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Old 07-20-2009, 05:04 AM   #1
Ronfar
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Concept of the Week #25: Playing Professionally

Once one starts to take poker seriously, it is close to inevitable that the idea of one day playing for a living is considered. As someone who has made the transition from working a nine to five job in a professional field to playing poker professionally, I intend to use this Concept of the Week post to share some of the things that made that transition relatively smooth. Additionally, I'll be detailing a few of the common pitfalls awaiting those who want to "go pro". As a warning, this post is going to be long and shall be written from the perspective of someone who wants a "lower risk" approach with respect to being able to maintain their lifestyle, support a family, pay bills, etc. Consider it the nit's guide to going pro.


Part 1: Proving the Concept
The first step I would imagine everyone takes when considering a professional poker career is estimating just how much they could be earning. While it is both obvious and absolutely necessary that one has a projected income figure that is able to adequately support their needs, one can easily deceive themselves when coming up with this number. Leaving other issues aside, first and foremost when trying to come up with a projected income it is imperative that you understand variance. The importance of this is twofold. First, you want to be confident in the winrate(s) you are using to estimate your income. Second, if hitting a stretch where you are in the bottom couple percentile of variance would cause significant harm to your life, you have a problem.

Someone could easily write an entire CotW on variance. Rather than go into it deeply and make this post even longer than it already will be, I'll leave you with this:

Variance is far more significant than the vast majority of poker players, including most folks on this forum, realize or want to accept.

Here is a good starting point for learning about variance:
http://forumserver.twoplustwo.com/78...ariance-79592/


Part 2: Poker Isn't Like Other Jobs
Ok, you've read up on variance and have derived from your sample size a 95% confidence interval for your "true" winrate. Even if you happen to end up on the lower edge of said interval for awhile, you'll still be earning a ton more than your current income, and poker seems a lot more fun compared to your current job. Sweet. Here's a bunch more stuff to think about:

(1) When you are considering hands per hour and time spent working as a poker player, this time is all actually spent working and requires a constant level of focus.

Personally, I spent a couple years working as a software developer after graduation. While I was at work for 8 to 9 hours daily, on average I likely spent around 3 hours per day completing actual work. Though I won't deny being a slacker, this trend was not at all uncommon among my coworkers. At many jobs, you will spend significant amounts of time socializing as well as performing activities unrelated to the job. It was while working at this job that I conducted the bulk of my poker related study, and worked towards learning and understanding fundamental concepts. Much of said time was spent lurking this very forum of 2p2.

The bottom line is that while you may currently be working a job which requires a far greater work ethic than my software engineering gig, it is somewhat unlikely that it will compare to poker if you intend to commit a similar number of hours to work. With poker, when you say you are going to play 4000 hands at 800 hands per hour, that equates to 5 hours of actual work. Additionally, this work requires a very high level of mental focus, unless you are shortstacking scum. Furthermore, keep in mind that you'll probably want to set aside time to study and work on your game. Not many conventional jobs have necessary homework.

(2) Mostly due to the effects of (1), poker will very likely become less enjoyable and severe burnout is a possibility.

Activities are always a lot more fun when they are optional. If you are suddenly playing a much higher volume and are forcing yourself to play at times you'd rather be doing something else, it is only natural that poker is going to start to feel a lot more like a job and less like a fun game. By going pro you are going to be losing a hobby that you probably quite enjoy. The good news is this may free up a lot of time for you to pursue new hobbies (this was actually a big reason I went pro). Unfortunately, it may also lead to you feeling burnt out, and not wanting to play another hand ever. Your focus and winrate may suffer.

I recommend doing two things to combat burnout. The first is very simple. Look at the big picture. You're playing a game for a living and (hopefully) making a very competitive income. The second is to spend more time studying and less time playing. Learn a different style, or a different game entirely. Try to once again find the things that made poker so enjoyable in the first place that you wanted to pursue it as a job.

(3) Be mindful of physical consequences.

I suppose poker is actually like many jobs in this regard. I'm not going go into much detail here, but take care to prevent repetitive stress syndrome in your mouse hand, make sure you're getting adequate exercise, etc. etc.

(4) Lots of freedom isn't necessarily a positive.

Playing poker professionally is going to give you a great deal of freedom when compared to almost any other job. People will typically view this as a major positive, but said freedom can be very dangerous should a person lack
self control. Think about what kind of personality type you are and if you'll be able to handle the degree of freedom poker offers.

(5) No more benefits.

Pokerstars isn't going to be looking out for you or your family when you need surgery (well, you could probably concierge it and Stars support would likely send you an awesome get well card if they knew about it, but I'm fairly confident they aren't going to pay for it out of their own pocket).

(6) Know your tax law.

