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What Differentiates Professional Poker Players from Recreational Poker Players? A Qualitative Interview Study

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The popularity of poker (and in particular online poker) has increasingly grown worldwide in recent years. This increase in the popularity of poker has led to the increased incidence of the ‘professional poker player’. However, very little empirical research has been carried out into this relatively new group of gamblers. The aim was to determine how professional poker players are able to make a living from playing poker and what differentiates them from recreational poker players. This research comprised a grounded theory study involving the analysis of data from three professional poker players, one semi-professional poker player and five recreational poker players. Using a process of open coding, focused coding and theoretical sampling, in addition to constant comparison of the data, a number of themes and categories emerged. The central theme as to what distinguishes professional poker players from recreational players was that professional poker players were much more disciplined in their gambling behaviour. They treated their poker playing as work, and as such were more likely to be logical and controlled in their behaviour, took less risks, and were less likely to chase losses. Recreational players were more likely to engage in chasing behaviour, showed signs of lack of control, took more risks, and engaged in gambling while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Also of importance was the number of games and time spent playing online. Recreational players only played one or two games at a time, whereas professional poker players were much more likely to engage in multi-table poker online, and played longer sessions, thus increasing the potential amount of winnings. Playing poker for a living is very possible for a minority of players but it takes a combination of talent, dedication, patience, discipline and disposition to succeed.

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Correspondence to Abby McCormack.

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McCormack, A., Griffiths, M.D. What Differentiates Professional Poker Players from Recreational Poker Players? A Qualitative Interview Study. Int J Ment Health Addiction 10, 243–257 (2012).

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