Making it as a pro

Mar 28, 2005 2:22 AM

How hard is it to become a professional poker player? That depend son your concept of "professional" and your prior experience and preparation.

If your goals are to survive on just your poker income, as long as your standards of living are undemanding, then becoming a poker professional is only marginally tougher than owning and developing your own business without any assistance from a bank. However, if you covet the existence of the upper echelon of professionals, your road is as easy as becoming president of Microsoft.

Some of the transitional shocks can be surmounted with a good bankroll for the fame of your choice, but the typical aspirant arrives undercapitalized with an inflated concept of his own skill. Let’s look at some common mistakes.

Our free-wheeler hits town in his car with $5,000 cash. He has saved that amount from some of his weekly poker game winnings and is ready for the big time. Not stopping to get settled or to rest from his trip, he heads right for the poker room. The available games are $1-4 stud, $4/8 hold’em and $10/20 hold’em. The stud games looks too tame so our hero sits down in the small hold’em game. This game is very tight and $50 buy-in is slowly reduced to $19.

One good hand would fix that, but why rebuy when that $10/20 looks much better. The action is wild and middle cards are winning big pots with bad calls and raises. This is what it is all about. A $100 buy-in and some patience should win lots of money. Twenty minutes later, our hero get a pair of kings and raises in early position. Two people call, the third raises, the button calls, the big blind calls, our hero re-raises and everyone calls, you know the rest. Before the river, our hero is all-in and the seven, nine suited in the blind makes a gut shot straight to win. The hundred disappears the same way. Time to quit for the day.

Let’s recap. The first mistake was not resting. Second mistake was not evaluating potential expenses, which come out of that bankroll (more about that later). Third mistake was the choice of games. The $4/8 was bad enough with that bankroll, but the $10/20 signed his death warrant. Small limits are all you can consider until you build up some money muscle. Fourth mistake was the buy-in should not allow you to go all-in on a hand if you are trying to make money on your good hands. Choice of hands for the action was questionable also.

When you know you are going to face a crowd, get some draw potential or get out cheap when you can’t narrow the field. Don’t raise to drop people when it’s obvious the raise is encouraging action.

What about living accommodations? You should be able to find your own place in Vegas for about $800 a month and $1,350 in California. But, you may have to pay first, last and damage deposit. Phone, utilities, etc, are extra and may need deposits. That can take a major chunk of your bankroll if you only have $5,000.

How does living in your car sound? This player was in gambler’s ruin as soon as he started playing. For those unfamiliar with the term, gambler’s ruin describes the odds of a player going broke with a known number of units. In this case, the units are buy-ins, and the greater number of buy-in units, the better chance of escaping bankruptcy.

A good player at the $1-3 stud game could make it with that slim bankroll, but it would be difficult. Even if the situation were less drastic say, break even for three weeks, our hero would still be facing monthly bills and all that work for nothing.

At night, you lie awake replaying bad beats and tilt buy-ins. What would you be thinking about? Minimum wage is starting to look pretty good? The hourly return for small limit games is not much. Long hours each day are required to drag $60-100 against a $40 loss. That would put you at a minimum-wage lifestyle at bet. By moving up in limits, the workload is reduced, but the margin for winning may be reduced because the players are better and the bankroll must be higher.

Bankroll is only one of the factors that affect the professional poker player. I mentioned discipline earlier and players need to understand that they have to be consistently disciplined.