In some countries, poker income is non-taxable. In others it is a bit of a gray area (or in Canada's case a not so gray area that is treated as gray anyway because people get away with it). In the United States, you'll be stuck paying your taxes just as if you were working at Best Buy. Make sure you understand the tax law that applies to your country of residence.


Part 3: Consider the Big Picture, and the Opportunity Costs Associated With Going Pro
Even if playing poker professionally presents the opportunity to earn a lot more money in the short term (and potentially have quite a bit more freedom while doing so) when compared with schooling or getting started in a career, the long term opportunity cost may actually be surprising. Career paths almost uniformly pay the most to those with the most experience, and sacrificing years at a time for short term gain may cost one the most profitable years of their future career's eventual lifespan. Having an education is beneficial for a plethora of reasons, but I won't go into any more detail other than to highly recommend against dropping out of school to play poker professionally. You can likely find plenty of time to grind while pursuing an education if you put your mind to it.

It is very difficult to say exactly how viable playing poker for a living is going to be in five years, and probably next to impossible to tell if it will even be possible in twenty. While many career paths run the risk of becoming out of date or suffering from a decrease in demand, few are likely to match the volatility of poker.

Conversely, the potential short term accelerated income from playing poker professionally can allow one the opportunity to invest and obtain assets much more quickly compared to other career paths. This can result in
avoiding a lot of debt during one's younger years, which then can yield exponential gains later on down the line provided smart money management is observed. Imagine never having to work another day in your life unless you choose to, just because you put in a lot of effort playing a game for a few years? Such success is definitely a possibility.


Part 4: Upside
In this post up to now it probably seems like I've given you a lot of reasons not to play poker professionally, and not paid enough attention to the upside. While there is certainly significant risk and downside that must be considered, it would be silly not to review the positives. Below are the first few that come to mind:

(1) High potential income in the short term, especially compared to typical salaries for those getting started in a career. Might be tax free depending on your country of residence.

(2) Freedom, and lots of it. No commute, no boss, no set hours. You answer to yourself.

(3) Poker is a game, and it can be very enjoyable. Work on keeping it that way.

(4) Travel opportunities. Poker is played in many exotic locations that a professional can often find a tax deductible excuse to visit.

(5) Having a very uncommon job is pretty cool, even if you will get a wide range of reactions to the statement that you are a professional poker player.


Part 5: Conclusion
The bottom line I suppose is that it all boils down to risk versus reward, just like a poker hand. Nobody can tell you if pursuing poker as a career is right for you. It certainly comes with a higher risk when compared to most career paths, but also offers very impressive potential rewards, especially in the short term. Do your homework, be prepared, and if you believe it will make you happy good luck in your attempt to live the dream. I certainly don't regret my choice yet, but who knows what the future will bring.
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Old 07-20-2009, 05:11 AM   #2
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Re: Concept of the Week #25: Playing Professionally

first.


I've always wanted to say that.
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Old 07-20-2009, 05:12 AM   #3
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Re: Concept of the Week #25: Playing Professionally

tl;dr yet

Just wanted to say that you are my hero mr. ronfar.
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Old 07-20-2009, 05:18 AM   #4
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Re: Concept of the Week #25: Playing Professionally

3st since I actually read it. Very nice read.
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Old 07-20-2009, 05:57 AM   #5
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Re: Concept of the Week #25: Playing Professionally

Nice post.

I'm not a professional poker player but I've been a freelance software developer for the last few years. There are a lot of similarities - I only get paid for work that I do, I control my own work hours, I sit in front of a computer alone all day and I have to motivate myself to work etc.

Towards the end of my first year working solo I experienced severe mental burnout. I took made several adjustments to mitigate against burnout reoccurring. Here are a couple that that I think would probably apply to professional poker players too.
  • Regular Exercise. It's difficult to express how important this one is. It makes a huge difference to your mental alertness and general levels of well-being. Also sitting in front of a computer all day can cause a lot of stress on your back and neck muscles. Exercise can help mitigate against that.
  • Actively maintain your social circle. Get out of the house every day. Stay in touch with other people. I once went almost a week without leaving the house. This is not sustainable. Humans are social animals. If you're spending a lot of time alone your putting yourself at an increased risk of getting depressed. Social interaction with other humans is very important for your mental well-being.
  • Maintain a regular schedule. It helps with long-term motivation and with seperating work-life and real-life is good for your mental health.
  • Get a good ergonomic desk and chair. Your going to be sitting there all day every day - make sure they are comfortable and good for your back. Get the absolute best you can and don't skimp on the cost. It's an investment that will pay you back very quickly.
  • Take time off. Take at least 1 day per week where you don't even think about work. Relax, switch off, take it easy.

