Thursday, September 11, 2014

Becoming an Online Professional Poker Player

Becoming a professional poker player
photo by: http://jimmakos.com

Should I go pro? Is it possible to make a living playing poker?

These have to be some of the most common questions that I see on online poker forums. Unfortunately the answers are not always very good though because very few people actually play the game professionally (and therefore they do not know what they are talking about).

I have played poker professionally online for the better part of the last 10 years as documented on this blog. So I am going to attempt to tackle this question in this article.

First off though, I should say that I don't really consider myself to be an online professional poker player anymore even though most people still assume that I am. I am fine with this though after grinding for a living for so many years.

I don't want to say that burn out was the deciding factor in scaling back my play because I do still love this game and play it regularly for a side income. However it does seem that years and years of grinding can take its toll on some people. I have seen this with several others as well so I know that it is not just me.

Whether I go back to playing full time for a living again one day or not is a question that I will decide in the future but I can certainly discuss some of the benefits and drawbacks of "going pro" as somebody who has done it for nearly a decade. A lot of people who play this game think that playing online poker professionally would be the best job in the world and they dream of making it there some day. The truth, as usual, is somewhere in between.

There are a lot of great benefits to playing poker professionally on the internet such as the freedom to work from anywhere in the world such as beautiful Thailand which I now call home.

Another is the ability to set your own hours. I value these two things greatly and they were primary motivating factors for getting involved in this game in the first place.

However, dealing with variance (read: soul crushing downswings) is also a part of being an online poker pro that people rarely talk about. These downswings will happen to everybody and nobody is going to explain to you how to handle them or want to listen to your sob stories. You have to be able to battle through them and many people simply are not capable of this.

Being a professional poker player also requires a strong independent work ethic that you won't really understand until you work for yourself. I will discuss all of this and more below.

Overall I do not regret my decision to play online poker professionally at all. In fact it has had an incredibly positive impact on my life. Here is a recent video where I talk about how I got my start in the game.



There might be playback issues on some mobile devices. Here is the direct link.

In this article I am going to discuss what I learned about making it as an online professional poker player over the long haul. This will hopefully help you make a more informed decision on whether it makes sense for you or not.


The Attributes of an Online Professional Poker Player


Before I even talk about actually being a winner in this game (this is something that is kind of important if you want to be a professional poker player) I want to discuss the personality traits that are important to have. I think there are several personality traits that pretty much all professional poker players have in common. So much so that if you don't fit this fairly narrow profile then I don't think that you should even consider playing this game professionally. I am going to list them roughly in order of importance (in my opinion).

1) Emotional Control

The ability to control your emotions and be patient in this game is absolutely critical to your success. Many people are driven by impulse instead. They revert from the game-plan very easily and for no good reason at all. An online professional poker player needs to have the discipline to make the right decision regardless of how he feels at the time. The ups and downs in this game are never-ending. The professional is able to keep a clear head under pressure and make the right decision the large majority of the time .

2) Logical Decision Making

Logical decision making as it relates to poker is the ability to just kind of see the right action in many cases in this game. I believe that poker is much more rooted in logic than mathematics at a core level. This doesn't mean that you need to have college level logic in order to beat this game. It just means that you should be able to understand why certain plays are better than others intuitively for the most part. This skill is vitally important as you move up the stakes and need to be able to develop effective counter-strategies versus good opponents on the fly.

3) Work Ethic

You can go back through this blog and you will find that this was the one that I struggled with the most. When I quit my last "real job" back in early 2007 to go pro I thought that playing poker for a living would be the easiest thing in the world. After all, I was making double or triple what I made at my job all day in just the few hours that I played each night at NL50 or NL100. However, once I quit and became my own boss the will to play each day was not always there.

It wasn't that I didn't enjoying playing the game and making money. It was just that I would often find something that was a little bit more interesting at the time such as the latest Call of Duty game or going out with friends. While being your own boss is one of the most freeing and compelling reasons to become an online professional poker player, it can present some challenges as well because you will have no one to answer to except yourself. You have to be able to discipline yourself to set certain work hours and stick to them no matter what.

Personality Traits of an Online Professional Poker Player4) Independent

Internet poker in particular is very much a solo venture. Most people who play for a living spend hours upon hours every single day by themselves in front of a computer screen. You need to be the type of person who is ok with being alone for long periods of time (live poker is a bit different of course). This can prove to be a difficult thing for a lot of people. You don't need to be a total hermit/recluse in order to be a successful online poker pro. However, if you are the type of person that constantly craves social interaction then online poker for a living is probably not for you.

