12 Steps to Becoming a Professional Poker Player
Poker is a game of skill but simple to understand and to start playing immediately once you master the basics. Regardless of your initial ability you can play and take down a few pots at the poker table whether that is online, at a physical casino or at a friends house for fun and perhaps a few side bets.
How you get from the casual player to a professional on the poker circuit is another matter. With the initial flux of celebrity-laden poker tournaments becoming a staple on late-night TV and the Hollywood studios glamourizing the art through James Bond and alike, everyone at some point has considered becoming a poker master.
With the burst of online poker tournaments packed with big-name scalps to take and mammoth cash prizes up for grabs as well as seats at some of the premier poker events around the world as possible goals then there has never been a better time to try to improve your game.
Here are 12 steps you can take right now to help you play like a professional poker player:
1 - Research and Understand the Game
Knowledge is power. Professional poker players put in many hours studying the game, even after they reach a high level. Reading lots of poker books and participating in detailed hand discussions on poker forums is the norm.
This site covers a wealth of helpful hints and strategy but there is no better method than to play hands and hone your craft. Experiencing bad beats, trying out different methods of aggression and passive play and finding what works for you in all situations is key.
2 - Know the Rules
It goes without saying that you will need to know the rules of the types of poker you wish to play. There are several variations, all of which will have nuances that may or may not suit your style of play. The most famous is Texas Hold’em Poker and carries many similarities to the more traditional form of Stud Poker.
Hand rankings, blinds and positional play are all important and should be fully understood. Like all forms of gambling, terminology and etiquette can be key elements of your knowledge base to ensure comfort around the tables, allowing for relaxed and informed decisions to be made whether you're playing online or physically holding the cards.
3 - Raise, Rinse & Repeat
You’ve done your homework, eliminated any gaps in your poker knowledge and now you need to practice. The only way to do that is to get playing. The simplest way these days is obviously to register at one or more of the top online poker sites and get playing.
Free tables, low-level stakes games and freeroll tournaments with large fields will allow you to experience the many highs and lows of being an aspiring professional poker player. Gaining confidence at the tables is what you need to move up the skill levels and take on better players in pressure situations.
4 - Only Play Winning Hands
This sounds simple, but throwing away the junk and stopping yourself from playing hands your opponent wants you to play is a massive part of a professional poker players skill. Patience and management of your stake need to be aligned. Play only the positive expected value (+EV) starting hands pre-flop to give yourself the best chance to succeed from the outset and straying from this is rarely sensible.
See below the handy table that can help you on the way to knowing when to play and when to hold or fold!
5 - Learn How and When to Bluff
Betting when strong and folding when weak is a solid start but not the balanced range of a poker professionals game that will keep your opponents guessing. Adding bluffing to your game, where you bet with a weak hand to deceive your opponents, or under bet a strong hand to encourage more action onto the table are key elements of any players poker armoury. Getting a stronger opponent to fold or indeed bet when they shouldn’t is one of the greatest skills you will develop as a poker player.
Be careful though! Bluffs are often over-used and experienced players play it straight much more than you might think. Timing is everything.
6 - Stay Alert
Sitting at a poker table or in front of your computer screen when playing online poker is a test of mental endurance. Concentration is a skill you will need, as well as observation skills where you can spot strength, weaknesses and potential tells (or false tells!) being offered to you by unsuspecting (or clever!) opponents. Any edge you can take from your surroundings will increase your winning chances, but first, you must spot them, so stay alert at all times.
Simple but important things to consider are breaks, hydration, sustenance and distraction. It’s not uncommon to see professional poker players wear headphones, read a book, chat about the weather or leave the table for periods at a time to re-focus and re-energise during a long session of play. Don’t get too immersed until it is entirely necessary or you will burn out before the bubble when the cash can be won and lost.
7 - Manage your Bankroll
Without a bankroll you cannot play. Learning how to manage your bankroll will keep you in the game when the poker gods deal you the bad luck we all occasionally suffer at the tables.
The stakes you play in cash games and the buy-in of poker tournaments you enter should be influenced by the overall size of your bankroll. If you play too high you risk going bust. If you get good enough and have the bankroll for it, the high stakes games will be there when you’re ready.
8 - Choose the Right Games
We all love the ‘Cadillac of Poker’ Texas Hold’em, but you may have a particular talent for Pot-Limit Omaha (PLO), Omaha Hi-Lo, Stud Poker or Draw Poker. Try all of the games and see what you enjoy.
Players tend to be solid at Texas Hold’em because it is the most popular game, but the overall level of expertise at other games is lower at the smaller stakes. You may find a niche you can dominate.
9 - Play Consistently
Playing poker on a consistent basis will help you develop as a player and stay sharp. As you aspire to become a professional poker player you will need to study, play lots of hands and review your hands to gain the experience and knowledge necessary to beat your opponents, plugging leaks as you go.
Taking extended breaks will slow your development so stay in the game and always be prepared to break down your bad calls, bad bets and bad beats into a positive learning experience which you take forward to the next hand and the next game.
10 - Play Responsibly
Whenever you gamble money there is a risk of loss. You should never risk more money than you can afford to lose and you should enjoy the game at all times without undue worry or stress. Being disciplined is a key skill employed by successful professional poker players.
Nearly all online poker operators offer stake/deposit limits, time out options and reality checks – these are a great way of managing your poker play and keeping it under control.
Remember free play options and low-level stakes games are available and starting there will prepare you perfectly for the higher stake levels that player often get involved in too soon.
11 - Leave Emotion at the Door
If you are stressed out, distracted or tilting because you’ve just lost a big pot unsuccessfully trying to bluff with perhaps the worst hand in poker, it’s time to walk away and regain control of your emotions before you return to the tables. Don’t beat yourself up.
Nobody enjoys losing whether to a bad beat or poor play. Once you’ve regrouped you will return to making good decisions, employing the strategies and skills you’ve worked so hard to learn.
12 - Know when to Quit
Excellent discipline and good bankroll management will ensure you know when it’s time to stop for the day. Chasing losses tempts everyone, but trust your overall edge and come back to fight another day. When you are not in the best frame of mind to play it’s time to collect your chips and leave.
If you employ these twelve tips you are heading in the right direction to become a professional poker player. You will be knowledgeable, disciplined, experienced and self-aware. You will be playing against poker players who don’t necessarily follow all of these steps so you will gain an advantage over them.
You can head to the tables with confidence where your own abilities are the biggest determining factor on whether you win, rather than luck. Shuffle up and deal.
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