Many players dream of making the leap to pro poker. What could be better than quitting your day job to make a living doing something you love? Professional poker players get to choose when they work and they also have considerable freedom as to where they work. Some work the live poker tournament circuit, while others earn good money playing online poker. But it takes more than first-rate poker skills to turn pro. Exceptional commitment, discipline and financial savvy are required to not only survive but also thrive in the high-variance world of professional poker. Are you cut out for the job? Let’s take a closer look at how to become a poker player professional.
What Does It Mean To Be a Professional Poker Player?
People often use the word “pro” quite loosely when talking about poker, so it’s important to distinguish between recreational players who occasionally cause an upset with their mad poker skills and bona fide professional poker players. A good example of the former would be Massimiliano “Max” Martinez, a medical student who famously took a chunk of Phil Hellmuth’s stack in the Big Game poker show with an impressive river call. But Martinez doesn’t feature on the circuit anymore, whereas top pros such as Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu and Justin Bonomo continue to earn a fortune.
So what does it mean to turn professional? Quite simply, a poker pro is somebody who pays their bills and expenses with their poker winnings. For some, that can mean grinding for $2,000 a month in micro-stakes cash games. For others, it’s the lifestyle of the rich and famous. Savvy players will, however, supplement their winnings with rakeback and other poker-related revenue streams such as sponsorships, endorsements, live streaming subscriptions, merchandise, affiliate deals and so on. Some of the best players have also founded poker coaching sites (Doug Polk’s Upswing Poker would be an example.)
Step 1: Hone Your Poker Skills
The first stage on the long and grinding road to pro poker is to get really good at the game. Study poker strategy, learn the ins and outs and figure out how to bluff and detect when others are bluffing. Play as many types of people as you can. Take part in intensely competitive games so you can get used to the anxiety of playing under pressure. When you run up against a stronger opponent, find out what your weakness is and play until it goes away.
Also, play as many types of poker as possible. In addition to Hold ’em, learn Omaha and Seven Card Stud. The more variants you understand, the more your skills will improve. As you improve, be sure to keep track. Record the results of at least 1,500 hours of play so you can see how much money you’re losing, see how much you’re actually making (so you can determine how much to bet and how much you need to play) and understand your leaks (the patterns behind your weaknesses.)
Stage 2: Manage Your Money
Financial management is key to being successful in poker, and it starts with working out a budget. How much money do you need to make every month financially steady? It could be $5,000 or it could be $50,000 – everyone is different. The answer will determine the kind of stakes you’ll need to play for.
Once you’ve got your budget figured out, it’s time to calculate your bankroll. There are two main types: Limit and No Limit. To work out your Limit Poker bankroll, multiply your big bet by 300. Say you’re playing $10/$20 stakes. With $20 as your big bet, you would need a bankroll of $6,000. Assuming you play 40 hours a week and win at least one big bet an hour, you’ll earn $800 a week. Not enough money? Increase the size of your big bet and enlarge your bankroll accordingly. In this case, doubling your big bet to $40 would call for a $12,000 weekly bankroll, with a projected income of $1,600 a week.
When it comes to your No Limit bankroll, a common rule of thumb is to have enough money for at least 20–30 maximum buy-ins. For example, a $200 max buy-in game would suggest a bankroll of $4,000 to $6,000.
Building your bankroll is really important at the start of your professional journey because you need it for betting and buy-ins. Not everybody has $12,000 lying around, but you can work your way toward it by setting aside half your winnings every time you win a game until you reach your goal.
Stage 3: Work Your Way Up
Once your bankroll is ready, it’s time to make some serious money. To do so, participate in cash games and tournaments with stakes and buy-ins you can afford. Visit your regional casinos and take a look at the many online poker tournaments out there. Always stay realistic about your financial situation and skills. Slow and steady is the way to go in this race. Be especially careful of big tournaments such as the World Poker Tour with its $10,000 buy-in. That doesn’t mean they’re out of reach, as satellite tournaments often offer tickets to big events as prizes.
Assuming your efforts meet with success, work your way up to bigger and better cash games and poker tournaments. Work the connections you make along the way to keep up to date with the poker world and find lucrative opportunities. Eventually, you should be making enough money to quit your day job. When you reach that stage, poker is literally your life. Pretty soon, if you’re good enough, you may find opportunities to teach, get sponsored, write a book or start your own website.
The Time It Takes
So we’ve answered the question of how to become a professional poker player – but how long exactly does it take? There’s no fixed way to answer this except to say that it depends on how fast a learner you are. Super quick learners who play at least three hours a day, read up on strategy daily, subscribe to training sites, watch and read strategy videos and articles daily, post hand histories for review in strategy forums and use tracking software to find the leaks in their game can achieve a positive win-rate within three to six months.
If you lack the time or money to put in such an intense effort, never fear. Hard workers who can put in 10 hours of poker a week, think logically about their decisions and read about poker strategy when time permits – basically, players who work as hard as they can to improve their game often become winning players within 12 months. The important thing is to stay grounded and not burn out. While some famous poker players went pro straight from college, most of us have to maintain a balance between our poker ambitions and the demands and responsibilities of daily life.
Play More Online Poker at BetMGM
Whether you’re working your way up to pro poker status or simply looking for recreation, register at BetMGM. We offer every opportunity for you to improve your game, from cash games with buy-ins to suit every bankroll to daily, weekly and monthly poker tournaments with great prizes. Meet like-minded players and have a good time while playing a game you love at BetMGM!