Making a living playing poker is the dream goal for many players. But, the road to success and reaching this goal is far from easy.
Only a tiny percentage of all players manage to develop enough knowledge and skill to earn a stable poker income they can rely on. This is mainly because poker, especially Texas Hold’em, is a highly volatile and unpredictable game with many ups and downs. Most players simply can’t adjust to it in the long run.
That said, there are ways you can calculate a predictable poker income depending on the poker format you play the most. Here’s everything you need to know about how much you can earn in poker playing different formats of this exciting game.
Win Rate – Key for Determining Your Poker Income
To create a close estimate of how big or small you can expect your poker income to be, you must first consider your win rate. This is a key factor for determining your poker income. In simple terms, a win rate is the amount of money you win over a specific period of time or number of poker hands. You can express poker win rate in four typical ways:
- The number of big blinds you win per 100 hands (bb/100)
- The amount of money you win per 100 hands ($/100)
- The number of big blinds you win per hour (bb/hour)
- The amount of money you win per hour ($/hour)
There are also other ways to express win rate aside from the four above. That said, the most popular and most commonly used method is the number of big blinds per 100 hands.
Let’s take a simple example in plain numbers to understand this metric better.
Suppose you’re playing an online no-limit Texas Hold’em game with $1/$2 stakes, and your winning rate is 5 bb/100. This means you’re winning 5 x $2 = $10 for every 100 hands you play in the game.
Having a win rate of 5 bb/100 is amazing, and not every player can sustain it. But there’s no reason to get disheartened.
Any win rate over zero is good. So, even if you have a win rate of 1 to 4 bb/100, you’re in the money, as long as you can sustain it in the long term. Moreover, a minimal number of players manage to achieve a win rate of 4 or 5 bb/100.
Although you might think that a win rate of 1 or 2 bb/100 is not anything to write home about, remember that the vast majority of people are losing players.
You can expect a higher win rate for live poker games, with a good ballpark number to aim for being around 20 bb/100 or above. The 30+ bb/100 win rate is considered amazing and rarely sustainable in the long run.
Other Factors That Affect Your Income from Poker
Except for the win rate as the most apparent factor that impacts your poker income, there are three other main aspects that play a deciding role in how much or little you win playing poker. These are:
- How Often You Play – The reasoning behind this is simple. The more time you spend playing, the more you can win.
- The Stakes You Play – If you’re playing low-stakes games, you’re only in it for low wins. The more you bet, the more you’ll potentially win.
- How Many Tables You Play – This one only pertains to online poker and is a key factor to keep in mind. Players who multi-table can win much more over the same period than players who just play at one table online.
These three variables make it very difficult to precisely assess how much you stand to earn playing different formats across the board.
With all of this in mind, we’ll draft a predictable income of what you can expect based on these factors. To make the information easier to digest, we’ll divide the formats and take a look at each one separately, starting with poker cash games.
Poker Income in Live Cash Games and Online Cash Games
You enter every cash game with your poker bankroll at the stakes you deem fit. Any amount that you win during a session goes directly to your pocket.
In line with that, any money you also lose directly reflects a loss from your poker bankroll. Calculating income in live cash poker games is fairly straightforward.
For example, you start your session with $200 and play a $1/2 game. In a small stakes game like this, your win rate and, with that, your poker income can vary significantly from 1 bb/100 to 10+ bb/100. Of course, the latter number is hard to maintain in the long term and isn’t something you should take for granted.
So, how can you calculate your win rate in cash games if you play for, let’s say, just one hour every day?
For this example, we’ll suppose you maintain a win rate of 20 bb/100, a number which even most poker pros would sign up for immediately.
In a live cash game where you can play only one table, you can calculate your hourly rate the following way:
- 20 bb/100 = $40 (20 x $2) for a hundred hands you play.
