The Prerequisites for Going Pro

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how to become a poker pro 2 Good bankroll management can be the different between success and failure. Watch Kara Scott and Rupert Elder

In the last chapter, we discussed how having a strong mentality with positive personality traits is the most important aspect of succeeding as a poker pro. Over time, it will help minimize your losses and improve your gameplay. It will also assist you in bouncing back and playing your best again after devastating defeats or sick suck outs.

However, having a strong mental game is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to “prerequisites” for becoming a professional poker player. There are many more tangible things that we need to cover (like bankroll management, skills for gameplay, etc.) before you ultimately “go pro”. Therefore, the purpose of the chapter is to elaborate on these points.

The Starting Point

The starting point is where all aspiring poker players – amateur or pro – begin, in terms of the money they have and use to play poker. Usually, they start with either with a small bankroll (one set aside specifically for poker), or no bankroll at all.

Having a small bankroll to start out with (i.e. $100) is a great way to play the micro stakes, learn the game, refine your skills, and accumulate a sustainable bankroll as your stats grow and improve. It can be a quite daunting task and demand extreme patience to go from your first $100 to a “professional level bankroll” like $10,000 and up. However, there have certainly been a variety of big-name pros (like Tony Dunst) who went this route and never looked back.

If you’d prefer not to initially deposit online when you start playing, you could build your bankroll by participating in a type of tournament called “freerolls.” (These are tournaments where players can “buy-in” for free, but win real money or real-money tournament tickets.) A real-life example of this occurred in 2007 when Chris Ferguson created (and completed) a $0 to $10,000 bankroll challenge in about 18 months. He did this mainly to prove that any poker player has the ability to create a playable bankroll from nothing.

However you choose to initially build your bankroll, though, it’s very important to keep that money separate from your other finances initially (until you go pro). That way, it can have steady growth over time on its own and not be affected by your other normal day-to-day finances.

With that said, let’s take a look at what typical bankroll requirements are and other financial tips you’ll need to know to (one day) make the jump to the professional level.

Bankroll Requirements

Listed below is a straightforward guideline for poker bankroll management (BRM):

  • 30 buy-ins for Cash Games
  • 30 buy-ins for Sit-N-Go’s (SNG)
  • 100 buy-ins for Multi-Table Tournaments (MTT)
  • 6 Months Living Expenses set aside for professionals

Let’s say that your poker bankroll was $6,000. This would mean that the highest cash game you could play in would be 200NL (with blinds of $1.00 / $2.00 and a buy-in of $200). That works out to 30 buy-ins for your current bankroll size of $6,000. The highest MTT you could buy into would be a $60 tournament.

For determining your living expenses and what you’d need to set aside, calculate how much money you’d comfortably need to survive every month. This should include food, rent, car payments, spending money, heat, gas, water, etc. For this example, let’s assume that you’d like to make $2,000/month from poker. This means that your 6-month emergency cash fund should equate to $12,000, meaning you’d need a grand total of at least $18,000 in order to play 200NL professionally.

It’s important to note that the figures described above are the absolute minimum requirements for proper bankroll management. It'll definitely give you a small cushion for the typical amount of variance that the game will have. But there are certain players and poker resources that suggest players should have an even more cautious approach to bankroll management, according to the rules outlined below:

  • 100 buy-ins for Cash Games
  • 100 buy-ins for SNG’s
  • 500 buy-ins for MTT’s
  • 12 Months Living Expenses set aside for professionals

Both of these sets of rules are very basic BRM guidelines. Keep in mind these can and should change depending on the size of the games you normally play. For example, if you’re playing multi-table SNG’s, large-field MTT’s, or other “high variance” forms of poker such as Pot-Limit Omaha (PLO), your buy-in limits should increase even more beyond those suggestions above.

To ensure you don’t break these rules (especially when you’re first establishing your bankroll), you might want to have a fellow poker friend keep you accountable. This “person looking over your shoulder” should ensure that you’re moving up and down the various stakes as, and when, your bankroll allows.

