McHaffie: MCU lesson 086 / Professional poker player

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Poker Player newspaper in 2006.

This is part of a series by Diane McHaffie. She wasn’t a poker player when she began writing this series. These entries chronicle the lessons given to her personally by Mike Caro. Included in her remarkable  poker-learning odyssey are additional comments, tips, and observations from Mike Caro.

Diane McHaffie index.

Diane McHaffie is Director of Operations at Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy. She has traveled the world coordinating events and seminars in the interest of honest poker. You can write her online at

Diane McHaffie

Lessons from MCU

— With bonus content by Mike Caro (pending) —

Lesson 86: Want to become a professional poker player?

I bet you’d like to know how the winning players that you see on TV got started professionally. Did they quit their jobs cold turkey and go for it, or did they start gradually?

Mike estimates in a 1990 column that most players just dived right in, instead of taking the ‘comfortable route’ that he recommends. The ‘comfortable route’ would be starting with a small, safe, disposable bankroll that won’t destroy you if you lose it. You want to increase that precious bankroll slowly, protecting it, playing against weaker opponents.


The majority of pros get their start by saving enough money to get into a $10-limit game or smaller, risking their hard-earned funds to begin their poker careers. In fact, Mike advises his students, “If you can afford to put together $100 or $200 easily, then it’s OK to risk that entire bankroll in just one game.” Most students would become frustrated trying to enlarge their bankrolls by playing countless hours in innumerable small games. That process might seem to take forever.

So, he teaches that it’s OK to risk losing a small bankroll again and again – as long as it can be replenished soon. He explains that risking $100 bankrolls in up to 100 attempts to get “jump started” is almost the same as gathering $10,000 (100 x 100) and launching your career then. Doing it $100 at a time puts you in action sooner and you may get lucky early. For that reason, Mike quibbles with other experts who claim you need a certain size bankroll to justify playing. You don’t.

If you can’t afford to put your meager starting bankroll in danger, then you should play more conservatively in smaller games. If you feel it’s going to be easy to acquire another bankroll should you lose this one, then take more risks.

If you choose to take that risk and succeed in increasing your bankroll, then you should begin playing guardedly. You don’t want to lose a bankroll that can’t be easily replaced. Just think how long it took you to acquire. That’s why Mike advises only risking your bankroll in the beginning, when you have just a small amount to endanger. The more your bankroll grows, the more it’s worth protecting.


Play in games where the stakes are just high enough to feel some pain if you lose. Playing in smaller limit games might not provide enough motivation to keep you playing your best and learning to play better. When you lose in the low-limit games, you may shrug and say “Oh, well.” You aren’t losing much, so you’re tempted to call and raise too often because it isn’t affecting you financially or psychologically.

Also dangerous are limits beyond your affordability. You aren’t going to have the funds or the confidence to make unusual plays when necessary or to call as often as required. Mike recommends playing the “in-between” limits that are comfortable to you.

Another mistake that keeps players from becoming professionals is that they spend their bankrolls. I understand that it’s exciting to build a bankroll from $200 to $10,000, but if you spend $6,000 on remodeling your house, or a new wide-screen, high-definition TV with a super sound system, that brings your bankroll down to $4,000. What happens if you lose that $4,000? That’s right, you’re broke! A pauper! No funds, no bankroll, no game. If you hadn’t splurged and spent that $6,000, you’d still have a healthy bankroll.

When you take up poker professionally, trying to eek out a living from it, remember that poker is your business and you should treat it as such. If you were a brick layer, you wouldn’t sell your tools to make ends meet, so try not to spend your bankroll to do it, either.

So, remember, as your bankroll increases, guard it by playing in games that aren’t threatening. Play only in limits that are comfortable to you. And most importantly, play your best game always— DM

Next entry in Lessons from MCU series


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Let's make sure it's really you and not a bot. Please type digits (without spaces) that best match what you see. (Example: 71353)