Poker For A Living – Words and Advice From a Former Poker Pro

The world of Poker is getting bigger and bigger with events and tournaments now being televised all across the world. Even celebrities are getting involved, playing in live televised poker tournaments with the proceeds going to charity.

The big players that used to ply their trade in Casino’s are now familiar faces recognized the world over, their names synonymous with superstardom. Some even have sponsorship deals, a sign that this really is a growing game/sport. This is no longer a game of drunken luck played with matchsticks and cigarettes in the smoky back room of a club.

Online Poker has helped things really take off. The big and exclusive Poker sites are home to some of the best players around, but due to the popularity every betting/sportsbook site now seems to have its own Poker section, meaning Novices can also find a home.

I recently spoke to Scott Mackain. A man who gave up everything he knew to play Poker. He discovered a knack for the game and so he quit his job, left his old life behind and tried to make a living as a Poker Professional. His story is a fantastic one of highs and lows, and he is a true master of the game who I was very privileged to speak with.

Question: When did you start out playing Poker? Do you remember your first competitive game?

Scott: I guess I started the same way a lot of people start, I saw it on late night TV and was enthralled by it, I would channel hop until it came on! Eventually in 2001, I made the gutsy decision to deposit some cash online to William Hill who I felt most comfortable with and starting playing some Pounds 5 and Pounds 10 sit-n-goes. After trying it & loving it I invited a friend of mine round to play and the two of us would sit in my room discussing every hand before we played and we were doing OK. It was very much a recreational game to start with as we’d play on a weekly or fortnightly basis because I worked as a Civil Engineer and travelled a lot.

My first live game was in the old Stanley Casino in Edinburgh while I studied at university around 2003. I was instantly hooked playing live & even though it was only a Pounds 10 Rebuy competition it felt like I was playing with pro’s.

Question: At what point did you think you could make it as a Professional player?

Scott: After loving the first live game I became totally focused on improving my game and started studying religiously. I would talk on the phone for hours on end with my friend Allan replaying many hands and playing styles. I once had a Pounds 175 monthly phone bill! I was playing online around 2 hours a day and with rakeback and bonuses was managing to break even. The first real sign that I might be good enough was when I entered my first higher buy-in ( Pounds 250) tournament which was the Scottish Championships at the Maybury in 2005. I went on to finish 4th for Pounds 3500.

After that, I started taking it seriously and kept multiple spreadsheets to track my winnings and paid for a trip to Vegas and took $2400 in spending money. I blew $800 in the first drunken night, but after 4 days I had almost $5000 in my wallet and couldn’t believe how things were going, if I didn’t have a girlfriend I’d have never came home! There wasn’t a specific point, I just got better and better at the game.

Question: What did your family and friends think when you quit your job to try to make it as a poker pro?

Scott: That was tough, I was living away from home and had recently moved in with a girl but had been earning decent money. Very few people really understand the game and to them it’s just ‘gambling’ and even if you explain it and present all the maths and principles they won’t be moved. It took years for even my girlfriend to acknowledge I was making money at it even though I was paying all the bills and buying new TV’s! I met an old work colleague the other day and she said she asked if I was still gambling and had that look of contempt I’ve come to hate.

I was fortunate though that it was relatively risk free as I could always go back to Civil Engineering if things didn’t work out.

Question: What are your earliest experiences of life as a pro?

Scott: My first experience of life as a pro was hard work! I loved playing poker but some online tournaments with large fields start at 9pm and finish at 11 a.m. the following day! The biggest strains were on my relationship with Sarah and friends as I was totally focused on logging as much hours online and at the casino as I could. Being able to sleep in and ‘work’ when you want is great, but the best experiences for me was traveling to play in bigger tournaments and meeting really interesting people. Being from the North of Scotland we don’t get to meet remotely famous people so things like being knocked out by Michael Greco and having Matthew Stevens come up to the bar, offer a drink and wish me good luck in a final table in Wales was very cool.

Playing in the higher stakes cash games also opened up different avenues when you’re sitting playing poker with footballers, top snooker players and rich businessmen. It’s funny because when they sit down at a live poker table some of them get so nervous it’s noticeable and they’re actually intimidated by me!

Question: Many novices struggle to hide their hands – and their nerves – when the pot is mounting and their hand is looking unbeatable. How do you keep your cool in such situations?