One of the reasons amateurs go bust, time and time again, is because they don’t follow the above bankroll guidelines. They play at stakes way above where they should be, in terms of the money they have set aside for poker. Don’t be a hero and go for a quick hit to boost your bankroll. If you play this way, you might go on a good run but the variance will ultimately catch up with you at some point.

Winning Statistics

The only time it should make sense for a poker fanatic to even consider the possibility of going pro should be if they have winning statistics over a large enough sample size. With a good (and long) track record of success behind them, an amateur will know that they can make enough money at the tables each month to support themselves.

Generally, if you can have positive stats over the course of 100,000 to 250,000 hands, this will eliminate much of the influence variance would have in the overall results. These types of numbers will subsequently prove that you’re a profitable, winning player over the long term.

Calculating Winnings

To calculate the possibilities of potential monthly and annual incomes, we have to familiarize ourselves with a common statistic that many players use to determine their win rates, specifically for cash games, which is BB/100 (or the average number of big blinds won per 100 hands).

Using this statistic, let’s see what some of the best pros with the highest win rates make monthly and annually at various stakes. (We’ll assume they’re playing 100,000 hands monthly):

  • 30bb/100 hands at 2NL would be $600/month ($7,200/year)
  • 17bb/100 hands at 5NL would be $850/month ($10,200/year)
  • 12bb/100 hands at 10NL would be $1,200/month ($14,400/year)
  • 8bb/100 hands at 25NL would be $2,000/month ($24,000/year)
  • 6bb/100 hands at 50NL would be $3,000/month ($36,000/year)
  • 4bb/100 hands at 100NL would be $4,000/month ($48,000/year)
  • 3bb/100 hands at 200NL would be $6,000/month ($72,000/year)

Now, when you determine your own win rate averages, you can complete the above table for your own play. Knowing these stats over a decent sample size will also allow you to calculate the following:

  1. What stakes you should be playing most to reach your target monthly income.
  2. The number of hands you would need to play each month to meet your target.

“How can I use this information to calculate

how much poker I should play each month (and at what stakes)

in order to reach my exact desired monthly target?”

Let’s suppose that you frequent the 100NL tables online, and have a win rate of 4bb/100 at those stakes. This means you’re winning $4 on average for every 100 hands you play. Based on this, how many hands would you have to play to make $2,400 per month, as per our above example?

                        $4                              x                        $2,400                
                  100 hands                                         ‘X’ number of hands

                                          = ($2,400 x 100 hands)    /     $4 
                                          = 60,000 hands/month

Use this formula to help determine how many hands you’d have to play each month at your desired stake to hit your monthly target.

Now, some players like to express the bb/100 as bb/hour. In our example, in order to play 60,000 hands in one month, you would definitely have to multi-table. With an average of 100 hands per hour per table (as an example), multi-tabling 4 tables would translate into 400 hands per hour (4 x 100) – or 150 hours per month (60,000/400)

The Importance Of HUD

A heads-up display (or HUD) is an extremely common tool used among all online poker players. And it’s somewhat standard for almost all professionals who play online. The purpose of using a HUD is to keep a statistical database that tracks your play, as well as that of your opponents.

One of the biggest benefits it provides is that it displays your opponents’ stats (VPIP, PFR, 3B%, etc.) directly on the online tables on many poker clients. With these numbers right at hand, you can quickly identify opponents’ playing tendencies, allowing you to categorize them. This info allows you to play optimal poker against each individual opponent. HUD's  can be an extremely useful tool to have, especially when you’re multi-tabling.

HUD’s are also handy because they can keep track of important statistics on your own play. You can track things like:

  • Your average BB/100 hands;
  • Various graphs that showcase your total money won over time (allowing you to see the highs and lows you’ve had with variance);
  • Where your most common leaks are in your play and how you can go about fixing them;
  • Along with much more!

As you get more familiar with the use of heads-up displays, it’s important to toggle which stats are readily shown for your opponents. You have full customization within the software to choose what statistics it displays.

If you’d like to see some common displays of player HUD’s, doing a quick search online for “HUD poker setup” will reveal some prime examples.

