How to Become a Professional Poker Player – The Best Way For You!
Last Updated: March 12, 2023
Becoming a Professional Poker Player – How Your Life Can Look?
From afar, living the life of a professional poker player may look like a dream for many.
You spend days doing what you love, no boss is hanging over your shoulder, you set your working hours, and there is virtually unlimited space for improvement.
The more you work – the more you earn, and you get to keep it all.
So, it isn’t strange that many people are wondering how to become a professional poker player. It seems like a dream come true, but do not rush out of your job just yet!
I won’t deny it. I am playing poker professionally for the last ten years, and it certainly has its perks. However, there are some downsides to this life as well, and make sure to understand all parts of it before making your final decision.
If you do not care much about that, skip this section and go straight to the 12 steps part where I cover what you need to do to become a poker PRO. However, I think additional information can’t hurt you, right?
Table of content
Where Do You Even Start Playing Professionally?
Like every profession, playing poker, when you do it as your only source of income, isn’t the same as when you’re playing for fun. So naturally, you need to approach it differently as well.
If you wanted to change your career and become a lawyer instead of a medical doctor, you’d go to law school. If you wanted to become a car mechanic, you’d find a school for that. I guess you see where I am going with this.
Luckily, these days you also have a ton of recourses where you can learn poker, and if you want to take it seriously, I highly recommend considering joining one of the best poker training sites online.
Because one thing is for sure, if you want long-term success, you have to be better than your opponents.
You also have to understand that being a professional poker player is a rather solitary thing, and this is something you need to get used to right from the outset.
So, to start with, you should answer a few very basic questions:
- Why do you want to be a poker professional?
- What makes you think you could do it?
- What are your long-term expectations from this career?
All of these questions are very important to answer before even signing up for an online poker site and can help you make up your mind if this is something you really want to do or if it’s just a pipe dream that sounds like fun.
Why Do You Want to Be a Poker Pro?
Are you considering this because you’re sick and tired of your current career or because you have a passion for the game? Can you see yourself spending hours playing poker and enjoying every minute of it?
If it is just a career change you strive for or you want to make more money, you should probably look into some other options first. Without real passion and dedication, you won’t make it, plain and simple.
It is especially true in today’s highly competitive and tough poker environment, where you have to work every day to outstand your competition.
It is not going to be an easy ride, so better know what to expect from the beginning.
Are You Ready for It?
It’s one thing to play a bit of poker on the side, and it is entirely different to be playing poker for a living.
Your existence will be entirely dependent on your results at the tables. Therefore, you need to be able to consistently beat the games you’re playing before you consider the life of a professional poker player.
It is no secret that people are very biased when talking about their poker results, but it is of the utmost importance to be honest and open with yourself.
Never consider going to poker full-time, if you do not have any results to back up your decision.
If you’re barely winning or have been breaking even for years, it won’t change just because you decided to become a professional player.
No amount of positive thinking will help you suddenly become a master of the game, so start playing as a side hustle and do not put too much pressure on yourself.
What Are Your Long-term Expectations?
Finally, you need to be at least somewhat clear about what it is that you expect from your professional poker career.
Is it the freedom you look for the most, or you want to travel the world, or you want to make a lot of money playing.
Your long-term goal, while somewhat hard to define early on, will also play a big part in choosing what you are going to play and the likelihood of you being happy with your newly-found career path.
Why do You want To Learn How To Become a Professional Poker Player?
People get into poker for a variety of reasons, and before you take the plunge, you should think long and hard about what it is that you’re seeking.
Are you in for the money?
If you’re looking to make a decent life, this should be more than achievable with some effort on your part.
At the same time, many other professions can give you good living with much less stress. So once again, don’t dive to poker just because of the money.
Unless you love the game and enjoy your time, spending six or more hours playing poker every day will feel just like any old job – with the added stress of swings, bad beats, and disappointments that come with close calls.
Of course, if you ready to dedicate a lot of time to playing and learning, and even enjoy it, playing poker could be a great path to making money.
What about freedom for professional poker players?
