How to Become a Professional Poker Player

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Why Trust Techopedia

If you’re reading this, it’s because there’s somebody inside of you that wants to learn how to become a professional poker player.

Thankfully, you’ve come to the right place as Techopedia’s resident poker pro, fresh off winning his first WSOP Circuit ring, is here to give you all the best tips in order to boost your chances.

We’re not going to lie to you: it’s not going to be easy.

There’s a lot of investment involved, both in time and money. You’ll have to go through a complete lifestyle change and dedicate yourself to the game.

But, if you have the passion and you’re willing to put in the work, you can become one of the rare players on this earth that can play cards for a living and call themselves a professional poker player.

You’ve got to have a great poker face.

My Story

My poker journey began when I was about 12 years old at a family party, around 2001 before the Moneymaker poker boom.

There were two full ring tables and everyone was getting dealt two cards. I had never seen anything like this before and, as a total math nerd, I was instantly intrigued.

For the next few months, I went to the library after school and read (currently outdated) books about Texas Hold’em and used their internet for my allotted 60 minutes a day to look into poker strategy and tips.

I would participate in play money games back on the old pogo.com in order to get a feel for the game and to implement strategies that I learned.

About three months later, I attended another one of these family parties and was pleased to find out that they were going to run a tournament that day. I was able to borrow $20 from someone and there I was, playing against fully-grown adults and older teenagers.

As a shy kid growing up, it was so cool just to feel included with the group. What was even cooler is that I ended up winning the whole tournament and pocketing 50% of the prize pool, which was something like $150, more money than I had ever had in my life up to that point.

Over the next few years, I was able to grow my passion for poker thanks to the old ESPN World Series of Poker broadcasts, Pogo, and by playing freerolls on my preferred site: UltimateBet.

Eventually, I won a 4,000+ entry freeroll and got a check mailed to me for $50. I was so proud at the time that I framed the voided check after cashing it.

Around the same time, a month after I turned 18, I played in a $1/$2 cash game at Turning Stone in Verona, NY while I was at the casino for a conference with my community college.

After buying in for the minimum of $100, I still remember folding AK-suited with a flush draw on the flop and four players getting all in.

In retrospect, this is probably the stupidest thing I’ll ever do at a poker table. I would have made my flush and it’s a memory I still laugh about today.

Earliest known picture of me playing (2007 or 2008).

Aside from a few backyard home games and one big (lucky) tournament win, I really didn’t have any time or money for poker while I went to college studying mathematics and was fully focused on my soccer career.

After a few tryouts that didn’t work out, I grinded at a high-end restaurant for six months and saved up a ton of cash before going to grad school at St. John’s University to study sports management and sports analytics.

While my first year in grad school was fully dedicated to entry-level sports jobs and internships, I found myself free during my final semester and needing to scratch my competitive itch since I wasn’t playing sports for the first time in my life.

I started going to Atlantic City about 2-3 days a week to play $1/3 cash games at Bally’s. Back then, you could get a free room ($22 resort fee) if you played for five hours.

And so, I started taking notes, watching free Jonathan Little YouTube videos about small-stakes cash games, and opened a couple online poker accounts with ACR and BetOnline.

While the live cash games went well, I got absolutely COOKED online. I lost thousands of dollars, mostly because I didn’t know anything about ranges, ICM, bankroll management, or how to play postflop.

I was essentially donating to the rest of the field, though this will be the case with almost every single poker player when they start playing.

After getting my Master’s, I didn’t play for another few years as I began my career in the sports industry and lived abroad in Latin America after landing a remote job. I was also broke!!! Sure enough, like many others, my poker career truly started during the pandemic.

Playing live poker in Mexico in 2022. Behind plexiglass.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I was trapped in Medellin, Colombia for seven months and legally wasn’t allowed to go outside for the first three or four months.

A few weeks in, I put up $1,000 and bought a RaiseYourEdge (RYE) course and put $1,000 into my ACR account. Sure enough, less than six hours after my first study session, I won around $900 in a $6 tournament.

I studied way too much for the next few months, both on RYE and watching free YouTube videos.

While I had instant success, I would still be a losing player for the next couple of years, though my graph was getting closer and closer to breakeven after grinding online and underground live games in Peru and Mexico.

