So, you’ve been playing poker with your friends or even regularly at the casino and you’ve been wondering whether you have what it takes to play the game professionally. Do you have it in you to make it into the big leagues – and is it even worth trying?
Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
Do You Really Know the Game?
This one may seem obvious, but the most important question that needs to be answered before even trying to play poker professionally is whether you really know the game. Obviously, you need to know the basic rules of poker but that’s really only the tip of the iceberg.
Do you know the differences between the different forms of poker? Do you know which hands beat which like you know the back of your hand? Do you know how betting works and how to bet strategically? There’s no hand-holding in professional poker so you really, really have to know your stuff.
Who Have You Been Playing Against?
Just because you tend to win while playing against your friends, that doesn’t mean you’re ready for the big time. If all your friends are hobbyists who don’t take the game remotely seriously, the fact that you beat them constantly doesn’t mean that much. Before so much as considering going for the big time make sure you’ve had lots and lots of practice playing against serious players. It doesn’t have to be for serious money, just against serious opponents. This is crucial if you want to find out if you’re as good as you think you are.
How’s Your People Game?
This is every bit as important as knowing the rules of the game in and out. More so, in fact. To do well at poker, in general, and especially in professional poker, you have to know how to read other players. Having a good “poker face” is crucial, but no more so than being able to read your opponents.
Again, this is why playing with your friends is a good way to practice this as you will have less trouble learning to read people that you already know. But if you want to play in the big leagues, you have to move on to playing with strangers to learn how to read someone you don’t know from Adam. And you need to do it often.
Can You Afford It?
Playing poker professionally can become a full-time profession, but to do this you need to make sure that not only are you good enough at the game, you have enough money to support yourself when you lose, especially when you get started.
There are positives and negatives to playing professionally full time and you may want to seriously consider whether you would rather dedicate yourself entirely to playing the game or to take it on, albeit seriously, alongside other work. The former option will give you the skill, the time, and, frankly, the desperation to get very good fast, but the latter option will give you both a financial backup and job satisfaction outside the gaming halls.
Should You Do It?
This is really the big question when you get right down to it.
There are obviously big debates about the ethics of gambling professionally and even if you fall squarely on the side of there being nothing wrong with it, others may well disagree and your reputation may take a serious hit and you may even have very serious issues getting loans from reputable institutions. This problem can be mediated quite a bit, though, by playing professionally but only part time.
Regardless of the ethical questions around it, no one except the most exploitative of gamblers and con men would recommend playing poker professionally if you have any sort of gambling addiction. Or an addictive personality in general.
Poker may not be a blind game of chance like other casino games and is in many ways more about a battle of wits and wills than chance, but responsible gambling is arguably more important with professional poker than playing even total games of chance like slots or roulette.
The stakes in professional poker are extremely high and if you aren’t able to set yourself limits and know that you’re able to stick to them, you may well end up literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt – and by that point banks and proper financial institutions will definitely not back up your gambling debts and you will need to rely on loan sharks or known criminals for your exorbitant loans. And that won’t end well for you. Guaranteed.
So, if you’re good enough and financially solvent enough to play poker should you try to play it professionally?
It has its challenges, for sure, and you have to really make sure you are as good as you think you are if you really want to play professionally, but the most important thing here is self-knowledge: not just whether you have what it takes to win, but do you have the right temperament, self-discipline and clear-headedness to play professionally without falling into serious, sometimes life-threatening, danger?
Everything else is secondary.