Hard Realities about Playing Poker Professionally - Part 2

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Matthew Wheat speaks from experience about the life of a poker pro.

This week CardRunners coach Matthew "mindcirkus" Wheat finishes telling us about the potential pitfalls of life as a poker professional.

Matthew "mindcirkus" Wheat is a professional poker player. He successfully transitioned from NLHE to PLO, and in 2010 made the final table of WSOP Event #55, the $10,000 PLO Championship.

Click here to read Part 1 of this post.

Take it away Matthew:

Every person who plays poker has a “ceiling” - the level at which no matter how much work they put in it will be the highest level of stakes they are capable of beating.

Most players never reach their ceiling because few players work as hard as they can to improve for long periods of time.

Every couple of years there is a massive turnover in the regulars playing at a particular level of stakes. Most of the regulars in the 5/10 games running two years ago are now playing 2/4 or lower or have completely left the game.

There are some who have the ability and work ethic to continue winning at the same stakes they’ve been beating as the games got tougher(or even move up in stakes), but the majority of professional players reach their ceiling and then their income steadily declines as the games become more difficult to beat over time.

A very common mistake that players make is moving up in stakes whenever they run good for a short time and win several buy-ins. Most of the time they aren’t prepared to beat the tougher games at higher stakes, and they end up losing a significant amount of money in games that they have no business playing in.

All these things make the poker world like a food chain; all the money flows upwards towards the better players. The truth is that you should only move up in stakes if you consistently beat a level over a large sample, and also have an adequate bankroll to play in bigger games.

Becoming a Poker Pro Takes Commitment

Becoming a professional poker player takes a serious commitment, and you have to put all of your heart, mind, and soul into the game for long periods of time. Because of this, a lot of your self-worth becomes tied to your success at the tables.

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It's important to have a good circle of friends.

No matter how good you are you are going to have big losses and long periods of time when things are going badly. This can have a very negative effect on a person’s mentality, happiness, and ability to be productive and enjoy life outside of poker.

To be successful in the long run, you need a healthy mix of other things in your life aside from poker. Things such as a good group of friends you can spend time with, hobbies you enjoy outside of poker, a fitness regimen, travel, or anything else that you can spend time doing that will have a positive impact on your life and take your mind off of poker.

Finally, given the topic of these articles, I feel that I have to mention the aspect of professional poker that most of us don’t like to think about or talk about. If you play poker for a significant amount of time, at some point you will be cheated, colluded against, or robbed. It happens much less these days than it has in the past, but it still continues to happen in both live and online settings, and it’s a reality that you have to come to terms with.

The most common of these occurrences is collusion, and it’s usually very hard to detect. Fortunately it’s also the least detrimental, and isn’t something that most players need to spend much time worrying about.

There are a million other ways that a player can be cheated, far too many for me to mention in this article.

However, in the vast majority of games these days there is no cheating occurring, so it rarely has a devastating effect on a professional player’s career. The key is to make yourself aware of ways that you can be cheated, and to constantly be aware of the things you see happening at the table.

Finally, the rarest, yet most serious of these three things is being robbed. I don’t know what the percentage is of players that get robbed at some point in their careers, but it’s not very high.

Because of this, most players have the attitude of: Well I’m careful so that will never happen to me. It doesn’t matter how careful you are, you are always going to be at risk.

A few instances that I know of to illustrate this point:

- In 2004, Greg Raymer was forced into a room at the Bellagio by two men holding a gun, and they attempted to rob him of the casino chips he had in his possession. I think of the Bellagio as one of the safest places on earth for someone to possess casino chips or cash. If it can happen there, it can happen anywhere.

- In 2009, a well known online player(and just plain genius in general), had his computer hacked by someone overseas and lost over $200,000 of his own money before he realized what had happened. He has absolutely no chances of ever recovering that money.

- Several years ago at a casino in Tulsa, OK, a player was walking from the casino to the Inn on the other side of the parking lot when he was robbed, almost beaten to death, and finally left unconscious in an empty room with no clothes on.

Even though there is always going to be a risk of these types of things happening, they are rare and don’t come close to outweighing the benefits of becoming a successful professional poker player.

If you love the game, and have the talent to succeed, then none of these things should discourage you from playing poker for a living. The bottom line is that even though there are some negative aspects, it can be a very rewarding and enjoyable career.

Just keep in mind, “It’s a hard way to make an easy living.”

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