Keith Hawkins

Playing Poker for a Living… or at least very seriously.

By Keith ‘The Camel’ Hawkins

Recently there seems to have been a rash of people giving up work to play poker for a living. I have twice decided the world of employment didn’t really suit me so handed in my notice and tried my luck as a professional poker player.

I made numerous mistakes in the way I went about it first time around and I am attempting to do it properly this time. Perhaps if you are thinking of packing it all in after a couple of positive results in your local £10 comp you should think about at least a couple of the points below:

*1 Don’t play too much. Poker is very addictive and can rapidly control your life. First time round I played virtually 7 nights a week and my game rapidly suffered as I became bored and stale. One of the best players I know is skint, and I think he would agree that he played too much.

*2 Have other interests. Related to *1 of course. Go on non-poker holidays, go to the theatre or cinema, play snooker or football or whatever is your bag. You will rapidly become a poker bore if you have nothing else to talk about save poker. Try and maintain a circle of friends outside poker; believe me, you will be desperate to talk about something else after a while!

*3 Keep separate playing and living bankrolls. This is a point where I fell down badly first time round, and to be honest many people do. How on earth can you expect to play your best poker if you don’t know where next months rent is coming from? I would say you must have at least 6 months living money in a bank account where you can’t get at it.

*4 Never borrow or lend significant amounts of money. No, I’m not talking about the odd score for a buyin. Last time round, people I thought I could trust, twice stiffed me for a lot of money. Do you really need to worry about debts, when you will have plenty to worry about without this problem?

*5 Trust no one. I’m afraid I have to admit there are a lot of rogues, lowlifes and petty scam artists in poker. Throughout my life I have trusted people until they have given me reason to doubt them. In poker, sadly, it is safer to assume you can’t trust someone until they prove otherwise.

*6 Try to find someone "on the tour" you can confide in, (not just to have a chat with at the bar or over dinner). On the whole, most people don’t give a damn about how you are going, and it’s comforting to have someone to bitch at, whine to and moan with. but be prepared to act in the same role for them! Also, it’s nice to have someone to travel to tournaments with who hopefully shares some of your interests and maybe shares your sense of humour.

*7 Don’t cut down unnecessarily on expenses. Say for example, you are going to the Masterclassics in Amsterdam and are planning to play all the tournaments costing you a total of 6000 euro or so (about £4000). What is the upside of trying to save 50 euro per night by staying in a flea pit, where the hot water in the shower doesn’t work, you have bugs walking up the wall, you can’t sleep because there are cats mating in the courtyard and the breakfast tastes like it should have been fed to the dog? I’m not saying book the Marriott wherever you are going, just somewhere clean and comfortable. Your results will reflect this.

*8 If you have success, ignore the snipers. Poker is the worst game for jealousy, it sometimes seems like everyone wants you to fail. You will find out who your real friends are at this time, because they are genuinely happy for you, not just looking for a few quid because you won.

*9 Try to keep some form of emotional stability. You are certainly not as good as your best result suggests you are. There is always someone significantly better than you. Ego is the most expensive failing in poker. try not to have one. On the other hand, you are almost certainly not as bad as you worst run tells you. Avoiding doing serious amounts of cash when you are suffering a run of bad results is an important factor in becoming a successful pro.

*10 Don’t have leaks. My biggest failing is my amazing ability to lose a pot at the poker table and then go and blow a fortune on the dice / roulette / blackjack tables (delete as appropriate). In the 2001 WSOP main event I had a nice stack midway through day 2. I got all my chips in preflop with AA against QQ. A queen arrives on the river. Like a prat, I proceeded downstairs and blew a five-figure fortune at craps. Don’t do it. There is always tomorrow.

*11 Don’t close all doors on the world of work. Poker is tough (as you know) and most people don’t make it as a pro poker player. If you can’t make it pay it doesn’t mean you aren’t a good player, it just means the life isn’t for you. When you quit your job, don’t tell your boss what you really think of him. you may just need him for a reference in two years time!

*12 Finally, (and MOST IMPORTANTLY!) enjoy it! Don’t become one of those bad tempered gits (like those who used to frequent the cash game at Russell Sq) who play because they have to, not because they want to. Playing poker seriously is a great life; you will meet some fascinating, funny, interesting and, let’s be honest, bizarre people. What is the point of giving up work to do something so risky if you don’t enjoy doing it? Don’t be a grouch, enjoy other peoples successes, don’t become a bad beat moaner, enjoy the combat but enjoy a beer with the "enemy" afterwards. Enjoy meeting new people and seeing new places. And have fun. Poker is the best game in the world, and if you are lucky enough to be playing it for a living, remember that next time your aces are cracked by 10, 6 suited, the person holding that hand has to go to work tomorrow morning. You have some serious lying in to do!

Next month we have some tips for playing online poker for you… Join us then.