Self-Evaluation and the Big Picture

Published on Jan 23rd, 2008

When I prompted the PocketFives community for ideas on what topic this article should encompass, I received a wide variety of suggestions. So wide, in fact, that the only common thread amongst these contributions was the urge to better one's self as a poker player....surprising, I know. However, in reading all of the requests for strategy discussions and bankroll-building techniques, I wondered if some were missing the point of what it truly takes to become a success in the poker world. <READMORE>

At the danger of oversimplifying things, for the purpose of this article I'm going to divide the growth of a poker player into three steps or categories: Beginner, Student, and Professional. These levels signify not only the developments of one's skills on the felt, but also the broadening of poker's impact on one's life. Each step contains a new, increased set of poker-related concerns, along with necessary areas of self-evaluation.


New to poker in every sense of the word, the beginner is a poor player on the felt and is typically disinterested in poker in general. Typical concerns for a beginner include little more than recreation, and poker has little to no impact on their life off the felt.

The more important poker becomes to someone, the better they are likely to become at it, and vice-versa. In other words, if the beginner is to advance as a poker player, they must either have natural talent ("Hey, I keep taking my friends' money!") or a natural passion for the game (*$#%, I hate when my friends take my money, I better start figuring this $#!& out."). Having one will typically bring on the other, and that is when the next step is taken.


The vast majority of those reading this article will most likely fall into this category. The Student has a true desire to improve as a poker player, perhaps even with thoughts (or dreams) of one day "going pro." This is the level during which self-evaluation is perhaps most important. Poker-related concerns grow rapidly, and the game begins to have a serious impact on one's life off the felt. Typical concerns for the Student include finding a niche (choosing between games and game types), building a bankroll, and, obviously, improving as a player. However, there are many equally important concerns that sometimes go overlooked.

One of the most important (and underrated) determining factors in the success of the Student is his or her open-mindedness, both in terms of willingness to learn and also being able to look at the "big picture." There are countless message board posts by Students hoping to make it big that go something like:

I'm going to start out 8-tabling .25/.50 NLHE. I figure I should be able to earn $X/hr, and if I play 50 hrs/week, that means I can earn $2600X this year!

It certainly sounds convenient, but even if all goes well and that "dream" rate is achieved, these Students often fail to take a bird's-eye-view of the situation by analyzing the non-financial effects that their budding poker habit might have. These include, but are not limited to; physical atrophy (being in bad shape), limited social experience/free time (especially when coupled with a "real" job or classes), poker-related emotional swings, loss of sleep, etc. Also lost in the mess of bankroll building and hourly rates is the need to continue studying the game. In order to be successful, the Student must recognize that their grasp of the game isn't nearly what it needs to be in order to achieve the desired level of success. Just as time is designated for play, it must also be designated for study.

The Student must find a way to incorporate all of these factors (and more) into a self-evaluation far deeper than just bankroll and other "on-the-felt" concerns. This will lead the good Student to finding ways to better balance one's life and incorporate poker in a more productive way. It will also prevent those who can't handle or don't enjoy the "grind" from completely immersing themselves into a world that isn't for them.

Every so often, a good Student (or a bad Student who gets lucky) will achieve a level of success that sets them apart from the rest. Unlike the common perception amongst long-time grinders that the low-stakes beginning of a poker career is the most difficult part of all, it is my opinion that this next stage is the most rigorous.


Making up a very small fraction of the poker community, the Professional is that player who has achieved a level of success in poker where it has indisputably become their main source of income. Professionals must be able to support themselves strictly from their poker career. At this point, many of the player's initial goals have been achieved, and key concerns have drastically changed.

One "new" problem that arises as a Professional is motivation. A good Student typically doesn't have this problem, because their goals are so clearly outlined, and their long-time dreams are so clearly not-yet achieved. There is no real reason for a good Student to become complacent as a poker player, other than simply becoming burnt out by the necessary hours of commitment.

For the Professional, it can often be difficult to "get up" for the standard daily routines of a poker player. After a big win, after a brief downswing, after months of seemingly nonstop play, it's easy to see how poker can lose its initial charm that drew the player into the game. People often fight an exhaustingly long time for a dream and become so eager to feel like they've "made it" and done all there is to do, long before that is truly the case.

