If you are exploring the possibility making poker a career then you have come to the right place. I have played poker semi-professionally for over 10 years and can give you solid advice.

Can poker be a career? In order to make a living playing poker as a career, it takes years of experience and study. Being a professional takes discipline and planning as burnout and downswings are a genuine threat to a pro’s livelihood. Additionally, poker constantly evolves so a player must constantly improve in order to continue winning.

As the old saying goes, poker is a hard way to make an easy living. If you are currently a winning poker player and are strongly considering becoming a professional full-time player, here are 17 tips that will maximize your chance of success.

1. Make Sure You Have a Deep Love for the Game

I’ve seen a lot of players come and go in the poker world. Try to think of some of the “big name” pros of 10 years ago. How many are still relevant or even around anymore?

The reason that most poker careers have very short lifespans is that poker can quickly become an unbearable grind if you simply do not love the game.

The same goes for any job in the world. If you do not enjoy what you are doing, it doesn’t matter how much money you make. You will quickly become disenchanted and dream of doing something else.

So before you even think about playing poker for a living, answer one simple question. If there was no money to be made in poker, would you still play it as a serious hobby? If the answer is no, then forget about a poker career.

2. Work on Your Mental Toughness

Brain With Muscles

Professional poker is not for the emotionally unstable. If you don’t have a good grasp of your emotions and understand the long-term, then you have serious work to do.

As a poker professional you will face unimaginable variance at some point. How you handle the swings will ultimately be perhaps the biggest contributing factor in whether you succeed or not.

However, poker mindset is a learned skill and anyone can improve in that arena. In fact, everyone should spend a serious portion of their study on the mental game. Most players would do well to hire a mental game coach.

3. Structure Your Work Days

If you are not the type of person who is able to stick to a schedule, then you will have serious issues as a poker professional.

As a part-time player or hobbiest it’s easy to just play whenever you want. This will not usually work if poker is your main source of income.

Believe me, the grind will eventually catch up with you and unless you stick to a fairly rigid schedule you will eventually see a drop off in the number of hours you play every week.

Before you know it, your hours will have dropped and you will not be bringing in enough income to sustain your budgeted lifestyle.

Now, I am not saying you have to set a hardcore schedule that has you playing your fingers to a bone. Make sure you are realistic and set a schedule that you know you can keep.

You know yourself better than anyone. Be honest and set realistically sustainable hours and then stick to it. And for heaven’s sake, don’t forget to plan recreational activities. You need things to look forward to outside of poker.

4. Find Balance

As a poker professional it’s easy to become obsessed with the game. However, if you want to be able to have longevity in your career it’s imperative that you intentionally create balance in your life.

The best way to succeed over the long term is to compartmentalize your life into your various interests and activities.

In other words, when it’s poker time you get down to business. When it’s time to do something else, you set poker aside and not let it dominate your thoughts.

This is one of the hardest things for humans to do, no matter what your job is. We are “grass is always greener” creatures in a bad way. When we are working we are thinking about sitting on the beach. Yet, when we are on the beach we are thinking about what we will do when back at home and working.

Being able to live in the moment is definitely a learned skill and something to have a life coach or mental coach help you with. A guy I have turned to for years to get mental help is Tommy Angelo. I recommend checking out his most recent book. (Click to see the book on Amazon)

5. Overestimate Your Budget

Some of you are likely thinking, “what budget?”

If you do not have a solid budget plan, you are setting yourself up for disaster as a professional poker player. It’s amazing how quickly the money can melt away when you don’t carefully track your spending.

I recommend using the free budgeting app found on Dave Ramsey’s website. It is a great place to get started and very easy to use.

Just make sure that you are setting a realistic “worst case scenario” budget. What I mean by that is imagine your expected monthly poker income and then take 50% away. Set your budget around that amount of money.

And, if you can’t live on half of what your expectation is? Don’t go pro!

6. Have a Huge Emergency Fund

Large Amounts of Cash

This ties in to budgeting. Even setting a conservative budget will not completely buffer you against going broke due to unexpected real life issues.

Eventually, you will hit that worst-case scenario downswing at the same time your car dies, or your air conditioner breaks down, or your wife leaves you and takes everything.

Make sure you self-insure against Murphy’s Law by setting aside an emergency fund outside of your poker bankroll. The fund should cover you for at least 4 months, preferably longer.

In fact, it is advisable to have a least one year of living expenses set aside in a dedicated liquid account before you go pro. your emergency fund should be extra hefty as a poker player due to the fact that losing months are going to happen to even the best players.

7. Underestimate Your Win-Rate

I bet you’re noticing a trend here. That is to take a conservative approach to your “life ‘roll” in order to free yourself up to play optimally.

When setting your budget, my advice is to look through your long term poker database, whether you are a live or online player. Figure out your hourly rate and then decide what your worst-case scenario rate would be in an off year.

