So You Wanna Be A Poker Pro? Expectations vs. Reality

2 months ago
So You Wanna Be A Poker Pro? Expectations vs. Reality
04 Mar

What you live and breathe changes you. This is as true of making money as it is of hang gliding, religion or collecting classic vinyl. Our brains are these incredibly versatile reality-filtering organs, capable of amazing feats of self-actualization and, when expedient to do so, self-deception.

To understand how powerful money is at shifting perception, you only need to look at the passionate belief and self-determination of the multilevel marketing model. Read just a few reviews on and you’ll see ample evidence that Amway, Beachbody and the like are so successful precisely because they harness the power of passion and belief to move mountains. 

Which brings us to professional poker. Part game, part religion, part vocation — and all obsession — professional poker will change you.

My First Encounter With a Pro Poker Player

I still remember my first encounter with professional poker. This was years before I even played my first serious hand. We had a guy who happened to be a professional poker player come over to play a regular old board game with us. Nothing serious. Just a bit of fun. There was certainly no money at stake. 

Two hours into our casual weekend board game and I’d learned a few things about what it must be like to think like a pro poker player; and I think what I learned that lazy Sunday afternoon still holds true today now that I have some of my own experience under my belt. 

So what did I see?

To put it bluntly, I saw a man who was not having fun. Or at least, if he was enjoying himself it was a cold, hard and calculating kind of enjoyment. From the first moment he sat at the table, he was all about probability and calculating risk. 

The social element, the joy of learning, the chance to immerse yourself in something with no real consequences — these all faded into the background for him. 

Winning Takes Over

What mattered was figuring it out. Understanding its workings. Winning. 

Now he lost that day, but not by anywhere near the margin you’d expect of a rank beginner. And by the end of our game he had figured out some of the more cut throat strategies the game allowed, and he used them with brutal abandon. 

I’d be lying if I said the experience was fun. The guy was way too intense. But it revealed something about how pro poker changes you. So much of the reality of poker has hard, difficult edges. So much of it defies reasonable expectation. So much of it demands you train your mind, gut and soul to operate differently. 

If you want to be a pro poker player, set those guides to technique aside for a minute. The first thing to understand is that the philosophy and mindset of poker is predicated on winning first, all else second. 

Chaos Is Part Of It...

This is one I recommend you jot down somewhere: chaos is part of it. 

There’s an irony in this of course, because poker is built with the building blocks of probability. And probability is infinitely ordered. It doesn’t play favorites. Thinking probabilistically is the fundamental existential antithesis of superstition. 

But just because probability is ordered and logical, doesn’t mean it will cooperate with your schedule. 

Sure, this means you’ll have to be patient and take your knocks when it’s just not your night. Most semi-serious canasta players will understand this basic rule of chance. But it gets pointier than that real fast. 

Let’s say you need to bring a certain amount of money home each month — you know, for those little luxuries like food, heating and paying the rent. 

Probability doesn’t care about your monthly schedule. Sure, if you play by the numbers you should be able to calculate your margins over time, but how much you bring in on any given month isn’t ever going to be a mathematical certainty. 

To play pro poker, you need to understand that chaos and probability are like intertwined serpents, and they’re doing it right there on the welcome mat that is your life. 

Chaos is part of it.

… And So Is Getting Tired

Years ago when I was watching my pro poker playing friend in action, I wondered if he got tired of taking something like a casual Sunday board game so seriously. I didn’t ask, of course. Because who asks a person a question like that? 

But speaking now from experience, I can say that anything which isolates you from normal, day-to-day life will eventually wear you down, and when that happens it’s time to take a break before you get sloppy.

The reality of poker is that you lead a careful life. And being careful all the time … well… can suck. Emotional cracks in the analytical concrete of your mind are to be filled, patched and smoothed over at all costs before you make any seriously dumb mistakes. 

You watch yourself closely, rapidly becoming addicted to the most lonely art there is: the art of self-management. 

Where your eyes move, how you breathe, the cadence of your hand movements — they all eventually migrate from your instinctive lizard brain to your ever-rational and calculating inner homunculus. At first it’s exciting to understand this inner game. Then it’s exacting. Then it’s exhausting. 

Sounds a bit like mental illness? Well, yeah. It can be if you’re not careful. Every professional poker player needs to find a way to tune out; a mental corner where it’s OK to be a person who can play a board game just because it’s fun — and nothing more. 

Know Where It’ll Take You

Professional poker is a worthy discipline. It entails an ever-unravelling journey of study, self awareness and patience. Before you immerse yourself in the endless minutiae of poker technique though, take some time to ponder the poker mindset. 

Before you embrace any philosophy, know where that philosophy can take you. 

Still keen? Then pull up a chair and start a home business.

Articles 27

Writer and semi-retired poker pro from Edinburgh (UK).Read more


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