Are you a recreational poker player curious about how to become a pro poker player? Do you want to spend your days and nights playing professional poker for real money?
Pennsylvania online poker is 100% legal, both in poker rooms and through online poker. You can play real cash games and poker tournaments at home or on your mobile device and never even step foot in a casino. Or you can play in card-room tournaments and travel to Las Vegas every year to take on the best in the World Series of Poker.
Poker is booming again across the United States. And with more states legalizing poker, it’s never been a better time to consider becoming a pro player. Let’s look at what it takes to go professional in 2020.
9 Steps to Becoming a Poker Player
So, you want to become a professional poker player? What skills and disciplines do you need to make a poker career? Here are our 9 top tips to getting started.
Step 1: Choose the Right Games for You
If you want to know how to become a professional player, you need to understand your own skill levels and interests.
Do you love long poker game sessions without a break? Do you want flexible hours when you get to decide when you log on and play? Then cash games are probably for you.
Do you have a lot of patience and want a large return on a small outlay? Do you want to try to qualify for large live tournaments, or enjoy the travel element? Then tournaments are probably for you.
Look at what games you have an edge in. If you can master bubble play and are good with stack sizes and variable play, you’ll enjoy tournaments too.
Being a winning player is about playing to your strengths. Don’t play games where you are uncomfortable with the strategies. Choose a poker game where opponents are likely to be worse than you and maximize your returns.
Step 2: Learn the Basic Math
If you’re already a recreational poker player, you may have come across simple math while playing poker. But you’ll need to get a good handle on poker mathematics to make it as a pro player.
Math is especially important in online poker if you’re playing multiple tables. You need to be able to make quick calculations on situations, especially if you have a dozen tables open at once. Simple concepts to grasp include these. You’ll find good training videos on the internet:
- Pot Odds
- Implied Pot Odds
- Expected Value (EV)
- Fold Equity
- Reverse Implied Odds
- Hand Combinations
- Drawing Hands
Even micro-stakes grinders will have a rudimentary understanding of odds, so make sure you do too.
Step 3: Up Your Game Volume
Knowing how much to play is key to knowing how to become a professional poker player. You need to treat being a pro as a job. That means putting in the hard hours so you can turn a profit. So, how much do you work? Having a poker career isn’t a regular 9-to-5, but you need to put the game time in to maximize your returns.
A typical professional player starting out won’t make much more than $10,000-$20,000 per year. And the lower your stakes, the more games you’ll have to play. For an online poker player, you’ll need to learn to multi-table, possibly up to 16-24 tables at once.
Remember that rake (the fee the poker room takes) can really eat into profits too, so factor those in. You also need to play enough to help combat the inevitable downswings.
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Step 4: Invest in Poker Tools
As a professional poker player, you’ll need some professional tools to help you. There is a huge range of software available, and most are compatible with online poker sites.
Choose the right kit for the poker game you want to play. As a tournament and Sit ‘n Go player, you should look at programs like ICMIZER. This gives you optimal strategies for endgame play in MTTs and Sit ‘n Gos.
If you want to use a HUD (Heads-Up Display) to track opponents, look at market leaders like Poker Tracker 4 and Hold’em Manager. That said, many legal poker sites in Pennsylvania won’t allow HUDs, so always check first.
A HUD like Hold’em Manager overlays over your tables as you play. You can read instant stats on your opponents so you can plan lightning-fast moves every time. Study real-time statistics like Pre-Flop Raises (PFR), Voluntarily Put Money into Pot percentages (VPIP) and Preflop 3-Bet percentages.
Good HUDs like Poker Tracker work in No Limit, Pot Limit, or Limit games, whether you’re playing cash, SNGs, or tournaments.
We also recommend signing up to SharkScope. For a monthly fee, you can keep track of all your tournament wins across numerous legal poker rooms. You can also look up stats on other players and earn benefits like leak detection tools.
Step 5: Invest in Coaching and Training
There are now countless coaching programs available for aspiring professional poker players. The best ones will cost money, so factor this into your budget.
Raise Your Edge offers programs in everything from 6-max to cash games and bounty tournaments. Expert courses can cost over $1,200. Phil Galfond’s Run It Once is one of the world’s best poker strategy communities. The site offers pro videos and courses. Start off with the Ultimate Beginner Guide in No Limit Hold’em and work your way up.
Step 6: Set up Your Own Twitch Channel
Twitch.tv is a streaming service which allows pros to commentate and analyze their own play live. You can set up subscriptions for budding pros to watch. Twitch is also a good gateway into getting a sponsorship.
According to British online pro Bobby “The BJP” James, there are several dos and don’ts for using Twitch. He says you should “always engage vocally with your audience, and don’t let your emotions overtake you. Be professional at all times.” And while engaging with viewers is good for your profile, try to ignore the trolls.
