A lot of people ask me what it’s like to a be a pro poker player.
Playing a game for profit everyday is greatly different from almost any other career out there, save maybe Twitch video game streamers and professional athletes.
So, to illustrate what it’s like to be a professional poker player I thought I’d talk about my experiences in the poker world.
I’ve primarily been an online player, so my experiences may differ from some of yours in the live realm. That said, I’ve spent a lot of time with live players and I’ve played a fair bit of live myself, so I have an idea of what it’s like to be a live pro too.
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The Early Years of My Poker Career
I started playing poker when I was in high school, obviously still living with my parents.
I was hungry when I first discovered poker. A regular day for me was:
- Wake up before school and play
- Surf poker forums as much as possible during school
- Come home and play poker until dinner
- Play poker after dinner until bed.
Rinse and repeat pretty much every single day for about 2 straight years. Maybe the occasional trip to the gym, but it was basically all poker.
I tried college briefly, but I quickly realized it wasn’t the place for me. I never went to class anyway, so I decided to drop out.
Soon after I dropped out I was playing full time poker and fully supporting myself with it. Eventually I was making enough to comfortably move out of my parents’, so I headed out West to California in search of poker gold.
The biggest lifestyle change was the amount of freedom the poker lifestyle afforded me.
I was making good money and had a lot of free time. What did I decide to do with it? Play more poker.
My life was very one dimensional at the time (not something I would recommend for a poker pro), but I was young, dedicated and working hard.
I moved to Vegas at 19, unable to legally gamble in the city. I had a lot of money burning a hole in my pocket which made me a bit reckless with decisions on and off the felt. I made mistakes with bankroll management and with my overall approach to the game, but I was fortunate enough to run good and keep winning.
A big step up on lifestyle for me was a bit after I met Doug, when he and I shared a personal assistant. She would split time between our places, doing all the cooking and cleaning.
I just tried to make it so the only thing I had to do in this life is click buttons on the internet.
I did find a bit more of a social balance when I was living in Vegas which was nice. I started playing racquetball, going to hookah bars (one of the few things I could do at 19) and just hanging out with more like-minded poker players.
Game selecting, looking for heads up action and seeing what games were running was the bulk of my time.
The only things I felt like I had to do were eat, sleep and play poker. If there wasn’t a good game running or if no one would play me, I would have nothing to do.
I’d turn to time consuming activities like playing a lot of video games or watching a lot of TV. To this day I sort of regret spending so much time on that stuff.
That’s one of the “perils” of being a successful poker player. How do you treat your relationship with poker? When should you play?
- You can play when you feel good and up to it
- You can try to play a fixed schedule like a 9-to-5 job
- You can when games are good, like on weekends for a live player
It’s all about managing your time. The poker lifestyle provides a ton freedom and no structure, just like a 9-to-5 job provides a ton of structure with little freedom.
What most poker players, including myself, are looking for is something in between. We’re looking for a structure of our own.
Deciding how to spend my time is something I struggle with this to this day.
Post Black Friday Poker Life
In my 4th year of being a pro I developed the itch to travel. I knew there was a poker community in Bangkok so I packed my life into 2 suitcases, booked a one way ticket and headed to Thailand. I was apart of a small poker community for several months over there.
Thailand was an amazing experience. I met people, had fun and learned about a new place. My previous couple years were a very sheltered existence and my time in Thailand was pivotal for me as a person and the way I look at reality.
After a while the honeymoon phase with Thailand wore off and some of the monotony started to wear on me. My initial plan was to head back to the US, but then Black Friday hit which was pretty devastating for me and my plans for life.
My response was to bounce around for a bit, from Vegas to Malta to Vancouver, playing a ton of poker along the way. Black Friday lit a fire lit under me. I was scared one day poker could just disappear for good.
I lived in a Vancouver hotel for about a month, living off of room service spaghetti and pizza at 4am. Eventually I moved into a close quarters apartment complex with a few other players, including Doug. It was a very dorm-like setting.
- Wake up, usually around the same time as everyone else
- Relax with breakfast and coffee with the group
- Play poker all day
- Unwind, hang out and chat with my roommate
- Go out to a group dinner together (I think I ran like $10,000 above EV at credit card roulette that year.)
We’d get a chance to talk about our sessions and talk through hands which was really nice. The comradely and structure was an awesome, much-needed change for me.
That was basically my first few years post Black Friday. Friend and I would travel to all these different countries, set up our computers, grind and live.
That’s one of the cool things about poker. especially post Black Friday. There are all these little communities of players all over the world that hang out, play poker and live life together.
It was extremely easy for me to implement into these groups wherever I traveled. It was probably because I was fairly well known in the poker world, but most poker player communities seem to be rather inviting to anyone with good intentions.
Nowadays my life has more structure than ever, mostly because I’m working so hard to run Upswing. Everyday I wake up to coffee and then try and push through as much work as possible while riding that caffeine high. In the evenings I either stream, work or take some time for myself.
I’ve really enjoyed the poker lifestyle. I feel like I’m built for this, and I can’t imagine myself taking a more traditional career path.
It wasn’t all good. I struggled with structure and having too much freedom like many poker players do. But I’ve been able to really grow throughout the process and learn a lot about myself.
So that’s my experience with poker. If you guys have any questions about the poker lifestyle let me know in the comments below. Or even better, tweet at me @RyanFeePoker!
(Note: Want to learn poker with Doug Polk and I as your coach? Our in-depth poker training course is called the Upswing Lab and in it we cover a massive amount of important topics. Our members are crushing and you can too!)