How Long Does it Take to Become a Professional Poker Player?

How Long Does it Take to Become a Professional Poker Player?
People often ask me how long does it take to become a professional poker player.

And as somebody who made a living as a poker pro for many years, I can provide some insight here on how long it takes for the average person to quit their job and be a poker pro.

But I must warn you that the amount of time to become a professional poker player is still going to vary tremendously from person to person depending on their skill level, work ethic and so on.

Nevertheless, I am going to break it all down for you in this article. Here is how long it takes for a typical person to become a professional poker player.

What is a Professional Poker Player?

I think before we even begin though, we do need to define what exactly a professional poker player is. Because many people get it confused.

A professional poker player is simply: 

Somebody who pays all or the majority of their bills and expenses with their winnings from the poker table, rakeback and any other poker related endorsements or revenue.

As I have mentioned many times on this blog before, all smart professional poker players these days have realized the need to create several streams of income through the game.

This is why you will see many poker pros streaming live on Twitch these days for example. They are essentially killing two birds with one stone here.

They are making money playing poker and creating an income stream through Twitch subscriptions/selling merch/affiliate deals etc, at the same time. 

The same principle applies for somebody who is a "sponsored pro" at a poker site. The famous poker pro Daniel Negreanu was a long time sponsored pro at PokerStars for example.

The poker site paid him to promote their brand while he plays poker. As a relatively unknown online poker pro, I have even had several sponsorship offers from well known poker sites myself.

So you don't need to be some world famous pro like Daniel Negreanu or Phil Ivey to do this. Anyways, I am not going to go into this any deeper in this article, because it is beyond the scope here.

But I did want to make it clear that most poker pros actually make a substantial part of their income away from the poker tables these days. 

Many people do not realize this.

A professional poker player is somebody who makes the large portion of their income from poker related activities, including playing poker, as well as sponsorships, branding and so on.

Those who do not branch out and just try to make it in today's (often tough games) with their poker table winnings alone, usually don't last.

Smart poker pros have multiple income streams, not just playing the game.

How Long Does it Take the Average Person to Become a Professional Poker Player?

So with that definition of a poker pro out of the way, let's get into the topic of how long it takes a typical person to become a professional poker player these days.

And I need to warn you right away, that this isn't going to be the answer that most people reading this want to hear.

But in my experience, it will take a bare minimum of one year for the average person to become a professional poker player. 

This is the amount of time it will take both to learn the game at a world class level, and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are a consistent winning player.

Many people rush into becoming a professional poker player these days because they ran hot at the poker tables for a few weeks/months and in some cases they hate their day job as well.

This is almost always a terrible idea because a few weeks or even a few months is not long enough of a time period to prove conclusively that you are a winning poker player.

In fact, as I have mentioned many times before on this blog, I think you need to play a bare minimum sample size of 100,000 hands before coming to any conclusions about your poker results.

Many people (most people actually) simply do not want to hear this. And that is fine, but it has absolutely no impact on the veracity of this statement.

The long run in poker is much, much longer than what most people think.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Professional Poker Player?

For many people who play online poker, playing 100k hands will take several months and for somebody who plays live, this might take them an entire calendar year.

But I have run the numbers over sample sizes in the millions in PokerTracker though over my 10+ year career as a pro.

And I am confident that 100k is the very minimum sample size I would even consider before making any real conclusions about my poker results.

And for me personally, I would play 500k hands, minimum, before deciding to make a life changing decision like becoming a professional poker player.

By the way, for reference, when I first turned pro in 2007, I had already played over 2 million hands of poker at that point in my career, with consistently dominating results.

Your Lifestyle and Expectations Are Big Factors

Now with all that said, I need to point out as well, that everybody has a different situation in life, different levels of expenses and so on.

A single guy living in a low cost city like Bangkok for example is going to have a much easier time becoming a poker pro faster than a guy (or girl) with a family in an expensive city like LA.

Why does this matter?

Because the lower your expenses, the lower the stakes you will have to play to make it as a pro. Lower stakes games are always much easier to beat and therefore you can become a poker pro much faster. 

You also have to factor in your lifestyle and how much you need to feel comfortable.

Are you cool driving a 15 year old Toyota or do you need to drive the latest BMW? Do you need to live in a luxury condo/huge house with a huge pool or can you get by in a small apartment?

These are all factors that will influence how long it takes for you to become a poker pro.

I have lived for as little as $500 a month before in a small city like Chiang Mai whereas when I go back to my hometown of Vancouver I could very easily spend $5000 per month.

Guess which city it's going to be easier for me to be a poker pro in?

Poker Pros Must Have a Large Financial Safety Net

You also need to factor in your savings and investments. I always suggest having a large rainy day fund of at least 6 months living expenses or reasonably liquid assets on hand.

This is completely separate from your poker bankroll and poker related expenses by the way.

The reason why you need this is because it does not matter how good you are, poker is a very swingy game and you will go through extended losing streaks at times.

