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Playing Online Poker For a Living - Danielle Andersen - Bet Raise Fold DocumentaryPlaying Online Poker for a Living

The decision to play online poker for a living can seem like it's full of freedom, the ability to determine your own hours and the opportunity to make a lot of money playing a game you love.

If you have your ducks in a row, then it can be all of that.

However, it requires a lot of work, preparation, dedication and self-discipline to make it work.

We want to show you exactly what it takes if you're wanting to know how to make a living playing poker.

Step 1: Preparing Financially to Make the Switch

Before you switch over to playing online poker professionally, you have to get your financial situation under control. Essentially, you're going to need three things to happen:

  • You will need to win at a rate of twice what you need to be financially stable for at least six months.
  • Your bankroll will need to be at least 150 buy-ins for cash games, at least 500 buy-ins for tournaments and no less than 2,000 bets for fixed-limit games.
  • Separate from your bankroll, you will need six months worth of expenses including bills, food, gas and spending money in the bank.

Keep in mind that these are bare minimums, and anything less than this will compromise your ability to make it as a professional player.

Step 2: Compensating for the Hidden Components of a Professional Player's Living

Just because you learn to play poker to a point that allows you to make a good hourly doesn't mean that you can make it as a professional. There are a lot of key differences between playing for fun and playing as a pro, and we want to show you some of those differences before you decide to make the jump because you'll need to be prepared for them.

Difference #1: Increased Levels of Stress

When you play for fun, you can quit whenever you get stressed out over bad beats or a losing streak. If you play professionally, then you don't have this option because you have to get in a certain number of hours each week to make your budget work.

To deal with this increased level of stress, a lot of practice has to go into things to regulate your mental health. This can include an improved diet, sufficient sleep, meditation and a whole host of other things that you don't normally think about as being a critical part of being a professional poker player.

Difference #2: Hiring an Accountant

The tax laws in your part of the world are going to be something that you'll be responsible for since you'll be self-employed. Being self-employed as a poker player makes that even more complicated, so you're going to want to hire an accountant.

This might sound expensive, but there are certain expenses that come along with running your own business, and this is one of them. It will only cost $100 to $200 in most parts of the world, and it's well worth not having to deal with the headache of doing your own taxes.

Difference #3: Being Your Own Boss

It sounds great to be your own boss because of the freedom that it gives you. However, that also means that you have to be your own motivation to get out of bed, to stick to a schedule and to do what you need to do to experience success.

It's really easy to be motivated to play when you're only putting in 10 or 15 hours each week playing for fun. It's not easy to be motivated when you're on a two-week losing streak and you need to get in your six hours of play for the day.

Step 3: Technical Considerations

If you're playing professionally on the Internet these days, then there are a number of technical considerations that you will need to have sorted out. The following are things you will need to have ready if you want to have a competitive setup on your computer.

A. Database Software Backups

Your hand databases are an extremely important part of online play because they give you the statistics you need to evaluate your own play and that of your opponents. If your computer goes down, then you want to be able to get those databases back up and running as quickly as possible. Along these lines, having automated or manual backups for your database software is critical as a professional.

B. Computer and Account Security

Ideally, you should use your poker computer for nothing else besides playing and studying the game. This is a major safety and security issue because you don't want there to be any chance of a virus or keylogger making its way to your computer.

There have been more than one major scandal in the online poker world involving players who have had trojans installed on their computers by someone for the sole purpose of viewing their hole cards during play.

PokerStars is considered the most secure online poker site, compatible with RSA tokens.

It goes without saying that you should have a special email address that you only use for poker, and you should change your passwords regularly. If the site you play with offers additional security options like a pin combination or a security token by RSA, then you should use those as well.

C. Additional Software

If you prefer software to help with table selection or to make it easier to multi-table, then you need to have that all configured ahead of time before you jump into a session. You want as little stress as possible when you open up the tables to play, so make sure that this software is updated and working correctly in your free time. These programs can add to your bottom line in a major way, but they can also turn into a real headache if you don't maintain them properly.

Poker pros such as Kevin Thurman featured above play 24 tables and use HUD software such as Holdem Manager and PokerTracker to keep track of opponent tendencies. Game selection tools like TableScan Turbo also help.

Step 4: Sitting Down to Play

Managing your sessions as a professional is a lot different than managing them when poker is a hobby. If someone asks, "How do you make money playing online poker as a professional," then the majority of your answer is going to come down to how you manage your sessions.

