Making a Living Playing Poker – How Much Can You Earn?

making a living playing poker

11 minutes

Posted by: Ivan


Ever since Texas Holdem made it into the mainstream back with the Moneymaker win and the Poker Boom, young people worldwide have been dreaming of making a career in the game.

The early days of online poker were really something special, as so many of today’s poker hotshots made their starts and earned their fortunes playing against the countless fish that used to swim in the pond.

Poker has certainly evolved, and even the worst of players these days are usually way better than those 15 years ago.

What’s even more, so many great players can be found even at the lower stakes these days that making it in poker is no longer as easy as it once was.

So I decided to try and find out if poker was still beatable and if it made any sense for young up and coming players to be playing poker for a living in 2021.

I looked into online and live options and everything from multi-table tournaments to cash games and heads-up poker.

Before we get into what kind of win rates you can expect if you start playing today, let’s talk about what it takes to be a poker player in the first place.

Gambler’s Fallacy in Poker

money and winnings in poker

Most people who see poker on TV immediately think they have what it takes to be a winner and join the ranks of the best poker players in the world.

In fact, even in most casinos, you will see players who have no clue what they are doing thinking that they are poker gods of some kind.

The misbalance between reality and people’s expectations in poker can be astounding.

While only about 5% of poker players are actual winners, more than 50% of them think they fall into this group.

Poker players who are losing almost always believe that it is merely bad luck and a poor streak of cards, making them lose. If they had your cards, they would certainly beat you!

The reality is quite a bit different.

If you monitored the cash games at your local casino for a full year, writing down each buy-in and cashout, you would notice that some players are constantly winning and others are leaving heaps on the tables.

If you are just starting out in poker, don’t automatically think you know how to play and win. It takes time to learn how to win even against bad players, let alone the good ones.

Playing Poker For A Living – How to Get Started

Poker is a game of skill and wits, and you should go slow early on and learn all the important lessons before you even start playing.

Regardless of what anyone might tell you, if you don’t understand basic concepts like odds, outs, stack sizes, and bet sizing, you will not be a long-term winner in any poker game, period.

I have personally come across players who don’t know what odds they have with their poker hands against a flush draw but yet claim they are winners. Without any disrespect to anyone, this is simply not possible.

A good way to start in poker is to find a nice beginner’s course and go through it one lesson at a time. Pretend as you have never played a hand in your life and learn things from the very start.

how to make a living playing poker

Once you get the gist of the basics, trying the lessons out at the tables is a good idea. However, you should always start with very small stakes.

Playing at the lowest of stakes available will give you a chance to start winning against the poor opponents and gradually get better and advance through the ranks.

If you immediately start playing mid-stakes games, you will end up being so outmatched that you will never have a real chance to advance.

What does it even mean to win at poker?

If I won a sit and go today, does that make me a winner? Not quite! Here is some explanation of the basic terms you need to understand regarding how winning in poker is even measured.

ROI and bb/100 – Measuring Success in Poker

Winning a poker tournament or having a good cash game session does not make you a poker winner. In fact, plenty of terrible poker players have won some major poker tournaments, even the WSOP Main Event.

Success in poker is measured over time and with very precise parameters.

In tournament poker, the ROI statistic is used to measure how much a player is winning.

ROI (return of investment) is expressed as a percentage and is based on all the buy-ins and cashouts you have ever made. For example, if you played $10.000 worth of tournaments and won $13.000 in those, your ROI would be 30%.

playing poker for a living

Of course, ROI is only relevant when you play enough tournaments for it to make sense. So how much is enough? This differs depending on the type of tournaments you are playing.

Fast structures and large player fields increase the variance massively, making it necessary to get many tournaments for precise stats.

Slower structures and smaller fields require the opposite.

Success in cash games is measured by the bb/100 or hourly win rate.

The bb/100 is usually used for online cash games and expresses the number of big blinds a player wins for every 100 hands played.

The hourly win rate is a stat used by live poker players to express their winnings per hour played. Both bb/100 and hourly win rate only become relevant once a significant number of hands have been played.

The more hands a player gets in, the more likely their results are to be realistic. Variance plays a huge part in poker, of course, so one should be careful about assuming a win rate too fast.

READ MORE: Best Texas Holdem Poker Tips

What is a Good Win Rate in Poker?

Everyone always asks how much I could win if I started playing poker tomorrow. Unfortunately, the answer to that question is very complex.

Making a living playing poker means different things for different people. Some are content to win $20 in a day, while for others, even $1.000 isn’t a big winning day.

Assuming you are just starting, any positive win rate would be a victory.

However, you want to increase your win rate over the time to make it worth the hours spent at the tables.

If you are going to play online poker tournaments with big fields, you want to aim to be winning at least a 20% ROI over the long run. This is quite achievable at low and medium stake tournaments once you have the proper skills.

  • Given poker’s state today, players who play poker for a living are still making well over 20% in large field MTTs.
  • The SNG grinders, on the other hand, are aiming for anywhere between 2% and 10% but are playing many tables at the same time to compensate.
  • Cash games are a whole other playing field, with players aiming to win anywhere around 5bb/100 hands played on average.

