How to Manage the Bizarre Lifestyle of Professional Poker

5 years ago
How to Manage the Bizarre Poker Lifestyle
13 Jul


There are few poker enthusiasts that have not cast a glance towards the huge pile of cash that greets the winner of the WSOP Main Event or other big poker tournaments, and let their minds wander towards what such a win would mean for them. We have all pondered how much better life would be if we were the beneficiaries of such a big and life-changing win.

It would mean life without the rigors of full-time work. Life without a boss and no unreasonable judgements or injustices delivered to us at work. We could live life on our own terms with a few more fun gadgets and luxuries in addition to enjoying complete freedom. What’s not to like?

The truth is that the lifestyle of a professional poker player is a bizarre one. The very things that we look forward to when in conventional employment, things like freedom, no structure in life, a complete lack of routine (which we think is freedom), can become problems for us if we achieve these freedoms.

Without careful planning and life management, we can become unhealthy. Our diets can be affected as we eat too much or too little because we are awake at weird times and breakfast, lunch, and tea appear at different points of our day than those following conventional routines. It becomes easy to get wrapped up in playing poker focusing only on profits and losses and forgeting all about nutrition, health, and sleep patterns.

Find a Routine

Upon turning professional, you can set your own schedule and in the beginning you have almost unlimited options. You can play in any game at any time in any location. This can lead to many problems if you just live day-to-day with no planning, as the days will come and go quickly and before you know it you are six months down the line having achieved very little. Without a set routine you can slip into a lax mental state that leads you to unwittingly adopting many bad and potentially destructive habits.

The solution is to set yourself a schedule that includes key dates like tournaments you would like to play in and times to play. You should include a healthy sleep schedule around which you can allocate time for cash games, study, and other non-poker pursuits.

There is no reason why you should seek to curtail the enjoyment of the freedoms you gain which is a key benefit of becoming a professional poker player. You should not overindulge this freedom though. Human beings need structure otherwise we drift around developing idiosyncratic quirks. If we are not careful, we can become detached from reality so having a routine gives us purpose and mental security. This will help your game.

Maintain a Good Diet

Do as I say, not as I do! As a larger guy, I struggle with managing my diet in my day-to-day life even without being a professional poker player, but if you are in a results based environment where you must stay ahead of your opposition to remain in profit you need to be alert, fresh, and not laden with cumbersome and unhealthy food that negatively affects your performance. Your brain and your body are your bread and butter so you need to be in the best condition possible. It is easy to dine out on fast food, steaks, and “treat meals” in and around the casino, but this will lead to weight gain and eventually other medical complications. As fun as professional poker is your health should always come first.

Staying Responsible

As a professional poker player you have one goal, to get into profit and stay there. Profit allows you to remain in the game and protects you from the stresses associated with finding backers, playing on make-up, losing money and the emotional turmoil of chasing losses.

Get your leaks plugged. Without additional income, a spotlight is shined on your leaks, so you must do all you can to identify them and plug them. Are you prone to damaging sessions in the pits? Leaks like this become an acute problem when you have no other form of income and it forces you to win just to stand still. Wins are hard enough to obtain as it is.

You will be around other professional poker players with more opportunities to enjoy wild nights out as you do not need to worry about getting up for work the next day. I would never say do not go out, but learn to say ‘no’ sometimes. Too much of anything is bad for us, even if that sounds really boring. Enjoy yourself in moderation and you will feel better for it. This leads us nicely into the next discussion.

Manage excess

It is easy to manage scarcity in poker because if it goes wrong, you will need to find a stake or concede defeat completely and find a job for alternative means of income. In times of difficulty, the need to survive protects you, even if the situation sucks.

The challenge for us is how we manage excess if we are lucky enough to acquire it. When you are fortunate enough to have an abundance of money, time, and options, it is the increased possibility for you to make bad choices that can lead to problems. You need to keep your head. Those who have had money tell us it is extremely easy to spend $1 million quickly. I fall into the category where it would seem like all the money in the world, but let’s listen to those with experience. $1 million buys you choices, but once that money is spent you have no choices. Keep the money and keep the choices would be my aim.

Find Balance Mentally and Socially

One trait I notice in people is how one dimensional we can be. A single-minded approach to life can lead to great rewards but it can also be a curse. I come across people all the time who cannot hold a conversation outside of one area. Some people cannot be moved from discussing politics and others can only discuss poker. Be aware of this and manage it if you see yourself becoming too one-dimensional.

It will help you to manage the unique life of a professional player by having friends both in and out of the game. They will help you maintain a perspective about life on and off the felt. We are all influenced by our peers so maintaining our awareness of life away from professional poker will help you understand and contextualize the decisions you will take as a professional poker player so you get things right more often.

Keep Winning!

There is no better medicine at the poker table than a big win. You must add into your schedule time to practice and study your play so you always have the best chance of success as poker gets harder and harder to beat. Just because you call yourself a “professional poker player” does not increase your chances of beating anyone. Wins must be earned, but it is a fact that one way to manage the bizarre lifestyle of a professional poker player is to be able to afford to live it. I hope this article helped.

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Malcolm comes from Consett in the North East of England and is an avid poker player and writer.Read more


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