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Playing Poker Professionally

By Nick DiVella, Cash Game Professional, Las Vegas

Like a lot of millennial poker pros of today, I got hooked on the game in the early 2000’s. Poker started popping up on TV, I’d see my parents play with their friends and it looked interesting. They’d play for nickels and dimes of course but I wanted dealt in for as long as I can remember. More people started talking about poker and eventually me and my friends started playing $5 games in our friends’ basement on the weekends. 2003 came, Chris Moneymaker won the World Series and poker was as cool as it has ever been. I started thinking, if he can do it, why can’t I?

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As a college student, I was hooked. I’d play both online and with friends as much as I could. Poker was addictive; more importantly, it was lucrative. Not knowing what I wanted to do with my life, and having already made some money from poker, I decided to continue on that path and really do it professionally. I decided to move to Las Vegas and 10 years later, here I am.

Piles of Cash, Parties, and Strippers?

I am frequently asked “What is it like being a poker pro?” and I think my answer tends to differ a lot depending on how I’m running at that particular time. But in all honesty, first and foremost, poker is my job. It might be a job that most people wouldn’t have the patience, discipline or emotional stability for, but it is still a job, and being successful means not falling into the many traps that my city has to offer. roulette-wheel

Whether it be stepping into the pit and implementing a martingale strategy to chase back losses or betting a full card on Sundays NFL games, these are all urges you must avoid. So too are strip clubs, going on a spending frenzy, and loaning money to friends. They will all eat at your bottom line, and affect your bankroll as well as your mindset if you do not watch yourself. Being a poker pro is not the party-hard, money winning- and spending- frenzy lifestyle that many people imagine.

Poker and Las Vegas – The Reality

It might not be what you envisioned, but I can’t complain about the life I have thanks to my career as a poker professional.

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I sleep in every day till 1pm and always have time to hang with the girlfriend or my friends. By mid afternoon, I go to the gym, and then I head down to play at Aria, Wynn or Bellagio, or wherever the games seem good that night. I come home and watch some shows or play some games with friends, and then I go to sleep. Rinse and repeat. A somewhat regular schedule and some sort of normalcy is key in order for me to maintain a positive mindset. Without regular friends and a healthy lifestyle with (for me) a healthy relationship, it would be very easy to fall into the “isolation trap” as a poker player. You’d get stuck grinding and grinding, never making time for friends, and start messing up your body and mind with irregular sleeping and eating patterns.

I practice all of these things the best I can, but every once in a while, a big whale comes to town and sits down at your table, and when the game is just too good, there is no walking away. You just have to stay to give yourself a chance to win the big bucks. Because, of course, the money is the main reason any of us plays the game.

Besides money, the biggest reason why I chose this path in life was the freedom it brings. I am my own boss, I play when I want to play and I leave when I wan to leave. The ambiguity of it all means being handcuffed to the tables some nights, feeling like a slave to the game, all while knowing that this job provides me with the freedom and flexibility that no other profession in the world could match.

What Makes Anyone Successful?

In my opinion there are 3 key facets to being successful in poker, and they are not what people normally think they are.

The most important dynamic in finding success is your mindset. Being self-disciplined and approaching the game with a positive and ego-free mentality is crucial to ever making it in poker. Always be honest with yourself and keep good records. Letting frustration over short term variances get to you will only bring you down and eat your confidence. You need to stay positive and understand that wins and losses will come no matter how good you are. It is all in the nature of the game.

Secondly, you need strong bankroll management. Be sure to always let the size of your bankroll determine what games you play. Don’t let your ego run amok, and don’t get tempted into going on a shopping spree or a luxury trip after winning 5K one night. Your bankroll should always be able to sustain the swings of the game.

Last on the list is skill. A combination of talent AND practice. Yes, you have to have a certain set of prerequisites to be good at this. Logical, creative, puzzle solver, and being able to adapt to your surroundings. But only practice makes perfect. What hands to play, in what position to play them, when to fold and when to bet, and how much to bet. It is all a science in itself.

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This is what people get wrong most often. Instinctively, people tend to think that being intelligent and having skill in poker is all that it takes to be successful. The truth, however, is that even though you obviously need to have the game down in order to make it, being a good player is just not enough if you don’t have the mindset and bankroll management as well. It is way too easy to get stuck in degenerate gambling or a downward spiral of negative attitude. Eating away at either your bankroll, your confidence or both. I have seen it happen to plenty of good players around me over the years.

Poker as a Stepping Stone

As much as I love the game, looking for ways to branch out once my bankroll started increasing is probably the best decision I ever made as a poker player. Because the truth of the matter is, as great as the game and lifestyle is in your 20’s and maybe 30’s, you never know how you’ll feel as you get older. Do I really want to be a grinder at the age of 50? Will my mind still be as sharp, and will I still be interested enough in the game to keep up? Will starting a family restrict my playing hours to a point where it is tough for it to still be profitable? And will I even want to leave the house in the evening to go work when my family is all gathered around the dinner table? Obviously, no matter what you do, it is always tough to think ahead when you’re young. But I do believe it might be even more important when you’re a professional poker player. A lot of us don’t have any working experience beyond the poker room, and going back to a “normal” job in your 30’s or 40’s after having been a poker pro for your entire adult life is close to impossible.

Besides just having money, poker provides some great opportunities if you’re open to them.

The poker table really is one of the best places to network. It is hard to find another place where you will meet such a diverse group of people from basically every walk of life, so why not take advantage of that? Once your bankroll is big enough to comfortably sustain the swings of the game, it might be very tempting to start living a little fancier, buying a little bit more expensive stuff, going for more expensive steaks etc. But while I am all for living a little and not going through life as a nit, setting some of that money aside for different investments that might come along is a great plan that might just make you rich in the long run.

Because, let’s face it, in life as well as on the poker table, it is always good to leave yourself some outs…

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