Steps to Becoming a Professional Poker Player
The gaming world has changed a lot in the last couple decades and many of us have had an early exposure to e-gaming and computer gaming in general. With this in mind, it makes sense that people would want to turn their clicking skills into a sustainable source of income. Money rules the world, right?
Poker is something that definitely affords that opportunity, especially because so many of the people playing online aren't putting in that extra effort; they're not interested in becoming better players. They just want to click buttons and get their fix. Not like you.
If you want to become a pro, you’re interested in being the best – namely, your best.
‘Your’ is the operative word here. ‘The’ best is not only a subjective standard, but it’s also impossible for everyone to be the zenith. Players who want to make a living off their playing should embrace one truth: it's OK not to be number one.
There, I said it.
Unless you can accept that, you’re likely to burn yourself out and run yourself into the ground. It's almost guaranteed. Just think about it: if you get to be a winner, and make money doing what you love, then what's the harm in being number ten? Number 100? Number 1000? Your passion will still be your profession, and that's the key. You need to ditch the uber-aggressive and ultimately cripplingly mentality that if you're not first, you're last. This is world-class BS, and it isn't going to help you get ahead. Certainly not in the long-run. Just be the best YOU can be; don't worry about being that over-arching best. This ideal will paralyze you. It's a nice ideal to have, but it’s simply not something everyone will be able to do. Much like in the movie Highlander, “There can be only one”, and that may or may not be you.
So how do you become a professional poker player?
1. Educate Yourself. Knowledge is power. You have to read, study, read and study some more. If you think there is nothing more you can learn, look harder, look deeper. Watch players you admire - just don't let the learning process stop. You will probably find one kind of learning that works best for you (e.g. watching videos, reading, talking with other players), and you should definitely focus on that one, but don’t totally exclude the others. They will help round out your learning.
2. Get Exposed. I've said it once and I'll say it again: there's no substitute for experience. Abstract learning is great, and it’s part of your arsenal of knowledge, but it isn't enough on its own. You're going to have to get out there, get dirty and get your quota of wins and losses. In short, you’re going to have to learn hard. I'm not only talking about learning about the game, but about how other people work, and perhaps most importantly, how you work. Knowing yourself - both your strengths and weaknesses - is going to be one of your ultimate edges. Poker is a game of imperfect information, so you won't know for sure what cards your opponents hold, or what cards are left in the deck, but you can sure as hell know yourself. It may take some time to get a handle on how you operate (and operate best) but if you log enough hours at the table, you'll find your stride.
3. Practice, Practice, Practice. Making a profit at the tables is harder than it was three to five years ago, but it's also easier to get caught up. Software makes it easier to multi-table and it's likewise easier to get those reps in. Think of body-building - or fitness training in general. No matter how many books a fledging builder reads, or movies he watches, he's still going to have to get out there and put in the time - time and time again. Sure, he can take supplements (which would be the equivalent of using poker software) or hire a personal trainer (which would be the equivalent of hiring a poker coach), but blood, sweat and tears need to come for real results. To get skilled in poker, you are going to have to play a lot of QUALITY hands before the theories and strategies become second nature. You don't want to rush it; much like the aspiring body-builder, pushing too hard, too fast will cripple you.
4. Review, Refine, Repeat. Let's go back to the fitness example. Yes, you want to put your time in at the gym, but the growth - the real magic happens - when you're giving yourself time to rest, refuel and reflect. You need to look at where you're struggling, where you could be stronger, then you have to find a way to plug those leaks. Every time you plug a leak, you get better and more dangerous as a player. Every time you play, you give yourself a chance to identify those leaks, address them, and get stronger. Don't underestimate the value of self-reflection.
5. Find Your Sweet Spot. Live and online poker are two completely different beasts, and there's no way of knowing where you'll excel until you try them both. In general, I'd expect gamers to do better online and any sort of people-persons to do better live. To maximize your earn, I'd recommend doing both; using online poker to refine your game, since it allows you to get in your reps - and then use live games to cash-in on weaker players. Just remember: patience and some degree of social grace are required to excel in live games.
6. Get the Money. The money's on the table and it's waiting for a skilled player to come get it. Identify where your edge is the sharpest and the biggest, then start playing. The way money is made in this game is to find your edge and apply, apply, apply over and over again. Just don't go for the kill every time. No one wants to play with blood-thirsty machine. Poker needs to be a game of renewable income, and if you establish yourself a reputation for being a merciless killer, then no one's going to want get in with you. Translation: you'll be the loneliest kid in the schoolyard, my friend.
7. Keep an Open Mind. Be willing to try new things and opportunities. You never know what you may fall in love with if you don't at least try it. Money is great, but it’s not everything. The poker you're playing needs to provide you with a level of happiness that money just can't buy. If you aren’t feeling the love, or if the love is dwindling, then seek out new (or semi-new) kinds of games. In other words: spice it up!
Written by Evan Jarvis, lead instructor for Gripsed Poker Coaching