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Professionals (pros), amateurs and recreational players – these terms are often bandied about in the poker world.

Personally, I am a recreational player, but do not regard myself as an amateur. I think most poker players are in the recreational category. Nor do I consider myself a pro. What’s the difference? I did some research to better understand these terms, and how they apply to our game of poker.

Professional: According to the popular Australian website,, “a professional is a disciplined group of individuals who adhere to ethical standards.” Each member of this group has extensive knowledge and skills in a particular field or body of learning acquired from research, education and training at a high level, and is thus recognized by the public.” Furthermore, each “applies this knowledge and these skills in serving others.”

Professionals are members of a profession – like medical doctors. They adhere to codes of ethics, and are committed to competence, integrity and morality, altruism, and the promotion of the public good within their field of proficiency. Professionals are accountable to those served and to society. (Ref.: Sylvia R. Cruess, Sharon Johnston, and Richard L. Cruess; “Profession: A Working Definition for Medical Educators.” Teaching and learning in Medicine; 16.1, 2004).

This description hardly applies to anyone who calls himself a “poker pro” – players who depend on poker for a living and to support their families. Nor does the poker pro apply his skills for the benefit of others, as a doctor. Indeed, our poker world has accepted a much limited definition for poker pro,  agree or not. So let’s live with it.

According to Michael Wiesenberg’s The Official Dictionary of Poker, a poker pro is a player who relies on poker as his main source of income. For his sake, a he better be well skilled.

Amateur: According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, an amateur is a person who does something – such as participate in a sport or hobby (like playing poker) – for pleasure and not as a job. Rarely does the poker amateur put in the time and effort to substantially grow his skills.

Like the pro, an amateur seeks to be a winner, but is less likely to succeed. Hopefully, he is financially secure and adept at money management, and does not dip into funds he needs to support his family, and for emergencies.

Recreational player: According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, recreation “is an activity of leisure being discretionary time.” Recreation is an essential element of human biology and psychology. Recreational activities are often done for enjoyment, amusement, or pleasure – for “fun.” So, a recreational poker player is using his leisure time to enjoy the game of poker. Some do strive to improve their skills.

But, does he really enjoy it if he is losing? Like the amateurs, recreational poker players usually are losers; consider the cost-to-play (rake, jackpot drop, tips, and other expenses). Why does he keep coming back for more? There must be more to it.

Thinking about it, there is the social interaction, both in a casino or a home game with friends and family.

For many of us, there is also the mental challenge – especially after you learn the key poker skills such as selecting starting hands, reading opponents, using your outs with a drawing hand, not chasing, bluffing – especially semi-bluffing, knowing when/how to raise, slow-playing and check-raising to build “your” pot; and avoiding going on tilt after a bad beat.

In this regard, according to renowned poker psychologist, Dr. Alan N. Schoonmaker, playing poker can keep us young and healthy.

Because they have so much at stake, most pros work to develop their poker skills. Amateurs and recreational players are much less prone to do so; but if they are smart, they too will seek to enhance their skills at the table.

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