Money is easily the most misunderstood concept in all of poker. The young player feels like they are a winning player and therefore they can play poker for a living. Playing as a professional and having poker as your sole source of income is one of the toughest things a player can attempt. I will take a few moments and share some of the challenges, my own personal struggles, lessons learned and successes.
I played for almost five years where poker was the vast majority of my income and for a couple years it was my only income. I am not proud of that fact. I had a college degree and an engineering license at the time. I had an easier path to follow. Pride and ego carried me down that tougher path. I survived and transitioned back into a normal life working as an engineer. I have some great memories, both good and bad, and those memories are what I share with people today.
In poker money is the tool of your trade. Players buy chips and the chips do not seem like money but they are actually just that an easier way to keep track of the money. Players use the chips as weapons during the play of the hand. The point is that you must have money to play poker. I will say it again, because I can not stress it enough, you must have money to play poker. If you run out of money you can not go to work tomorrow.
The question always arises, “how much money do I need?” Nobody can give you a simple formula for how much money you need to have. I will do my best to lead you to the answer. I like to have a bankroll of at least 16 buy-ins and at least four buy-ins on me every time I sit down to play. I know it seems like I am giving you a formula for minimum bankroll. These are my guidelines and I know that I am one of the tightest and most disciplined players around. Almost everyone I know will need more than this to play poker as a professional. When I play limit hold’em I use 50 times the big blind as a buy-in. In no-limit I use 100 big blinds as a buy-in and occasionally will use 150 blinds if the blinds are one and two. These are absolute minimums. In order to play $1-$2 NL, I feel $1200 in your pocket and $5000 in your poker account are the absolute minimum.
I feel my friends all over the world starting to think, I have $5000; I can play no limit for a living. You can sit down and take one shot at a $1-$2 NL game and if you win you need to plow that money into your new business. Your chances of success will be almost zero. I would feel more comfortable if you had $25,000 to start. When you build that $25,000 to $30,000 you can take your profit and use it to cover your living expenses. If your living expenses are paid you should set your profit aside in a separate rainy day account that includes six months of living expenses. If you were smart you already had that separate account tucked away with a minimum of six months expenses. Bottom line is to even consider playing full time you need at least $25,000 and six months to a year of living expenses.
The biggest mistake I have made and others continue to make is to spend too much money while on a winning streak. The money is an absolute necessity in this profession. An auto mechanic that successfully fixes a car does not go out and celebrate by throwing half his tools away. There is no need to behave foolishly just because you are winning. Act like you have done it before.
The second problem is the players need to always play in too large of a game. Play in the game you can afford. Play at the limit that is comfortable for you. Play against players you can beat. Put your ego in check and just grind out that steady income. These points seem so obvious. I better never catch you sitting at the table in a game you can not afford to play.
The third issue that needs to be addressed also seems like a no-brainer; do not use your living expenses to fund your poker game. Set up separate accounts and be religious about never mixing the two. Your life needs to be solid and no part of your life can suffer because you are playing poker or worse yet losing at poker.
As a way to help you get started I am laying out the road map for you to begin your poker journey. Sit down with an accountant and detail out all of your living expenses and set up a budget. I would love to tell you that my family can live on $3000 a month but a look at my bank statements leads me to believe that I need close to $5000 a month to continue living in the lifestyle I have become accustomed. My budget is $5000 a month. I need to set aside $60,000 for living expenses before I can consider playing poker. This is something that only the true professional players will be able to do.
Now that I have established a budget for my living expenses, I can begin to focus on the game I need to play in order to make that money consistently. Poker is a game of opportunity and good games are not going to be available every day. The weekends will be the best time to play. A schedule of 30 hours a week is very rigorous a professional. Playing 125 hours a month I will need to make $40 per hour to cover my living expenses. That is a substantial amount of money to make on a consistent basis. A good $5-$10 NL or an average $10-$20 NL game will produce those results. Those games exist in very few places, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. The cash required would be a buy-in of $2,000 and a bankroll of $25,000 to $100,000.
I tried to focus strictly on the financial side of starting out as a poker player.
If you are an action player you may need three or four times as much money as I have detailed here.
Please do not quit your day job.


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