Note: The following post was originally written in late 2014. I feel like the advice still stands.
I’ve been involved with the online poker industry in one way or another for about a decade now. I’ve seen all of the ups and downs that the business has went through. I recently had an AMA with a popular poker forum where I am a moderator and write a weekly column on strategy, and one of the questions that came up a lot was with people wanting to know what it would take for someone in the United States (or outside of the United States) to become a professional player in today’s environment if they were starting out fresh.
For US Players: Don’t Go For Poker
If you’re starting out in poker right now in the United States, by all means have fun with it, but do not waste your time by getting in absurd amounts of time in play and study. You would be much better off putting your time into learning some sort of skill like web design, coding or even playing an instrument. Poker isn’t going to get much better for US players, and all signs really show it getting worse before it gets any better. As much as I love poker, I cannot recommend that US players try to become online professionals right now.
For Non-US Players: Don’t Go For No-Limit Hold’em
No-limit hold’em cash games are still the most popular game available online at major sites like PokerStars and Full Tilt. With that having been said, they’re also some of the most difficult games that you’ll find at any point in history for the stakes that are involved. Along these lines, I recommend that no one really gets into no-limit hold’em, at least as far as specializing goes.
As an aside, I also recommend staying away from pot-limit Omaha because of the wild variance and high rake involved.
Instead, I strongly suggest that you take up a number of atypical games that still get a fair bit of play. All of the stud games are good choices as well as fixed-limit Omaha hi/low. Five card draw is a good choice as well as long as you stay at the fixed-limit games and don’t jump into pot-limit or no-limit until you’ve put in a few hundred thousand hands at the limit ones. Fixed-limit hold’em isn’t a bad game to learn either, but just beware that it’s not just like playing no-limit.
Badugi and fixed-limit triple draw are good choices as well because the average player is pretty bad. Though I haven’t recommended many big bet games in this list, no-limit 2-7 single draw is also a good choice if you are a fan of math and game theory, but just note that it typically plays with about 20bb stacks and only has two streets.
Your ultimate goal should be to become well-rounded in a number of the games by putting a ton of practice into them. Games like seven card stud are never going to go away, and they aren’t exciting enough to catch on in the mainstream like no-limit hold’em has. However, there will always be a steady stream of hold’em players who want to try a new game only to give up on it a couple of weeks later, and you’ll earn a lot from those guys.
If you work hard at this, then there’s no doubt in my mind that you’ll be able to make decent money at poker within a year. The same can’t be said for players who focus only on some type of no-limit hold’em game.