Top 5 Differences Between Professional and Recreational Poker Players

Professional vs Recreational Poker Players

5 minutes

Last Updated: August 19, 2021

Poker has significantly risen in popularity over the past few decades. So much so that the term a professional poker player has been cemented in the culture surrounding it.

Moreover, there has also been a massive popularization of poker among everyday players. Looking at the casual player base, more players are playing Texas Hold’em now than ever been before.

With so many recreational players out there, it’s hard to tell how many poker pros there are and how many people are actually playing this game for a living.

There is a sharp contrast between these two types of players. Here are the top 5 differences that distinguish professionals from recreationals.

1. Pros are in it to Win it

This is probably the most significant difference between professional and recreational poker players, as it fundamentally affects the entire approach to the game.

An average recreational player plays the game mostly for fun and entertainment. Of course, it’s always nice to come out on top and win, but this isn’t the number one priority for most casual players. They are simply in the game to feel the thrill and excitement of it.

On the other hand, professional poker players play with an imperative to win.

Not every game has to be fun or entertaining. The only thing they care about is beating their opponents and finishing a session in the black.

Pros are always aware of every decision they make and can never let themselves get carried away, no matter how fun the game promises to be.

This is best observed when you take a look at the top players in the world.

Every decision they make is methodical, backed up by math and logic. It’s not just about maximizing wins on every hand they play but also finding where to play poker online and getting an additional edge in every possible way.

2. Recreational Players Don’t Track Results Extensively

Another significant factor that differentiates poker pros from everyday poker players is effective bankroll management.

When it comes to money, as a recreational poker player, you're probably interested only in money in vs. money out. This isn't the best way to approach the game, but if you’re not all about big wins, it’s a fundamental metric that allows you to monitor your sessions.

For poker professionals, the calculation isn’t this straightforward.

They track every detail that marks their every session. From how much they played to when and how they exactly played, everything factors in the long-term calculation to maximize success.

They do this so that they can improve their long-term game and improve their results.


Needless to say, for casual players, doing this isn’t that fun, so if you’re not making a living playing poker, tracking every hand you play and every dime you spend will only make your experience tedious.

3. Bankroll is Everything for Poker Pros

In line with the previous difference, another thing that differentiates pros from casual players is their bankroll. To be more specific, how they treat their bankroll.

Not only do poker pros have a substantially larger bankroll to back them up, but they are also much more meticulous in managing it.

If a professional poker player loses his or her entire bankroll, they’re losing much more than just a fun pastime. Their entire career is in jeopardy.

Opposite to this, casual players don’t have such pressure on their shoulders.

If you’re a recreational player, sure, it’s never fun to lose money, but you can still rely on your day job to replenish and cover any losses you suffer playing poker. Of course, provided you play responsibly, and at the stakes you can afford.

This is one of the most significant differences to keep in mind, especially if you plan on taking up the game in a more serious fashion at some point.

As a professional poker player, you should always have a stable bankroll built up so that you're always in the clear, even if you hit a losing streak due to variance.

4. Recreational Players Don’t “Play the Part”

Aside from having a sound understanding of how the game is played, poker pros also pay careful attention to how they carry themselves around the table.

They know how every single thing they do can give clues to their opponents.

When playing online poker or going up against other recreational players, this isn’t something that should affect your game in any significant way.


However, if you want to try your skills against the pros someday, knowing how to “play the part” is an integral aspect of being prolific at this highly technical game.

5. The Difference in Approach

There’s a fairly common saying that goes: A recreational poker player looks at his cards to find a reason to play. A professional player looks at his cards to find a reason not to play.

It perfectly depicts the difference in mindset each of the two groups of players has. The simple truth is, we’re all guilty of looking for excuses to play crappy poker hands.

This is hard to avoid, and the only way to do it is through work and practice.

The best way to go about is to always know the odds of every hand you play. Poker pros have a deep understanding of how poker variance works and just how much it can hurt them if they get married to bad cards too often.

Summing up the Differences

Playing poker for a living seems like a dream for many recreational poker players. But, to get to the point where you can do so, you first need to adopt the habits that mark a professional poker player.

If you already approach the game seriously and are confident in your skills, maybe it’s time to move up to the big league.

Just understand that being a successful player requires continual learning and the will to improve. If you have all of these, you have the attributes that differentiate you from an average recreational poker player.

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