The thing about burnout is that it can sneak up on you and at that stage it takes a long time to get back to full working capacity. So look out for it and try to catch it early. Take steps to mitigate against it wherever possible.
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Old 07-20-2009, 06:09 AM   #6
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Re: Concept of the Week #25: Playing Professionally

Im gonna drop out of school and play poker 24/7 for the rest of my life because i'm the ****, varience doesn't even effect me, i'm that good. I lol at all the fishy pros who can't maintain a winrate like mine. LOL
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Old 07-20-2009, 06:43 AM   #7
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Re: Concept of the Week #25: Playing Professionally

Hi Ronfar, this is an amazing poast!! go go go go! here is a couple of personal questions which you may or may not choose to answer here.

a) how long have you been playing professionally?

b) from seeing your winrates/strat etc. i have always wondered why you are not playing 1kNL yet :P is there a reason why you want to stick to 1/2 or below? ROI?

c) How would approach learning / improving your game professionally? Does this involve joining a couple of coaching sites and going through their curriculum? Is it just a personal schedule of things to do?

Thanks!
awesome poastt!!
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Old 07-20-2009, 07:41 AM   #8
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Re: Concept of the Week #25: Playing Professionally

Nice post Ronfar!
I am also a software developer i have a nine to five work. I like what i do but i love poker. I just begin this year on pokerstars and i love very much poker. I am grinding on multitableing NL10 and SNG.

I would like to play professional, that is a long term and very important goal for me. But for now i want to build my bankroll and move up in vip levels at pokerstars. I will only play professional when my income from poker will be consistent and higher than my actual income. Also, i hope i could have supernova vip level.

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Old 07-20-2009, 10:48 AM   #9
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Re: Concept of the Week #25: Playing Professionally

wow. sik life/post. Makes me want to quit my job. j/k. kinda.

question:

1. How long had you played before you developed the skills/mindset/winrate/understanding of variance to decide on playing for a living?

2. People have been saying that games are dying for years. What is your "professional" opinion?

3. What is the most annoying question you get about being a professional poker player, and how do you explain it to people that don't understand? (the "how much did you lose" people)

4. Do you ever really play in your underwear? If yes, does this make you play better?
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Old 07-20-2009, 10:55 AM   #10
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Re: Concept of the Week #25: Playing Professionally

Nice post Ronfar!
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Old 07-20-2009, 10:56 AM   #11
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Re: Concept of the Week #25: Playing Professionally

I came when I read the title+the author, will read after i clean up

You are probably the most level headed person I've ever read on these forums. Thanks for taking some time to further motivate me to make a change in my life.
Going to run some variance examples given my WR, sample sizes, and STD to determine just how bad a month could be, i might make a new topic about it if I yield something of consequence.

I'd almost like this to turn into a well since you are one of the most accomplished small stakes players around, it would be a great benefit to glean from your experience.

Last edited by springsteen87; 07-20-2009 at 11:05 AM.
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Old 07-20-2009, 10:57 AM   #12
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Re: Concept of the Week #25: Playing Professionally

very nice post, thanks OP
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Old 07-20-2009, 11:08 AM   #13
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Re: Concept of the Week #25: Playing Professionally

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ronfar View Post
Part 3: Consider the Big Picture, and the Opportunity Costs Associated With Going Pro
Even if playing poker professionally presents the opportunity to earn a lot more money in the short term (and potentially have quite a bit more freedom while doing so) when compared with schooling or getting started in a career, the long term opportunity cost may actually be surprising. Career paths almost uniformly pay the most to those with the most experience, and sacrificing years at a time for short term gain may cost one the most profitable years of their future career's eventual lifespan. Having an education is beneficial for a plethora of reasons, but I won't go into any more detail other than to highly recommend against dropping out of school to play poker professionally. You can likely find plenty of time to grind while pursuing an education if you put your mind to it.

It is very difficult to say exactly how viable playing poker for a living is going to be in five years, and probably next to impossible to tell if it will even be possible in twenty. While many career paths run the risk of becoming out of date or suffering from a decrease in demand, few are likely to match the volatility of poker.
Very well written article.

The part quoted above...... should be MANDATORY reading for those thinking of a pokering career.

As most of you know, I am 53 years old and own a few businesses. My wife and I are millionaires......so I come to you from an adult, career oriented prospective. The above quote is VERY accurate and will need to be factored into a future career path model,,,poker or not.
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Old 07-20-2009, 11:12 AM   #14
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Re: Concept of the Week #25: Playing Professionally

Good post, thanks for the effort OP.
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Old 07-20-2009, 11:34 AM   #15
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Re: Concept of the Week #25: Playing Professionally

amazing post Ronfar... just what i needed to read as I'm making the leap in January.
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Old 07-20-2009, 11:34 AM   #16
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Re: Concept of the Week #25: Playing Professionally

Quote:
Originally Posted by King Spew View Post
Very well written article.