5) Gamble

While poker is absolutely a skill game in the long run there is a lot of luck in the short term. The person who is more willing to take calculated shots to chase a fish at a higher stake for instance is more likely to climb the limits faster and profit more. The same goes for moving up in general. Some people are way too conservative and it can really hold them back. Most really successful professional poker players have a small bit of degen in them and are not afraid of taking a shot when it makes sense.

6) Intelligence

Most professional poker players have above average intelligence. Everything that I have mentioned thus far kind of relies on this to a certain extent. People with higher intelligence will often have a wider perspective on things and thus an easier time controlling their emotions. They will also often be better at logical decision making, staying cool in stressful situations and being able to think independently.

It isn't 100% necessary to be strong in all of these areas in order to be an online professional poker player (#3 was a big struggle of mine and I am not very good at #5 either). However, in my experience most people who play this game for a living have strengths in most of them. It just makes more sense to already fit the profile rather than try to change who you are. After all, if playing poker for a living were easy then everybody would be doing it right?


Who Should NOT Play Poker Professionally?


Let's assume that you do in fact fit most of the categories above though. There are still some people who should stay away from this game at least at a professional level.

1) Focused on the Money

This is the #1 way that I know if somebody has what it takes or not. If the first thing they talk about is how much money they can expect to make then they will almost certainly fail. The most obvious reason why is because there is no precise answer to the question of how much money you are going to make! Games are always changing, everyone's skill set is different, some people are better at multi-tabling or table selection than others etc. Furthermore, there is massive variance in this game.

Trying to figure out your "hourly" is just silly. You should want to play this game professionally because you have a passion for it. That's it. If you are simply chasing the dollar, don't waste your time. Go be a doctor or a lawyer or get some other career where there is an average salary that is highly predictable. This isn't the way that it works in poker.

2) Married with Kids

I am going to be honest. I don't know anybody who is married, has kids, and plays online poker for a living. I am not saying that it is impossible. I know that there are people out there who do it. And I do know people who are married but without the kids who make it work. However, for fairly obvious reasons the large majority of people who play this game for a living are not in this situation. In fact the vast, overwhelming majority of online poker pros who I have met are single or just do some casual dating on the side.

3) In School

I always advise young poker players to finish their schooling before taking a shot at going pro in this game. The reason why is because even though everybody always thinks that they are different most people who choose to play online poker professionally will end up failing. This is just the cold hard reality. If you have a college degree to fall back on however, then your life will be much easier should poker not work out for you.

I was very lucky in this regard because I had just finished graduating from university around the time that online poker blew up (~2004). A lot of people have chosen to drop out of university/college since then because they felt that online poker was a better option for them. This was a bad decision for a lot of them. Poker will always be there when you are done with school. Believe me, it isn't going anywhere. Finish your degree first and then try out being an online professional if it is something that you have a passion for.


Online Professional Poker Players Win

Professional Poker Players are Long Term Winners


You need to be a winning poker player.

Duh right? However, this is a point that is lost on many people in their dreams of what life will be like as a professional poker player. The large majority of people who play this game will lose in the long run. Furthermore, it can take a very long time to overcome variance and say for certain that you are a winning player. In fact it can take upwards of 100k hands in order to say anything conclusive about your results. This can represent months of play for some low volume online poker players and could take a year or more for a live player to attain.

In addition to this, you should know that once you go pro you will begin to feel differently about the game. This isn't something that you will fully understand until you take the leap for yourself. I have played this game both full time and part time for long periods of time. When you have a regular paycheck coming in there is a lot less pressure placed on you. When you play professionally though your results will always be a little bit more important to you even if you have a large amount of savings. You can't pay the rent with poker losses.


Poker Pros Need Strong Finances 


People have often said that you should have at least 6 months living expenses saved up before you consider going pro in poker. I would say that at least one year is a better idea. And what this actually means in practice is that you take what you currently spend in a single month for all expenses (and add about 10% for emergency situations) and times this by 12. You should have this amount in a liquid account before you even consider going pro.

In addition to this you should have a bankroll that is suitable for the stakes that you currently play at. As an online professional poker player this should be on the conservative side as well. While as little as 20 buyins is fine for many recreational players, as a pro you should have more like 50 buyins for the limit you are playing. This ensures that there is little to no chance that you ever bust your bankroll and have to dip into your life funds.

These two sets of money are never to be mixed. Your bankroll is for poker and the money that you have in the bank is for your bills and living expenses.


Final Assessment and Trial Run


If becoming an online professional poker player is something that interests you, then you should do a trial run starting at the micros for upwards of a year before taking the leap. This means playing for a few hours every single night after work.

