What does it take to become a poker pro? More than you think.
Probably the most common question I get asked -- other than "Is Moneymaker your real name?" -- is "What does it take to become a poker pro?"
In some ways it's an easy question to answer. What does it take to be classified as a poker pro? Quit your job. Then you're a pro! But in all honesty, the decision to become a pro is much more complicated than that. Or at least it should be.
It's been a long time and some might not remember, but after I won the 2003 WSOP Main Event, I didn't go pro right away. I actually went back to work for eight months, in part because I wasn't sure yet I really wanted to be a poker pro.
There is a lot to consider before making the step to become a poker pro. First and foremost, if you really want to try to make a living at playing poker, you have to love the game. It has to be something you are passionate about, so much so that you're reasonably sure you'll still love poker for many years to come.
Poker can be fun for you, and you can be good at it and decide it's something you want to do a lot of. But when you turn pro and poker becomes a full-time job, what once was just fun turns into work, and with work comes lots of responsibilities.
Be Prepared to Study
The game has gotten tougher over the years, and since really only the top 5% or so of players can make a living at poker, that means sustaining yourself as a pro is going to require a lot of study.
People who were good players in 2005 or 2006 aren't necessarily still good in 2013, especially those who haven't been working on their games during the interim. You have to realize there is a lot of work involved with evaluating your stats, discovering your leaks, and keeping up with the game in addition to actually playing.
Even the best players in the world are always talking with others about their games in an effort to improve and keep up. So if you are considering going pro, having a strong peer group you can talk to and bounce ideas off of is important. And being ready to accept that you're going to have to do a lot of work away from the tables is essential, too.
Be Prepared for a Lifestyle Change
If you're young and single, living the life of a poker pro is something you can probably manage. But if you think down the road you'd like to settle down and get married and have a family, you'll have to anticipate the life you've chosen may not fit well with that later goal.
The lifestyle of a poker pro -- with late hours, travel, and the financial ups and downs -- doesn't lend itself well to having a family. I've been very fortunate thanks to my WSOP success in that I've been able for the most part to play when I want to. But most poker pros don't have that option, and thus being a pro and having a family can be especially difficult to achieve.
Be Prepared to Consider Poker a Business
Also, when you become a poker pro you obviously have to consider how you are going to cover health costs, pay taxes, and handle everything else as you would any freelance-type business.
Additionally, keep in mind that when you become a full-time pro, you aren't really going to be building your resume for most other jobs during the years you are playing. If five or ten years down the road you realize poker isn't for you, you need to realize that your resume will have a huge hole in it during those years. You can't really put "poker player" on a resume -- in fact, to a lot of people you might as well have been at home playing video games!
For a lot of people deciding to go pro, they're thinking about right now, not 10 years from now. The future really isn't part of their decision. But it really needs to be.
If you love poker at age 21, before you decide to become a pro, you should think about how sure you are that you'll still love poker at age 31.
And as you think about just how passionate you are about the game, consider also whether or not you are passionate enough to put in the hours of study, to accept the lifestyle change you're taking on, and whether or not the game will remain fun for you when you start considering poker a business.
Being a poker pro is great, but it's a lot of work. You have to love the game, but with that you have to be prepared to meet a lot of challenges, too.
Chris Moneymaker is the 2003 WSOP champion and a member of Team PokerStars Pro