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Being a Professional Poker Player you need more than a Draw

Starting chips at the WSOP Monster-Stack Event
Starting chips at the WSOP Monster-Stack Event
J. Brackston

Watching poker on television is tantalizing for the casual player. You see the cards of every player and you sit there thinking I could win that hand, but could you really? The editing of poker shows slips your mind, and what you see is not the whole story. You see the good, the bad and the ugly, but what you don’t see is the long road traveled by these players to get there to begin with.

Sure some players come out of nowhere to find riches and glory, but most do not. They find reality, and that reality is lost money, second-guessing and long trips home to return to work and everyday life mixed with the weekly home-games that keep their dream alive.

While trying to find out what it takes to become a poker pro, I decided the best way was to sit down with one for a one on one conversation. I sat down with young poker professional Gary Hurst, at his mother's home in Grapevine Texas. The following is what I found out about being an aspiring poker pro and some of the trials of chasing your dream.

Gary Hurst is a poker professional. By professional I mean someone who makes his living playing poker. Not the level of Phil Ivey or Phil Hellmuth. His income is not the millions you see won on television. He does not lead the elaborate lifestyle of the upper echelon of poker pros. He is however winning enough to earn a living and chase his dream.

I met Hurst a few years ago in Dallas playing in local tournaments. Even then he commanded a table presence of someone to be reckoned with. He was always trying to help other players get better. Offering advice and tips, Hurst supplemented his income as a player by coaching other players. His fee for coaching averages about $50 per hour. Having over 100 students at a time is quite impressive.

An honors graduate from the University of Lincoln, England, with a degree in law, poker was not his first career choice. Starting out as an Internet player, making only one deposit, Hurst built a bankroll of $2000 in a very short time playing one table sit-n-go tournaments. Moving on to cash games he realized he had a knack for poker. After a successful short career as an Internet grinder, known as El Ni-no 1. He left his law job in England to become a poker pro in the United States in 2005.

Living in Dallas he found it hard to find enough games to grind out a living. He became more and more a poker coach, building a bankroll to enable him to move to Las Vegas and play on a daily basis. Normally you can find him somewhere on the strip playing in a cash game in a casino poker room. Most days he spends 8 to 10 hours at a table. Some days 12 to 16 hours are required to make the day profitable.

Finishing in 552th place at the 2012 World Series of Poker event #29, his best finish to date in a major tournament, brought him $21,707 in prize money. The buy in for that event was $10,000, netting $11,707 for a three day event. He has now played in 13 WSOP events, cashing three times. His best year in earnings was 2012, where he brought home $85,000 mostly tax free, being England does not tax gambling winnings. He has averaged over $45,000 per year since coming to the United States.

Sponsorships have started for Hurst like they do for many professional players. For a percent of his winnings, other players and coaches will pay part of his buy-ins to larger tournaments. Many professionals get their buy-ins in this manner. It only takes one big win to get in on corporate sponsorships, but placing high in the bigger tournaments brings attention and can open doors.

While making a living playing poker, Hurst has seen his share of failure also. He has lost his daily budget of $3,000 several times in cash games up and down the strip in Vegas. Poker does not always mean winning. Sometimes you learn as much from losing. Poker is a long haul career, and you have to be willing to risk all you have for all you want, each and every time you sit down. Sometimes the best player does not win, but over the course of time you can make a living at it.

Gary Hurst, remember the name, he is in the group of young and upcoming poker professionals that you will be hearing from in the future. Like all sports and competitions, poker has its next generation of stars waiting for their turn in the spot light. Hurst has the skills to be one of them.

Poker is more a game of skill and knowledge than it is a game of luck. Every once and awhile, it does pay to be lucky, as witnessed on television. Winning a big tournament can be life changing, but more times than not the only thing changing is who has the best hand at the time.

Photo Credit: J. Brackston

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