Are you a professional? There are two primary definitions of professional. One definition taken from Merriam-Wester is:
"participating for gain or livelihood in an activity or field of endeavor often engaged in by amateurs ."
Sometimes people debate what makes a professional poker player. My definition has always been someone who makes most of their income from playing poker which is similar to the definition above. But there are also expert players out there who could make a living playing poker, but just don’t play that much so I’m not sure if they would be considered a “professional” or not even though they are expert players.
However, the focus of this article isn’t on that definition. Plenty of people make their living playing poker, but a much smaller subset can say they are “professional” about how they approach their profession. Another definition of professional from Merriam-Webster is:
"exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace."
There are two keys words in this definition. Are you conscientious and businesslike in the manner in which you approach poker as a profession?
Businessmen and women are generally organized and work hard at managing their time. The more successful ones generally try and focus on the important things rather than just the urgent things. They often try and find mentors to help them as they grow within a large corporation.
Doctors and dentists must always stay up-to-date with the latest studies and technologies in their fields. They will read journals and take additional classes to maintain their knowledge within their respective field.
Most professional athletes have several coaches who specialize in different fields to help them prepare for their prospective sports. One coach may focus is on the physical side of the sport and improve the athlete’s cardio and strength. Sometimes the coach focuses on the mechanics and technical aspects of the sport (a position coach, hitting coach, or swing coach). Sometimes the coach focuses on the strategy, planning, and preparation – a tennis coach or head coach for baseball or football. And there are other coaches who focus on the psychological aspects.
Poker players would be wise to learn from all of these “professionals”. In business, we learn that it is important to find time for important tasks, not just urgent tasks. Of course, in poker the urgent task is playing in the next game as most poker pros are focused on putting in the hours to grind out an income. But what about the important tasks? Do you find the proper time to analyze your game, read new books, watch videos, or discuss poker with other players you respect. These important tasks are critical in constantly evolving your game to improve (or maintain) your results.
Would you go to a doctor or dentist who doesn’t focus on the important task of staying up-to-date with the latest studies and technological advances in their field. If you are a poker player obsessed with putting in the hours, you might find your game starts to taper off and you’ll be left wondering why unless you find the time to constantly evolve your game away from the tables.
Professional athletes use coaches and businessmen and women use mentors. If you aren’t improving your game with other poker players you are most likely missing the boat. At the very least, discussing poker with other players will help you understand how other players think which will help your hand-reading skills at the table.
Professional athletes also work hard at preparing themselves physically for their sport. This makes sense given that most sports have an important physical element. Poker doesn’t have this physical element, but fitness is still important for the mind. Numerous scientific studies have shown that exercise and diet impacts cognitive abilities, stamina, energy, focus, and concentration. Students score better on tests when they have a healthy breakfast and good night sleep. Businessmen and women are more productive when eating healthy meals. Seniors are more alert and focused when they exercise regularly. Dimat (the publishing company I own) recently published a new book Peak Performance Poker by Travis Steffen which discusses this topic in more detail.
So are you a professional? Maybe you are earning a decent living from poker but could be doing even better by learning from professionals in other fields. A good place to start is by setting some goals and organizing your time to help reach them. If you are out of shape, find the time to start exercising and work on changing your diet. Find time to focus on your game, not just the daily grind. Be professional in your approach to poker and you might see results that you never expected.
This article first appeared in Card Player magazine.
Matthew is the owner of Dimat Enterprises, “Publishing Today’s Best Poker Books”. The Math of Hold’em by Collin Moshman and Douglas Zare is available now at pokerbooks.InternetTexasHoldem.com.