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How to Become a Professional Poker Player

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Poker will give you as much as you put into it. In this day and age, it's not something that can be done lightly, in your spare time, because everyone is playing, and it takes a lot of constant learning and improving before you can beat other players consistently. If going pro and making a living out of poker is your goal, dedicate yourself to it completely.

Generally, in poker there are no shortcuts. You can't bluff your way through, you can't ride your luck and win a major tournament. The process of becoming a poker professional is not easy but the path is known: become very, very good at poker, and keep moving up to stronger levels of competition as you get even better.

We assume you're relatively new to the game of poker or you've found that you're quite good and want to see how to turn it into a profession. In this article, we'll mostly cover the key aspects of becoming very good at the game as playing in increasingly tougher games will take care of itself.

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Play online

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Starting your poker career in online poker rooms is the by far the best choice. The game is fast, there are numerous game types to choose from, you don't have to leave your home to play, and finally - you can play online to qualify for a live tournament.

Here are some of the best online poker sites we recommend for the early stages of your career as they have the weakest competition and best freeroll tournaments to get you accustomed to winning.

Visit these recommended sites for novices:
  1. Ignition Casino - The most games running and a lucrative first deposit bonus.
  2. SB Poker - Weekly raked hands race for micros rewards true grinders.
  3. America's Cardroom - Nano-stakes tables and $10 free with Americas Cardroom bonus code PRB10FREE.
  4. Intertops - 36% rakeback and many promos to grow your bankroll.
  5. SwCPoker - Practice many forms of poker using bitcoins – Hold'em, Omaha, Stud, Draw games, et cetera.

Learn the basics

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Poker is a game in which you're supposed to continue playing (call/bet/raise) when the situation is favorable and fold when it is not. This is a very simplified view of the game, of course, but if you want to build on this foundation then you first must learn what is a favorable situation and what is not.

Come up with your own table of starting hands. Decide what kind of game you want to play – probably a tight-aggressive style is right if you're just starting out – and decide what action will you take with each starting hand. This is how all players begin. This is not enough by itself to play poker successfully, but it's a necessary foundation to have when you first come into the game.

Know your odds

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Your table of starting hands and decisions for each hand will only get you through the door. Managing the game as it evolves with bets, raises, and bluffs is a must if you want to play with success.

At any point in the game, when it's your turn to make a decision, you must know if the odds are favorable or against you. You have to invest a certain number of chips, you have a certain chance of winning the pot (based on what your hand is and what you think the opponents' hands are), and there's a certain number of chips you can win. Based on this input, you decide if you should go for it or not - and you do so each and every single time when it's your turn to act.

Think about position

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Position is everything in poker. Since the last player to make a decision has more information about the hand than everyone else, it's the best position to have. Likewise, being the first player to go is the worst position in poker.

Note that your position can change as other players fold - you can start in an early position but end up being the last player to play if everyone who came after you folds!

Start with a poker site that has lots of fish

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If the career of a poker player is a journey in which you first become the best player at the table at one level, and then move onto the next level, then it makes sense to start playing against the worst players.

Many casual players play online. Among online poker sites, there are those that are known to have a lot of bad players, so-called fish, such as Ignition Poker and SB Poker.

Know your opponent

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Many players focus only on their own game, but it's imperative in poker to know the type of player your opponent is and how to beat that specific type of player. Detecting the profile of each player at your table and doing so quickly is one of the key skills in poker.

At the early stages of your career, you'll learn to profile players to put them in one of four groups: loose-passive, loose-aggressive, tight-passive, tight-aggressive. Then, as you learn poker, you'll come up with much more detailed profiles.

They say that the worst players think about their own hand, average players think about the opponent's hand, and the best players think about what the opponent thinks their hand is.

Play consistently

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If you want to master the game of poker, you have to keep grinding many hours every day. Doing it halfway won't do the trick as then you'll be on your way to becoming just another casual player and not a poker pro. Professionals spend their days playing poker, analyzing their games, and educating themselves about the game. Effort must be consistent.

Read poker books

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Learning to play by simply playing is not a strategy that will pay off. It takes years to truly understand this game, so why not learn from poker professionals who know everything about poker and find out what they have to say about the game?

Shelf of Poker BooksReading Poker Books Can Really Help You Improve Your Game

Watch professionals play and analyze their game

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There is a lot of material available online that you can study to see why the best of the best decide to do this or that at some point during a game. There's something to be said for watching live gameplay sessions of a solid winner at an actual physical poker table, but this is impractical most of the time. However, there are many superb players who will video stream their online play, with commentary, so it would be good to watch that as well.

