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A guide for becoming a poker pro

May 27, 2008 7:08 PM

Road to the WSOP by Joe Awada | This week, we’ll continue our discussion with my good friend and poker pro Billy Baxter. But, first, thanks for all the nice comments from those players who know Billy and appreciate him for the classy player he’s become.

If you missed last week’s issue, Billy had some great advice for newcomers looking to break into the World Series of Poker. I know he’ll be involved with the WSOP, looking to add to his seven gold bracelets and, if I know Billy, he’ll probably corral at least one.

For now, Billy is going to offer advice on playing poker and how best to approach the game as a professional.

"If you want to be a professional poker player, be a poker player," Billy said. "So many times a player will win a little, then go off and bet sports, play some golf, do a little of this and a little of that, and then find they don’t have the money to play poker.

"You have to get to the point where you have a bankroll to play with every day," Billy continued. "In order to be successful, you have to be able to answer the bell … that is, you have to be able to ante up every day. All my life I’ve always tried to stay in the game, that is, I’ve always been able to ante up every day."

In essence, that’s what being a professional poker player is: it’s like running a business.

"You must manage your bankroll, and can’t invest in every little thing that comes along," Billy said. "If you don’t have your tools to work with, you don’t have a business."

Playing poker and running a business takes discipline and a dedicated ability to manage your time and money.

"If you don’t take care of your bankroll, it won’t take care of you," Billy points out. "Remember, you’re not playing for the day, you’re playing for a lifetime."

Over the years, Billy has become selective in chosing a game or table on which to play.

"Before entering a game, you should pick one that you feel you know well," he says. "If there are a couple of players over whom you feel you might have an edge, that’s a good game.

"Plus, I’ll play as long as I think the game is good – not necessarily simply based on whether I’m winning or losing – but if the dynamics of the game changes because a couple of the weaker players may have left and the game toughens up, then I’ll leave the game as well."

Billy is well-known in some of Las Vegas’ best poker rooms, including the Bellagio, which hosts some of the biggest cash games in the city. He says there’s a distinction between playing cash games and tournaments.

"I’ve been playing poker virtually all my life, and the gambling aspect was my living," he said. "So tournaments were never that big a deal; winning a trophy wasn’t what it was about for me. And, even though I’ve had my share of success with tournaments, I still feel like I’m experimenting with my approach to tournaments."

Billy contends that tournaments have changed over the years, especially with the advent of huge fields and television coverage.

"I was invited to play in the first "National Heads-Up Poker Championship" tournament sponsored by NBC. I played Doyle (Brunson) in the first round and beat him, then lost to Barry Greenstein.

"The following year I wasn’t invited back and the reason given, according to the tournament director, Erick Drake, was that TV was more interested in "characters" rather than poker players."

As for the upcoming World Series of Poker, Billy says buy-ins should remain as they have been – "It should be affordable to everyone who wants to get in" – and that the move to shift the final table of the championship event to November was a questionable one.

"If you have a certain rhythm when you reach the final table, after four months it’s almost like you’re playing in a different game with different players," he said. "Secondly, it opens the possibility that the integrity of the game could be questioned."

In the long run, Billy believes poker is alive and well and poised to add further to its growing base of players.

"Overall I think poker will continue to grow in popularity, partly because the Internet is not going to go away," he said. "By creating new players online and with the TV coverage, there’s no place to go but up."