Many people fall in love with playing poker for a living because of the freedom this lifestyle seems to offer. While that is true, the freedom you actually get is not exactly what people imagine.
Of course, you will not have anyone bossing you around, but that does not mean that you don’t need to do things. Quite contrary.
You have to put a lot of effort and willpower to build a structure for playing and learning hours and, most importantly, stick with it. It is not an easy thing if you do not have enough motivation or know why you want to play in the first place.
Would you like to travel the world?
Finally, if you’re dreaming about traveling the world and playing big tournaments all around the globe, there are several things you need to know:
- You’ll need a big bankroll to support this lifestyle
- Big tournaments come with some huge variance
- Additional expenses (traveling, accommodation) make it hard to be very profitable
If you are just transitioning to playing poker professionally, this is not something you are likely to do at the beginning. Well, unless you have a huge bankroll and great skills, then you probably would not be reading this article.
However, you should not give up so easily. There are plenty of ways to get into tournaments and enjoy traveling the world.
You can play small satellites and win your tickets or sell your shares for a specific tournament to other players and only hold some % of your action.
All of the previously mentioned reasons are attractive and attainable at the same time, but make sure to see the full picture.
How Does Professional Poker Players Life Looks
From your current perspective, it may seem that winning in poker isn’t all that hard. You may have had some success in local tournaments, or you have a solid cash game session and won a few big poker hands.
But, if you’re looking to take things to the next level and become a professional poker player, this simply won’t cut it.
Carefully managing bankroll
Firstly, let's talk about money. You’ll need to figure out what your monthly expenses are and how much you’ll need to make playing poker to cover these.
At the same time, you’ll want to be able to make some extra money on top of this so you can continue to grow your bankroll and move up through the stakes, which should always be a part of your long-term plan.
We will talk about realistic expectations about what you stand to earn playing poker full-time in the next section.
Meanwhile, I highly recommend keeping close tabs of your results and expenses. It is important to be very honest here and keep accurate records.
After a while, look at the numbers and see where you stand. Had you been exclusively playing poker for the past period, would you be able to cover your expenses? Are you even winning?
If your results aren’t at a satisfactory level, this isn’t the end of the world, and if you are set on becoming a professional poker player, you don’t have to give up.
There are many training resources and poker software that can help you get better.
But until you’re beating whatever games you’re planning on playing, whether online or live, you shouldn’t consider ditching your current job and going into poker full-time.
Poker PROs are always grinding and learning
There are many professions where you can have success even if you don’t particularly enjoy them. I don’t think poker is one of them, though.
If you don’t enjoy the game in all of its segments, you probably won’t make it in the long run. And loving poker isn’t easy.
We’ve all experienced many bad beats over the years, but when you play for a living, you have to accept that it will happen more than you want and see it as a part of the game – which isn’t easy for most.
On top of that, if you want to become a professional poker player, you have to understand that you will be spending a lot of our time at the tables, and I mean A LOT!
Obviously, this only stands if you want to succeed, but this goes without saying.
Serious players are grinding games really hard, and they spend many hours of the table polishing their skills and learning new strategies.
Therefore, if you want to give this a shot, be ready for long hours. If you are ready, let’s discuss how much you can expect to earn in different formats.
Professional Poker Player Salary: How Much Can You Expect to Earn?
While bracelets, titles, and shiny trophies are very cool, this is not what put money on the table for the most part.
When you play poker professionally, the only real measure of your success is how much you can expect to earn consistently.
Even though it is very hard to give exact numbers because it depends on your skill, competition, and many other factors, I will try to give some figures in this article to help you understand what kind of salary you can expect to achieve.
To make it more realistic, I will compare lower-stakes games, but you can easily do the math for higher ones as well.
Many people dream of playing large online tournaments because of the possibility to hit a huge score that can change their life in a matter of seconds.
If you’re wondering how to become a professional poker player, though, you need to get out of this mind frame and think about the long run.
Winning online MTT players can get anywhere from 10% to 60%+ ROI. It means that for every $1 they put in towards buy-ins, they will earn $0.10 – $0.60+ on top of that.