Over these few years, my skill level and comfort with the game went up dramatically. After saving up, I steadily moved up stakes from $6 to $11 to $16 to $22 to $33 max buy-in.

In 2022, I took my first trip to Las Vegas to play live tournaments and live cash and left profitable, making a pair of final tables and was awarded a win via 7-way ICM chop, giving me my first-ever entries on TheHendonMob site.

But while I was there, somebody recommended that I apply to be a live reporter for PokerNews for the upcoming World Series of Poker. I applied, was accepted, and took a massive pay cut from my regular soccer journalism job to stay in Vegas all summer.

While I was in Vegas, I cashed the only two WSOP events I played in, crushed the very soft cash games, and made a ton of connections in the poker world.

I was able to chat and make friends with some of the best players in the world, pick their brains, and gain access to poker theory that most people would have to pay several thousands of dollars to have.

After WSOP, I covered EPTs, WSOP Europe, PSPC, and other high-profile tournaments with PokerNews, WSOP, and Poker.org while playing some along the way.

I ended up quitting my soccer job after nearly five years and fully joining the poker industry.

My first entry on TheHendonMob was a win!

At the end of 2022, I moved to Brazil and fully dedicated myself to studying and grinding over 40 hours a week and started playing a lot more live poker. A LOT MORE LIVE POKER.

I became the only American player that regularly played on the major Brazilian tournament circuits and, luckily, became a beloved figure in the country.

I also started studying both with renowned pro Faraz Jaka via JakaCoaching and some high-profile Brazilian players, which completely changed my game and allowed me to become a much better and more aggressive player.

While I had some huge online scores that allowed me to not need a regular job in 2023, my first live breakthrough came in Vegas while I was covering the WSOP for Poker.org.

On my second day in town, I won nearly $10,000 after winning a 289-entry $200 WSOP Daily Deepstacks tournament.

$200 WSOP Deepstacks Champion… at 5:30am.

Despite the success, I had the worst tour stop of my life less than two months later, failing to cash any of my 25 bullets and losing over $8,000.

Though it initially destroyed my confidence, it grounded me and I got back to studying.

In large part to the Dara O’Kearney series of books and really working on plugging my leaks, I have won a total of four trophies in the last six months or so, capped off last week my winning nearly $20,000 and my first-ever WSOP Circuit ring after shipping the WSOP Brazil PKO event.

WSOP Circuit Ring #1! [Image: Instagram/pokerblaise]
I currently play a minimum of one live series a month and I play $109 max buy-in MTTs with an average buy in (ABI) of around $30-$35.

As far as live poker goes, I generally stick to having between $150 and $500 of my own money invested per tournament. I sell full tournament packages that I market on my social media channels and sell staking to individual events on StakeKings in order to responsibly play larger tournaments.

This allows me to test myself in better competition, be in the game, and reduce the wild variance that is involved in the game of poker.

Most of my buyers are my friends, so it’s always nice to be able to give your friends a fat wad of cash after winning.

Example of a Staking Package that I sell.

This is my path, everyone’s path will be drastically different. There is no singular path to success and something that may work for one person may not work for another.

Despite this, I will do my best to give you tips that I wish I knew before I started my journey.

How to Become a Professional Poker Player

Read on for my top five tips for starting your journey to becoming a poker pro.

1. Treat Studying Poker Like a Job

When first starting out, you need to dedicate yourself to learning all aspects of the game.

You should be studying a minimum of 10 hours per week and/or one hour for every four hours of play time.

You shouldn’t quit your job to start playing poker right away, so this is going to be on top of your work schedule. Get ready to dedicate yourself to the game.

There are so many different aspects of poker, especially in tournaments, that need to be studied.

While cash games are a bit more straightforward, you’ll need to learn baseline GTO strategies at various stack depths.

You’ll also need to learn important concepts like preflop ranges, when to range-bet flops, how to adjust to your opponents, when to stray away from GTO, ICM, adjusting for PKO and Mystery Bounty tournaments, satellites, and much, much more.

The most important things you can study immediately are preflop ranges at 30 big blinds and below and also playing BU vs BB (and vice-versa) as these will be the most common situations you will face in tournament poker.

