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Three Things I’d Do Differently If I Went Pro Today

by Ed Miller |  Published: Aug 31, 2016

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Ed MillerThirteen years ago, I quit my job to play poker full-time. Overall, that decision has worked out well for me, but if I had it to do again, given what I know now, I’d change a few things. Here are three things I’d do differently if I went pro today.

I’d look for more opportunities to move and travel

When I first starting playing full-time, I was living in the Seattle area. While there is plenty of poker there, it’s an expensive place to live, and compared other places, the games were only okay. So I decided I should move. I focused on two possible destinations: Las Vegas and Los Angeles. The games in Las Vegas were also only okay, but the cost of living was cheap. The Los Angeles games were very good (and still are), but the cost of living was much higher.

I ended up moving to Las Vegas, and, overall, I really like the city. But I feel like I had a bit of tunnel vision when I made that decision. I should have added many more cities (and even countries) to that list. For example, my hometown of New Orleans has a dirt cheap cost of living and some excellent games. Also, from New Orleans you’re a day’s drive from places like Tunica, Mississippi and the casinos in Oklahoma, and these can be great places for pros to play, especially when tournament series are in town.

Today as poker has expanded to new areas, there are even more viable choices. You could live and play in Florida or Maryland or Pennsylvania or Chicago or Wisconsin or Portland, just to name a few options.

In particular, if a casino or cardroom opens up in a new jurisdiction, it’s probably a good idea to visit and check out the poker. Frequently there’s a gold rush period when a new card room opens up in a city that wasn’t previously served. All of a sudden, the local enthusiasts have a place to put in plenty of hours, but they don’t yet have the experience (and therefore the skill) that regular players in places like Las Vegas have.
I also know a number of players who have found regular and good games in other countries—living in Latin America and Asia (in particular) for a few years.

Overall, I’d say that if you want to play full-time, you should spend a good bit of time thinking about the best places to live and travel to for the best games. And don’t get too settled—always be on the lookout for a better opportunity somewhere else.

I’d look for opportunities to play non-standard games

When I started playing full-time, limit hold’em was the standard poker game. In Las Vegas, there were still a few holdouts who played stud and razz every day, but mostly everyone was playing limit hold’em.

Then it quickly shifted to no-limit hold’em. I eventually learned that game, of course, but I was behind the curve rather than ahead of it. I played in my first no-limit hold’em cash game in 2003, but I didn’t really take learning the game seriously until 2005. In hindsight, it turns out those were two critical years in poker. It would have been much smarter to take the leap in 2003—as soon as the trend toward no-limit hold’em started to become apparent. Then two years later I’d have been much better at the game and in position to capitalize more thoroughly on the opportunity.

I don’t expect what happened in 2003-2005 to happen again in poker, but I think as a general rule it makes a lot of sense to try to find opportunities to learn and play non-standard games. Today, the most important non-standard game I think is clearly pot-limit Omaha (PLO). A good strategy for a would-be pro today would be to study PLO (and perhaps some other games like pot-limit Omaha eight-or-better and the limit mixed games) and then try to find a fairly big PLO game that goes regularly and is off the beaten path (i.e., not in Las Vegas during the World Series of Poker).

The holy grail is to find a nice, big game where no one has a clue how to play except for you, and other would-be pros don’t even know about the game. I’m not saying these games are easy to find—by definition they aren’t—but they definitely are out there.

I’d demand a bigger bankroll

When I quit my job, I had about $20,000 as a bankroll. My plan was to use one of those bankroll calculators, see how big I could play while (probably) not busting my twenty, and go grind that.

And that’s what I did. And I made enough to live on, but I quickly realized that I was spinning my wheels with that plan as far as the long-term. It’s really hard to play live poker on a $20,000 bankroll (if you aren’t willing to fade a significant risk of ruin by taking shots) and make a living and also grow your bankroll consistently.

If you want poker to be a real, comfortable living, you need a good bit more than that. I’d say at least $100,000. If you don’t have that much, you have to figure out how to make that much.

I’ll say that relatively few of the successful poker players I know got their first $100,000 bankroll by grinding live poker up from $20,000 or less. Most people’s initial bankrolls came either from an extremely lucky tournament score, or by taking advantage of some non-live poker opportunity that presented itself for a brief period of time. These opportunities are things like boom-era online poker, online casino bonus harvesting, poker (and other gambling) affiliate operations, daily fantasy sports, advantage gambling, and so forth. Of course there are many other ways to make money as well.

The point here is, however, that I think most people assume that extremely successful poker players get where they are by starting at the $1-$2 tables and winning, winning, winning until they reach the top. In my experience from talking to many people who have succeeded, that’s usually not the story. Usually they get a big early boost either by exploiting a temporary, but lucrative opportunity or just by sheer crazy luck.

Final Thoughts

So if I had it to do again, I’d have spent more time looking for a big bankroll booster (which was not at all hard to find in 2003) and less time grinding. Once I got the big boost, I’d have tried to locate a relatively high-stakes, non-standard game in an off-the-beaten-path location. I’d have played that game for a while and then moved onto the next opportunity.

You’ll have to work a little harder than you would have in 2003, but I think you can be successful today with the same formula. ♠

Ed’s newest book, Poker’s 1%: The One Big Secret That Keeps Elite Players On Top is available now at his website edmillerpoker.com. You can also find original articles and instructional videos by Ed at the brand new site redchippoker.com.