12-Step Plan To Become A Professional Poker Player

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12-Step Plan To Become A Professional Poker Player

Poker is a game of skill, but it’s simple to understand and easy to start playing immediately once you have mastered the basics.

Regardless of your initial ability, you can play and take down a few pots within minutes of learning the game, whether that is at an online poker site, at a land-based casino or at the kitchen table with friends and family.

But while it is simple to learn the basics, it is often said that it takes a lifetime of being a poker player to master the game. That may be a little overstated as these days there are many tools available to improve your poker game and plenty of opportunity to practice it, with dozens of online poker sites and live poker rooms in many countries.

So, how do you get from being a casual player to becoming a professional poker player plying your trade on the poker circuit? You may have seen high poker stakes action on late-night tv or watched James Bond pull in a big pile of chips, but what does it take to cut it with the poker pros and become a true master of the game?

Online poker provides many opportunities to play and learn the game quickly and with most sites offering big prize pool tournaments on a weekly basis and regular games around the clock, there has never been a better time to improve your game. 

Here is the Gambling.com 12-step plan to improve your game and to play more like a professional poker player:

1. Know the Rules

It goes without saying that if you want to play poker professionally, 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 popular and widely played variant is Texas Hold’em Poker and is the game that you have most likely seen being played on TV.

While the basic rules of poker are more or less the same for most variants of poker, each has rules that are specific to it and it’s a good idea to understand the differences between each before you play. 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. There are also house rules, which may differ from venue to venue and there is no standard set of tournament rules that is universally used.

To be a pro poker player you always need to make yourself aware of the specific rules of the venue you are playing in, whether it is online or live.

2. Research, Understand and Experiment with the Game

Knowledge is power. Professional poker players put in many hours studying the game, even after they reach a high level. The best players see poker as a continuous learning journey and never stop trying to improve their game.

The game also evolves over time and strategies that might have worked well 10 years ago might not be so successful today, so to become a true professional poker player you must continually adapt and learn new strategies to keep up with the game. Reading lots of poker books and participating in detailed hand discussions on poker forums is just one way to learn and maintain your competitiveness as a pro poker player.

Many pro poker players keep a close-knit group of poker friends around them to engage in healthy debate, discussion and post-game analysis of their play. In the last few years many poker training sites based around GTO (game theory optimal) methods of playing have opened up, which is another essential weapon in the arsenal of any poker player who is serious about improving their game or playing poker professionally.

Gambling.com covers a wealth of helpful hints and strategies 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.


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3. Getting Started

You’ve done your homework, and eliminated the gaps in your poker knowledge so 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. Start small, aim big.

4. Game Selection

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 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.

Game selection also includes table selection. While many online sites seat players automatically, most professional players prefer to observe the tables for a while before starting to play, as choosing the right table can be one of the most important decisions to make when it comes to maintaining profitability.

Tables that already have several other pro poker players at them might be worth avoiding, in favour of tables with inexperienced opponents. Some tables, particularly in live games might be full of boring players with not much table chat going on, whereas a table with lots of banter and maybe even a few drinks flowing might provide a better opportunity.

Each table is different and it is a core skill of both professional poker players and winning recreational players to be able to observe and choose the right table to play on.

5. Hand Selection

Position is the key thing to knowing which hands are the right ones to play in any given situation.

Become familiar with charts of starting-hand ranges and stick to hands which have positive expected value (+EV) in each position (e.g. under the gun, in the big blind, on the button).

This sounds simple but throwing away junk and stopping yourself from playing hands your opponent wants you to play is a massive part of a professional poker player’s skill.


Poker Hands

6. 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 professional’s game that will keep your opponent 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 armory.

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.

Professional poker players can often smell out a bluff from a newbie because the betting action of the way the hand was played often doesn’t make sense. You don’t get a poker Oscar for a great performance and a bad one can cost you your stack. You must work hard at it and be truly believable to even get nominated.

7. Stay Alert

Sitting at a poker table or in front of your computer screen when playing online poker is a test of mental endurance. Poker is a game of information. Concentration is a skill you will need, as well as observation skills where you can spot strengths, weaknesses, and any 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 always stay alert. Simple but important things to consider are breaks, hydration, sustenance, and distraction. It’s not uncommon to see professional poker players leave the table for periods at a time to re-focus and re-energize during a long session of play.

It’s also very important not to start a session when you are tired, especially online late at night. Your play suffers when you are sleepy, as you don’t pick up on all the information being given off by your opponents and you can give out too much information about yourself.

Moreover, it’s far too easy to fall asleep, and get blinded out of an online poker tournament, only to wake up several hours later to be greeted with a “you have been eliminated” pop-up message on the screen. We’ve all done it at some point.

8. 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 waiting for you… but only when you’re ready.

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.

However, playing too often and for too long at a time can be detrimental to your game. It is best to include play and study in the mix along with plenty of rest and time away from the table, to maintain a healthy balance and get the most you can from the game, both financially and personally.

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 better for the higher stake levels that players 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.

Try to think of poker as one long continuous game, place less importance on immediately winning back any losses and plan to do that when you are in a better mental and physical situation to do so.

 

Conclusion/Summary

Employing these tips will help you to set off in the right direction to playing poker professionally. 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 the confidence that your own abilities are the biggest determining factor on whether you win, rather than luck.

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Jonathan Raab

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