Studying poker is something that’s you’ll never stop doing, even after you become a profitable player. If you stop, other players are going to get better and surpass you.

At some point along your career, you will have to invest real money into your studying. I highly recommend courses like RaiseYourEdge, PokerCoaching, and JakaCoaching, all of which have personally helped take my game to a new level.

You should also read all the Dara O’Kearney and Barry Carter books and also take part in “poker Twitter.”

After you become profitable, investing in occasional private coaching is definitely the way to go, though it’ll run you three figures an hour.

This book changed my entire career.

I wouldn’t recommend watching live cash streams but I would highly recommend watching tournament streams as they are much more technical in nature.

Watching Day 1s and Day 2s of tournaments will help you much more than watching final table streams, as FTs are played in a much more tight and precise way than early tournament poker.

Live poker cash streams are often players playing an unprofitable style of poker in order to create a spectacle that’s akin to reality television. While it may entertain, it’s certainly not educational.

Finally, after you end up being at least a breakeven poker player, I highly recommend studying mixed games.

Not only will you pick up skills in other variants of poker, these skills will help you gain an even bigger edge when you play Hold’em. You’ll better understand why you do certain things and that theory will help you make stronger decisions.

2. Prepare to Lose a LOT, Especially at First

In order to be a professional poker player, you’re going to need to face reality: you’re almost always going to lose, only one player can win. At least in tournaments anyways.

In any given tournament, usually between 10% and 17.5% of the tournament field cashes and makes at least around 1.5-2x their buy-in.

Tournaments are very top-heavy, so you have to make final tables and make them pretty consistently.

You cannot bank on one huge score in a tournament with a crazy-big field, it’s almost certainly not going to happen. You need to play well and play well often in smaller fields (under 1,000 players).

Here is an example of a graph from one of the websites that I have recently started playing on. Notice how there aren’t many crazy-big spikes from one score, it’s a significant, steady grind. There are still going to be times where you’ll lose money over hundreds or thousands of tournaments, no matter how good you are.

Blaise Bourgeois Poker Graph
Recent poker graph from one of my many sites.

While an estimated 30% of cash game players are profitable and a little less than 10% are good enough to make a living playing cash games, the odds are significantly lower for tournament players.

The best estimates say that roughly between 3% and 7% of all tournament players turn a profit in their life and around 1% or less of players are good enough to earn enough money consistently year-to-year to play tournaments and not have to work.

Therefore, I highly recommend having a base income so you don’t have added pressure to perform.

So when you first set off on your journey to being a professional poker player, realize that it’s almost certain that you will lose a ton of money at first as you begin to get your reps in.

I personally lost thousands of dollars, maybe more than $10,000 before I began to turn a profit.

This is why it’s important to practice sound bankroll management so that you don’t go broke.

3. Practice Sound Bankroll Management

In order to be a successful professional poker player and not go broke, you’re going to need to set aside a poker bankroll.

A poker bankroll is money that’s used just for poker and completely separate from your day-to-day money.

It’s very important not to have the two mixed up, otherwise your personal life may be jeopardized by your poker games.

With this poker bankroll, you need to practice sound bankroll management to prevent yourself from going broke. In essence, bankroll management is limiting your risks in order to always be in the game.

For new cash game players that have yet to prove they are profitable, you’re going to need to have 50 buy-ins at your current buy-in level in order to stay afloat, assuming you buy in at the highly-recommended level of 100 big blinds.

Therefore, if you’re aiming to be a professional poker player and want to play $1/$2 poker, you’re going to want to have a poker bankroll of at least $10,000.

It sounds like a lot and it is, you need money to play poker consistently. That’s why you should start out at lower stakes online.

If you want to start out with a $500 bankroll, you can play 10NL (.05/.10) and multi-table. Some experts recommend having 100 buy-ins as a beginner player online, so be honest with yourself and your ability level.

