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    Playing “professionally” is a lot tougher and a hell of a lot less glamorous than most people realize. There are a number of factors to consider.The biggest, yet possibly least discussed, factor is the rake. All casinos, online or otherwise, rake cash games and require entry fees in tournaments. Some are reasonable and can be overcome by a truly skilled player, others are very excessive and should definitely be avoided. And, oddly, it can be difficult to determine the difference without considerable scrutiny.Another major pitfall is money management. It’s very common for a player to go on a rush, perhaps even an extended rush, and do well only to give back all his winnings in a single session or small handful of sessions. Or possibly to spend those winnings on spoils only to go on a cold streak and lose what little bankroll he left himself to continue playing with.Others have done well, but lost everything when they have upped their limits a bit too high only to run into competition they can no longer beat, yet refused to drop their limits back down.And yet others might win a couple tournaments, but get sunk come tax time when they’re forced to pay excessive taxes on the winnings they’re forced to claim (and can’t successfully negate to the satisfaction of an IRS auditor by claiming losses.)I played casino poker “professionally” for a while a number of years ago – before most players today had ever heard of Hold’em – so perhaps I can help you to an extent. Today, however, I just supplement with play in spare time only. It keeps me sane and more-importantly permits me to blow winnings on entertainment or things I wouldn’t otherwise purchase without fear of depreciating my bankroll more than I should.Begin with limit play. Do your homework first! Read everything you can about low limit. Forget about tournaments and all-in play. Learn (or re-learn) the most basic fundamentals as they will apply to all games you may find yourself in. Commit to memory the importance of position, pot odds, aggressive play, etc. – all the fundamentals.PLAY TIGHT! Seriously, play so tight it almost makes you puke. Rarely does a good, consistently-profitable player enjoy the game – it should be a grind, perhaps even a bore. Get real used to folding and learn to fold monster hands when you’re beat.DON’T EVER CALL A BET YOU KNOW YOU SHOULDN’T!Know your competition and learn from them. If you’re playing in a casino, this isn’t too difficult, but if you’re playing online it can be more difficult. If you’re playing online, do not surf the web, walk away from your PC during hands you’re not in, etc. Watch and learn how others play – specifically what hands they play, from what positions, and how they play them. Use that information to your benefit. Don’t waste time trying to read peoples’ faces.Know and learn from yourself. Know your limits and analyze your mistakes. For example, when you get your aces snapped, did you bring it on yourself by not raising pre-flop? Did you call a pre-flop raise with K-9, at some point make a straight, only to lose to a bigger straight by the guy holding A-K (the same guy who’s raise you should never have called to start with)?In “The Art of War,” the 4th century B.C. Chinese war strategist Sun Tzu wisely states, “Know your enemy and know yourself and in one hundred battles, you shall never perish.” He must have been a poker player. Re-read the previous two paragraphs. See what I mean?KEEP BOOKS, BUT DON’T “COOK” THEM! By that I mean keep a log of your play. Track how much you win or lose along with how long you play each and every session. Don’t “forget” to log a session because you took an astronomical odds-defying beat or two therefore that session was an anomaly and shouldn’t count. When you’re winning, consistently, more than one big bet per hour, you’re doing good.Eventually you may consider hedging your bets a bit by playing a higher limit cash game. Go for it, but only if you can afford it. I would recommend playing at a limit where the conventional buy-in (usually 20-40 times the big bet) is no more than about 5% of your bankroll. Don’t get too greedy by upping your limits too high or too quickly. And if after upping your limits, you find yourself losing, for God’s sake, drop them back down and start playing winning poker again!If you’re able to do all of the above, and do it for a profit, start entering some tournaments. Sure the strategy will differ a bit, but you’ll already be equipped with the tools to know how and when to vary your play.In tournaments, find what works for you and run with it. As an ultra-tight and good heads-up no-limit player, I prefer single table tournaments where I almost always finish in the money and rarely lose once heads-up (even if way behind to start). If you’re good at bullying right out of the gate, perhaps the multi-table tournaments are more your speed.Another note on tournaments, if you win big or accrue a certain amount of winnings over the course of a year in an actual casino, you’ll be required to claim those winnings. For that reason, you may consider restricting your tournament play to online. If you prefer the casino setting, however, use your ATM card there often and save all the withdrawal slips. You can use those as evidence when you write off gambling losses in the event that you get audited.Last note on tournaments: Remember you can’t up and walk away after a huge score like you can in a cash game!Sorry this has run rather long, but there’s a lot (far, far more that just what I’ve written) to consider and learn before playing “professionally.” Hopefully it’s helped, though.Good luck!

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