up empty, the dealer keeps hitting 21 or you keep getting dealt 2-4 off suit as your hole cards.
Sometimes, these runs of bad luck last a night and sometimes, you start a downswing that can last for months. If you are playing at a friend’s house or for fun, you can always shrug off these runs of bad luck, stop playing, and come back to fight another day.
If you play poker for a living, you don’t get to just play when you’re on a heater.
Good professional poker players soon learn that downswings happen and they keep gambling because that’s their livelihood. Hopefully, they have a way to keep up their spirits and many will switch games for a bit for a bit of fresh air, but ultimately, they do play on because they understand downswings go away eventually.
4 – A Large Enough Bankroll to Survive Some Downswings
We said we would get back to talking about poker bankroll because it’s important that a poker pro’s bankroll be large enough to survive rotten luck without sacrificing their lifestyle. Certainly, there’s a give-and-take when it comes to funds for poker and funds for living, but you don’t want to dip too far into either one to pay for the other.
That’s why, when you’re figuring out how much money you need to save, think about the number of tournaments you plan to play in a given week and their fees, how much money you plan to deposit into online accounts, etc. That should give you a basic idea of how much playing poker is going to cost you.
Next, assume that you make absolutely no winnings for a period of time (e.g., two months). Hopefully, your savings can keep you fed, with gas in your car, and clothes on your back, but you need to take your weekly poker costs and multiply them by eight (or more) so that you have money to keep playing even when your luck goes south.
With that being said, practicing casino bankroll management is extremely important, no matter what kind of casino game you’re playing. So this applies to every player.
5 – Paying Taxes
That’s right. Poker pros pay taxes, too. Money earned as part of gambling is taxable, which means it’s as certain as death. Not including it in your financial plans can be deathly, too.
This can be partially offset by your gambling losses (which you will have), but you will still owe money at the end of the year.
To figure out how much you owe, if you have all the losses reported, poker pros would do well to hire an accountant to help them figure it all out. A financial planner can help, too. Unfortunately, both of those services cost money.
6 – Emotional Support
Great entrepreneurs who start businesses always talk about the need for a network. Great athletes have agents. Golfers have caddies. You get the picture.
Any professional poker player would do very well to find an emotional support network on which they can lean when times inevitably get bad. They’re also good for celebrating when things go right, too, but that’s another story.
In all seriousness, before becoming a professional poker player, you would do well to find people who genuinely care for you and want you to succeed in the profession. At the very least, find people who are willing to help you pick up the pieces when you’re in the midst of a downswing. This will keep your mind right and ensure you don’t tilt in the midst of a run of bad luck.
7 – A Good Laptop
If you’re going to do the professional poker thing, get used to the idea of playing online poker. Sitting at several different tables at once playing poker is the easiest and fastest way to ensure that a steady flow of poker winnings heads your way.
However, you cannot do that on a crap laptop that lags, locks up, or doesn’t get a clean connection to the internet. Even the best internet will sometimes glitch and those glitches can cause your poker client to time out or fold or do other things that don’t result in you winning money.
Therefore, good poker pros have good computers to get online and fast, clean, reliable internet to play online games.
First, I said it before, but I will reiterate—if you want to be a poker professional, absolutely go for it. It’s a life of freedom that few will ever enjoy in their careers. It can also turn into a life of adventure, travel, and lots of stories if you do it right.
However, the life of a poker professional isn’t all sun, fun, and playing high stakes games James Bond-style in Monaco. You have to grind, and you have to win or else the money goes away.
That’s why we wanted to highlight these things that people who go pro need but aren’t thinking about. It’s really difficult to add paying taxes to the fantasy of sitting final table at the World Series of Poker, but if you aren’t doing the one (pay taxes), you can’t do the other because the government will have some things to say.
Still, good luck. Keep these things in mind, and you can have a rewarding life as a poker pro.