You'll often hear the reasons why one dreams of going pro being something like, "I can sleep as late as I want and make my own schedule!" or, "I get to travel whenever I want, and I'll make lots of money!" These are often ideals that look a lot nicer or more glamorous from the outside. Sleeping in every day quickly turns to, "Damn, when did I start setting my alarm for 2PM?" Travel becomes exhausting, money leads to loss of perspective....the list goes on. This is certainly not to bemoan the life of a professional poker player, which is undoubtedly one of the "easier" career paths one can be fortunate enough to undertake. However, this is an attempt to explain that as you develops as a player, you must be wary of these unique problems and newfound concerns as they develop.

Professionals also face many of the same concerns as Students, such as lack of physical activity, a cluttered social life, high stress, etc. The most successful pros are not always the best players, but the ones who are able to recognize and adapt to the ways in which poker has begun to dominate their life - a necessary prequel to success. There is genuinely no way to become a great player without investing countless time, emotion, and brainpower. Because of this inevitability, many of poker's so-called benefits become major life problems - for example, if making your own schedule leads to being excessively lazy and/or asleep all day, then you are not truly a success.

A recent PocketFives article by Lenny Sharlet posed the question, "Is online poker +EV for the average player?" In my opinion, the answer to whether poker is "+EV" for you resides in your ability to maintain and adapt to the negatives that come with it. If the extraneous "costs" of a poker career, listed throughout this article, outweigh the benefits it brings, then it is time for real self-evaluation to occur and changes to be made.

I may be a few weeks late in popping the champagne, but in the spirit of New Year's resolutions, I urge all of you to look deeply at the ways that poker has affected you, make a firm decision as to who you truly want to be, and do whatever you can to achieve that.

Hopefully I've provided some guidelines as to real-life concerns that can arise as a result of a developing poker career. Being aware of these issues as they affect you is a major step towards the success in poker that we all aspire to achieve. </READMORE>


  1. <p>Nice</p>

  2. <p>The most enlightening article I've read in a long time...possibly ever. Great stuff!!! Congrats on the ME 3rd place...sick run!!</p>

  3. <p>man you can write good. i want to become a pro at least on the internet. I am very poor though.  so many times i want to play for higher blinds but inevitably find myself at the lowest blinds and can never break out of micro. Only once have i made it to a 300$ bankroll and actually had an easier time making profit. this i think is because i play so tight that i expect others to play tight and get upset when im beaten by k6 off. and then if i start a downswing i will continue to play at higher levels and get stuck playing out my last ten dollars in micro hell. any tips? </p>

  4. <p>I have a favorite saying for you:,  </p>

    <p> "The mind and body are only seperated by the english language, if one's not fit, neither is the other".</p>

    <p>Great article thx</p>

  5. <p>great article =)  </p>

    <p>I've been surviving on poker as my primary source of income for a little over a year now.  As I read your article, I think of myself wandering between the stages of which you call "Student, and a Professional".  I think you provide great insight to the situations a poker player faces when they start to reach this area of professional, and the problems of making your own schedule, and keeping the torch of motivation burning.  In my own experiences, I find the best way to solve these problems is to take a complete break from poker and to figure out where you're life has taken you and where you want to go from there.  A big part of being successful in poker or any field of work, is knowing what you want to achieve, by setting goals and reaching them.  </p>

    <p>Thanks for the article AJK, much more success to you in the future!</p>

  6. <p>fantastic article! Puts lots in perspective for me and as always, makes lots of sense. keep them coming AJK!</p>

  7. <p>Your article hit the spot. A re-evaluation was needed. Thanks for the insight</p>

  8. <p>what dreaam said :D</p>

  9. <p>i'm just trying to get lucky playing poker. anything after said luckiness is a mystery, but it's definitely a start to where i can see myself in the years ahead. if i don't lose it all while i'm ahead.</p>


  10. <p>Great article. THanks for taking the time to share this.</p>

    <p>I would consider myself to be a student and a good one at that.... I can't seem quench my thirst for knowledge of the game.  Not sure if I'll ever move beyond 'student' (probably not if it's not even a goal... but who knows what the future may hold).</p>

    <p>Looking forward to reading more of your stuff Alex.  I'm 'DeepchapChopra' on Fulltilt.  Still grinding the micros for now... but have hopes of moving up some... soon.</p>

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