Guest blog post by Scott Ball
Two of the most common questions I get asked on and off the tables are if I am a “professional” poker player and how I manage my work/life balance with poker. In this blog post I will discuss what being a professional poker player means to me, the advantages and disadvantages of being a professional and how I personally manage all of this.
What is a professional poker player?
I believe you are a professional if poker is consistently your primary source of income. This doesn’t mean you have to be making some set number of dollars each year. If poker is your primary means of supporting yourself, you’re a professional. That being said, I don’t consider myself a professional poker player. I often go through phases in which I spend the majority of my time playing poker then back to spending the majority of my time working at Twitch as Global Head of Poker. At the end of the day I don’t rely on poker to pay my monthly living expenses.
Over the years many times I have seen some people have a stigma that if you’re not a professional, you’re bad at poker. This is entirely untrue and often a huge leak in some professional players’ mindsets. Just because someone has another means of making an income doesn’t mean they haven’t put in countless hours of studying and grinding. Some of the most successful people in terms of raw dollars earned from poker are actually successful business people who are able to play massive private cash games that are either way bigger than many professionals want to or are bankrolled to play. I also know for a fact there are recreational players out there who put more time into studying and improving their game than many professionals.
I want to touch on the advantages of having a job or another income while playing poker.
When you have a different primary source of income, poker becomes a much less stressful game. Often times when grinding live cash, the most stressed out guy at the table is a local professional who is having a bad month. Having an additional income also makes shot taking a lot less painful when it doesn’t go well. Over the last few years, I have definitely taken a few shots that don’t make any sense in terms of proper bankroll management. At the end of the day though, I recognized and understood the fact that whether I won or lost, my expenses were going to be covered.
The best example I can think of was the first Poker Night in America session I played three years ago. The game was supposed to be $25/$50 featuring several superstars, including Negreanu, Elky, Jason Somerville, Nanonoko, Phil Hellmuth, Phil Laak, but ended up becoming 25/50/100, then 50/100, 100/200 and at one point 100/200/400/800. This game was way too big for my bankroll. However, I knew that if I lost the money I brought to play, I could go back home and continue grinding my local cash games in a stress free manner. Unfortunately, I ended up losing $20,000 in the game. It was the first loss I had ever taken in poker that really made my stomach turn, but at the end of the day, everything was going to be fine.
Another distinct advantage of having an additional source of income is that you get to study and play poker when you actually want to, which keeps the game fun and exciting.
When you’re playing for a living, especially as you’re working your way up in stakes, you simply must study and play a lot. You absolutely have to put the necessary time in to continue to improve and amass enough volume to help overcome the variance. The last advantage I will point out is not being a professional often gives you an amazing image that you can exploit. I’ve witnessed top tier pros make some super sick hero folds incorrectly against recreational players because they didn’t think the player was capable of bluffing in a certain spot.
Of course being a professional does have its advantages.
Getting to spend all of your work time studying and playing allows you to improve faster and get quite a bit more volume in, assuming you use your time wisely. Often times being a professional allows you to have a larger number of other professionals in your friend network to talk hands and study with. I am a firm believer that if you want to be the absolute best in the world at something you need to let it consume you. Any time you can devote 100% of yourself to any aspect of life, you should get more results from it. Once you establish yourself as a good player, things like selling action become much easier and the lifestyle can be one of which offers a lot of freedom. Freedom allows you to live wherever you want and work whenever you feel like it. That said, there are many people in the poker world who don’t do well with this much freedom and lack of structure in their lives. Being a professional definitely offers a unique set of challenges, but is something the best players in the world have mastered.
For this next section I’ll have to explain a little bit about myself and what I do.
I was given the incredible opportunity to bring poker onto a site called Twitch. Twitch is a social video platform. You can watch someone play poker online or live and interact directly with the broadcaster and their community in real time. You can ask them questions about the hand they just played, the opponents at the table or even just talk about how things are going. Working at Twitch is definitely a full time job and then some. I have goals that my team needs to hit every year that we are graded on. If we don’t hit these metrics, I am failing, and if I fail, I’m not just failing myself, but also my team and Twitch. When I play poker if I become a losing player, I am failing. I’m a very passionate person and really don’t like doing anything I am bad at or don’t feel I can be good at. How do I manage all of these expectations both professionally and personally?
The first skill you must master to successfully balance poker and your career is time management.
My days are very structured both when I am home or on the road. If I have a tournament to play, my work calendar will show I am busy from 1.5 hours prior to the tournament starting to 1 hour after the last level of the night. Prior to play starting for the day, I get through my work emails and whatever meetings my job requires. When I am focused on work, I am giving work 110% of my attention, effort and focus. When I am focused on studying or playing poker, that gets the same respect. The key with time management for me is making sure everything I really need to complete for the day is completed before I switch gears. I find that if I leave emails unanswered or fail to address a relevant task, it really effects my focus on the next activity.
The next thing I focus on is prioritizing everything I need to do.
This is true with life, poker and work. Certain times of the year I need to invest more of my attention into one area of my life over the rest. That being said, it’s incredibly important to not let everything else slip away and get too far behind. Neglecting your other responsibilities will lead to many negative consequences and high stress levels. Quite often there just isn’t enough time in the day for me to do everything I’d like to do. Each night before I go to bed I plan out my next day. The busier I am, the more pre-planned my day is.
For example, this year during the WSOP I made day three of the Monster Stack event. I made sure I was awake four hours prior to play starting each day so I was able to get through my morning routine and have a few hours of work before play resumed. This allowed me to feel good and not have other things on my mind while playing. My morning routine generally consisted of twenty minutes of meditation, a light workout, breakfast, a few meetings and getting through my emails. On dinner break I made sure I checked my emails and responded to anything that needed a quick response. Once play was over for the day I’d get home, deal with anything that needed to be addressed that night, meditate for fifteen minutes to relax and then go to sleep. While playing poker my cell phone was generally off and not a distraction so I could focus entirely on all the action in front of me. Once I busted from the Monster Stack, I skipped a couple events I had originally planned on playing because I needed to get on the work grind a bit to allow myself to be able to really focus on just playing poker when the next event rolled around. It’s vitally important to be honest with yourself and not allow yourself to become overwhelmed and get behind. It’s ok to take a break from both poker and work from time to time. Just don’t let yourself fall behind.
When I allow myself fall into this routine and good sleeping schedule, it really allows me to optimize my focus on everything I am doing.
As soon as WSOP ended, I headed straight back home to focus on work for a while. In short, make sure you are spending your time accomplishing whatever really needs to be done and allowing yourself the time to do so. Don’t play when tired or stressed, and realize that taking a day off is often a wise thing to do.
I hope you enjoyed this blog post. Let me know what you think in the comment section below or on twitter @Rumcake.
Jonathan Little: Scott, thanks for the excellent and enlightening blog post!
If you enjoyed this type of guest content, let me know in the comment section below. Be sure to check back next week for another educational poker blog post. Thanks for reading!