You need to have in mind, that tournaments with higher buy-ins have tougher competition, which equals lower ROI. Thus, you will not have the same return on your investment in $100+ buy-in MTTs as in lower ones.
So, if you’re playing tournaments with an average buy-in of $20 with 35% ROI, which is quite solid, you’ll be making about $7 per tournament.
Let’s assume you play around 300 MTTs per month.
This way, you make around $2,100 per month (before any rakeback). It doesn’t sound too bad, but to have that 35% ROI, you’ll need to be pretty good.
Online Cash Games
First of all, if you want to play professionally and make a living out of cash games, you will have to play at NL50 at the very least – and this is only if you do not have many expenses.
More likely, you’ll need to be able to beat NL100 to make decent money.
These days, an average online player is quite good, so even if you are a solid player yourself, you can’t expect to crush it.
A realistic win-rate at NL50 these days is just around 5bb/100 (without rakeback). So, for every 100 hands you play, you’ll make around $2,50.
If you put your mind to it and play around 50,000 hands every month you’re looking at around $1,250 in profit plus a few more hundred from rakeback, depending on the particular deal you have.
The only way to make more is to either play even more (but there goes the freedom that you wanted so much) or apply yourself to studying the game and move up the stakes. I highly recommend the second option.
Live Cash Games
Live cash games are still much softer than anything you’ll find online, so these are a fine choice, provided there is enough action nearby.
If the game you’re planning on playing happens a couple of times a week and is prone to breaking up, you won’t be able to rely on it to be your sole source of income.
You need to be somewhere where you can play every day, and there is action pretty much around the clock.
In terms of earnings, the best players in low-stakes live games (NL200 and NL500) can make about 10bb per hour.
A more realistic win rate is probably 7bb/100, so you’re looking at around $35 an hour at NL500.
If you play 8 hours a day for five days a week, that’s around $1,400 a week, and a whopping $5,600 per month, so definitely a nice chunk of cash.
If you move up in stakes, you can be making even more, so it is worth polishing your skills and getting better and better.
Unless you live in Las Vegas or Atlantic City, where you have great tournaments running in your neighborhood all the time, this lifestyle is not feasible when you are just trying to become a professional poker player.
Some of the game’s best, like Berry Greenstein, have openly admitted that despite their great results, they might be down a lifetime in these big tournaments alone.
Expenses connected to traveling are just too big to make this profitable. Even if you have an ROI of 100% (which is great), if you travel to play a $500 tournament, you’ll spend a lot of money just to get to the location and spend a few days there.
Therefore, it is very hard to calculate your actual win-rate, but for a good player ROI of 100% should be achievable if he chooses to play in good events. So you can do your math.
Live Play Etiquette
It is one thing to know the rules and yet another one to be a fair player. If you want to become a professional poker player, you should never slow roll your opponents or try angle shooting, but these should go without saying.
That is just a small part, you should also avoid string betting or doing anything that can offend other players or even potentially break the game. Being professional means acting like one, so get used to it if you want to go this path.
Pros & Cons of Being a Professional Poker Player
The life of a professional poker player isn’t for everyone, and while it may seem awesome on the outside, it is not as easy as it could seem.
To finalize this section, I want to distinguish the pros and cons of this career so that you can see the full picture.
- You can do what you love for a living
- You have no one bossing you around and giving orders
- You have more freedom with your time and schedule
- There is the almost unlimited earning potential
- Your success is your own, and you get to reap all the rewards
- You can travel a lot and see the world while playing poker
- You can build personality traits that will help you later on
- You need to have enough capital to start this journey
- Variance can be brutal and emotionally taxing
- There is going to be more work than you think
- It is hard to consistently put long hours into playing and learning
- It can become tiring after a while, especially if you do not see the results
- Poker is a profession that may not be well accepted by your friends and family
So now you know it all. Are you still ready to become a professional poker player?
How to become a professional poker player – 12 simple steps
If you are reading until this point, you probably noticed that I was kind of harsh about anyone jumping to playing poker professionally without thinking it through.
I did this on purpose because I do not want you to think that it is easy to make a living in this way. An old saying is in place here:
Professional Poker is a Hard Way to Make an Easy Living.