BLINDS MAX BUY-IN (100bbs) PASSIVE (LIVE) GAMES INTERMEDIATE VOLATILE (ONLINE) GAMES
.01/.02 $2 N/A $100 $200
.02/.05 $5 N/A $250 $500
.05/.10 $10 N/A $500 $1,000
.10/.25 $25 N/A $1,250 $2,500
.25/.50 $50 N/A $2,500 $5,000
.50/$1 $100 N/A $5,000 $10,000
$1/$2 $200 $4,000 $10,000 $20,000
$2/$5 $500 $10,000 $25,000 $50,000
$5/$10 $1,000 $20,000 $50,000 $100,000
$10/$20 $2,000 $40,000 $100,000 $200,000
$25/$50 $5,000 $100,000 $250,000 $500,000
$50/$100 $10,000 $200,000 $500,000 $1,000,000

When it comes to poker tournaments, you’re going to need to set aside 100-300 average buy-ins in order to keep your head above water.

This means if you want to play $5 average tournaments and you’re a new player, you should start off with around $1,500. The newer of a player you are, the more buy-ins you should have.

Luckily, there are plenty of online poker tournaments that start out at super-small buy-in levels, so you could legitimately start playing $1 tournaments regularly with a conservative bankroll for just $300.

BUY-IN MINIMUM BANKROLL (100 BIs) CONSERVATIVE BANKROLL (300 BIs)
$1 $100 $300
$2 $200 $600
$5 $500 $1,500
$10 $1,000 $3,000
$20 $2,000 $6,000
$30 $3,000 $9,000
$50 $5,000 $15,000
$100 $10,000 $30,000
$500 $50,000 $150,000
$1,000 $100,000 $300,000

When you start making money or externally add more money into your poker bankroll, you can move up stakes as long as the 100-300 tournament buy-in requirements are met.

However, if you start losing money, you need to suck it up, put your ego aside, and move down stakes.

You need to be very patient as it’s much better to have far more than you need at one buy-in level rather than far less at a higher buy-in level. You should up the biggest buffer you can and really try to grind it out.

We’re all human, so once in a great while, you should “shot take”, which is buying into a cash game or tournament at a higher buy-in than you’re used to playing.

This shouldn’t be done as a last-ditch effort after a bunch of losing sessions. Instead, shot-taking should be done when you’re close to moving up to the next level and you want to test yourself.

While success could give you the boost you need to start with a buffer at the next level, a loss could knock you back to the same stakes for a while.

The alternative, for poker tournament players, is to master satellites so that you get occasional opportunities to play in tournaments that your bankroll cannot afford.

I have personally become a self-proclaimed satellite wizard and satellites helped me have a $20,000 month in February even though I normally play online tournaments with an average buy-in (ABI) of around $30.

4. Play Online Before You Play Live

While live poker will generally offer softer games, there’s no doubt that live games simply cost much more money to play than online.

Usually, in a brick and mortar casino or your local poker room, the lowest cash games on offer will be a $1/$2 game and the lowest price of a legitimate poker tournament in the United States with 30-minute blinds will be $150 or $200, sometimes even $400.

This is obviously very expensive for a starter bankroll, making online the much better option, with tournaments starting at well under $1 and cash games starting at .01/.02.

While the affordability of games at the best online poker sites is one huge advantage, another big advantage is being able to multi-table.

Multi-tabling has a number of benefits, most notably being able to get many more reps in than you would playing live.

In a typical live game, you’ll be expected to see around 25-30 hands per hour while you could see around 75-90 hands per hour online.

If you’re playing four tables at the same time, you could see around 300-360 hands per hour, which means you’re getting anywhere from 10-15x the amount of experience per hour than at a live table.

Being able to play hundreds of hands per hour on a regular basis will quicken your decision making and you’ll be able to generate an accurate sample size to precisely hone in on the leaks in your game.

Since variance is such a factor in poker, you need a sample of roughly 50,000 hands in order to be able to accurately analyze your game in full.

If you start off playing live, 50,000 hands could take up to 2,000 hours of poker to achieve and you won’t have any way of tracking data unless you take accurate notes of every single hand that you play.

50,000 hands online playing four tables could take less than 140 hours of playing to accumulate, and tracking software like PokerTracker4 captures data from every hand.

PokerTracker4 has leak finders and is able to graphically show you where you’re strong and where you’re weak. You could determine your leaks yourself or send your data to a poker coach to analyze and give you things to work on.

This tracking software will also give insights on specific opponents. It’s best to also take notes on your opponents to observe their tendencies so that you can make better decisions in future hands against them.

