How to become a professional gambler

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Mike Stevens is one of the men behind GambleGeek. He’s also a professional gambler.

GambleGeek founder and professional gambler Mike Steves

Mike Stevens

The 36-year-old turned professional in 2012, when he became a full-time poker player.

Now, as well as playing online poker, he makes his living betting on sport, including football and golf.

Here, we find out what it takes to be a professional gambler and what life is like gambling for a job.


When did you start gambling and how did you make the leap to do it full-time?

My first exposure to gambling was probably at seaside arcades on family trips to Cornwall. It would always end up with the same result – Busto!

For the remainder of the holiday I’d be scrounging around for a few quid off the folks to get back to the slots. It was a good lesson to learn early on, looking back now. You can’t beat the house edge, no matter how you angle it.

Mike's first experience of gambling came beside the seaside (by Mark Ramsay)

Mike’s first experience of gambling came beside the seaside (by Mark Ramsay)

It was another twenty years before I became a full-time gambler, and by then it wasn’t much of a “leap” exactly, more of a natural transition.

I’d been a profitable punter for more than consecutive years and made more from gambling than my monthly wage. I had funds to cover living expenses and a big enough bankroll, so I thought “why not?”.

What do you gamble on?

Poker, football and horse racing mostly, but there’s a bunch of other random things I’ll bet on too. I’m always on the lookout for value.

I doubt many successful poker players made their fortune by seeking out the difficult games. We’re always looking for the easy ones, and the same logic applies to all gambling really. Find the edge.

Related: Why accumulators always favour the bookie

One year I even watched every X Factor episode just to trade the prices on Betfair. I made decent money but, to be honest, probably not enough to justify having to sit through it all.

Mike's job has forced him to watch X Factor (flikr)

Mike’s job has forced him to watch X Factor (flikr)

How much money can be made from being a professional gambler?

It’s difficult to be precise about that. The best make plenty of money, of course, but it would be disingenuous to paint that as the norm, or indeed, as easy to do.

Can anyone do it, or is there something about your character that makes it possible?

When I talk to my friends about gambling, I’ll sometimes get the impression they think professional gamblers are sort of care-free types who throw caution to the wind.

I’d say that is indicative of a problem gambler, rather than a professional gambler.

In reality, successful gamblers are more likely to be disciplined, analytical and hard working. Not exactly traits you’d associate with a laissez-faire attitude.

The best gamblers are comfortable with the risk while remaining in control, which is a bit of an oxymoron. That skill-set can be tricky to master as those traits are somewhat contradictory.

It certainly wasn’t intuitive for myself to learn that, and it took time to find the right balance. The risk-taking part was always there, but the control part took a lot of practice to get to the required level.

Arbitrary betting

Betting requires some precise calculations (by Jorge Franganillo)

For others, I’d image the control comes more naturally but the risk-taking is more difficult.

It’s not a job that suits everyone. Some people just hate the thought of risking money, which is fair enough, and if you find gambling is upsetting you then it’s best to avoid it altogether.

If you’re genuinely interested, though, you have an aptitude for numbers, and you’re willing put the work in – then it’s possible to make it as a professional.

I’d recommend testing the water on a small scale before you commit too much time or money.

Would you describe yourself as a gambling addict?

Not at all. I’ve been doing it so long it’s become a bit of a chore more than anything. It’s just a job now.

I do wonder if the only distinction between an addict and a professional is the winning and losing. Maybe that’s the case for some, but for myself, if I stopped making money from it, I’d just stop gambling and do something else.

Related: Arbitrage betting explained 

I know it’s not easy for everyone to just stop so I wouldn’t want to appear flippant about that, it’s just something I know I can live without.

How do people react when you tell them what you do?

To be honest, I don’t talk about it that much in that context. My network includes a lot of poker players or people who know poker players, so it’s not that unusual.

If people outside of that network ask me about it, it’s usually met with curiosity and lots of questions. People think it’s kind of an absurd job, which I don’t particularly disagree with.

Have you ever had days where you thought of giving it up?

Yeah. There’s been a fair few, but relatively speaking, I’d say fewer than any other job I’ve had.

The downswings can be tough. I’ve had days where I’ve lost £15,000, and that was really hard for me to come to terms with.

I’d always be beating myself up about stuff like that. I’d see other people working so hard and perhaps struggling for money, and it would make me feel awful that I could lose that much money in one day.

 I’ve had days where I’ve lost £15,000, and that was really hard for me to come to terms with.

I also have days where I’d win that much, of course, and being a professional player, the good days outnumbered the bad.

That didn’t necessarily mean the good feeling out-weighed the bad feeling though, and to tell the truth the bad days always weighed me down further than the good days picked me up.

I tend to play at lower stakes to avoid those really bad days, even though it means I make less money overall. I’d much rather be a bit poorer but a little bit happier for it.

Sam Watson blog: strategy for coping with bad beats

All players run bad at some point (by PAF)

It sounds stressful. What is the hardest part about being a professional gambler?

The variance can crush you. Gamblers need to be extremely resilient to handle that.

You’ll inevitably go through periods of bad luck due to the sheer volume you’re putting in, and when that happens it’s hard not to let self-doubt creep in and effect your decision making.

The ability to overcome the pitfalls of variance is one of the things that separates the good gamblers from the great ones, and indeed the great ones from the exceptional ones.

Gamblers need to be extremely resilient

It’s not that difficult to make sound poker or sports betting decisions when you’re on your A game, when things are all going to plan, when you’re relaxed and your mind-set is good.

Related: How to stop bookies limiting your account

It’s those times when you need to rely on your B, C or even D game that make the real difference. When you’re tired, you’re frustrated, you’re losing, and the variance keeps hammering you day-in, day-out.

Poker strategy: Setting targets

Setting targets is essential to improving your game (by Erika)

Can you still perform well when you’re not at your best? That’s the difficult part.

If you can remain staunchly focused on the process, rather than the results throughout those bad times, you’ll become an absolute force to be reckoned with.

Do you have a system – or is it all your own intuition?

Mostly system-based. I have lots of systems that are constantly evolving. I sometimes create my own or look to improve on other things I’ve seen. There’s a lot of good information out there.

I do make the odd bet for fun where I don’t have much, if any, edge in the game. It might be fantasy football, or a football match I’m watching and want something to cheer on.

Outside of that, though, I’ll always be utilising a system of some sort.

Related: Secrets bookies don’t want you to know

Generally, I’ll devise something based around the principles of Bayes’ theorem, that I can improve through iteration cycles.

In layman terms, I just gather as much information as possible and use it to make decisions. Then go back to analyse those decisions to help improve for the next time around.

What advice would you give to someone on how to become a professional gambler?

If you’re ever in a situation where a loss hurts you too much, you’ve probably made a mistake by betting that much. Learn to bankroll manage properly to avoid that rookie mistake.

It’s so easy to make mistakes in gambling. Even the best of the best do it. So instead of letting it get you down or frustrated, try to learn from it.

Related: Recommended poker books to study

If you can get that process right, it’ll help you keep a positive mindset and steadily improve.

Test your ability at low stakes. If it isn’t working, you’ll need to work hard to find a better solution. If and when it does work, and if you’re comfortable doing so, move up to the next level and test yourself again.

On that note, I’ll finish up with a pertinent quote from Bill Hicks.

“If he thought he could fly, why didn’t he take off on the ground first?”

Solid advice.

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