9 Ways Playing Poker for a Living Isn’t as Lucrative as It Sounds

Two Poker Tables

Making it as a professional poker player is a dream for many avid poker fans. They assume the lifestyle is glamorous and imagine playing golf by day and spending their nights playing in high-stakes games.

Unfortunately, the reality of life as a professional poker player is far less glamorous. As much as it hurts me to say it, becoming a professional poker player may not be as lucrative as it sounds.

Most poker pros spend their days grinding away for just enough money to live on. Not all of the professionals bask in the limelight of the truly elite.

9 Reasons Playing Poker for a Living Might Not Make You Rich

Here are the top nine reasons a poker career may not be for you:

  1. Profits vs. winnings
  2. Not as lucrative as other players tell you
  3. Sponsorships are critical
  4. Devastating poker swings
  5. Fierce competition
  6. Travel expenses
  7. No steady income
  8. Zero benefits
  9. It’s a career, not a game

1. Making a Profit is All That Matters

People often confuse winnings with profit. This fact holds true for all professionals competing for cash prizes.

I have a buddy that’s a professional athlete in such an arrangement. He competes in weekly tournaments, and this year he’s only won about $20,000.

So, you look at that and think he’s on pace to make $40K doing what he loves. There are millions of far worse ways to make a living.

However, he isn’t on pace to make $40K. He’s merely on track to win that much. That figure doesn’t account for tournament entries, travel expenses, lodging, or meals. And because of these factors it is hard to determine exactly how much professional poker players make every year.

So, he’ll likely make under $20,000. You can’t confuse winnings with profit when measuring the success of a poker player.

Assume you win $1,000,500 in a poker tournament, but the entry fee was $1 million. Your winnings for the tournament would be pretty impressive, but your profit would be a far less stellar $500. It’s an extreme example, but the point stands.

Profit is a metric many professional poker players shy away from in public view.

2. Other Poker Players Embellish Wins

People, in general, tend to overvalue their successes and diminish their failures. Poker players aren’t any different in this regard.

So, when you hear about the guy from your country club that quit his day job to be a poker star, expect inflated winnings to be the standard report.

You’ll probably have to leave the building to avoid hearing about his big score during a regional event that netted them five figures. However, they won’t be as forthcoming when the cards go cold and lose $30,000 in a month.

Don’t fall prey to someone that’s buying into their own bologna.

3. Sponsorships Are Critical for Covering Tournament Fees

One of the critical avenues for aspiring poker pros is finding sponsors or people to stake them in events. This arrangement is beneficial for the player because they won’t have to ante up as much of their own money to play in events.

The sponsors get a fair kickback when the player does well in an event or some other form of payment in return.

Poker Flush

These types of arrangements only throw fuel on the fire of players vastly overstating their winning prowess. Nobody is going to stake a player that’s stealing ketchup packets from the deli to make tomato soup for dinner after they’ve burnt through their bankroll.

So, players lie about how much money they are making. Despite what you may believe from watching TV, most poker pros make their income playing cash games.

That makes it extremely difficult when you’re trying to determine how much money someone is making playing poker.

4. Poker Swings Can Be Devastating

The highs and lows of professional gambling can take a severe toll on a player’s bankroll. Professional poker players must always be on guard for the unthinkable to happen.

Imagine you win $10,000 in a regional event. You’ll no doubt be living on cloud nine; the urge to splurge on something extravagant would be understandable.

Unfortunately, you’ll need to act as if you’ve barely scratched the surface and save nearly 100% of that check. That’s because no matter how good you are, the cards could go cold at any moment.

The massive swings felt by poker players can be devastating. Even some of the truly great poker stars have faded away from the limelight and seen their fortunes vanish to nothing.

5. Competition at the Top Is Fierce

One of the biggest obstacles standing between aspiring poker pro and their dreams of wealth is the competition.

