The colossal rise in poker over the past several years has drastically changed the professional gambling industry. Before the release, and subsequent rise in popularity, of the movie Rounders and the broadcast of the 2003 World Series of poker (won by Chris Moneymaker, beating poker pro Sam Farha), professional poker players lived in relative obscurity, competing in Las Vegas cash games or traveling around a tournament circuit that was much smaller than the one we see today.
As online poker grew in popularity, millions of dollars flowed into the industry as countless fortunes were won and lost in a matter of days or even hours. Poker players gained celebrity status while movie stars showed a marked interest in the game. This boom in popularity, combined with a seemingly endless flow of “dead money,” resulted in a huge number of players trying their hand at playing poker professionally. Yet many were to be unsuccessful, as either their luck expired or as they ran into games that were too tough for them. Even competent players may be doomed to failure, as the life of a professional poker player takes more than just skills at the table.
Besides being a proficient poker player, professionals require certain characteristics to make it through the long haul. Foremost of these is patience; one does not master any craft without practice and time. Though many players hit it rich at once in the early days of Partypoker.com, among other sites, they were not prepared to handle the long losing streaks or the deliberate pace of moving up in limits using proper bankroll management. They also refused to wait for profitable games to come along, instead interjecting themselves into contests where they were clearly overmatched. Numerous budding professionals flamed out as they climbed too high on wings made of ephemeral Internet success.
Related to patience is self-control; a professional must be able to maintain an even keel in the face of the worst beats, or else risk losing even more money on account of uncontrolled emotions. Taking frequent bad beats is sometimes seen as the mark of a skillful player, as these players will have their money in when they have the past chance of winning; a player who lays many bad beats on others is just getting lucky. Not tipping your hand and avoiding alcohol while playing are also related to self-control (a few professionals are able to drink while playing but this is not recommended, as poker requires concentrated thought and memory to be played successfully).
Finally, a poker player must be able to handle the psychology of the game. Any advantage over another player is important, and it takes an incisive mind to be able to get into the heads of others. On the flip side, the poker player must be difficult to figure out, or else find himself vulnerable to others who have better developed this ability. A perfect example of a player great in both of these traits is Phil Ivey — one of poker’s greatest!
Although there are many skilled poker players, few have the required makeup and combination of traits to allow them to become full-time, successful professionals. Unfortunately, most of the skills cannot be taught, though they can be developed with enough training and dedication.