Of course, lower stakes cash games allow the best players to win way more, while the more difficult games can be hard to beat for even 1bb/100, especially when you take poker rake into consideration.

What Game to Choose in 2021?

The evolution of poker has been quite exponential, but the fact remains that most poker players are still not very good at the game.

Online cash games are definitely the most difficult games to beat in 2021, with ZOOM games often considered nearly unbeatable in higher stakes.

play poker for a living

Micro stakes cash games such as NL5 and NL10 are still very profitable, and you can easily have a win rate of 5bb/100 or more, but the amount of money one stands to win there is quite low.

The large field MTTs is probably the most valuable option for skilled players.

A good player can win at a rate of anywhere between 10% and 50% in tournaments up to $50, and this is probably the way to go if you plan on playing poker for a living online.

Yet, if you are planning on making a living playing poker in 2021, I would highly suggest contemplating live poker games as your main game.

Specializing in one game type, such as tournaments, is the best way to go as you want to become a master of the game you are playing eventually.

Live poker offers so many more opportunities to encounter bad players who have never really studied the game at any level, apart from actually playing.

Of course, the downside of live tournaments and cash games is that you can only get so many hands in every hour, and if you do not have millionaires like Dan Bilzerian sitting next to you, it can be a struggle to rake massive wins.

However, for a starting poker player, more winning sessions that will come from playing live will be great for the confidence as well.

How Much Can I Really Make In Poker?

I have discussed some theories and parameters that determine a win rate, but the question you must be asking yourself is, how much cash can YOU actually make in a month playing poker for a living?

To answer this question, I will use a few examples of what a successful poker player might make at this time.

Let’s say you were playing NL100 online cash game tables with a win rate of 3bb/100, which is certainly attainable. This means you would be winning $3 for 100 hands played. Assuming you can get some 60 hands in at one table and are playing 4 tables, you would be playing 240 hands in one hour.

At this rate, you would be making $12 per hour while buying in for $100 at a time on each table. This may not seem too attractive at first, but it’s a decent long-term win rate.

Assuming you play 200 hours per month, you will be making $2400 plus rakeback in online cash games.

This win rate could be increased by becoming better at the game and winning more bb/100 or simply playing more tables.

poker winrates

However, maintaining your edge on more tables can be difficult.

Online tournaments, on the other hand, tend to offer somewhat better win rates. If you start playing tournaments with an average buy-in of $30 and can play 20 tournaments in a session, you would be buying in for a total of $600 per session.

An ROI of 30% would result in you winning $180 for a session.

If you play 24 days and sustain this result, you will be winning $4320 per month in the long run.

Also, it does not take 10 hours to play 20 poker tournaments as these games are more easily multi-tabled, so you can put even more volume per month if you wish.

If you are playing online, you can easily figure out your true winrate with tools like Poker Tracker 4 and similar programs, so you definitely should get one of these.

You can follow the same logic and count possible live game winnings.

Successful poker players tend to have massive ROIs in live tournaments. Even over 100% are definitely possible, and buy-ins tend to be higher in live games as well.

The same could be said about cash games, but while having a much bigger win rate, you will be playing fewer hands, so you need to count yourself if that will transition into more profit in your specific situation.

Yet, the bankroll required to play such games can be quite large, and many players have to build it online first.

Bankroll Management for Pro Poker Players

Even if you are sure you have the necessary skills to play poker for a living, there is still the question of the bankroll needed to sustain the variance.

Regardless of the type of poker games you are playing in, the variance will always play its part.

The only way to beat the variance is to establish a bankroll sufficient to take even the worst of downswings. The size of the necessary bankroll will heavily depend on the type of games you are planning on playing.

  • Sit-and-go tournaments are the most bankroll-heavy types of games, often requiring hundreds of buy-ins to ensure you don’t go broke. The bigger your win rate, the lesser bankroll you need, but trying to play without 200 buy-ins is rarely advisable.
  • Online MTTs can also be very heavy on the bankroll. If you are playing poker for a living and want to make MTTs your main game, you should have at least a hundred buy-ins in your bankroll.
  • Live cash games are the one game where 20 or 30 buy-ins can make a solid player nearly unbreakable. Since so many bad players are in the games, most sessions will go your way. Maintaining a 50 buy-in bankroll for a live cash game you are beating should be more than plenty.

Of course, the necessary bankroll size will always depend on many factors. If you have the means to reload your bankroll, such as a steady job, taking some risks from time to time can be a sound strategy.

make your money playing poker

However, the one thing you should never do is jump in too deep and be overconfident of your poker abilities.

As you can see in most poker movies, the majority of players are not as good as they imagine, and you should always be humble about your poker skills.

Get Started With Poker In 2021

The game of poker has changed in many ways, and players have become extremely good over the years.

However, the good news is that there is still plenty of fish in the sea.

Poker will likely never be as profitable as it was back in the early 2000s, but this does not mean making a living playing poker is impossible.

Whether you are a brand new or a returning poker player, there are plenty of chances for you to make it in poker in 2021.

The most important thing is to manage expectations and be realistic about your poker skills and your expected win rate.

With some solid poker coaching and a good bankroll behind you, winning at poker in 2021 will surely be possible.

REAN MORE: Is Poker A Sport?

Ivan Potocki

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