However, if you decided to go this path, I am very happy for you!
I know what a wonderful life it can bring, and I will share a few simple steps on how to become a professional poker player in the most efficient way.
1. Research and choose your game
It is vital to find a game that suits your needs the best.
At the beginning of my career, I was playing tournaments, and even though I was making a ton of money at the time, I wasn’t enjoying the games or having a great time.
I had to play during the night and sleep throughout the day because of my timezone. Thus, I was always tired.
This led to poor social life and many negative effects, so naturally, I was not enjoying the games much.
After talking with other players, I decided to jump to cash games and never looked back. It gave me the ultimate freedom that I wanted.
I was able to schedule my sessions at more convenient times and go back to a more “normal” life. This does not mean you have the same needs, but make sure to identify them before choosing your game. Because when you choose one, it is in your best interest to stick with it.
P. S. – do not let possible income be a deciding factor of what you are going to play. Choose something you really enjoy, and become very good at that format
2. Learn all the rules
This one is pretty obvious, but no matter which format or game you choose, make sure to know the ins and outs of poker rules.
It is not just understanding positions and hand rankings but also being familiar with the flow of the game because dynamics can be very different in varying formats.
3. Understand the math
Math is an essential part of every poker game. This is why you should know your odds of hitting a winning hand and pot odds you are getting to understand if you are getting the right price for the call.
This way, you can make educated decisions and not be simply guessing around. If you want to find out more about the topic, just read my article on poker odds, and you will know a big part of poker math.
Apart from that, you should learn to count combos of possible hands and understand frequencies, which will help you take your game to the next level.
If you want to find a shortcut to learning these advanced topics, you can take a look inside the 1% course. It has very clear explanations, a lot of examples, and practical tips, so it can help you to save a lot of time on the way.
4. Get good at your game
If you want to reach long-term success in poker and learn how to become a professional poker player, you have to reach world-class skills in the game you choose to play.
It is not enough to know opening ranges or kind of understand when to c-bet, value bet, or bluff.
To have solid results, you need to put a lot of hours into mastering GTO strategies and learning how to adjust it versus different opponents. So start doing it as soon as you learn the basics.
5. If you want to become a professional poker player, practice a lot, but start at lower stakes
Before fully devoting yourself to professionally playing poker, you need to have some experience.
And even though you will not become a top player by playing low stakes, this is where you should start.
- Firstly, you will feel more comfortable because you will not be risking a lot of money. You can concentrate on improving your skills and learning new moves without hurting your bankroll, which is a good idea.
- On top of that, you can see the dynamics of the game and prepare for a serious grind knowing what to expect.
When you feel comfortable with your game, you can easily move up the stakes to gain more experience and continue to do that until you reach the highest levels.
6. Take your time to make decisions
There is no way you will be able to take into consideration a big part of available information If you will be rushing into your decisions.
When players start to play on “autopilot” without thinking about every situation, they are simply leaving money on the table and hurting their chances to win.
Therefore, if you decide to take this game seriously and play in the way professional poker players do, take your time and evaluate all the information that you have.
Even though you can’t see your opponent's cards, you can take into consideration the poker positions, previous actions, reads, and hand ranges of your opponents, which brings us to our next step.
7. Learn to think about ranges
A concept that is vital to master if you are looking to become a professional poker player.
It is a big mistake to try to guess a specific hand that your opponent has, try to avoid this temptation.
Instead, you need to learn how to break down your opponent's play based on his position and actions on every street to identify all likely holdings in his range.
This way, you will be making better decisions and have more chances to succeed.
The hand reading lab showed me a step-by-step process on how to do exactly this. It really helped me to understand what is important when thinking about ranges, how to figure out what different players might have, and most importantly, how to take advantage of this information.
I highly recommend learning this from the beginning, not having to relearn everything later on.
8. Constantly improve and take advantage of the software
If you’re still set on becoming a professional poker player, you need to understand that just beating the games you’re currently playing in probably won’t be a constant state.
Quite the contrary. It is not enough to reach that point once and then relax.