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Step 7: Look After Your Body and Mind
Being a poker pro can be fun, rewarding and varied. But it’s important to look after yourself. Online pros lead a sedentary lifestyle, and that can be bad for physical and mental well-being. You should also be prepared to go on long downswings without making a profit.
Bobby James says: “Mindset is so crucial because if you can’t handle the swings then you’re playing too big for your own comfort. You need to desensitize yourself from the money. Play because you want to be the best, money is just the bonus. Money is just the means with which you play poker, don’t forget that.”
Step 8: Use Sensible Bankroll Management
If you want to know how to become a professional poker player, you need to understand good poker bankroll management. Never shoot too high, and don’t move up a level until you’re comfortably beating your current one.
You’ll also need a decent bankroll to handle any downswing. For a Texas Hold’em cash player you should have 25-50 buy-ins. For Sit ‘n Gos and tournaments, consider having 100-500 buy-ins. The more players there are in the poker tournament, the bigger your bankroll should be.
As a PA resident, you’ll have to pay taxes on your wins. Always keep good records of all sessions, and deduct tax as you go. You’ll also owe federal taxes on winnings, too.
And finally, always keep your poker funds in a separate checking account from your regular savings.
Step 9: Set Win Rate Targets
You should also become acquainted with your win rate. The win rate is a gauge of how quickly you win. So, in a cash game, a win rate of 5bb/100 would mean you win 5 big blinds per 100 hands. The win rate is important as it determines how fast you are turning a profit. In online cash games, anything over 10bb/100 is good.
You should also be aware that win rates can vary depending on where you are sitting at the table. For example, your win rate is much higher when playing on the button than it is in the big blind.
For tournaments and SNGs, you need to look at ROI (Return on Investment). That’s the average return you make in comparison to your tournament buy-ins. For example, let’s say you won $10,000 playing online tournaments, but the outlay in buy-ins is $7,500. Your profit is therefore $2,500. Your ROI would be Profit/Investment x 100, or 33.3% in this case.
Pros and Cons of Becoming a Poker Player
You want to know how to become a professional poker player? You need nerves of steel, a good approach to losing and winning, and sensible bankroll management. But there are definite pros and cons to giving up the day job and turning pro.
- Work for yourself and avoid the 9-to-5 grind
- Doing something you love 24/7
- Travel the world and play in the biggest live tournaments
- Win life-changing sums of money
- Downswings can hit everybody, even good players
- Long playing sessions can be mentally and physically draining
- Online pros may experience a lack of social contact
Most Successful Professional Poker Players
Want to make it as a professional poker pro? You may have to play a while if you want to catch up with these legends of the game.
Bryn Kenney (USA): Bryn Kenney heads the all-time money-earners list with over $56,000,000 in lifetime cashes. Kenney is a high stakes pro whose best cash was $20.5 million in the 2019 Triton Poker Super High Roller Series.
Stephen Chidwick (UK): Stephen Chidwick is one of the world’s most complete high stakes Hold’em pros. He has over $34 million in career earnings and regular plays in the world’s biggest tournaments.
Daniel Negreanu (Canada): Daniel Negreanu is one of poker’s best-known and most successful pros. His career stretches over nearly two decades and he counts WPT and WSOP bracelets among his life achievements.
Phil Ivey (USA): Phil Ivey was one of the biggest stars of the online poker boom in the mid-2000s. Along with fellow American Tom Dwan, Ivey took part in some of the biggest online cash games. Ivey also has over $30 million in live tournament earnings, including multiple WSOP (World Series of Poker) bracelets.
Is Becoming a Poker Player Worth It?
Being a professional poker player is the dream of many amateurs. You get to work when you want and travel the world if you play live poker. But the grinds can be extremely long, and there is no guarantee you will end the year in profit. Even the best pros can go on serious downswings, and not all players can make a living wage.
”Players need a way bigger bankroll to be able to comfortably accept the variance,” James said. “Some pros haven’t had a holiday in years as they’re still trying to claw back their losses.”
Start off by increasing your hours while keeping the day job. Keep good records and get some free coaching from a pro. They will be able to give you an honest assessment on your play and tell you whether you should take the leap.
Becoming a Poker Pro FAQ
How long does it take to become a professional poker player?
Not all players have the same skill level, but it can take 1-2 years to become a fully-established pro.
How much does a professional poker player make?
Good players can make over $2000 a month playing cash games. Very good players can turn over $50,000-$100,000 a month if they multi-table online.
Who is the richest poker player?
Daniel Negreanu is one of the richest and most consistent poker pros of all time. Negreanu has career cashes worth over $42 million. However, the top-earning pro is American high-stakes player Bryn Kenney with over $50 million in tournament cashes.
Can professional poker players play in casinos?
Yes. Most land-based casinos in the US have cardrooms running regular cash games and tournaments.
Do professional poker players pay taxes?
US pros must pay federal and state income tax. Some countries, such as the UK, don’t charge tax on gambling winnings.