There’s a multitude of recreational and semi-pro poker players dreaming of “making it”, i.e., financing themselves completely from card playing, without an additional source of income or a day job.
In their naive, gullible, dreams, they wake up around noontime, grab a bite, and run a quick online poker session over the Internet. Come night time, they pack their cash-filled wallet, and hit the nearest casino, if they don’t have anything else planned out. These credulous individuals are often times avaricious, as making a living from poker is insufficient to them. They want to be filthy rich. Dan Bilzerian rich.
Nothing could be further from the truth than the picture painted above. Such a lifestyle could be somewhat feasible for a highly-gifted poker prodigy, but for us non-Ivey humans, it’s highly unlikely to happen.
Reality check – poker is a business
Professional grinders are bound to treat poker like any other business generating the majority of their income.
They know that the following nine business (and poker) pillars affect their income to a greater extent than their actual game play:
Opportunism: It’s easy to simplify opportunism in poker by calling it “game selection”, or “table selection”, but there’s more to it. Much like the world of business, in order to be aware of the best options in the market, a professional grinder must do several things, including:
- maintain strong relations with key people in the industry
- stay up-to-date with the industry by processing professional materials
- conduct thorough market research in order to evaluate each opportunity
Diversification: In both business and poker, one-trick-ponies miss a key element, namely longevity. One-trick-ponies like Blockbuster eventually fail, much like poker players who always play the same type of games at the same place. It’s good to prepare for a “doomsday scenario” where that one trick will no longer be applicable. In other words: learn how to effectively change gears.
Specialization: As with the world of business, which is becoming increasingly competitive, the level of poker, online and in brick and mortar cardrooms, is improving drastically. To have a real edge over the field, most professional grinders choose to specialize in one particular variation of the game. Note that this should still be done in conjunction with diversification.
Self-awareness: By keeping appropriate documentation, a good player can map his strengths, and weakness, in the same fashion a business owner would perform a regular SWOT analysis. This enables a poker player to analyze opportunities better (projecting revenues and risks), and also seek for ways to improve his weak spots. Key takeaway: take good poker notes.
Grinding: Particularly at their earliest stages, risk minimization plays a huge factor with businesses. The aim of a poker player is to move forward slowly and carefully, without taking excessive risks, with high hopes of making large amounts of money. Risk taking can be achieved at a later stage, once your bankroll, and profit-margins, are large enough.
Financing: Since the grinder’s goal is to choose the most profitable games around, while risking a pre-calculated amount of funds, financing is sometimes required. Staking deals are thus quite common, almost as much as equity business funding is. The devil is in the details though, as favorable terms for stake selling could make the difference between a winning and a losing series of sessions. In addition, strong business relationships (i.e., reputation) could earn one interest-free loans in times of need.
Bankroll separated from personal finance: As with businesses, it’s always advisable to keep separate bank accounts for one’s personal affairs and one’s poker bankroll. Sadly, this is a rule not always kept to by aspiring poker players and veteran grinders. The second best option is to adjust the personal finance requirements to the bankroll, making sure expenses are reduced when poker hardships come along.
Projection and future planning: It is fairly impossible to run a business, even a sole tradership, without projecting earnings and expenses over the near future. In poker, one should be sure to do this as well. Playing poker for a living assumes an inherent risk, but that risk increases tenfold when one fails to set clear expectations and compare achievements and failures to a pre-set plan.
Vision: A business without a vision can never progress, much like grinders would never make it onto the pro circuit without one. A grinder drifting aimlessly, playing the same stakes, without increasing his profitability, will, in a best-case scenario, continue keeping his head above water. There has to be some kind of a game plan, backed up by milestones verifying that plan is indeed in motion.
While there are clearly many similarities between trying to make a living by playing poker and running a business, there’s one last bullet to take into consideration that’s unique to poker.
Poker is gambling.
Even though poker is a skill game, one cannot deny that luck plays a huge role in the outcome.
This means that one could follow a rigorous plan, improve their skills, and still lose. Losing over a long period of time will undoubtedly translate into financial, and more importantly, mental, hardships. When someone’s entire income is dependent on something as volatile as poker, he must maintain nerves of steel, coated in alligator blood. These are inborn characteristics, which are absolutely necessary to “make it”. If you do not possess them, or cannot develop them, you won’t be able to make a living from playing poker.