12 Steps to Becoming a Professional Poker Player

Date IconLast Updated: Sep 28th, 2022
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12 Steps to Becoming a Professional Poker Player

Have you wondered how to make a living playing poker? Perhaps you’ve dreamed about dumping your boring 9-to-5 job and spending your days grinding online. Or perhaps you dream about hitting Las Vegas and making it in the World Series of Poker.

While becoming a poker pro does happen for some players, how easy is it in reality? And do the rewards justify the long and hard hours you will have to put in? Here are 12 steps you can take right now to start you in the right direction.

1. Research and Understand the Game

If you want to know how to become a professional poker player, you need to understand the games you’re playing. If you’re a Texas Hold’em cash player, that means understanding the nuances of position, bankroll management and table selection.

For live tournament players, you’ll need to learn where the best value is and how to get the most out of your trips. That means finding good hotel packages so you can make your bankroll go farther.

If you’re in the US and want to make real money playing poker online, you’ll also need to know the best online poker sites.

Before you begin, speak to other pros and grinders. There are millions of low-level poker pros who are just making a living. Not everyone is Daniel Negreanu, making $10 million a year playing tournaments and high-stakes cash games.

Talk to other pros on social media and learn how you can supplement your income with Twitch streams and sponsor deals.

2. Know the Rules

This might be the simplest rule if you want to know how to make a living playing poker. If you go into a game without a firm grasp of the rules, you will end up out of pocket.

Texas Hold’em is the most common and popular variant of poker in the world. It’s the easiest to learn but it also attracts the best players. Work out where you can earn value against poor players and choose the right level so you don’t lose money.

However, at online poker sites, you may find lots of unique variants like Badugi and Razz where the pool of good players is smaller. Learning lesser-known variations is a good way to learn how to become a pro poker player online.

Whatever game you choose, you will need to get a basic grasp of some key poker concepts:

  • Drawing Hands
  • Hand Combinations
  • Ranges
  • Pot Odds
  • Implied Pot Odds
  • Reverse Implied Odds
  • Fold equity
  • ICM (Independent Chip Modeling)
  • Expected Value (EV)

More serious pros will also have a good understanding of Game Theory Optimal (GTO). It’s a complex poker strategy for avoiding being exploited by other players at the poker table. However, mastering GTO is essential for taking a step to becoming a poker pro.

3. Practice Makes Perfect

Want to understand how to make a living playing poker? It boils down to practice. Online pros will gain vast amounts of experience due to the sheer number of hours they put in.

Plus, you can improve your experience by playing more than one table at once. Start off playing two or three tables at the same time, then slowly increase it if you’re comfortable.

RELATED: Learn More About The Game & Poker Strategy With Our Knowledge Guides

Low-level pros might make minimum wage to start off with if they don’t up their volume. And even then, it’s easy to go on a downswing or see your profits eaten up by fees and rake.

By practicing long and hard at lower stakes, you can get more value out of your long game sessions.

4. Only Play Winning Hands

This might seem obvious, but it’s important to choose your hands carefully when going pro. Poker is about skewing the odds in your favor, and you can make the best possible start by implementing the right hand selection.

In Hold’em, start with a tight-aggressive strategy and play premium hands strongly when in position. Only call with marginal hands when in late position, but also pay attention to your opponents.

RELATED: Poker Hand Rankings

Some online poker sites let you use a HUD (Heads-Up Display) like Hold’em Manager or Poker Tracker 4.

These are valuable tools in a professional player’s arsenal. You can keep track of your opponents’ pre-flop raise percentage and how often they put money in the pot.

And if you are a tournament player looking to get into the money, use a Push Fold chart. This will display a range of hands you should be moving all-in with based on your position and stack size.

Poker Hands

5. Learn How and When to Bluff

In poker, you won’t always be dealt a monster. It’s important, therefore, to learn the art of bluffing when you’re learning how to become a pro poker player.

Bluffing is an essential tool whether you play tournaments, Sit ‘n Gos or cash games. To maximize your profits, you need to learn to steal the blinds and be more aggressive pre-flop.

You should also 3-bet the flop when you have a draw and make large continuation bets (c-bets) if you’ve missed.

Knowing how to make a living by playing poker is all about making the most of any situation. Build up an image at the table and prey on weaker opponents.

Don’t forget to use your HUD or make notes on the screen. By targeting weak players who are prone to bluffs, you can be more successful.

RELATED: Looking For An Online Poker Room? Check out the top poker sites in New Jersey | Pennsylvania | Nevada | Michigan

6. Stay Alert

For recreational players, learning how to become a pro poker player is about looking after yourself as much as it is about understanding pot odds.

By going pro, poker is going to be your sole pursuit every single working day. You may be sitting at a computer monitor for 16 hours straight. If you’re traveling to a big live tournament, you might be playing 12 hours a day for several days in a row.

It’s vital you look after your mental and physical health. Eat sensibly and get plenty of exercise so that you can stay sharp at the tables.