You simply must factor in the possibility that games are going to continue to get tougher to beat every year. That beautiful 8bb/100 win-rate might just be a 6bb/100 win-rate in 3-5 years. Take that into account and go ahead and build your lifestyle around the smaller win-rate now

8. Setup a Retirement Fund and Plan Your Exit Strategy

You don’t want to be forced to find a job when you reach retirement age do you? There’d be nothing worse than grinding your butt off at the poker tables until you are 65 and then bagging groceries or cleaning golf balls off of the driving range for the next 20 years. (unless you enjoy doing that)

You probably have something else you eventually want to do beyond poker. Plan ahead and go ahead and set up an exit strategy. Figure out how much you need to retire at a certain age and go for it.

You don’t really even need to hire a financial adviser. There is plenty of information out there to set everything you need up by yourself. I recommend that you read the book The Bogleheads Guide to Investing, and go from there.

Don’t forget to thank me for this tip in 5-10 years. 🙂

9. Diversify Your Poker Income

Grow Poker Money Large

I highly recommend that you look into developing income sources outside of just your monthly grind. There are actually numerous opportunities to make money in the poker industry outside of playing.

Here are a few passive/semi-passive income ideas for poker players:

  1. Start a Twitch or YouTube Live stream – If you become popular, your poker income can become irrelevant. In fact, there are several Twitch poker personalities that appear to be losing players that make six figures in poker, funded by followers.
  2. Make YouTube videos – The potential here is pretty substantial. There are several poker pros who make a nice side income uploading poker strategy videos to their YouTube channels. It takes some time to build this up, but it is well worth the effort.
  3. Create a blog – I am surprised more people don’t take advantage of this. If you gain a large following, you can monetize a poker blog fairly easily. You are probably not going to get rich blogging, but it can become a nice piece of the puzzle in your overall income stream.
  4. Write a poker book or video series – This can be part of your poker blog. If enough people are interesting in how you are winning in poker, why not share that knowledge with your fans? If you can find 200 people to pay you an average of $20 a month, you are in business.

10. Have No Debt

This should be a no-brainer. Make sure that you are completely debt free (outside of your home, if applicable) before you consider going pro. Debt has a way of piling up on your once you establish it.

Get into the mindset of having money work for you, not against you. Wealthy people do things to make their money make more money. Poor people find ways to make their money make other people money. Which type of person do you want to be?

Cut up the credit cards and rely on your emergency fund if you run short of your budget one month. The great thing about an emergency fund is that you don’t pay interest on it. In fact, you can earn interest on all or a portion that money.

11. Double Your Bankroll Management Requirements

Managing a bankroll correctly is critical to any poker player’s success. However, for a professional it is exponentially more important to be conservative in this area.

Here are my recommend bankroll guidelines:

  • Cash game professionals should keep at least 100 buy-ins set aside for the highest stake you play.
  • Multi-table tournament and SNG players should have at least 250 buy-ins set aside for their highest buy-in.

To some of you, this might sound extreme. Let me give you an analogy to help clarify how important being really conservative with bankroll management is in poker.

Think of your poker bankroll as a cup in baseball.

The number of buy-ins you choose to keep in that bankroll is akin to choosing the materials and thickness contained a cup.

Would you prefer to wear a cup made from notebook paper and keep 20 buy-ins in your bankroll? Or do you think it’s better to wear a plate mail cup and keep 100 buy-ins or more set side for poker?

Trust me, a 20 buy-in downswing is going to hurt like getting punched in the crotch. But it will hurt a lot less if you chose to wear the steel cup.

12. Get Healthy

It is common knowledge that the lifestyle of a poker professional tends to lead to a lot of unhealthy habits.

This is especially true for live poker players who have to frequent casinos:

  • They are constantly offering your free alcohol
  • There are large and usually inexpensive buffets
  • The optimal hours to play are late at night
  • You are forced to sit for extended periods of time

Even online players have a lot of the same problems. It’s easy to have trouble adjusting to odd hours. You can quickly become sleep deprived or get in bad shape due to all the sitting and lack of exercise.

Plan to Be Healthy

You simply must schedule your sleep, nutrition, and exercise. Plan everything!

Trust me on this. If you do not currently do some form of exercise or eat correctly. Try eating nothing but whole foods for a week and gett into some type of exercise program. You will feel 200% better!

Personally, I am really minimalist when it comes to exercise and nutrition. I run three times a week. Immediately after running, I do three sets of crunches, 5 sets of push-ups, and 5 sets of pull-ups.

It’s easy to fall off the wagon slowly over time. I am always amazed by how much better I feel after being unhealthy for a while. You really don’t know how bad you feel until you feel good again.

What If I’ve Never Exercised?

If you have never been into fitness or haven’t in a long time there are several beginner programs out there that anyone can do. You don’t need to pay for a gym membership or hire a fitness coach.