If you find that you are having success after this period of time, you have a deep passion for the game and the right situation in life, then give yourself 6 months to a year and go for it.

One of the biggest mistakes that most people make is simply jumping into professional poker just because they have been running hot for a few months. This is not enough of a sample size to confidently predict your long term results.

And also, as I have stressed throughout this article, there is so much more to being a professional poker player than showing up and playing some cards once in awhile. This is a real job that you need to take seriously each day.

Some other points that I did not even cover is that you need to be constantly updating your skills at the table and looking for ways to improve. This means reviewing your hand histories, studying the game by reading books, watching training videos and even getting coaching.


Perception of Others and Resume Gaps


There are a few other smaller things to mention that are part of being a professional poker player such as the perception of family and friends and resume gaps. I feel that both of these are fairly minor in importance overall though.

You will be the center of attention at parties when people find out what you do. Usually this will entail a bunch of stupid ignorant questions about how you can make a living playing a card game on the internet followed by a bunch of bad beat stories or hair-brained advice on how to play.

You need to realize that as a professional poker player you will still appear like an alien to most members of the general public. The ignorance surrounding this game is still vast and it will take a long time to change. When the questions come just play along and even make jokes about it. Never get into long drawn out debates about the nature of the game. My policy now when people try to convince me that poker is a game of luck is to simply agree with them and move on.

As for the resume gap thing, well I think that most long term successful poker players won't have to worry about this anyways. If they have the rare ability to survive in this game over the long term then they are probably capable of starting up plenty of other successful ventures on their own as well.

Those who don't make it playing poker professionally (or those who did but simply decided that it is not for them anymore) should not worry too much about the resume gap in my opinion. I would just be totally honest and put professional poker player on my resume. Somebody in a management role who is too close-minded to at least understand this on some level is probably not somebody who I would have any interest in working for anyways.


The Bottom Line


Playing poker for a living is one of the hardest ways to make an easy living. It definitely isn't for everybody. Most who try will fail, this is just simply the reality of the situation.

However, for a select few who are willing to work extremely hard and constantly adapt and improve with the ever-changing landscape of the game, it can be a highly profitable and great way to make a living.

Make sure to pick up my free ebook which will teach you the strategy that I have used to crush the micro stakes for some of the highest winrates ever recorded in online poker.


Let me know your thoughts below about the whole "going pro" thing. Have you ever considered it? If you have made the leap what has your experience been like so far?

If you enjoyed this article please "Like" or "Tweet" it below!

blackrain79 - micro stakes strategy

33 comments:

  1. Hey Nathan, I got to say that I was just thinking about this same subject today. It's good that someone who knows about it took the time to tell the cold hard true about this. Personally I love the game and I'm trying to improve and get better at it, I've even thought about what it would be like to have it as a side job when the time comes. Hope that one day I'll use poker to pay for more that dinner and some video games on discount from time to time :P

    Anyways... Thanks for the blog and also waiting for your next videos about crushing the micros on Youtube :D best of lucks!

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    1. Thanks Jorge. Glad it helped. I always try to give people the good and the bad when I discuss subjects like this on my blog and let the reader decide. Professional poker is great for some people and not a good idea for others. Playing semi-professionally as I do now has many pros and cons also. Maybe I will write about that some day.

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    2. HI nathan just passing by to say how much i m gratefull.inspiring indeed.
      (imagine having your nowadays skill when playng online in 2005...huh nevermind)

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  2. The advices you give are very helpful. Thanks for spending time to write so many things about poker. I believe that the whole thing is useful even to people who aren't involved with poker, not to mention us who have poker into our lives every single day. Are you going to start coaching again sometime?

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    1. Thanks panagiotis, glad you enjoy my blog! I may resume coaching later this year. I can send you an email if you want when that happens. You can send me your email at blackrain79@dragthebar.com

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  3. Man, feels like you wrote this article just for me cuz I'm thinking of going pro and moving to Thailand or S/E Asia next year so this really gives me a true perspective. This is the most helpful thing I read recently so keep it up!!
    Maks

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  4. thanx for sharing very useful and interesting info....it helps me to knw more about poker game.

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  5. Its just amazin man!!! I take the leap just 20 days ago and I follow this instructions before I read it!! I just get logical and prepare myself for a living like 10 months ago... now this is a reality for me, and read this is just epic! I will be a winner, but the road is hard, but with discipline I will get all! Thank you so much man, and I start to read you so much

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    1. Thanks Juan, hope things are going well!

