Second installment on choosing poker as a profession

Editor’s Note: Last week Robert wrote about becoming a professional poker player, acknowledging there are rewards as well as pitfalls, and the necessity of being aware of both. He discussed the importance of having a poker plan, understanding your potential to win and choosing your opponents wisely. Here is the second and final installment on choosing poker as a profession.
Understand When You’ll Have an Edge: This is the reason pros love mixed games so much. They are always looking for weaker opponents who haven’t mastered some of the games to create an edge for themselves. Without the ability to do this, there is no reason to sit at the table. This is the cardinal rule of poker. You must master at least four different games to play at a world-class level.
The following story is an extreme example of how critical it is for professional poker players to find players they can beat. It will also help you understand the psychology of gamblers. It involves my long-time friend Ray Hall again (or Mighty Ray Hall, as he liked to call himself). He is also one of the funniest guys I have ever been around in gambling.
I was invited to a game in Georgia where I was told they were playing 14-handed hold’em. They were literally using a rake to push the chips across the table because the pots were so big. The host said the only bad thing was they were raking $15 a hand, but it is the wildest game you will ever see.
I called up Ray and he said, “I can’t beat a short-handed game, much less a 14-handed game.”
When I told him the details, he quickly changed his tune and said, “When can you leave? Let’s go now.”
“Ray,” I asked, “what about the rake?” I will never forget his response.
“If those fools are allowing that rake,” he said, “I want to meet them because I am sure I can beat them!”
When we arrived, I saw the biggest table I had ever seen, with a paper grocery bag underneath it being used as the drop box. Ray was right – that was the liveliest group of people I had ever played poker with. They didn’t care about the rake; they just wanted to gamble. He had a better understanding of the mentality of gamblers than I had at the time.
Check Your Ego at the Door: This next subject is rarely spoken about, but it is the Achilles’ heel of many pros (in my opinion), and that is ego.
A friend of mine who had cashed in several tournaments for over $2 million in one year’s time asked me for some career advice. I told him to take $60,000 and hire a PR firm to help with his image so as to create a legacy that might help him with sponsorships and teaching in the future when things went south.
He agreed, but I knew it was a long shot he would heed the advice. He has now fallen on hard times, and all I can wonder is why didn’t he invest in himself when he had the chance? His ego made him believe he was going to win forever.
Reflecting Back on My Years Playing Poker: What have I learned after all these years of playing poker?
To play professionally, you need to protect your bankroll, choose your games and opponents wisely, take advantage of every edge you can find and, most importantly, have balance in your life.
Poker has given me a blessed life, but it has not been without regrets. If you allow it to, poker will take a toll on your personal life. Poker Hall of Fame member Fred “Sarge” Ferris, after he found out he was dying, told Doyle Brunson to “stop and smell the roses.”
The game may reward you with material things for your family and bless you with memories you may not have otherwise had. That said, reflecting back on my years of playing, I have to say I wish I had spent more precious time with my family and a little less time playing.
Remember, the game is not going anywhere. Keep your friends and family close because you can’t make it without their support.
I hope you take all of this advice to heart. These are things I wish someone had told me. If you see me at the table, or Ray Hall (who, at nearly 80 years old, still plays poker in Tunica, Mississippi), feel free to share your stories about your life on the felt.

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