Here's a quick example of one such “two-line” setup:

  1. Notes Icon / VPIP / PFR / 3bet Preflop / Fold to Preflop 3bet / Attempt to Steal
  2. Cbet Flop / Fold to F Cbet / Call T Bet / Call R Bet / Total AF / Number of Hands

NOTE: You will have to customize your HUD setup over time to include more (or different) the statistics that become relevant and matter to you the most.

The most common HUD software currently available on the market include:

  • PokerTracker4 (Mac + PC)
  • Hold’em Manager 2 (PC Only)

Both are currently available for as little as $59.99 – a small investment relative the benefits it’ll provide you with for your playing.

Example of HUD in Action

Hand History Reviews

Evaluation is crucial for progress in any line of work. It can highlight the areas in which you’re excelling, show the spots where you could improve, and elaborate on how you could be doing things differently to be more successful.

Poker is no different. Evaluations, frequently done in the form of “hand history reviews”, are a critical aspect of improving your skills and increasing your win rate.

These “hand history reviews” (HHR’s) can often be done on your own, but may also be done with fellow poker players – either in person or in a poker discussion forum. As in other jobs, you can learn so much from the people around you.

Your review sessions should try to focus on the following:

  1. What the optimal play would be at each stage of the hands you’ve “bookmarked or asterisked” to review;
  2. Why those decisions would be the best course of action to take;
  3. Then, compare it to see what you actually did in the hand and why you might have played that way.

What you can learn from doing HHR’s is incredible. It’s one of the reasons why watching poker training videos can be so useful. In those situations, instructors (professional players) go over their own hands to show why they chose to play a hand the way they did). Learning their reasoning and applying these similar thought patterns to your gameplay can be invaluable.

Constant Improvement

Thinking about how beneficial reviewing hand histories can be to your play brings us nicely to the topic of “constant improvement”.

While we will expand upon improving your game directly in Chapter 3 (with gameplay strategy) and Chapter 6 (general tips for professionals), you must first realize that your game and results will start to dwindle rapidly the moment you stop trying to improve. Your game will stagnate.

When you treat your poker like a business, you’ll realize that you always have to be constantly developing your skills. If you don't move with the times, you'll be left behind. Just like any market environment, poker is an ever-changing game. New players with new styles and new methods of winning hands are always beating down the door. Staying up-to-date with the trends of the game is a must.

If you’re going to make the choice of playing poker professionally, then it’s important to treat it like any other profession. Give yourself frequent evaluations and use the results to improve your game and nip any bad habits in the bud.

Types of Poker Pros

There are three significant player types you can choose to be as a professional:

  1. Cash Game Player
  2. Tournament Player
  3. Cash Game and Tournament Player

While there are many professionals who primarily play cash games, most players fall into the third category. They prefer to play a hybrid of cash games and tournaments to continuously fund and grow their bankroll.

A word of caution, though – not many professional poker players only play tournaments. This is because of the higher degree of variance in MTT’s versus cash games. If you’re looking for a steady poker pay cheque each month, having solid cash game skills with winning statistics is definitely going to be the way to go. That said, playing tournaments can be a great way to supplement your cash game play. It’ll allow your poker skills to develop more fully. And, it can inject a massive, sudden boost to your bankroll with only a small amount of money risked.

Despite the inconsistent results and swings poker players will experience from tournaments, there are a select number of players who do only play tournaments. And, if you find that tournament play is your specialty, by all means, pursue it! Keep in mind that it will be doubly important to have enough finances set aside for monthly living expenses. There will be long, difficult stretches where variance will get the better of you.

Whatever route you’re considering to take, remember this:

Know and play what you’re good at!

  • If you’re a good cash game player, play cash games.
  • If you’re a good tournament player, play tournaments.
  • If you enjoy decent success at both, play both (or whatever you enjoy more).

In Closing

As you will likely develop a favorite game to play, this will become your prime source of monthly income. Always remember that it’ll be important over time to further develop all aspects of your poker game, including branching out and playing other poker variants (like PLO, Stud, Draw, etc.).

Pushing your comfort zone by branching out to learn and play games and variants, you wouldn’t normally play, will help you become a much more rounded player. It will also help improve your “main” poker game.

In Chapter 3, we'll discuss ways that working on your game -  on and off the table - will help create your optimal Winning Strategy.

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