Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Professional Poker Player Lifestyle

The Professional Poker Player Lifestyle
It isn't this!
Many people picture the professional poker player lifestyle as one of fame, riches, Bentleys and private jets. Maybe for a handful of live players running really good in tournaments of late. Or for another handful of nosebleed online players who are at the top right now. But this is just not the reality for the vast, overwhelming majority of people who play this game for a living or as a side income.

Their poker lifestyle is one that you are probably more familiar with from your own day to day life. It is one of hard work, sacrifice and commitment. Sure, there is the freedom to set your own schedule that comes along with being a professional poker player but be careful what you wish for in this regard. Many people use this as their ticket to just be lazy all day. I know this because I did it myself for many years! Make no mistake you have to put in the work if you want success in this game and a lot of that work is actually done away from the poker tables.

Winning at poker does not just revolve around the decisions that you make once you sit down at the tables. How you manage your life away from the tables can actually have a much bigger impact on your results than you might think. I think there is a changing of the guard coming with online poker players at least. It is a very competitive environment these days and the best know that you can no longer half ass it and expect great results.

Work Ethic

First off, everything starts with work ethic. If you can't get yourself to sit down and play each day (or at least most days) then you are never going to make it in this game. Playing poker professionally or semi-professionally requires dedication and the ability to play even when you don't feel like it. And there will be many days when you don't feel like it for a variety of different reasons. You have to be able to cut through all that and get yourself going.

Eric Thomas (a now famous motivational speaker who I have followed for years) likes to talk about just showing up. Just showing up is half the battle. Many people "go pro" and think that they will love playing every day forever. It will be so easy. Wait until you hit that 100k+ hand soul ripping downswing. Then tell me how much you feel like playing. Wait until you are burnt out from months or years on end of mass multi-tabling and the new Call of Duty has just been released.

You are your own boss and you need to be able to force yourself to show up on these days. Just because you have this "freedom" to determine your own hours does not mean that you get a license to abuse it. You would never do this at any regular job and it needs to be the same with poker. 

Make Time to Play Poker

If poker is a serious part time or full time pursuit to you then it needs to come first before anything. One of the best ways to help yourself in this regard is to set a regular schedule each day for when you play. I find that my mind is the sharpest in the morning and I also live in Asia and so that is when the games are the best. So I tend to simply schedule my poker sessions for first thing in the morning. Some people are different and prefer midday or nights though. It doesn't matter, just set a schedule and stick to it.

Make Time to Study Poker

I recently talked about how to conduct a poker session review and a database review. You need to schedule time for these each week as well. I prefer to make some time for each of these in the afternoon on weekends. I will review hands or entire sessions from the previous week and look into ways to improve my overall game. During a couple of week nights I will make time to watch and take notes on a training video, read and take notes on a poker book or catch up on some poker strategy forums and post hands. 

Taking Care of You

Poker is not like a regular job. You can't just show up and run through a bunch of mundane tasks that you were told to do while checking Facebook. Poker requires constant focus and attention to detail. It requires you to be mentally sharp and prepared at all times. In order to consistently be in this state we need to work harder than most people on taking care of our mind and body. This is an area that I think a fair number of elite level serious online grinders are starting to wake up to. However, the large majority are still woefully inadequate.

Being prepared both physically and mentally requires three things above all else: a healthy diet, regular exercise and a good nights sleep. I don't want to go too much into detail on any of these because you have probably heard it all before, but I can tell you from firsthand experience that this stuff really does work! So I will have a bit to say.

Eat for Performance

First off, simply don't allow yourself to buy crap at the grocery store or market. If you load up your fridge with fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats then that is what you will eat. Secondly, cut out the fast food and soda drinks completely. Nobody serious about their life in general (let alone poker) needs to be eating that garbage. There are plenty of healthy options out there if you are in a rush that does not include a big mac, fries and a sugar bomb drink.

We all enjoy eating. It is one of life's greatest pleasures but you have to remember that what we eat affects us deeply on so many levels, especially mentally. In a game like poker that requires multi-tasking, fast and accurate decision making and steady emotions neglecting this area is just crazy. I choose to eat for performance in life for the most part. This doesn't mean that I don't occasionally "cheat" and have some pizza or ice cream but it is very rare. Remember that these are momentary pleasures. My health, the clarity of my mind and achieving my goals in life and at the poker table are much more important.