All you need are a pair of shoes and space to walk and jog. The Couch to 5k running program can be done by just about anyone.

13. Commit to Your Poker Career and Don’t Establish a Backup Plan

You might find this surprising since a lot of my tips have to do with planning, this one might sound a bit counter-intuitive.

What I am talking about here is your mindset.

You do not want to “try” to become a poker professional and have any doubts in your mind. If you even consider that failure is an option, it will likely become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Therefore, while you should take precautions to maximize your chances for success. Forget about making a backup plan.

If you follow my advice, your emergency fund will be ample enough that you have time to figure something else out should something happen where you can’t make a living at poker anymore.

14. Set Aside Time for Studying

Man Studying Poker Dictionary

Poker is definitely not a job where you can just learn a basic set of skills and get by indefinitely. You have to constantly improve or else all of the other players will eventually pass you by.

Think of study as continuing education. I recommend that for every 10 hours of play time you should be reviewing your play and working on your strategy 1 hour.

So, if you play 30 hours a week you should be putting in at least 3 hours of study.

Schedule it and just do it.

15. Play on the Softest Poker Site(s) You Can Find

There is no room for ego in professional poker. At least there isn’t if you want to maximize your hourly rate and make the most money possible.

Since you are considering becoming a professional poker player, I am sure you already know what the source of profit and object of the game is in poker.

You make money by playing against opponents who are not as good as you are. Their collective mistakes along with your +EV play lead to you beating the rake and making a profit.

Heeeere Fishy Fishy

So, what should be the biggest deciding factors on where you decide to play poker? Here are the only three things you need to think about when choosing a poker site:

  1. The most fish possible in your chosen game
  2. The highest possible traffic of recreational players in your chosen game
  3. The least number of regs possible in your chosen game

Am I making myself clear here?

VIP Rewards Are a Red Herring

Forget about rewards, rakeback, the VIP program, and any other nonsense such as that. Those things only bring in more regs. In today’s game, you should be picking a poker site that builds itself on the recreational poker model.

Here are your best choices today:

All of these sites have one thing in common. They make an effort to protect weak players by limiting the use of a HUD. In fact, Ignition is anonymous. This makes it impossible for the sharks to track and have an extreme unfair advantage over them.

What this means for you is that, since the regs like rewards, they will not populate these sites as much as they do reward-packed sites. Don’t be fooled by a red herring. Go to where the actual Herrings (err fish) are.

16. Talk to a Tax Professional

Don’t mess with the IRS or whoever happens to collect taxes in your country.

Before you play your first hand as a full-time profession, go see a Tax pro and find out exactly what you need to do to comply with the laws in your jurisdiction.

If you go from filing a tax return every year with a W2 or 1099 and then suddenly either stop filing or, alter the way you file. Chances are, it might send up some red flags.

You really don’t want to play professionaly for a few years and then get hit with an audit. Tax penalties are a b#!%!

17. Consider Moving Abroad (Cost of Living Lower)

If you happen to be single or not tied down to your region, it’s worth taking a look at other locales that might be more poker-friendly for you. There are several factors that might make moving abroad attractive:

  • Potential lower cost of living
  • Some countries do not tax poker winnings
  • You get the chance to experience another culture

If you might be interested in looking into this further, here is a well-written article that will help you get started in your research.

Final Thoughts

I genuinely hope this guide has helped you in your quest to decide whether or not the life of a full-time poker pro is for you.

Personally, I have always chosen to just stay as a part-time pro and still keep my income from my small business. I have often considered taking the leap but, due to having a family, have ultimately always decided against it.

No matter what you choose, your ultimate decision should be the one that finds balance between supporting your lifestyle and making your happy. Good luck!

Related Questions

How much money does a professional poker player make? The amount of money a professional poker player makes varies wildly. Some poker pros choose to live in an area with an extremely low cost of living and live very well on $30,000 a year or even less. Other players make six figures each year. Very few actually make enough to be considered wealthy.

How long does it take to become a professional poker player? Generally, it takes at least a couple of years of devotion and study before a player matures to the point where making a living from poker is legitimately viable. Even after officially going pro, the education does not end. Poker is a sport where you must consistently improve in order to stay good enough to make it as a professional.

Can you get good at poker fast? How quickly you can get good at poker depends on your level of intelligence and work ethic. Also, finding the right information and a good poker coach who can give good tips can help speed up the process.

Jim James

Jim James has over 15 years of experience playing professionally and is the author of the best-selling book called Automatic Poker. Using a no-nonsense mathematical and logical approach to beating the games, he has won 7 figures at the poker table. Jim is well-known as the world’s leading expert on playing short or mid-stacked poker.

Today, he helps other players demystify what it takes to win money in No-Limit Hold’em and has helped countless people become winning poker players through his Online Poker Academy.
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