- $40 x 0.30 (30 hands in live poker per hour) = $12 per hour in live poker
In an online poker game, where you can multi-table, you can win much more at the same time. However, as we mentioned above, you can also naturally expect a lower win rate. Suppose you play three tables with a win rate of 5 bb/100. Your winnings would look like this:
- 5 bb/100 =$10 (5 x $2) for a hundred hands
- $10 x 3 tables you simultaneously play = $30 for 400 hands
- $30 x 0.75 (75 hands in online poker per hour) = $22.5 per hour in online poker
Multiply that by 30 days, and you got yourself close to $400 in poker money for the month on live cash games and a whopping $675 for online cash games.
With all of this in mind, with more hands per hour and the possibility of multi-tabling, you should be aware that you also stand to lose more money multi-tabling online than playing the same stakes in live poker rooms in the same amount of time.
Online, you can also find some decent rakeback deals to lessen the impact of poker rake on your bottom line. This is harder in the live setting, although some rooms run leaderboards and other promotions that can help boost your win rate.
Poker Income in Live Tournaments and Online Tournaments
Looking from the perspective of obtaining a stable income, live poker tournaments are certainly not the better option than live cash games. This is because your winnings in live tournaments will be much more unpredictable.
You can win hundreds of thousands, even millions, in tournaments if you’re successful enough, or you can go months and years without any significant wins.
Because of this, it’s not advisable to base your entire career on them unless you have a huge bankroll and a proven track record of knowing how to play tournaments.
In terms of how much you can earn from poker tournaments, you have a completely open field. In tournaments, your income will be based on entirely different parameters compared to live cash games.
Since you only pay a buy-in fee when participating in a tournament, you’re not actually risking all of the money you accrue during your run in the competition. You can rest assured knowing that you’re not going home bankrupt, no matter how lousy you play in the tournament.
However, you also don’t win all of the money you stack up in poker chips during the event. When playing in poker tournaments, the amount you’ll receive for playing directly depends on your rank in the standings.
In online tournaments, it is not that much about your win rate. Instead, it is how much return on investment you get at the end of the tournament.
For instance, if you’re playing online, an ROI above 30 percent is a very solid number to aim for. On the other hand, you should look for percentages two or three times higher when participating in live poker tournaments.
How to Calculate Your Poker Win Rate and Income
Dedicated poker players who want to keep close track of their win rate and long-term income use some sort of tool or poker tracker. There are many free poker tools available online, so you shouldn’t miss out on employing them to get precise calculations.
If you know how many hands you’ve played, you can calculate your win rate even without any tools. Simply divide each side by a number that will turn your number of hands into a hundred, and you’ll get your bb/100 win rate.
Keep in mind that you can’t calculate your win rate from the get-go. It takes many hands and many weeks and months to come up with a somewhat accurate win rate you can rely on.
Since poker is a game of variance, some months, you’ll have a win rate of 5 bb/100, while others you’ll barely move from 1 bb/100.
From that perspective, you shouldn’t expect any useful information unless you’ve clocked in at least a couple of hundred thousand hands over a more extended period of time. If you only have a couple of thousand or several dozen thousand hands, you can expect a lot of change and unreliable information.
Can You Make a Stable Living from Poker?
All of the information and poker stats we’ve discussed on this page boils down to one crucial question: Can you create a dependable poker income you can rely on indefinitely?
Again, the answer to this question is not so clear-cut. That said, even with so many variables, the final answer is a firm “yes.”
If you work hard and study every aspect of the game, there’s no reason you can’t expect to earn a stable poker income every month.
Low-stake cash games are always the best option to go with if you’re looking for consistent income. On the other hand, tournaments can provide you with bigger wins but are a more unreliable income source, as you can go weeks or even months without a solid win.
Of course, regardless of the format you play, you should never forget that poker is an inconsistent game and that there will be a lot of swings. This is an aspect of the game you simply don’t have any influence over.
But, if you take a strategic and responsible attitude towards your game, you can expect poker to provide you with an enjoyable and profitable experience overall!