Poker changes all the time, players become better, new players join the games, and all of a sudden, you can go from a solid winner to a break-even or a losing player.
You’ll want to keep up with recent trends and stay sharp. To do this, your best bet is to look into various training programs to boost your progress.
While these do cost some money, they’re an investment that will more than pay off in the long run and can have a tremendous impact on your win-rate.
Some of these programs also have very active and vibrant communities where you’ll be able to ask questions about particular hands and general situations to get some solid tips and advice.
All of these things will help your development as a professional poker player and probably save you heaps of money you’d likely have to lose learning and figuring everything out on your own.
On top of that, make sure to take advantage of available tools and try to become a better version of yourself every single day.
9. Learn to control your mental state
It is a much bigger part than most players think. To get the best results, you have to develop habits that will help you along the way.
It is not enough to leave your emotions at the door when playing or learn how to prevent tilting. Obviously, it is essential, but that is just a small part.
To perform at your best, you need to have a lot of energy, so getting proper sleep, doing regular workouts, and eating healthy will help a lot. Do not take this advice lightly.
Also, it is vital to remove all distractions and concentrate on the games that you play, not to miss any information about your opponents.
I can talk about this for hours and still will not be able to say all you need to know.
However, the most helpful recourse I have ever seen in this regard is the A-Game masterclass. It helped me remove a lot of my mental blocks and really understand how to take this game professionally in all areas of life.
10. Know when to quit – do not chase losses
Even though this part could be included in the mental game section, it is so important that I decided to separate it from the rest.
If you want to become a professional poker player, you just have to stop chasing losses.
If you lost a huge pot against a recreational player or regular just sucked out on the river, do not try to take that money back from them. Sticking to your original strategy is the way to go here.
Remember, poker is a long-term game, and it does not matter whether you going to get your chips from one player or another.
The same can be said about playing too long on a losing day, trying to break even. It is not a mindset you want to have as a professional poker player.
If you are better than your opponents, you will win in the end, and that is what matters the most.
11. Be consistent with your game
If you choose to play one format and spend a lot of time mastering in and outs of this game, there is no point to start playing something else.
For example, if you start playing MTTs, take a lot of time to study ranges for different stack depths, master ICM strategies, and bubble play, there is no point to start playing cash games out of nowhere.
Sticking to one game will let you develop your skills and gain experience much faster than playing different formats.
Also, you will be able to concentrate on specific areas needed for that format and likely have a bigger chance to stay ahead of your competition.
12. Carefully manage your bankroll
Last but not least – carefully manage your poker bankroll. Becoming a professional poker player is not about big gambles or crazy shots that you see on TV.
It is all about grinding it through, improving your strategy, moving up stakes, and most importantly, not going bust.
You probably heard poker players talk about bankroll management as one of the most important factors in the game.
Perhaps you didn’t think it was a huge deal, but if you want to become a poker pro, learning how to manage your funds and use them to make the most profit is the key to your success.
There are many highly skilled players who did not make it just because they were not able to handle the swings due to poor bankroll management.
Thus, if you want to have a shot at making a professional poker player salary and competing at the highest levels, develop this skill and do not go out of line with money.
Summary: Becoming A Professional Poker Player
The life of a professional poker player isn’t for everyone, and while it can bring you a lot of joy, you have to consider this career very carefully before diving in.
In this article, we’ve touched on many points about what it means to be a professional poker player and play for a living.
Therefore, now you can make an educated decision about whether this is something you would like to do.
As long as you’re honest with yourself, realistic with your expectations, willing to work hard, and have passion for the game, you should be fine. Just make sure that none of these components is missing, as they are all equally as important in their own way!
- Firstly you need to understand why you want to be a professional player and what you hope to achieve
- Then, figure out what games suits you the best and stick to that format
- Learn the rules and understand basic math
- Practice a lot on and off the table
- Take your time when making decisions
- Learn to think in ranges instead of individual hands
- Constantly improve and use all available tools and software
- Learn to control your emotions and detach yourself from short-term results
- Be consistent with your game and carefully manage the bankroll