Should You Play Poker Professionally?
You've been playing a while, won a bit of money, and maybe even moved up into small stakes games.
Should you go pro?
The life of a poker pro is alluring. Money, freedom, and getting paid to play a game that you love.
However, there are also negatives that aren't often talked about. There can be a lot of stress, even for the best players, huge swings in your financial well-being, and often a lack of motivation to put in the hands that you need to.
The 5 Factors That Shouldn't Influence Your Decision
Every situation is a bit different, and the decision of whether or not to go pro is a big one. Take some time and map out your current assets and thoughts about the following 5 factors. This should help bring up any drawbacks you haven't considered yet and steer you towards the correct decision.
Depending on how new you are to the game, you may not have experienced a truly horrible downswing. At some point in your poker experience, more likely at many, you will have session after session of losses. Some of it is in your control, while some is just bad luck.
When these periods occur, the resilience of every poker player is tested. You will lose confidence, and you might even develop a fear of poker. If you do not have the passion to play the game well, even if things aren't going your way, a career poker is not for you.
If you want to be a poker professional, the first thing you need to determine is if you truly have a passion for poker. You need to be motivated to consistently put a solid volume of hands in order to weather the variance.
It sounds harsh, but not all players have the ability to go pro. They may be able to be winners at micro- and small-stakes games, but going professional means you need to be one of the biggest winners at small-stakes games, or a decent winner at mid-stakes games. Only a very small percentage of players have this ability.
If you don't fall into either of those categories, it doesn't mean that you couldn't become a great player in the future. It just means that you need to improve before the decision of becoming a professional should even be on the table.
Your Expenses and Financial Health
Another factor in your decision is the state of your finances. If you have $100,000 in the bank, then clearly you can afford to take a shot at going pro for a few months without much risk. But if you can't even cover your rent for the next month, playing with money that you can't afford to lose is always a bad idea. You should have at least 6 months of expenses saved up separately from your poker bankroll.
Another aspect to consider is whether you have dependents that rely on you. It's one thing for a single 20-something year old to fail after trying to go professional - he or she can get by. It's another completely different thing if you have a family that you must provide for. In the latter case, you need to be 100% sure that you have the ability and passion to go pro.
Your Emotional Stability
The life of a poker pro is what you make it. For many, it means being stuck in a room for hours at a time alone. It can interfere with your social life, as games are often best during the general population's free time.
In addition, a job where you can actually lose money is stressful, especially if you have mortgage or loan payments. Even the best players experience huge variance with their results.
You need to be certain that you have the emotional stability to avoid tilting during stressful times or resorting to playing a sub-optimal cautious game.
Your Alternative Options
The final factor is whether or not you have other options. If you have to decide between a career in poker and a career based on the degree you just obtained, the traditional career is obviously safer. In addition, it may also pay better. You need to weigh the benefits of poker against your alternatives. Which choice has the greatest long-term expected value for your life?
Do You Need to Go Pro?
Remember that poker is game, and just because you want to play and you want to win, doesn't mean that you have to play it as a full-time job.
Playing poker part-time at nights or on weekends can greatly supplement your income, be more fun, and also remove a lot of financial stress even during tough downswings.
You can also look to transition into playing full-time. Over time, play a bit more every week and see how your mental state and play at the tables hold up.
The life of professional poker is perfect for a small amount of players. Take some time to decide if it's right for you before taking the plunge.