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by David Huber


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Online PokerOne of the things I get asked the most is “What is it like to play online poker for a living?” To be honest, I often asked this same question only 18 months ago. There are various ways to make a living playing online poker, and not all of them involve investing huge amounts of money (or collecting six figures in return). I consider myself part of a new breed of online players who grind out a living without the benefit of a large initial investment. In other words, I make money by multi-tabling low-stakes online poker games (in my specific case – about 80% Sit & Go tournaments and 20% MTT’s).

So when I read that question in an e-mail or instant message, my first inclination has always been to “set the record straight”. It’s no secret (or source of embarrassment) that players like me aren’t multi-millionaires who have taken advantage of the recent influx of mediocre players to gain access to some proverbial Easy Street. Online poker has provided us with an opportunity to make enough money to justify the long hours we put into it, but until someone has actually “taken the plunge”, it’s impossible to comprehend the trials that poker puts a full-time player through; or the amount of respect that The Game demands from any aspiring player.

It always gives me a chuckle when I scroll down to read the next question that usually follows the former… “How can I make a living playing online poker?” It flatters me that an unknown player would think I hold the key to unlock a universe of worry-free profit-making. I attempt to answer similar questions in a non-negative, yet realistic, manner. Living the life of an Online Grinder is no walk-in-the-park… and it doesn’t exactly lead to a star-studded fantasy lifestyle that most envision. Playing winning poker commands more time and dedication than most “9 to 5” jobs; and can include moments of enormous emotional swings and financial insecurity.

However, online poker has been a savior to me. It may sound incredible, but poker has played a principal role in increasing my income, helping my marriage, and providing financial peace-of-mind. For over a year, poker has given my family a positive means of earning income, while at the same time paying for necessities. Oh, it’s been very difficult at times (and will continue to be), but one should expect no less from any employment. The main reason I hold online poker in such a high regard is the fact that it has opened up so many doors to me personally and professionally.

But you’ve probably accessed this article in hopes of gaining insight into how someone (like yourself) can become successful and reap financial rewards from online poker. I don’t blame you. I wish there had been more information on this subject in circulation in early 2005 when I became an Online Pro… it may have saved me a lot of headaches (or I may have ignored it). Either way, my aim in this article is to help a winning online poker player decide whether to turn pro.

Bankroll vs. Expectations vs. Time
It all starts here. Without a proper bankroll, your ship will eventually sink. So we must first ask ourselves just how much money we need to make (on average) playing online poker. If you only require a very small supplemental income, then there’s no need to deposit thousands of dollars into an online poker account. Major poker sites offer low-stakes ring games and tournaments that allow a “budget player” much more flexibility than ever before.

For those who decide to become full-time players, there are plenty of well-written bankroll management articles available on the net; and you should refer to those when deciding how many Buy-Ins or Big Bets to start your professional career with. The amount of time you can spend on playing (and studying) the game will also influence the stakes you play, since you’ll be able to play lower stakes to reach your monetary goals by increasing the number of hours you play each day/week/month.

Multi-Tabling
At some point, you will have to decide what you think about multi-tabling. While many players who can afford a large initial investment can get by with playing only one high-stakes table at a time, multi-tabling is very common among winning players in online poker. In many cases, it’s comes down to simple mathematics. If a low-stakes Limit player can expect to make 3 Big Bets per 100 hands while one-tabling, and 1.5 Big Bets per 100 hands when 4-tabling, then a $3/$6 Limit player can increase expectation from $9/hour to $18/hour (assuming an average of 50 hands per hour, per table).

But a word of caution: multi-tabling is not for everyone. And don’t be fooled into thinking that overall expectation doesn’t drop very much when a player decides to play 4 tables or more at a time… because it does. Most importantly, there is absolutely NO logic in multi-tabling if you’re a losing player. The first step is to learn to beat a certain game/level while playing one table at a time. Until you can do this, multi-tabling should be a non-issue.

Personality & Attitude
In my experience, people who are stubborn are the first casualties when it comes to playing the game for a living. Those who burden themselves with short-term financial goals (i.e. “I have to play a ton tonight so I can cash out and pay rent tomorrow”) are setting themselves up for failure. After all, a player cannot “will” the cards, and this is what leads to the downfall of so many young and capable start-ups.

To combat a popular myth: winning at poker (long-term) is not easy. Yes, there are some players who are far better than others. There are many who display prodigal abilities here and there but are not psychologically built to handle the inevitable downswings involved in poker (or they’re too stubborn to try). Domination is defined by a few percentage points of overall edge; not by repeatedly blowing-out your opponent by 100 points in some virtual sports game.

In my case, I had to change the way I approached online poker in order to keep my mind (and bankroll) intact. While I endeavor to take poker seriously at all times, I’ve learned through experience not to take MYSELF so seriously. Extended bad runs are much easier to handle for players who are good at letting negative things “roll off their back” while continuing to do their best. Playing poker full-time may not be a wise choice for those who take uncontrollable factors (like the cards) personally.

Talent
If I received a nickel for every time a poker player complimented him/herself, I’d be rolling in the dough for sure. Talent is certainly an important aspect of winning at poker, but perhaps not as much as one would think. Once a player comes to terms with the fact that he/she probably isn’t a “natural” at the game, improvement takes on a whole new meaning. Overestimating your talent or skills can lead to horrible consequences for those who aren’t able to separate fact from fiction.

If ever you arrive at a point in your poker career where you feel there’s nothing left to learn, do yourself a favor and take a break. Constant improvement means all the difference when it comes to playing poker for a living. The game evolves daily and learning to adapt to new environments and situations is key. Talent in poker, for the most part, is something that can be achieved through hard work and dedication.

Other Responsibilities
I have a wife and two kids. In the entire mix of things, my family comes first and poker is second. While many full-time players look at exterior obligations as obstacles, I’ve found that appreciating and embracing my family obligations has improved my poker game. There are times when I’d rather spend time with my family than play poker – and vice versa. But for the most part, I don’t have to deal with depression or guilt from outside influences when I sit down at an online table – and this allows me to bring my ‘A’ Game to the table at a much higher rate than many of my opponents.

Whether it’s school, family, or personal relationships, a full-time poker player should be willing to set poker aside from time to time to concentrate on more-important matters. A poker player is only as good as his/her mindset will allow. Breaking your own values by not spending enough time on other aspects of your personal life can lead to a downfall in your profession.

Leaving Yourself with Outs
Let me be frank. Online poker may not work out for you… it may not work out for many in the long-run. There is no shame in leaving yourself with other options just in case full-time poker isn’t quite what you expected.

As I mentioned, online poker has opened many doors for my career. I consider myself very fortunate to receive other poker-related income from writing and announcing that allows me to take short-term poker losses in stride. I’m also proud that I’m able to make money from translating and my part-time radio job here in Mexico City.

Believe me, if I had a full-time “regular” job (especially one that provided health insurance & benefits), I’d hold on to it and play poker part-time. There will always be a game starting somewhere… online poker isn’t going anywhere in the near future. I’d advise any start-up player to maintain employment opportunities and seek other means to earn a more stable income while gradually increasing time spent playing poker.

In Closing
Experience is the number one teacher. Although many of us attempt to provide others with insight, nothing compares to the actual learning experience you’ll receive once you turn pro. Play within your means, bring your ‘A’ game to the table at all times, allow yourself to make mistakes, keep your cool, work on your game, give priority to family and other positive activities, and don’t put all your eggs in one basket. If you can follow all these rules without exception, then you’ll be well on your way to justifying your leap into a new profession.

You can play real money poker at PokerStars.com.

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