This literal note-taking skill will translate into mental note-taking skills when you eventually do get to play live.

5. Take Care of Your “Soft Skills”

There are a ton of players out there who I personally know who are really good at poker but end up going broke because they don’t manage their “soft skills”.

Some of them go on tilt, they mismanage their bankroll, they play too long in the pits, or they end up spending too much while they’re drunk.

One night of bad decision-making can make a huge dent on your bankroll, so it’s important to stay alert and not go off the rails.

In order to do so and maximize your chances of becoming a professional poker player, you’re going to have to reduce the amount of casual fun you’ll have, at least in the short-term.

You need to make great decisions both on and off the felt in order to survive in the long-term and make it in this game. Some of my best advice includes:

  • Get enough sleep.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat a generally healthy diet.
  • Study regularly.
  • Remove distractions when playing.
  • Observe all available information.
  • Know when it’s time to quit playing.

Pros & Cons of Being a Professional Poker Player

Pros

1. Money

Obviously, making more money is generally a good thing. Being able to enjoy a better life and play for bigger stakes is a huge advantage.

Sometimes you go on crazy upswings and suddenly make thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars in a very short period of time. Not having to deal with financial stress is, of course, a giant plus.

Our family grew up with money issues, so I do not need very many luxuries in my life in order to feel fulfilled. I also have lived in Latin America for nearly five years, so I do not have much in terms of bills and am able to save a lot more than if I still lived in the United States.

2. Freedom

I’m somebody that will only do what they love and don’t like to be bossed around. Poker allows me to do something I want to do and nobody tells me what to do. It’s a dream for a competitive math nerd.

3. Traveling

Although most of your time is going to be spent in your hotel room and on the casino floor, being able to travel the world and potentially leave with more money than you came with is an insane luxury.

4. Glory

Winning trophies, rings, and online titles is certainly fun. As a lifelong athlete and being as competitive as I am, winning poker tournaments is something that keeps me going and gives my life much more purpose.

5. Friends

While it’s true that it’s much more difficult to make friends as you get older, poker is a rare exception. I have made so many friends in the poker world, even though I’m already in my mid-30s. Online poker, live poker, and poker Twitter have all contributed positively to my social life.

While being in the poker industry and being somewhat of a poker celebrity in Brazil certainly has helped, the friendships I’ve made playing this game will last until my dying days.

My personal trophy collection.

Cons

1. Long Hours

Playing and studying poker, especially if you work, is going to take away the majority of your free time. You’re going to miss nights out, occasional important events, and your social life is going to go way down.

2. Exhaustion

Poker is both physically and mentally draining. You’re sitting in a chair for several hours a day, multiple days a week using most of your mental capacity.

On top of that, you’re traveling, making reservations, buying/selling action, making tournament schedules, constantly talking about hands, and your body will eventually get weak and/or be in pain from sitting for so long.

You also have to stay positive through tough times when you’re losing money day-in and day-out.

3. Expensive

Poker is not cheap. While it’s a very fun game to play, it is an expensive hobby that can make the undisciplined, unstudied, and/or lazy player go broke and stay broke.

You constantly have hundreds or thousands of dollars on the table and can go through downswings that can seem mathematically impossible that can last for weeks or even several months, even if you’re a consistent winning player.

4. Stigma

While I personally haven’t had to deal with any negative stigma, those from conservative households may have to deal with shame associated with being a “gambler.”

Hopefully this guide to becoming a professional poker player will have given you a good idea of what to expect if you decide to go down this career path. Good luck!

Blaise Bourgeois
Poker and Gambling Expert
Blaise Bourgeois
Poker and Gambling Expert

Blaise is an Expert Gambling Writer and a professional poker player in Brazil. He has played and traveled throughout Latin America for the last four-and-a-half years and recently won his first WSOP Circuit ring! He received his Master's in Sport Management and Sports Analytics from St. John's University. Blaise also holds a Mathematics and Computer Science degree from SUNY Purchase, where he still holds the school's Men's Soccer record for goals in a season. Blaise has worked for Catena Media, OddsSeeker, WSOP, PokerNews, and Poker.Org in various capacities. He has a passion for extensive research and aims to provide accurate…