How to successfully turn "pro"
So you've decided that you want to give playing poker professionally a shot. Ok, now what? Before you stick it to the man and quit your day job there's a lot to consider...even though there's only so much you can control at the tables, you still need a solid plan in place to succeed. I want to offer my advice on how to make the transition from whatever you're currently doing to playing poker full-time. I'll draw upon my own experiences of how it all started and share how I've been able to make a living playing cards going on five years now...
1. Build up an adequate bankroll and do it by playing part-time. I know you are probably feeling hasty and eager to start playing poker full-time but building up a bankroll on the side of your regular job or studies can do a few great things to improve your success rate when turning pro. First and most importantly, you'll have some kind of idea about what to expect when you turn pro. You still won't know exactly how your results will turn out but you will have a fairly good idea of how you'll perform at the tables. You'll also gain the confidence to succeed knowing that you've been able to beat the limits that you want to play at a higher volume up to this point in time. Finally, it's fairly obvious but by starting out your career with an adequate bankroll (think 100 buy-ins for cash games), you're giving yourself a much better chance of surviving any negative variance that may come your way. Instead of just throwing a few thousand dollars online and not really knowing what you're getting yourself into, take the time to grow a bankroll after work or school and sharpen your skills along the way. Remember that there's no quick, easy way to be successful at poker in the long-term and it's going to take a lot of work so be patient.
I started playing cash games at the micro-stakes in the later years of my time at university and it really doesn't take that long to move up limits and be bankrolled for the games that you eventually want to play. I think that it only took a few months before I had moved up to 100nl, had my bankroll locked and loaded and was confident that I could beat the games with some consistency.
2. Plan for the worst case scenario. This has got to be my most important piece of advice because although you want to be full of enthusiasm and optimism, especially at the start of your career, you also need to be realistic and understand that no matter how skilled of player you are you're not bigger than the variance that comes along with the game in the short term. Even if you're adequately bankrolled for the limits that you want to play, you've never done this full-time before and you don't know how your results will be affected by numerous factors-including increased hours, tables, tilt, real life emergencies etc. You just want to have a backup plan in place and be honest enough with yourself that you consider the fact that failing is a possible outcome. I don't mean to scare anyone away or sound like I'm deterring them from turning pro...if anything planning for the worst case scenario had a tremendously positive affect on the start of my career. Once I had my backup plan in place, I was able to play with nothing holding me back! I didn't let the daily swings get to me as much and was really able to just go for it and if it didn't work out, well then it didn't work out and I'd be just fine.
To give you a clear example of what I'm talking about, for me, I had steadily built up a $10,000 bankroll while playing casually over my years at university and during the summer before my last semester at school I wanted to do a trial run of going pro. That bankroll was basically all of my money at the time, as my bank accounts usually got pretty dry by the end of the school year and I'd typically refill them over the summer by working a random summer job. Needing about $5,000 to cover my school expenses for my last semester, I decided that I'd give playing poker full time a shot but if my bankroll ever dropped to $5k I'd stop right there and quit, withdraw the money to use for school and re-evaluate poker at a later time.
3. Treat poker like a day job and set goals. Even though poker can offer you tremendous freedom and flexibility, you're not going to achieve financial success by playing a couple of hours a day (well, depending on your stakes I guess ;)). You probably need to plan on playing 4-8 hours a day at least to ensure that you're putting up consistent results. I would recommend setting VPP targets every month to keep you on track and take the emphasis off of results and back on things that you can control-the hours that you put in. Starting out with a year-long VPP target is a very good idea and that will let you know how many VPPs you're going to need to average monthly/daily/hourly etc. to hit the year-end number. Especially when you're just starting your career, having a bunch of smaller goals to supplement your year-long plan will be helpful to keep you on track and give you an idea of how much you should be playing.
When I started playing poker full-time, I was all-in and fully invested. I was playing tons of hours and hungry to succeed. Having an empty bank account will do that for you. My social life still existed but was largely scaled back...I was playing poker, thinking about poker and dreaming about poker at night. I was probably playing too much, as there's always a point where your play becomes much worse with increased volume but when you're that focused on succeeding it will bother you to not be playing. If I could go back and do it over again, I would just try to have more of an organized playing schedule in place but my hours would still be heavy.
Anyway, if you have the passion for the game and want to give turning "pro" a shot then hopefully you'll find my advice helpful and maybe I'll see you at the tables in the near future.