Get Active

The Professional Poker Player Lifestyle
Regular exercise is another big key. I know from meeting a lot of poker players here in Thailand that many of them workout and/or do cardio regularly. I have also done this for years and the benefits are just huge. The biggest key is getting yourself to do something that you like. I am a naturally athletic person so this is not difficult for me but I know that plenty of people just don't like to do physical things that much. Well, there must be something that you enjoy doing!

How about joining a rowing club and being out on a beautiful lake early in the morning while getting some exercise? How about hitting the pool more often? Who doesn't like swimming? How about buying some cheap tennis rackets and learning how to play with a friend? One of my personal favorites is mountain biking. Descending down a beautiful mountainside and breathing in that fresh crisp air can be an awe-inspiring experience. The key thing is to just get out there and do something that you enjoy and then it won't seem like work to you. Getting in shape does not require endless hours on a treadmill.

Get Enough Sleep

I am pretty bad at this one I must admit. And I know that a lot of people suffer from some form of insomnia at least once in awhile. I think the key is just learning how to shut your brain off. I know that this is my biggest problem when lying awake at night. Some things that help me hit the mental off switch are to meditate before bed, take a hot shower or read a boring but useful book.

Poker is a Business

From the above it might seem that the poker lifestyle is a bit on the boring side. What happened to all of the partying at the hottest clubs and sipping cocktails on exotic beaches all day? Well, the lifestyle of your typical online poker professional is a lot different from this in reality. Don't get me wrong, there is a time and a place to go a little bit wild but if you really want to get real results in this game then you need to treat it like a business.

The real truth about becoming a professional poker player is that it is a lot of hard work and sacrifice. This is why so many people try it and fail. They only think about the freedom part. They forget that it entails just as much responsibility (way more in my opinion actually) than a regular job especially if you want to be highly successful.

I just hit the 7 year anniversary of when I quit my last "real job" but believe me it has not been all roses and sunshine. It took me years to start taking this game as seriously as I should and start putting in the work. I scraped by in those early years but I could have accomplished so much more.

Having big dreams about poker is great. The are many awesome things about playing poker professionally that I didn't even get a chance to touch on in this article. I am so happy and blessed to have found this game. But understand that this is also a very demanding job that most people are simply not cut out for. You really have to want it.

As they say, and no truer words were ever spoken about it, "poker is a hard way to make an easy living."

Let me know in the comments what the professional poker lifestyle means to you. If you enjoyed this article please "Like" or "Tweet" it below!

The Professional Poker Player Lifestyle


  1. Very interesting and really helpful post! Thank you, Nathan

  2. This is very similar to what John Little talks about in his webinars.

    1. Interesting. I don't really know much about him because he is MTT's and I am cash games. However, it's all all the same grind at the end of the day.

    2. very good read, Nathan.
      I just saw in an email Jonathan Little is going to be coming out w/ a cash game book (published by D&B) this summer. available as a pre-order now on Amazon.
      his book Positive Poker, being about the mental game, should apply to all forms of poker, I guess. I have not read that one yet.
      I'm looking forward to YOUR next book.
      note I did not say "patiently". ;-)
      any estimate on when you will be bringing it out?
      not trying to rush you, of course, just curious.

    3. Thanks ekw,

      I have been working on it a lot lately. It has been a monumental struggle to write it and I am finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Clearly I am terrible at deadlines as I said that it will be released nearly 4 months ago but I do believe that it will be soon. Hopefully within one month.

  3. hi blackrain.this question is not so much about the post but about poker in a general way.i play at 888 but due to the ridicolous rake and rakeback and the innability to mass multi table(max number of table is 6) im considering moving to pokerstars.right now i have 79 dollars which covers the buy ins for 2nl.what are your opinions?i want to hear from another before i make this change

    1. I have never played on 888 so I have no opinion on that network. Pokerstars is a great site. Played on it for years and years, never have a bad thing to say.