It's Called Grinding for a Reason

In the classic poker film "Rounders", the true hero of the story is considered to be Knish. Even though he wasn't a main character, the whole point was that he knew that he played poker as his job, and it was his job to provide for himself and his family through that profession. He was not distracted by any of the following:

  • The desire to be famous through his play
  • Wanting to brag to everyone about being a pro poker player
  • Getting in arguments with people over who is better at poker
  • Letting anyone know how much money he had or how much money he made
  • Using poker as an opportunity to stroke his ego

Instead, Knish treated poker like any other job, and he worked to maximize his earnings instead of playing the game for other reasons. When you play for a living, you have to focus exclusively on making money, and this means you have to ignore all of your desires for any kind of fame or glory while you push through sessions that can last for hours.

Mental Toughness

Along these lines, you have to be mentally tough because the swings of poker are really magnified when you know that you're playing for your livelihood. You can lower your stress level by having your financial situation under control as mentioned in step one, but there are also other things you can do to build your mental reserves. Consider the following chart of activities taken from real poker professionals:

Activity Benefits
Daily Meditation Lowers stress, builds focus, improves self-discipline
Regular Breaks in Sessions Allows you to recover mentally
Sports Psychology Coaching Helps you to identify and correct the weaknesses in your mental habits
Working Out Regularly Proven to lower anxiety and improve focus

You have to be able to come to each hand that you play without being affected by the results of the hands that have happened leading up to that moment. Mental training of this variety will directly impact your ability to maintain your win-rate over the long run. These four activities are some of the most common things that successful professionals do to keep themselves in line in this area of their lives.

Step 5: A Day in the Life of a Successful Professional Poker Player

Now that we've given you some warnings and some tricks about what to look out for if you're considering going pro, let's get into an example of an exact schedule of what a professional player might have lined up for a given day.

Time Description
11:30 AM Wake Up, Eat Lunch
12:15 PM Shower, Check Strategy Forums
1:00 PM Study, Analyze Previous Hands
2:30 PM Begin First Session
4:30 PM End First Session, Take 30-Minute Break
5:00 PM Begin Second Session
7:00 PM End Second Session, Take 30-Minute Break
8:30 PM Begin Third Session
11:00 PM End Third Session, Mark Important Hands of the Day
11:30 PM End the Work Day


Important Schedule Points

Let's look at some important points here. First, you'll notice that a poker player's day starts later than a lot of other professions, and it tends to follow what would be considered a second shift schedule. The reason for this is that you want to be playing when the highest percentage of non-professionals are also playing to boost your win-rate. Along these lines, you want to be playing in the late afternoons and evenings.

Second, you'll notice that your play is going to be broken up into sessions that are about two hours each. Taking frequent breaks like this will help to improve your win-rate when compared to trying to just play straight through for six hours straight.

Giving your mind a chance to rest and getting up from the computer for a little while will improve your results.

Along these lines, you also have normal breaks for eating. Because you will be waking up later in the day, you will also have a chunk of free time around midnight and early morning to unwind from your work day.

Step 6: Expanding and Improving

Once you are financially established and have yourself on a regular schedule, then you have to continue to improve as a player. The games are constantly getting tougher, and you have to get better if you want to even maintain the same win-rate over time. The key idea here is to always be pushing forward so that you don't get left behind, and there are a few different ways that you can do this:

  • Learning a new form of poker gives you options to play in games that are typically going to be easier than no-limit hold'em.
  • Extensive study with proven coaches who are better than you can help to elevate your win-rate at your current game.
  • Coaching your own students who are at lower stakes can help you to get better at the basics and improve how you think about poker since you're forced to explain it.

To survive and thrive, you have to get better and learn more about poker. While that's what attracts a lot of people to the game, it can become tiresome when you're forced to do it to provide for yourself and the people who depend on you.

Step 7: The Endgame

Eventually, you're going to want to do something else other than play poker for a living. For most people, poker is a means to an end, and you need to decide what that end is for you on a personal level.

Poker is not the endgame. It's a tool to help you get to your own endgame.

Some people just want to make enough money that they'll never have to work again. That's a fine goal. Other people want to use the money and skills they learn in poker to transition over to something else. That's also fine. What's not fine is to put yourself in a situation where you have no goals beyond playing poker.

The Importance of Long-Term Goals

The reason that this is such an important topic for poker players in particular is that playing the game as a professional is exceptionally stressful, and there are a number of cases where people have ended up with serious mental problems that were exacerbated by the pressure of playing poker for a living.

You're going to need long-term motivation if you want to be able to maintain a successful level of play, and the best form of motivation is meeting your own personal, long-term goals.

Long-term goals aren't typically going to be optional for professional players in this game because they are necessary for maintaining the level of performance that is required to be successful. Moreover, if poker doesn't work out for you, then you want to be able to transition into something else without simply feeling stuck.

Americans are still legally playing online poker for a living at Bovada, Carbon and Americas Cardroom.