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  6. Muchas gracias por tu aporte. Ya leí "Aplastanod los microlímites" (Excelente!). Te siguiré desde Salsipuedes, Córdoba, Argetnina.

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  8. Wow! I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed your advice and the brutal honesty about the game on a PRO level. I can only imagine the actual hardship, struggle and criticism necessary to make this a kind of dream a reality. After reading your article, I will definitely be tackling the micro tables on the side to see if this is right for me. Thank you so much for taking the time to set us straight on all the misconceptions about this career choice. I Hope you continue to find success on the tables.

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    1. Thank you Kameron, glad I could help!

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  9. Hi Blackrain, i'm from Argentina and I consider a myself a intermediate poker player, I'm 23 and I always dreamed about living playing poker when I was younger (15 years and so on). I read a lot when young but never had the chance to play with real money in an online site (because no credit card, or even age to play). Today after one month of depositing on stars 25 bucks and reaching 60 with all the bonuses, I'm trying to succeed at the micros. Your site is helping me a lot, because it's specially focused on microstakes, however, after a few days (only 1000 hands) I lost more than I won, and I'm a little scared of keep losing my small bankroll. My question is, given my $60 BR, do you think it's better to play small normal SnG to try reach a more confident number, say $100 to then play cash games with more room? I know 1000 hands are nothing, but again, maybe if I keep losing due to a bad streak I could lose my BR. Again, sorry for the long post, but this may be a big change in my life (I think I have potential to be a big player in poker), and thank you very much for giving us this posts, you are great.

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    1. i would play sng thers a weaker competition and yu ll be heads up with luckbox or mediocre player just like in mtt more often than when playing heads up or shorthanded cash game table.....also i find myself tilting way less than in CG.(one thing with the push or fold mode is that yu will put some badbeat too i think its was reducing that injustice feeling that i had lol)

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    2. Thank you for responding, I've choosen to study sng theory, and I find to suit my play style better, also I've noticed that for the moment I have a positive result in sng and negative in Cash, so I will beat first low limit sngs and then when I have more BR try again in cash (also I will be more confident).

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    3. Thanks Paco, I am glad that my posts are helping you. My advice is to play the format that you enjoy the most. And it is all about the long run no matter which one you choose. 1k hands is meaningless. All the best.

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  10. hi nathan ty for all this greta teaching..by the way who would buy yu playmoney back then??

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    1. Thanks, glad to help. There were, and maybe still are, websites that buy play money.

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  11. Good stuff man, just found your site and digging it so far. Been living in Thailand for 12 years now, recently getting back into poker more seriously. Do you play in any casual games around CM? Just wondering what kind of community there is here. Thanks for spreading the wisdom! -Colin

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    1. Thanks Colin! Glad you like the site.

      There is a big online poker community in CM. I don't know much about any local live games though.

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    2. Hey Nathan, thanks for the quick response, good to hear! Do you know of any sort of meetups/groups/etc? Always looking to meet new people. Thanks again!

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    3. Hey Colin, There is a big Skype group with a ton of poker players that I used to be in. Also, many poker players in CM and Thailand post on 2+2 in the big thread for it in the travel section. Meetup.com is another good way to meet people, although not necessarily for poker.

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    4. Thanks Nathan, good info. I'm not a pro and never have been, just curious about what the lifestyle is like for those who are. From what I've read so far it seems like a lot of not very glamorous grinding haha. Checked out 2+2--thanks for that. Overall tone was a bit....uh, degenerate, but maybe that's not representative of the whole. Anyway, thanks again for the suggestions and these articles. Maybe I'll run into you around town one day--I'd be happy to buy you a beer and some of your views on things! Cheers, Colin

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    5. No prob. Ya, don't take that 2+2 thread too seriously. I personally haven't read it in years. It definitely doesn't represent most people here. It can sometimes be useful for information. But it is better to just search the thread than to read through all the degen nonsense. Grinding definitely isn't always glamorous work and it can be very time consuming also. There are certainly plenty of people grinding low stakes who just scrape by because of the ridiculously low cost of living in Thailand. But I have met several who play mid/high stakes and live the good life as well.

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    6. add me on skype colin! jkayskype1
      im also in thailand !
      cheers :)

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  12. I Love your work, I didn't buy the first book (crushing the microstakes) because I had already beat the nl2 and nl5 by the time I started reading your site/blog (about 3 weeks ago), but the second book is really good and I loved it, I hope you continue with your posts. Thanks for all the help!

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    1. Thanks for the kind words Vinicius and I am glad that my book helped!

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