Jeff BoskiJeff Boski Is A Good Example of a Poker Streamer and Vlogger Whom You Can Learn From

Refine your game and address the weak areas

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One of the key aspects of poker is analyzing your hand histories and seeing what parts of your game need improving. These areas that need improving are called leaks, and it's a constant struggle to find them and fix them. For example, your strategy when you have Q7 may need improving if your analysis shows you're losing too much with that hand or not winning as much as you should.

This is one of the reasons why it's important to play consistently as that's the only way you can evolve your game while remembering everything you need to do. If you don't play consistently, more and more leaks will start appearing.

Learn when to bluff, and when not to

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Easier said than done, but it's important to learn when to bluff and when not to. This is one of the key aspects of poker. While you can read books about it, it's almost impossible to teach a player when to bluff; it must come from natural talent.

Learn to deal with bad beats

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Bad beats will come, and sometimes it will seem like they'll never stop. This can shatter any player's confidence - even the best players can start doubting themselves if they encounter a series of bad beats.

There's no simple recipe for dealing with situations when you have a strong hand and keep getting beat by weaker hands, but it's important to understand that it's just variance. A player must continue making decisions that are favorable for him, and if the opponent simply has more luck, there's nothing you can do about that. Bad beats are definitely a very challenging part of poker, and players who don't learn how to deal with them will find themselves leaving the game sooner than they should.

Find your game and niche

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There are many different flavors of poker. Texas Hold'em isn't the only game available; there's also Pot Limit Omaha and several other games that are less popular and therefore have less competition in terms of number of players.

To be a professional poker player in the true sense of the word, you'll have to play big tournaments or cash games, but if we take it literally, the term “poker professional” includes everyone who makes a living mainly by playing poker. This can come from cash games, even micro stakes, or online tournaments.

These games are all played in different ways, so it would be good to try them all to see which one suits you the best. For example, you may be an excellent cash game player, but your playing style may not be suited to major tournaments. By focusing on big tournaments, you'd be missing out on the income you can make from cash games in this particular case. Play the game you're good at.

Find your level

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As you get better at poker, the challenge level will increase whenever you move on to play against better players. If you feel like you've hit the wall and can't compete at the level you're currently playing, consider stepping down to a level where you can dominate the tables. You win money in poker by being better than the other players at the table, and there's little to be gained from entering big tournaments and then going home empty-handed time after time.

Your niche might well be beating the fish in online MTTs or micro-stakes cash games. It's not as good as having a seat at the WSOP, but the income might just be enough for this to be a full-time job for you.

Maintain physical and mental health

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Playing poker professionally is mentally draining and time-consuming because you have to maintain concentration for many hours every day. Younger people deal with this pressure more easily as ambition drives them to succeed and as their health is generally better.

While poker is not a physical sport, it is indeed a draining game; therefore, it's vital to keep the brain in perfect shape so you can make the right decisions. This is achieved through nutrition and exercise above all, but it's also important to learn to deal with various challenges to your psyche such as bad beats.

Know when to quit

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Not all poker professionals make it to the very top. Players usually advance to the level of their incompetence, which means that, as they progress through the ranks, they will eventually find themselves becoming one of the weaker players at the table. When that happens, you have the choice to step down a level, where you can play and win, or simply quit because you can't reach the level you hoped you would. Continuing to play online poker at a level where you're just not that good is the worst choice of all.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

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Becoming a professional poker player is a weighty decision that should not be taken lightly. Inform yourself about anything you're unsure of by looking below where we have answered some of the most common questions that players have when contemplating this drastic step.

Small- to mid-stakes professional poker players can make from $25,000 to $500,000 per year. High-stakes professional players can make over $1,000,000 per year with some players making $10,000,000 or more.

It varies by player, but it can take from 6 to 24 months to become a professional poker player. Only the most talented players will move up the ranks quickly. Getting good at poker takes time, and you need to be winning and improving your skills consistently.

Yes, if you're good enough. Very few players manage to make millions from poker, but there are a number of players who make a decent yearly salary, enough to make a comfortable living.

You get good at poker, you beat the fish at easy tables, you learn the correct way to play poker and then refine your strategy and keep refining it as you move up the ranks. Finally, you end up at a level where you win a comfortable yearly income.

Yes, there's still enough money in poker and enough tournaments with rich prizes for poker to be profitable. The poker boom from early 2000s is over – but this is simply due to the fact that the average player got much better, so you can't win money by simply playing ABC poker anymore. The money is still there for the taking, and there's more of it than ever – but you'll need to step up your game to have any realistic shot at claiming a large share of it.