Scott: Fortunately, most poker players are well behaved but occasionally you get the odd swear word and thumping of the table. I have a friend who broke 3 light switches, he got so frustrated at bad beats online he punched it in frustration. I’ve friends who have needed new monitors from online games but in Live games the worst I’ve seen is some shouting. Mostly arguments arise on a technicality like whether the chips crossed the betting line before he called his bet – that type of thing.

Tells is a whole different ball game, it’s a natural instinct to gauge a players hand strength by their actions but some players (not just newbie’s either, but established players) will actually cringe when they see a bad card I feel like pointing it out to them..of course, I never do!

Question: Have you bluffed your way to many big pots with terrible hands?

Scott: I don’t bluff often in big pots and normally need a reason to be doing so (like noticing a specific tell or needing to make a stand) but yeah, I’ve both bluffed and been bluffed by 9 high etc. My strength is in making big calls with mediocre hands, things like calling a pot sized bet on the river with Ace high knowing my opponent must have missed his draw. One of the most nervous hands I ever played was in a $2/5 game holding AQ in a multiway pot with 5 players paying $20 to see the flop which came A34. An aggressive player bet out with one caller and I raised, only to see the original bettor push all in. The pot was only about $300 and I was paying another $600 with about a dozen possible hands that had me beat! I called and took down a $1500 pot against his A5.

There’s nothing like the buzz though when you check raise someone all your chips with a gutshot draw on the turn and after a 3 minute delay your opponent finally mucks his top pair!

The life of a poker pro is a risky one, the thrills of winning big pots and ‘living it up’ are quickly followed by depressing lulls and losing streaks. As with everything it is fun while it lasts but it doesn’t last forever. The expensive lifestyle became too much and Scott was forced to give it up and retire to the working world, limiting his expertise to Online Poker and recreational play.

Scott: I had a lot of high outgoings and couldn’t keep up with the lavish lifestyle that winning poker afforded. Income as a poker player is inconsistent, it’s common to go two, three months without winning and you need to have the bankroll to allow that. At the time I was renting a penthouse and had lifestyle costs that I just couldn’t keep up with, so I made a decision to give it up. I was also offered a good salary with an oil and gas provider which I felt would provide a more stable income. In hindsight it’s clear that having to withdraw money every month from my bankroll probably stopped me from progressing to the big leagues.

Question: Do you follow Poker on TV? Now that it has grown into such a popular and often televised event, do you ever think about heading back to the big time and maybe getting your face on TV?

Scott: I’m a big fan of High Stakes Poker as cash games are my strength and I always feel that it shows the difference between the talented players from the lucky winners. I’d very much look to play poker on the world stage but the one thing I have learned is that you need to have a really strong bankroll behind you as playing at $.5/1 and $1/2 is not going to make you rich no matter how good you are.

Question: Now that you are resigned to Online poker, what (besides the obvious) is the main differences between that and sitting at a real table in a real tournament?

Scott: Sitting at a real table is much more fun for me, when you’ve played as many hands online as I have it becomes more of a chore. Meeting interesting people from all walks of life and pitting your wits against them in person is a challenge. Online, it’s more about playing textbook poker and playing percentages. The standard online is getting better and better and its harder to spot the ‘fish’ in live games though it’s much easier to tell when someone’s impatient and wants to gamble.

Question: Would you recommend the thrill of online poker to anyone? It is clearly a risky business but with a bit of luck and some sound advice, anyone can have a great time right?

Scott: I’d absolutely recommend poker and online poker is a great way to learn the game whilst having fun. Play within your means and with a trusted, well known poker site and you’ll have a great time. For budding poker professionals wanting the high life my best advice is stay single and live at home for as long as you can! Watch your bankroll grow, move up limits at a slow pace and have a clear idea of how much money you are winning or losing and at which game types.

When I’ve saved some money, I’ll definitely return to the poker circuit and perhaps this time I’ll be that little bit luckier or smarter with my hard (or not so hard) earned cash.

My thanks to Scott for taking the time to answer my questions and for his wise words. He is a very interesting, humble and funny man – hopefully he can make it back to the Poker circuit soon.

For any aspiring Poker stars out there who want to get into the world of Poker, Scott will happily answer your questions and give you some guidance (within reason). Feel free to Email him at [email protected]

Another top service is Boylesports.