What makes a person a professional? What legitimizes a person going pro in poker? In football, a person can enter the NFL draft after their third year of playing college ball. Kobe Bryant and Lebron James became NBA superstars right out of high school. Baseball players usually go through the farm system. Yet, poker does not have a draft or any type of formal hierarchy system. Usually anyone can join the game, as long as they have the buy-in.
So what separates pros from amateurs? Pete O’Donnell, who finished 8th in the $1500 Limit Hold’em event at the 2007 WSOP, quit his job just two weeks before entering the 2007 WSOP. He has entered the poker playing profession. He hopes to keep winning and making final tables. Eventually, Pete expects to make an ESPN final table, and he hopes to obtain big sponsorships.
In 1998, Daniel Negreanu exploded onto the poker scene by being the youngest person to ever win a bracelet (a record which has been eclipsed several times). Ever since his first victory, his total cash winnings are over $6 million dollars. He is a poker superstar to the common person. You can turn on ESPN and see his charming personality shine on television. You can open the latest issue of any poker magazine and see his face plastered across many pages.
The difference between Daniel and Pete is one thing ─ time. As long as Pete keeps on cashing in big tournaments, he will become the next Daniel Negreanu. Only time will tell.
But what is the separating factor between the pros and amateurs? I believe it is their attention to detail. Walk around the poker room. Watch the top money makers. Pay attention to their eyes. The eyes are constantly moving, constantly searching for tells. The pros are filing information on each and every player at their table never moving their eyes away from the action. They are always focused on what is at hand ─ winning that next gold bracelet.
The amateurs do not posses this time-learned skill. Their eyes do not move in the same manner as the pros. If an amateur is involved in a hand, most often their eyes are staring straight at the cards or hiding behind sunglasses. If they are not participating in a hand, their attention is on something else rather than the action at their table. Amateurs often will be distracted by motion and sounds they hear around them. These events may include Mike “the Mouth” Matusow going off about anything and everything. His latest outburst, he said, “I can go home for two hours, hop in the Jacuzzi, come back to the tournament, win a pot and still have more chips than anyone else!”
Annie Duke, queen of the poker realm, is one of the best at picking up tells. Her posture is leaning forward with both legs on the chair as if she is a lioness ready to pounce on prey. Her eyes are fixed upon the cards. Her eyes gaze at the hands, body and faces of her foes. If she can not see the table, she will ask politely and gracefully to adjust the cards so she can see. Always on constant detail.
To be a superstar in any profession, consistent attention to detail is required. Sport stars practice everyday working on their athletic skills. Business professionals scrutinize every aspect of their companies. Poker professionals look intently at their opponents to obtain a competitive advantage. This is what makes a person a professional.
Tim Huber is an intern working at the 2007 World Series of Poker presented by Milwaukee’s Best Light. These are his personal observations.