Considerations Before You Become a Professional Poker Player
Playing poker professionally is a dream for many poker players. Being your own boss while you are able to travel the world, make your own hours, and play a game you enjoy for a living seems almost too good to be true. There are many obvious benefits to being a professional poker player and this article is about making the transition from a serious amateur to a hardcore professional. What are some things you need to consider?
Passion For the Game
You might have seen me mention passion or desire or drive for learning and playing poker throughout this site and I will list it again in this article. Before deciding to turn pro, make sure that you have the passion and drive to play for several months to years. You have to really enjoy poker and this passion will help drive your work ethic for studying, working on your game, and treating poker like a business. This should be #1 on your check list before going professional. Do not be a professional poker player if you are seeing this simply as a means to an end or you are looking for some quick, easy cash. If you do not have the passion to study and put in significant hours, then professional poker is not for you.
Steady Win rate and Proven Winnings
The first and most important thing to consider when deciding whether or not you should go pro, make sure that you have a valid sample and a solid win rate while playing poker. This does not mean that you should go professional because your last 100k hands showed an impressive winrate. If you play online, make sure that you have at least a few hundred thousand hands (if not many more) before making this decision to go pro. If you are playing live poker, make sure that you have thousands of hours (not that this is a large sample in terms of hand count).
Proven winnings are a very important part of your decision. You need several months (if not years) where you show clear winnings- winnings that you can live comfortably with. This is even harder for MTT players, where one can have huge winnings in a single month and then no winnings for the next year. Generally, the lower the winrate, the higher the swings you will encounter.
Tips: Have at least a 3bb/100 winrate for the limit you are playing (50NL minimum) and have at least a 500k hand sample to back that up. I would heavily recommend that you are playing at least 100NL when living in Western countries and at least 50NL when playing professionally in cheaper areas such as Asia.
Where to Live?
Choosing your location is a very big decision in being a professional poker player. Cost of living will play a huge role in a job where your winnings can vary each and every month (the higher the swings, the more savings you should have). Furthermore, taxes, government regulation, site availability, and banking policies are all big factors.
If you are traveling and playing poker abroad (online), you should have at least 6 months of life expenses saved up and 100 buy ins for your current limit/stakes that you play. For MTTs, I would suggest being backed due to the variance. For those living in expensive countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, or Western Europe, you should ideally have 8 months of living expenses and 100 buy ins for your bankroll.
Before you start your journey of being a professional poker player, be sure to take into account where you plan on living and grinding. Do research and check out the communities in the 2+2 travel forum here: https://forumserver.twoplustwo.com/92/travel/ and some other communities on PokerStrategy. The cost of living in Asia and South America are generally much smaller than those in Western countries, so be sure to consider that when deciding to go pro or not.
Savings And Bankroll
As a professional poker player, you will need to separate your life bankroll and your poker bankroll completely. As in, do not spend money from your life bankroll and alternately, do not cash in and out of your bank for your poker bankroll. This often leads to poor money management and overspending.
Furthermore, it is important that you have savings before you play professionally. Downswings can last for as long as 100k hands (any longer than that and you might have some glaring leaks at your limit and should work on those- at some point, it stops being variance and starts to just be mistakes) and for live poker, downswings can last months. Try to have at least 6 months of living expenses at all times.
Remember- playing poker professionally vs. having a full time job means a loss of benefits. In the U.S.A., this means that you will have to pay health insurance for yourself and you will not have employee perks that corporate workers get (401k, insurance, etc). Most importantly, you will not get a steady paycheck either. This is a heavy consideration.
Clear Exit Plan
As with any profession, be sure to think about your overall exit plan for poker and what your plan is when you do not want to play full time anymore. There are thousands of stories out there on poker players who play full time and then have zero exit plan. By the time they are sick of playing full time, it is often too late, which results in lower earnings, unhappiness with their profession, and increased pressure.
It is important that you understand your plan of what you are going to do after poker if you make the step to playing full time. Many players go back to working normal jobs, create or build businesses, or go back to school for more certifications and learning. As a professional poker player, you will almost certainly have more flexibility with your schedule and work hours than those working corporate jobs- be sure to never stop learning and to never stop building your skills, even while you are playing poker. That way, you will be able to comfortably transition to something else when you are done playing poker (or, you might be one of the lucky few who makes it to high stakes and plays for a very long time).
Natural transitions are: coding, business school, finance and trading, and web marketing. Here is an article on transitioning out of professional poker: http://orangepokerblog.com/2017/08/15/exit-strategies-for-professional-poker-players/
Opportunity Cost and Playing Semi Professionally
Lastly, make sure you understand the path that you are going down when committing to playing poker professionally. Poker is often described as a fantastic side job and a very bad full time job. One big thing to consider is if you can play poker on a part time basis and also keep a full time job (with presumably steady income)- this, in my opinion, is often the best option for most aspiring professional poker players.
Opportunity cost is a very important thing to consider- can you make more money with your current job and playing poker on the side? How much are you costing yourself by playing full time? While playing poker professionally is most certainly not all about the money, are you ready to treat poker like a business and adapt your lifestyle to playing professionally? How are you going to pay for perks that you normally get at a corporate job- namely, health insurance, bonuses, and more? Generally, you need to be making at least 1.5x what you would normally make at a corporate job for poker in order to make it financially worth it (now, in terms of intangible value, playing poker may be worth it for being your own boss, etc).
Playing full time poker is a big step and a big commitment. If you are working in a normal corporate job, be sure to really plan smartly for making this jump. If you already make a very high salary, you should be playing higher stakes poker in order to justify playing full time. Alternately, if you have few job prospects and have a lower projected salary / job options, you should consider playing poker full time.
Check List[ ] Proven Winner at Poker (Over a Large Sample) [ ] Know Where You Are Living and The Cost Of Living [ ] Have Savings and Large Bankroll [ ] Have an Exit Plan