Poker is primarily a game of skill, and in order to win at the top level, you’ve got to be one of the dozen or so best players on the planet at any given time. You can grind out a modest income by beating up on the tourists at your local casino if you’re a great player.

Still, you’ll never get to the millionaire’s club without being elite. I’ve seen a handful of great players head for Las Vegas with dollar signs in their eyes and a dream in their heart, only to return 3 months later completely dejected.

Don’t assume you can compete with the best players on the planet until you’ve shown sustainable success on their level.

6. Traveling on Your Own Dime Gets Expensive

Being a poker pro will get expensive. You’ll need to travel regularly to play in big cash tournaments.

That will cost money; depending on your tastes and eating habits, quite a bit of your winnings could be swallowed up by expenses.

Picture of a Crowded Poker Room

So, before you call the wife and start promising new cars and a new house, factor in all variables. This point goes back to winnings versus profit.

You should understand that the amount of traveling you’ll do will cost thousands, not hundreds, each month.

7. No Guaranteed Steady Stream of Income

Even the biggest poker stars in the world were at some point forced to face the fact that if they didn’t perform, they’d go broke.

Becoming a professional poker player isn’t the typical 9-5 where you show up, work, and get a check on the 1st and 15th. You’ll no longer enjoy a guaranteed income based on the work you put in. A pro poker player’s salary depends on his performance.

Worst of all, you could actually lose money by going to work. That creates an odd relationship between working and making money.

Some poker players want to get off the tables when they’ve made a decent profit. As a professional, you need to ride these hot streaks as far as you possibly can.

There are no guarantees that you’ll get another opportunity for weeks or months. So, it doesn’t matter how tired you are of playing Texas Holdem or how badly you want to go out for a drink and unwind.

When the poker gods are smiling at you, you must continue pushing.

8. Zero Benefits for Poker Pros

It probably goes without saying, but poker pros don’t get a medical, dental, and vision plan when they start their careers. Nor does it come at a later date, along with a 401k and paid leave.

That’s some of the things that you’ll need to cover on your own when you are thinking of starting your poker career. Welcome to the beautiful world of the self-employed.

Las Vegas Poker Game

A lot of people take these things for granted before launching their poker careers. You must factor in the costs of insurance, retirement, and savings for when you’ve had enough and need a break.

The casinos aren’t going to cover any of your fees. This point also reflects back to the difference between winnings and profits.

9. When Poker Becomes a Career, It’s Suddenly a Job

The biggest drawback of pursuing your dream is having to watch it become a job. I have a friend that has loved golf more than almost anything since we were about 14 years old.

He’d constantly be at the course or in his backyard practicing while the rest of us were up to typical teenager mischief.

He played college golf and immediately went to work at a country club after graduation. Over the next 7 years, I watched him slowly begin to dread the game he once dearly loved.

It was painful to watch, but it must’ve been hell to endure. I spoke with him recently, and he confided that he hasn’t played more than two rounds in the past year.

Keep in mind that a career as a professional poker player is a full-time job and then some. Be prepared for a day when you’re not excited to make your way to the casino’s poker tables.

Fortunately, It Won’t Impact Your Game

Well, it shouldn’t impact your game. If you’re going to be one of the top pros in your area or aspire to be one of the best on the planet, you don’t need to focus on anything but yourself.

I’m not suggesting you ignore family and friends while you are launching your career. I’m merely pointing out that you don’t need to concern yourself with what other players are doing away from the table or how you’ll fill your prescription contact order.

The only things that should matter at the table are your opponents and the cards. Playing poker that’s free of any extraneous clutter could make all the difference in the world.

So, don’t let the uncertainty of the ordeal take away from the subtle beauty of the game.

So, Is Being a Professional Poker Player Worth It?

Even though becoming a professional poker player may not be as lucrative as it sounds, there are still many positives that come from such a career choice. Don’t be frightened off by the early hardships, any job on the planet will come with a fair share of downfalls.

Posted in: EntertainmentPoker

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