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Home > Strategy > Poker Pros

Poker Strategy - Who Wants to Be a Poker Pro?

Many envy the life of a professional poker player. Who wouldn't want to set their own hours, play a game they love for a living, and travel around the world playing in tournaments? Add a nice income on top, and you got yourself a dream job, baby. So how does a pro get to be a pro?

Pro poker players do not graduate from Professional Poker College, and there are no guilds that confer the "pro" status on players. It is only a label that one adopts for himself. Some folks lose money at poker yet consider themselves professionals. For the most part, one decides to make poker-playing his/her occupation for one of two reasons:

On the one hand, they may feel that they can make more money at poker than they could at any other occupation they could adopt. Generally, these players have logged in over 500 hours of poker and have clocked their hourly rate to be significantly higher than any other job they could get. To track statistics like these, a pro may use a website like Poker Charts. You can follow our guide for record keeping here to get started.

On the other hand, they may simply enjoy the poker lifestyle so much that they will sacrifice income for freedom. Also, the extent of a professional's career can vary. Most poker professionals view their poker playing as a transitional job. They may be between jobs or expect to enter a higher paying occupation in the future. Only a relative few view poker playing as a career for life.

A serious poker professional is fundamentally a businessman. He or she understands how to play poker to culminate his or her income. The incomes of pros are entirely diverse and depend on the skill, guts, bankroll, and luck of the player. The amount of hours that pros play also vary from player to player. The only thing players have in common is that poker is their primary source of income. Raw poker skills are only a fraction of what is necessary to make serious money playing poker. One must know what game he or she excels at most in terms of hourly rate. A true, solid poker pro plays the poker game that yields him the highest hourly rate. Generally, the factors that affect one's hourly rate include:

  1. One's skill compared to others' skill
  2. Number of hands per hour/tables the person can play
  3. The rake or time charge
  4. The variance involved

All combined, a person with less card-playing skill can easily make more money than a very skilled player if the less-skilled player is smarter about all of the other factors. Since pros are interested in making money, they must play against people who are better at losing money. This means playing in softer, looser games. Also, because a poker player wants to exert his or her edge as much as possible, the number of hands one plays is a crucial factor. Of course, it depends on the type of game the pro chooses.

If a pro is a Limit Hold'em player, then his or her medium of playing is of great significance. Playing online on 3 tables at once will easily yield five times as many hands per hour compared to a person playing in a brick-and-mortar casino. If the two are playing the same limit against similar competition, the internet pro can easily make five times as much as the brick-and-mortar player. While the brick-and-mortar player may focus more on his one game, the internet pro has the advantage of a lower rake and the ability to play many more hands per hour. At Limit Poker, hand volume is much more important than player reads.

In No-Limit Poker, reads are more important. Thus, a player may not be able to play two or three games at once. Again, it depends on the player, but his or her choice of medium will greatly affect their hourly rate.

Tournament professionals exist, too. However, they are more rare compared to the amount of cash game professionals. This likely is because tournaments have higher levels of variance and tend to have stronger competition than cash games. It is also much harder to calculate your hourly rate at a tournament because tournament income is quite volatile. While there is definitely noble and successful tournament players, many who choose this path end up failing. In contrast to cash game players, tournament players are notorious for being in debt and depending on others' to stake them.

There are four major turnoffs to being a professional poker player. First, it is not a very social activity if you are an internet pro. You are essentially playing at home, with very little human interaction. You do not enjoy the mingling in the hallways and other social perks associated with ordinary type jobs. Secondly, poker becomes monotonous very quickly. Sure, a pro can play a variety of games. But since a poker professional is primarily interested in making money, he will probably want to focus on playing the one game that provides him his highest hourly rate. See how this can become very boring, very fast? Thirdly, many take issue that the poker player does not really contribute anything good to society. This is becoming less and less of an issue though, as professional poker players are now being seen as 'entertainers.'

Finally, and most importantly to many, poker can have a highly variable income. Based on my own data, my standard deviation per hour is 5 times my hourly rate. This basically means that if I made $80 an hour average, there is about a 62% chance that in any one hour I'd make between -$400 and $700. The rest of the time I would have an ever larger swing. This is not appealing to many, who couldn't handle the stress of such fluctuations of income. The poker professional must not let these fluctuations phase him at all. Poker players with large bankrolls tend to fare better and play with less fear. While their winnings from poker buy the groceries for that day, week, or month, it means relatively little to their overall bankroll.

What a true professional worries about is not the luck of the cards but the changes in the poker market. Professionals need to play against weak players. One makes money because one has better relative skill than others. If a pro is playing against a bunch of pros, then he or she will make little to no money. A poker professional's income is much more dependent on the skill of others than himself. After all, he has probably perfected his skills as much as he possibly can. The only thing that can affect his relative skill is the skill level of the opposition. If all new, poor players stop entering into the poker world, the professional will soon have to look for a new job.

For the reasons above, most solid poker players do not become professionals. Many of those with the skills and bankroll necessary to play poker can make just as much (or more) money at another job. They also may simply love another job so much that they would rather do that line of work than poker, even if they made more money at poker. It is probably a good thing for poker pros that being a full-time poker player is not too appealing of a job. If many people became pros, then the competition would be so tough few people would be money at poker!

Poker is often better as a secondary job. 'Semi-professionals' enjoy poker as a supplemental income and hobby without relying on it as a stable source of income. They also avoid the anti-social, monotonous nature of professional poker playing. Some semi-pros make a very significant income from playing cards, even more than some professionals! After all, the last three winners of the World Series of Poker were not professionals yet, at that time. Poker, as a lucrative hobby, instead of a profession, is probably a better approach for most players and the more common reason people play.