The part quoted above...... should be MANDATORY reading for those thinking of a pokering career.

As most of you know, I am 53 years old and own a few businesses. My wife and I are millionaires......so I come to you from an adult, career oriented prospective. The above quote is VERY accurate and will need to be factored into a future career path model,,,poker or not.
KS can I borrow 10K?

Nice post Ron. Here is a decent book if people are interested in doing some more research.

http://www.amazon.com/Professional-P...8104152&sr=8-1
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Old 07-20-2009, 11:42 AM   #17
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Re: Concept of the Week #25: Playing Professionally

Quote:
Originally Posted by brocksavage1 View Post
KS can I borrow 10K?

Nice post Ron. Here is a decent book if people are interested in doing some more research.

http://www.amazon.com/Professional-P...8104152&sr=8-1
Have you read this? Seems like it has potential.

Also, cut and paste below. I only do this for friends:

10K

When can I get it back?
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Old 07-20-2009, 11:44 AM   #18
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Re: Concept of the Week #25: Playing Professionally

Quote:
Originally Posted by King Spew View Post
Have you read this? Seems like it has potential.

Also, cut and paste below. I only do this for friends:

10K

When can I get it back?
I'm reading it right now after it got recommended to me by another 2+2er. It's pretty good so far and it's cheap so I'd recommend it.

Regarding the 10K - well I could sit in the 2000NL game and run hot. I'll pay TeddyKGB and you back, and then roll up my stake and head to Vegas.
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Old 07-20-2009, 12:08 PM   #19
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Re: Concept of the Week #25: Playing Professionally

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tao of Jon View Post
4. Do you ever really play in your underwear? If yes, does this make you play better?
To me, this is the #1 benefit of turning pro.
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Old 07-20-2009, 12:12 PM   #20
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Re: Concept of the Week #25: Playing Professionally

Awesome poast, interested in seeing your answers to the above questions. Also, what would you consider your playing:studying ratio is as a professional?
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Old 07-20-2009, 12:25 PM   #21
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Re: Concept of the Week #25: Playing Professionally

Thank you Ronfar!!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ronfar View Post
Consider it the nit's guide to going pro.
It is the FR forum, after all.

I'll likely be coming back and reading this several more times. Very good post.
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Old 07-20-2009, 12:29 PM   #22
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Re: Concept of the Week #25: Playing Professionally

Ron, super post.

+1 to King Spew's comments from someone else who's gone out on their own (sorry brock, I don't have the millions). Living without a guarantee of money coming in breaks a lot of people. I'm not sure one can really explain the pressure to someone who hasn't gone through it. The only thing I can say to it is that it helps if the rest of your life is stable. If there are other problems in your life, this isn't a straw, this is a virgin redwood tree added to the camel's back.

I'd add that if one is serious about playing professionally, the freedom you have is an illusion. Yes, no one is telling you when and where to play. If want to take the summer off, you can for example. However, you are costing yourself considerable money exercising this "freedom". You will make the most money when casual players enter the game. They are most prevalent doing weekends and holidays. Therefore, you will end up working while other people have time off. You'll be working while other people around you are having fun and partying. If there's a huge fish throwing off stacks that represents a month's profits, you really won't be in a position to leave to take your wife/gf/significant other out to dinner, even though you had reservations for the last month and you promised them this time you won't miss it.

IMO, your edge over time isn't going to be good enough pass up these opportunities frequently if you want to make a comfortable living.

The other thing is that most people, especially those who haven't really lived on their own, wildly underestimate how much it costs to live. People tend to remember rent, car payments and food, but forget the big once/year expenses that come up.
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Old 07-20-2009, 12:33 PM   #23
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Re: Concept of the Week #25: Playing Professionally

I get pins and needles in my non mouse arm around my ring and pinky finger.
My buttocks also regularly goes to sleep.

Nice thread OP.
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Old 07-20-2009, 12:33 PM   #24
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Re: Concept of the Week #25: Playing Professionally

I'll tell you what poker really is..... a nice way to retire early. Right now I'm single and if I never have kids, I can definitely see myself retiring early and using poker to supplement my income from savings/investments/inheritance.
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Old 07-20-2009, 12:42 PM   #25
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Re: Concept of the Week #25: Playing Professionally

With regards too variance though, I found having a partner really helps out in this scenario but its super hard to find someone that you can trust at that level.

It also sucks when they are on a 2 month downswing and you are the only one earning money but at the end of the day its still better than playing alone because you still have bad days and your partner brings you to even.

However I think its highly unrealistic for most people to go down this route, but its so +EV imo. You basically get twice the hands to reduce variance. Its also good that we play different games, ie he's a tourny player and I'm a cash player.
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