When people start asking what I do for a living, I look the other way. If I’m in a group, I’ll stay quiet. If the question is directed at me, sometimes I’ll flip the question back at them. The times that I do state my profession(or ex-profession), the initial response is often; “You play(ed) poker professionally? Really?”
This topic often prompts a series of questions, many of which are the same, and often in the same order. I’ll answer the frequently asked questions here, and share my experience on what it was like to live life as a professional poker player.
Poker is a card game played with money, often in casinos. However, poker is not blackjack(21). Blackjack is about getting 21 and has the notorious “card counting”. In blackjack, you play against the house and try to get a card-count of 21. Poker is a different type of card game which is played against other players, not against the house. About 10-20% of people(and almost exclusively females) think they are the same game. Click here if you don’t know anything about poker.
The prospect of making money playing poker baffles some people. The most popular question I receive is “You can make money doing that?” To make things clear; Yes, you can make money playing poker. The income works differently than most “jobs”. Income from poker works similarly to a small business income. Some weeks you make money, some you don’t. How much you profit/loss depends on several factors. The most influential factor is the skill level of the player. A highly skilled player is likely to win more money. To illustrate the concept, consider a coin which is heavy on one side. When you flip the coin, there is a 65% chance of heads and a 35% chance of tails. Now, pretend you play a game where you bet $10 that the coin will be heads, and you flip the coin once. You could lose money doing this, but it’s more likely you will win(you win $10, 65% of the time!). This is like a night of poker for a good player. The good player will probably win, but can sometimes lose. Now, consider a game where you flip the coin 365 times, and you are betting thousands of dollars. Playing this game, it is very likely to win money.. and unlikely to lose. This is a bit oversimplified, but it captures the essence of how income works for a professional poker player.
The next most common question is– “aren’t you afraid you will lose everything?” Well, no. If you follow some basic rules and have discipline, this is not a concern. If you follow a simple, you can ~never lose everything. Never play with more than 10% in one sitting. Consider that you have $1000 to play poker. You play with 10% of $1000, which is $100. If you lose, you have $900 remaining. Then, you can play with a maximum of 10% of $900, or $90. If you play and lose this, you have $810, and can only play with $81. Following this basic strategy, you could lose several times in a row and still have money left to play. You could only lose everything if you break the rule and play with your last dollars. People do this, but it happens rarely. These people are typically not professionals, and their behavior is often indicative of larger problems.
After the those questions, most people ask me if I’m good at poker or if I have a good poker face. Yes, I’m good at poker and sure, I have a poker face. I will say, this poker-face mentality is way over-emphasized. Body language is an element of poker, but it isn’t as important as people think. It’s blown way out of proportion by movies.. Most poker games are being played online, where a poker face is not relevant. Even in games where everyone can see each other(“live games”), the body-language element of the game plays only a small role in the game. The best poker players are focusing on strategy, tactics, and logic. If you want to be good at poker, think of it more like a game of chess than a body-language interrogation.
Right, so a bit more about my experience with poker. I got started playing poker with some friends in my mid-teen years. I continued playing online during university. When I graduated university, I got serious. I flew to Europe with ~$5kusd and attempted playing poker professionally while backpacking around Europe. My thinking was that if I lost the $5k I could go home, be fed, and find a “real” job. Fortunately, I never lost that $5000. My Europe trip was a big success. I backpacked around Europe(mostly western Europe), staying at hostels and occasionally couchsurfing. Along the way I played poker at the casinos in major cities and I would send money home by stuffing clothing full of cash and sending it in the mail. The trip lasted about 6 months. Many sights were seen, cultures explored, and bluffs made.
The taste of my first adventure kept me longing for more. Immediately following my Euro-trip adventure, I decided to embark on a similar journey in Asia. I flew to the Philippines and tried my hand at online poker. I made some money, but had less success. I started to play poker in the casinos in Manila(Philippines). These were some of the best games in the world, and I really honed in on poker. Improving my game and making money became the focus of my life. I’d occasionally take a week or two off or explore various places in Asia. However, I spent the vast majority of my days playing poker, or improving my poker game.
After Asia, I spent lots of time in Canada. This was around 2012-2013. I “settled” for a few months in Whistler, a ski village a couple hours north of Vancouver. This is an amazing place. Some friends and I rented a large house near the village. We spent our days playing online poker and skiing some of the best mountains in the world. Good friendships were forged here, and the Whistler house persists to this day. I go to stay at this house regularly and consider it a second home.
Since then, I’ve played mostly in casinos, and mostly in North America. I’ve lived in Las Vegas, Calgary, Tampa, Miami, LA, San Diego, and Sydney.
Towards the end of my career, I got involved in a couple projects in the poker world. I “employed” several players. I’d give them money to play, and we’d split the profits. I had varied success with these ventures… The amount of stress/work was not nearly worth the hassle. I’m still in battles today to get money from people who essentially stole from me. The lessons learned here were expensive, but valuable. Also, I coached about a dozen players. I still do a little bit of coaching today, but far less. I really enjoy the coaching/teaching experience.
Looking back, I’m very fortunate to have played poker for the last 7 years. Poker provided the freedom to travel around the world and explore various environments. The variance of poker was my greatest teacher. In poker, losing is a big part of the game. It’s important to stay detached from the highs and lows, and to focus energy on what matters. The quality of play matters way more than the short-term results of play. The process, not the results.