You poker "salary" is not guaranteed, nor will you be receiving any benefits like medical, dental, retirement and so on that often come with a more traditional career path.

So this is why it is extremely important that as a professional poker player you are better prepared financially than the average person in case of emergency (liquid assets/savings). 

All of this is stuff that only you know the answers to, your cost of living, your lifestyle expectations, how many mouths you have to feed, your current savings/investments and so on.

This is why it is difficult for me to say how long it will take you to become a professional poker player. It might take 5 years for some people, it might take 5 months for another person.

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How Long Does it Take to Become a Professional Poker Player?
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How Can You Speed Up the Time it Takes to Become a Professional Poker Player?

Now with all of that said, there is some good news if your goal is to become a professional poker player in a shorter period of time.

And that is, you can speed up your learning curve towards becoming a professional poker player tremendously by investing in your knowledge and understanding of the game early on in your career.

For example, I have written several best selling poker books like Crushing the Microstakes which are specifically targeted at beginners to help them quickly crush the lowest stakes games.

There is even a 6+ hour video course that comes along with the book now where you can essentially just watch me play live while I crush my opponents and explain every single decision I make to you.

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By learning my proven strategies to crush these small stakes games you won't have to waste months or even years of your time like most people do, struggling to figure out how to even win in these games.

When you learn to start winning right from the very start you will also be much more motivated to continue learning more advanced poker strategies and climb up the limits even faster.

This is going to help the average poker player tremendously in achieving their goal of becoming a professional poker player much faster.

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Should You Hire a Poker Coach?

And if you still want to take your game even further after all of this, you can also consider hiring a personal coach. This is something that I used to do.

I have coached a lot of players in small stakes games in the past myself, 100+. And I have also hired high level technical and mental game coaches to help me improve my own game as well.

In fact, many of the top poker pros in the world do a bit of 1 on 1 coaching on the side these days (this is also an extra form of income like I mentioned above).

But this is also one of the absolute fastest ways to quickly improve your game. You are learning from the very best after all and getting custom advice from them as well, which is huge.

There is one big downside though. It won't be cheap!

Many of the top high stakes poker pros these days will charge $1000 or more per hour because their knowledge and understanding of the game is in extreme high demand.

Even hiring a coach for small stakes games is not cheap these days. 

Any qualified small stakes poker coach will charge at least $100 per hour. I do not personally coach anymore but I would charge a lot more than this if I did.

So the bottom line is that hiring a coach isn't cheap, but if money isn't an object for you, then this is the absolute fastest way to quickly improve your game and become a poker pro yourself.

Is It Easy for a Normal Person to Become a Professional Poker Player?

Now with all of that said, I must say that it is still going to be pretty difficult for a normal person to become a poker pro these days. 

Most will simply not succeed.

And one of the biggest reasons why is because the games are not nearly as easy as they were several years ago.

This is because there are many people out there now who take this game just as seriously as you do, and also work hard on improving their game away from the tables.

This is why game selection has become so crucial. You need to be paying a lot of attention to what tables and poker sites you are playing on these days

You need to make sure that you are actively searching for the "fish" (bad players) and playing as many hands against them as possible.

Because whether you are an amateur or a pro, the large majority of your profit in poker is always going to come from these players.

Don't make the mistake of consistently playing at tables full of other strong players! This is seriously one of the biggest mistakes that I see people making these days.

They just play on any poker site and hop on any poker table that suits their fancy. This is a total disaster and it is why they don't win.

You need to choose to play at the easy poker sites instead. Because if you consistently play against the weak players you will profit a lot more.

You also need to be chasing the fish around and making sure you are getting on their left. This is not earth shattering news to any poker pro reading this. In fact, they already know that it is part of the job.

Most amateurs totally miss this absolutely crucial part of the game though. If you don't take game selection seriously, your results in poker these days will suffer massively.

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Final Thoughts

So how long does it take to become a professional poker player these days? Well, I would say that for the average person, it will take at least a year.

This is because it is important to be sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are a long term winning player before deciding to go pro.

You can speed up the process by learning some advanced poker strategy.

But being a poker pro is not a decision you want to make rashly. Take your time and make sure that this is the right path for you to go down.

As somebody who has successfully done it for 10+ years, I know it can be tempting to want to take the leap as soon as you see some early success.

But believe me, this is a hard game to make it in. You need to make sure that you are ready, both from a technical understanding of the game, and from the mental side as well.

Because while the freedom and the money are both great parts of being a professional poker player, handling the swings is the most challenging part of it.

You can't learn that emotional and mental control over night. It takes time and experience. It is important to make sure that you are completely prepared.

You should also have a deep war chest of savings and investments (rainy day fund) which is totally separate from your poker bankroll and poker related expenses.

This is because poker is a very swingy game and therefore you need a large financial safety net to back you up during the extended losing streaks that all poker pros go through at times.

For the vast majority of people reading this article, I would recommend that you focus on creating a solid side income from poker while keeping your day job or staying in school.

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How Long Does it Take to Become a Professional Poker Player?