Can You Still Make a Living Playing Poker?

3 years ago
Can You Make a Living as a Professional Poker Player
12:07
12 Jan

A Hard Way to Make an Easy Living

It's a little bit cheesy, I know, but it is true. At least for the vast majority of professionals out there.

Ever since Chris Moneymaker's victory in the World Series of Poker Main Event 2003 sent the poker world into overdrive, the standard of play has risen relentlessly. The games have gotten tougher and tougher, day by day until we reached the situation that we now find ourselves in. For whether or not you've played for a long time, you have to admit that it doesn't look so good.

But are things so bad, that we should tell people taking up the game today that the dream is officially over? Should we tell them that you can't make a living playing poker any longer?

If your ambition is to become a professional, then the journey ahead is going to be much tougher than it was for me when I first started back in 2005, but I don't see it as an impossible task.


What Is a Professional Poker Player?

The definition of what constitutes a professional, relates to an activity being one's primary occupation and which pays the majority of their earnings.

There is a huge difference in being able to beat the games for something approaching the average income in a first world country, and making a few thousand dollars over the year, but not having a job and telling everybody that you're a 'pro poker player'. If you can't survive without outside assistance then you are most certainly NOT a professional.

In this article I am only considering the possibility of what your chances are at becoming a 'real' professional, able to take care of yourself and your family in your home country.


What Has Actually Changed?

With all the changes in legislation, the poker landscape looks like a totally different place than it did even five years ago. But even though it's a much tougher environment there are still plenty of games going on. Apart from ever more quality players fighting for a constantly shrinking piece of the pie, one of the biggest issues we face as professionals today is who we are actually allowed to play with online.

Many countries have passed laws to prevent their citizens from playing poker online with players in different countries. For nations such as France, Spain, and Italy this has crippled the player pool, reducing it into something almost microscopic compared to what was available before. This obviously makes your life a lot more difficult if you are trying to grind your way up the stakes. There may be off-peak times where you simply can't find enough tables of your chosen variant. Getting in as many quality hands as possible is crucial for your learning curve as well as your bankroll. If you live in one of these regions then it will be extremely hard to realise your goal of making a living playing poker if you are not already a winning player.


Another change over the last year or two has been the reduced rakeback deals across most poker networks. A few years ago, deals offering as much as eighty percent rakeback were common. Pokerstars has recently come under fire for dismantling one of the most attractive player rewards systems ever seen, although in this case, it was targeted at the players who were playing mid to high stakes.

In former years, with so many generous deals to be had, the number of players who were able to make a living playing poker greatly increased. Many of you will have heard the term 'rakeback pro' before. Because these deals paid out so much money, players were incentivised to move up to stakes where they were break-even players because they could completely rely on the bonus payments .

There are some good deals still out there, but the landscape is changing and it is unlikely to ever be as generous ever again. With less money being paid back into the player's hands this is going to impact how many people will be able to make enough to be able to play full time.


Does It Matter Where We Live?

Obviously in today's world there is still a big variation in the cost of living when moving around the globe. So we need to consider if moving away from home is a realistic long term decision for those taking the plunge as a professional.

Having travelled around the world and met up with plenty of poker players along the way, it is obvious that a number of guys had their head jammed in the sand, ostrich style. Although living life somewhere cheap like South East Asia might be good for a few years, so many people haven't thought of a plan B. Look at what happened five years ago to the US based players. The rug was pulled out from beneath them and the dream was over for a lot of people.


If you are not making enough to save up on top of your living expenses, then this idea of moving to a place much cheaper than home is just putting a problem on ice . It will come back to bite you later in life. This is not the behaviour of a professional.

If your work circumstances allow you to take a break to travel, and you intend to make your living playing poker, that is obviously fine. But it is not a long term plan unless you can go home and still pay your way by grinding.


Can It Be Done?

After all the negativity you might be thinking it's time to find a new hobby, and a new dream. Not so!

Improving at poker is hard. Very hard. I don't know if it's just human nature, or something specific to poker, but people seem to find it really tough to take advice for improving their game .

Having spent countless hours looking for strategy advice on internet forums, one thing stands out more than anything else: People are always asking for poker advice, and then proceeding to argue that black is really blue. The end result is the player not changing their usual strategy for the spot in question. They always find a reason to not believe any advice given to them.


I've coached players before and changed some detail in how they play. Everything is fine for a week or two, then after examining their database, I discover that they have reverted to the old strategy. It's almost as if they have a mental block to improving. They are not willing to wheel out intuitive strategies which have been proven to them to be the most profitable way to play.

They end up complaining that they can't improve no matter how much work they do. The reality is that they actually change very little about how they play, and then frustration sets in .

This example is exactly what happens to a lot of players trying to break out of the micro stakes. If you want to make a living playing poker then you have to be prepared to listen to people and learn.


One of the great things about games like poker is that hard work can count for more than talent . Don't kid yourself that the guys and girls making a good living from the grind are doing so on talent alone. Dedicating yourself to a regime of hard work and many hours playing is necessary, but if you love the game and have a dream then it can be done.

Poker is complicated enough that most people will never “get it”. This is another factor which should give you some hope. Most people who put a little effort into trying to improve their results reach their peak very quickly . Then, when they can't rely on talent to take things further, they find themselves unable to break through because of reasons such as I mentioned above.

So, you definitely can make a living playing poker, even in today's tough games. As time goes on there will just be more and more people who have tried and failed. The internet forums are full of people who will tell anybody that will listen, about how everybody is too solid. They will find any reason other than their own failure to work even harder than they ever did before.

Don't give up. There are so many quality poker books, articles, and training videos out there. Get out there and absorb as much information as you possibly can, and then put it to work at the tables.


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Mark from Stamford in the UK is a professional cash game player, and part time journalist. A massive chess fan and perpetual traveller.He also produces strategy content for our sister wesbite PokerVIP.com.Read more

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