A poker player acquaintance of mine recently told me that he was thinking about turning to poker as a full-time career. My first reaction, right or wrong, was to think, “Oh, great, another one,” but this was a guy with a good head on his shoulders, so I realized it wasn’t just a spur of the moment flight of fancy. So, I gave him some things to think about. For those of you in a similar boat, here are a few of my points.
Be Realistic About Abilities
I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have heard somebody seriously consider going pro just because they had a good couple of months playing online. Maybe they went on a hot streak and scored big in a couple of tournaments or maybe they have been pulling down $40 per hour and the cash game tables. “And with rakeback, it’s even better!”
With the fantasies of playing whenever you want, not answering to a boss, unlimited vacation days, and the allure of a potentially glamorous lifestyle, turning to poker can look mighty attractive to some people.
My warning: don’t let a good run obscure reality. You need to be able to look at your abilities honestly and objectively before jumping in with both feet. Are you really as good as your recent streak? Realistically, are you a strong enough poker player to be able to make the kind of money you need to live the lifestyle you want? Think about it carefully. Then wait a few weeks and think about it some more. Talk to fellow players who are familiar with your game. What do they think?
Be honest with yourself. Don’t be the poker equivalent of the terrible singer who tries out for “American Idol” thinking they have a voice that’s part Celine Dion and part angel only to be stared at in horror.
Okay, so you have evaluated your abilities and decided that you a good enough to give it a go. Don’t quit your job just yet. Now you need to put a plan together. There are several important things to consider, the most important of which is money.
I will assume your poker bankroll will be appropriately sized, but many people forget about their “living” bankroll. I highly suggest that you have enough money put away, separate from your poker money, that if you encounter losing or breakeven months, you will have enough cash to pay your bills. People sometimes forget that a bad day at the poker office means you just took food off your table. A bad day in a salaried job is usually just a bad day, but you still get paid.
Don’t forget insurance, either. And if you don’t have a sparkly clean medical history, there can often be hurdles when trying to find reasonably price medical insurance. Take care of this before you embark on your poker career.
You also won’t have an employer-sponsored retirement plan anymore. Basically, it’s up to you to pay for everything in your life. Nothing will be subsidized; nothing will be matched.
As a final “plan ahead” point, come up with a schedule. This is your job now, so treat it like one. Decide when you are going to work, when you are going to eat, and when you are going to sleep. Understand that the best games might be on the weekends and at night. If you are playing online, create a suitable work environment, free of distractions, where you will work during “business” hours. Take time to shower, exercise, and eat healthy. It’s very easy to get into bad habits when you have the freedom to be your own boss at home; try to keep as healthy of a routine as possible.
Of course, even with all the proper planning, things just might not work out. You may not have success at the tables or you might just not enjoy playing poker for a living. So now what? Well, this situation is also something for which you need to plan.
If you have been working in a regular salaried job prior to the leap into poker, then whatever you do, don’t burn your bridges. Tell your employer about the path you are taking and leave on good terms. If are close with people at your old company, then keep in touch. If it’s the kind of company that might be open to it, you might even want to offer to work a few hours a week or do some consulting on the side in order to make some extra money to help cover any poker losses and make it easier to return to the company full-time if it comes to that.
Basically, don’t just disappear into your poker den. Make sure the outside world knows you are alive so if you do have to emerge and rejoin the mainstream workforce, it won’t be quite as difficult.