Is Being an Online Poker Professional a Realistic Goal or Just a Pipe Dream?
Making a living from online poker has a lot of benefits. If you are good, you can make a lot more than someone working the 9-5, all from playing a game.
While many players are attracted to becoming online poker pros, very few stick it out. For many, the reality of grinding does not match the lifestyle they wanted. For others, the isolation and ‘unsocial hours’ are what kills the dream.
To become an online poker pro, you’ll need to work hard at your skills. Today’s games are competitive, and sustaining your edge needs constant work.
This page covers the nuts and bolts of what it takes to become an online poker pro. Here are the topics covered below:
Like most questions related to poker, the correct answer is ‘it depends’. It depends on how many hours, the number of tables played, the buy-in level and how big an individual’s edge is against the competition. It also depends on whether you are playing cash games, tournaments, fast-fold poker or sit n goes.
Let’s take some examples – and come up with estimated monthly figures on how much money you can make playing poker professionally.
#1: Small Stakes: There are pros playing as low as 50NL (big blind = 50c). With 8 tables, 6 hours per day and a profit of $2 per table over time, that is almost $3,000 per month ($2,880, based on 30 days). While that is hardly a big salary, for players in lower GDP countries, it is worth striving for.
#2: Mid Stakes: Moving up to $1 / $2 the numbers get more interesting. Sticking with the same 6 tables and using a profit of 2BB’s / hour over 8 tables and 6 hours, you could earn a respectable $5,760 per month (assuming no days off!).
#3 Higher Stakes: This is where things get more interesting. If you can beat $3 / $6 or $5 / $10 online for even 1.5 BBs each hour, a monthly ‘salary’ of more than $20,000 is within reach.
Tournament players have more swings (big wins, followed by long dry spells), though by multi-tabling can earn a lot of money. If you are able to add even more tables, or have the skills to multi-table fast-fold games, you can get a massive number of hands per hour – and a return to match.
You might think that the only required skill to making big money in online poker is being able to outplay your opponents. That is required, though is far from the only skill you need.
Here are 5 things you’ll need to play poker professionally:
Online poker games are at their softest in the evenings and at weekends. It is hard to become a ‘daytime only’ poker pro. You’ll find the tables are ‘reg heavy’ during the day. This means sacrificing your social life to an extent. With big profits available on Friday and Saturday nights, you’ll need to the discipline to turn down those invitations to the local bar. This, along with the isolation and eventual boredom with the game is the main reason that many profitable poker pros quit the game after a couple of years.
Before I get into the details of some of the skills and factors covered above, here is a summary of the pros and cons of becoming a poker pro:
When you have the ‘poker bug’ it can seem inconceivable that playing could ever become a chore. After a year or two of grinding the same games every day, the game inevitably loses its appeal. I have seen many winning players, who absolutely loved poker for years, quit when they fall out of love with the game. You can plan for this, switching formats or games now and again to keep things fresh. It is a good idea to go into becoming a poker pro with your eyes wide open, it might not last as long as you think.
You will have no boss as a poker pro. This means it is up to you to work on your discipline and motivation. That discipline manifests in several different ways.
First, you need to put in the hours on a regular basis. It is easy for just one night off to become a weekend away. It is easy to play short sessions after a big loss when you are ‘not in the mood’. If you are not able to put in the hours needed to make poker pay, then you are doomed to fail.
Second, discipline is needed when you are away from the tables. You’ll need to work harder on your game than amateurs. This will involve study, looking for leaks, getting reads from hand histories on other grinders and more. If you stand still, other pros will overtake you – and your hourly rate will slide.
Third, discipline is needed while playing. You need to focus, which means no messenger, no TV and no internet. Each distraction will impact your decisions incrementally. If you want to build up a bankroll and move to the highest levels, the focus is a key characteristic.
You might well be earning more than your peers in traditional careers as a professional online poker player. What you should expect is that your choice of work is looked down on by most of them. Many people don’t understand that poker is a game of skill – and will simply lump this in with ‘gambling’. Family members can be the most difficult. Your parents want the best for you, and often won’t see how learning how to play poker professionally matches with a successful life (at least in their experience).
Friendships can be strained in other ways. Your ‘hours of business’ will need to be the evenings and weekends (when there are the most amateurs at the tables). This means sacrificing a lot of social events, and for many people dating opportunities too. If you isolate yourself from friends for too long, those invitations might even stop coming completely.
There is a plus side, you’ll meet new people through poker – on forums as well as in live games.
Playing 8+ tables makes it extremely difficult to get reads on many opponents. To help with this, most poker pros buy software tools. The most popular combine ‘HUD’ (heads up display) capabilities with a database of hands.
Tools including Hold’em Manager and Poker Tracker watch every hand. They collect data on how frequently your opponents raise, 3 bet, defend their blinds, continuation bet and go to showdown. There are many more options than those. This information gives you instant reads, it highlights fish (anyone getting out of line compared to the established ‘normal’ frequencies) and highlights profitable situations.
Those same tools keep your own hand histories. This data is valuable away from the table. You can find positions and hands where you are losing money – showing you areas of your own game to focus on. You can also track your profits / losses over time.
Many more poker software tools are available. These include ICM calculators, used by Sit N Go and tournament pros away from the tables. You can also get hand range calculators, which let you work out the math behind tricky situations. The more of these you work on between sessions, the stronger you will become when those same spots come up again.
I have alluded to improving your game in several sections above. This is important enough to warrant its own section. Simply put, if you are standing still in terms of your strategy knowledge, your profits will decline.
Poker is constantly evolving, and new ideas are adopted by pros first – before becoming common knowledge via books and training sites. You need to be part of forum groups, and if possible study with fellow pros. It is a lot easier to find someone else’s leaks than you own, and all players will benefit from an outside perspective on their lines.
I have deliberately highlighted some of the negative factors involved in becoming a pro poker player on this page. This is to balance the ‘rose tinted spectacles’ which many players that love the game wear when considering this option.
The biggest positives are an uncapped earning potential – and having no boss / the freedom to work anywhere.
There are good reasons why even big winners quit the grind after a couple of years. The main one is that being a poker pro is isolated – and will soon become repetitive. Even if you love poker today, eventually you will get bored of the same old grind.
Having said that, if you go in with your eyes open to the negatives, and are committed to constant improvements – becoming a poker pro is a lot more realistic than most people think.