Plus, by looking after your mental well-being, you’ll be able to handle the inevitable downswings. Every pro will experience losses, and if you can’t accept being in the red after a month’s hard toil, you won’t last as a poker pro.

7. Manage your Bankroll

Sensible bankroll management is vital when learning how to become a professional poker player.

You will need a big enough bankroll to cope with the buy-ins. However, you’ll also need to have enough in reserve if you go on a long losing streak.

Make good use of online satellites if you’re a tournament player. These can offer good value and are a great way of earning a tourney entry for a small outlay.

If you’re going to play cash games, have enough money back for rebuys. You’ll need 50-100 buy-ins so that you can open multiple tables and buy back in if you go bust.

Don’t forget to put aside money for taxes. Professional poker players in the US are liable for income tax on winnings, so keep good records whether you win or lose.

8. Choose the Right Games

It’s important to choose the right poker variant for you. Texas Hold’em is the most popular poker variation and is widely available online and in land-based cardrooms.

Work out what you want to play before you start. If you’re an impatient player, you might want to avoid tournaments and stick to cash games. But grinding cash games needs discipline and a big bankroll.

If you prefer the chance of a slice of the guaranteed prizepool, tournaments might be for you. And if you like tournament strategy but prefer shorter games, you may want to become a Sit ‘n Go professional.

Every pro will want to take a shot at the biggest events, so learn how to get into the World Series of Poker. Understand how satellites work and do some forward planning so you can target the softest side games when you arrive in Las Vegas.

9. Play Consistently

Playing long hours and hitting win rates is what it’s all about when going pro. Poker players need to put in the legwork and have targets.

If you’re a cash game player, you need to decide on an acceptable win rate. That’s the average number of big blinds you’re winning for every 100 hands.

So, a win rate of 10bb/100 means you’re winning the value of 10 big blind for every 100 hands dealt. As a rule of thumb, any figure over 10bb/100 is good, but you should aim higher.

If you play tournaments, you need to look at the ROI (Return on Investment). This is the percentage you are earning in winnings minus your tournament buy-ins.

For example, if you won $500,000 during the year, and spent $15,000 on buy-ins, your ROI percentage would be:

Winnings minus buy-ins / buy-ins x 100

$500,000-$15,000 / ($15,000 x 100) = 0.3233, or 32.3%

Good online poker tournament pros will have an ROI somewhere around 15 and 20%. Anything higher is very good.

You can keep track of your ROI by using tracking software like Hold’Em Manager. If you play Sit ‘n Gos, sign up to Sharkscope and keep track of your results and average profit and loss.

10. Play Responsibly

Becoming a poker pro isn’t only about learning the math and choosing the right game. You also need to have a good attitude to your bankroll and know when to stop.

Poker is a game of skill but it also features a lot of gambling. For some players it can be highly addictive, particularly when chasing losses.

Some professional poker players will also cross over into other forms of gambling, like sports betting or casino games. It’s vital to keep a poker bankroll separate from any other outgoings in this case.

You should open a separate checking account just for your poker bankroll. Check everything that goes in or out of the account and make regular withdrawals if you win a big pot.

It can pay to employ the services of a financial adviser too. They can give you help on investing your money and managing your budget.

And don’t be afraid to ask other players for a stake. Most poker forums have staking threads where you can pitch for a tournament buy-in in return for a slice of the winnings. There is no financial risk to you, and you’ll be able to keep a portion of the prize money.

11. Leave Emotion at the Door

Having the right mindset is essential if you want to know how to make a living playing poker. You need to be mentally alert when playing, plus you should avoid hitting the tables when you’re “on tilt.”

Even if you make a perfect play, the odds can always count against you. A lucky player may hit a two-outer against you, but you should be philosophical and accept that it’s all part of the game.

As long as you know that over the long term your smart play will win you money, you can avoid tilt and any negative emotion. Leave the frustrations and emotions at the door before you sit down and play.

12. Know when to Quit

Not all poker pros go on to become World Series champions. There have been dozens of top names who have quit the game through boredom, changing careers or simple lack of funds.

Going broke is perhaps the biggest reason professional poker players quit the game. They fail to consistently get an edge on their opponents and can’t seem to crack their current stake level. After grinding playing 16-hour days, they find that they are barely making minimum wage.

If that happens to you, bite the bullet and quit. The beauty of poker is that it will always be there. You can supplement your regular income by playing online or hitting your local live tournament. You can even join a coaching and staking program and choose the hours to suit you.

Remember, you can often make money playing poker online for free. Most of our top-rated sites run freerolls through the week where you can earn a little free cash while building up your confidence again.

Start Your Professional Poker Journey the Right Way

Now you know how to make a living playing poker. But the journey ahead will be harder than choosing a Hold’em table and hoping for the best.

When going pro, recreational players need to have a steely mental attitude and be constantly learning. So, join social media groups, sign up to a coaching program and build your bankroll with low-stakes cash games and tournaments.

It’s easier than ever to get your journey started at the best online poker sites in your state. Sign up and make a deposit, and you can earn free cash before you’ve even started.

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