5 Reasons Not to Be a Professional Poker Player

5 Reasons not to be a Professional Poker Player

Have you ever dreamed of becoming a professional poker player?

It sure seems like a great way to make a living. You play poker all day and don’t have to worry about a job.

If you play tournaments you travel around the world competing for huge prize pools while appearing on television from time to time.

Who wouldn’t want to be a professional poker player?

As it turns out, some professional poker player don’t even want to be professional poker players.

Like many things, it looks glamorous from the outside but the truth is much different.

Only a small percentage of poker players are able to do well enough to make enough money to support themselves. This is similar to the percentage of sports bettors who win enough to live on and advantage blackjack players who can make enough to live on.

Even within the small ranks of professional poker players you’ll find that for every flashy player you see winning WPT or WSOP tournaments on television there are dozens of others barely grinding out a living in cash games or just cashing in enough tournaments to stay afloat.

You also don’t see how often many pros go broke and either have to take a job until they can rebuild a bankroll or have to look for a stake in return for a share of their profit or simply beg for money from other poker players until they find someone who believes enough in their ability to loan them money to get back in the game.

Even beyond the 5 reasons not to be a professional poker player listed below there are many other issues. Where does a pro get health insurance? How bad is it for your health to sit at a poker table hour after hour, day after day, year after year?

If you want to dream about being a professional player then feel free to dream. But if you’re seriously considering giving it a try you need to think long and hard while taking the following things into consideration.

You just might find that keeping your regular job and playing poker as a hobby is more fun and satisfying in the long run.

I know that a few players like Doyle Brunson have been able to play professionally for decades, creating a solid living for his family, but as you read the rest of this post realize that the odds of you being as successful as someone like him is one in millions.

You might be able to be a professional poker player, earning enough to replace the income from a job, but even if you can you’re trading one type of job for another. When your full time job is playing poker it isn’t quite as much fun as it looks from the rail.

And the fact is if you are the next great pro who wins big tournaments and is able to win in the biggest cash games you probably aren’t reading this page. You’re too busy playing 100 hours a week to read blog posts.

1 – The Hours Suck

Very few professional poker players get to pick their own hours.

This may seem like a crazy statement, but the truth is if you’re a pro you play whenever and wherever the best game is. This means if the game you can beat is running from midnight to six AM that you’re going to be there.

And if you’ve been playing for 10 straight hours and two fish with huge bankrolls sit down that you’re going to keep sitting there so you have a shoot at their money, even if it takes another six hours.

As a pro poker player you don’t have the luxury of getting up whenever you want and strolling down to the poker room whenever you feel like it.

You have to scout and find games that offer the best chance to win and make sure you’re available to play whenever they’re running.

The sad truth is if you’re looking for something better than the cubicle that seems to be sucking the life out of you that poker is rarely the answer. Instead of working 60 hours a week for a boss that you hate for a company that views you as a number at best, you end up working 80 hours a week surrounded by a bunch of people trying to figure out how to take all of your money.

You might even enjoy the first month or so if you do turn pro and you’re good enough to make a living, but it soon becomes worse than a job to many players.

Unless you’re willing to work more hours than at your current job, you should probably pass on the professional poker player dream. Or at least keep it as a dream, and never actually act on the thought of turning pro.

2 – The Swings Are Killer

Poker is a game that never ends. You play it in a series of sessions, but it’s really just one long game starting with the first hand you play in your life and ending when you die.

During this lifelong game you’re going to face long stretches when the cards seem to always go against you and long stretches where everything goes your way. Even if you’re a long term winner you’re going to face times when you lose.

You might go a month without sowing any profit.

Can you survive a month without making anything?

What about two months?

How are you going to pay your bills without taking money out of your bankroll? And what if your bankroll keeps going down while you’re trying to survive?

This may sound like something that happens to a losing player, but many pros face this exact situation in their poker career.

Because poker is a game of mathematics and even the best players often are pushing small edges for long term gain, the fact is that sometimes the cards are going to go against you even when you have an edge. Sometimes they go against you again and again.

If you’re a good player and put yourself in more positive expectation situations than negative ones you’re going to win in the long run. The cards always do what they’re supposed to in the long run. But the short term swings are brutal.

Here’s an example:

Let’s take a look at a situation where you have an edge of 52% to 48%. This means that over time you’re going to make money from this situation. If you consider the nice round number of $100 wagered per hand and playing the hand 100 times, it means you win $100 52 times and lose $100 48 times. This means your profit over 100 hands is $400, or $4 per hand.

This sounds good, and in reality is good, but let’s look at what can happen during the 100 hands.

Though it won’t happen often, with such a small edge you may lose eight to 10 of these hands in a row. What if you lose the first 10 hands of the 100? Your expectation is the same and the numbers will even out eventually, but you’re still down $1,000 after 10 hands.

If you lose the first 10 hands you’re going to win roughly 52 out of the next 90. This isn’t really a significant variance from normal at the poker tables.

But if you feel that this is too far-fetched consider playing the same situation 1,000 times or 10,000 times.

If you play an edge of 52 / 48 over 10,000 hands it’s almost a 100% certainty that you’re going to lose 10 straight hands at least once.

Now consider the following string of percentage plays with your chances of winning listed first and losing listed second.

  • 51 / 49
  • 55 / 45
  • 52 / 48
  • 50 / 50
  • 49 / 51
  • 60 / 40
  • 58 / 42
  • 52 / 48
  • 53 / 47
  • 54 / 46

These are the types of edges you can expect at the poker table, and the truth is that having the edge in eight out of nine hands with one being a 50 / 50 shot is an extremely good run. Even the best poker players in the world rarely have such a strong string of advantages.

Over the 10 hands your average edge is 53.4%.

Now let’s use this number to look at our example again. Do you think there’s any way you can lose all 10 hands if you played them 10,000 times?

Not only is it possible, it’s almost a certain fact that you’ll lose all 10 in a row sometimes.

The good news is that you have a slightly better chance to win all 10 in a row in a 10,000 hand series than to lose them.

But when you’re dealing with a small edge the fact is you’re going to have swings.

The only way to survive these swings is to make sure you have a big enough bankroll to ride them out and to understand the odds and expected values well enough that you can take the losses mentally without changing your game.

You also need to have enough money to live on for extended periods of time without taking anything out of your bankroll.

Of course if you’re a winning professional poker player you take money out of your profits to live on, but this shows why you have to create a reserve living expenses account when things are going good because they won’t always go your way.

This also shows why you need a large cushion in the way of living expenses before you turn pro. I suggest at least six months’ worth of living expenses in reserve in addition to a bankroll that’s large enough to survive losing for at least two months in a row and still offering enough reserve to play in your normal games without being undercapitalized.

This may seem like a great deal of money required to get started for a winning player, but your bankroll is your life. With no money to play you aren’t a pro any more.

If you concentrate on tournament play the swings can be even more pronounced.

While a final table finish in a large tournament can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars or more, the buy in’s for a series of tournaments where you don’t finish in the money or just get into the money costs a lot.

Tournaments are volatile because you face so many situations where a single bad beat or mistake can knock you out. The small edges need to go your way quite a few times in order to survive.

If you’re going to be a professional poker tournament player you need to have the buy in’s for every tournament you plan to play for months in advance, because you don’t know when you’re going to cash next.

All that most people see are the big pay outs on televised poker tournaments like the WSOP and WPT, but they ignore the high percentage of players who buy in and get knocked out before the money bubble.

The swings between feast and famine for professional poker players are a killer. It kills your bankroll if you’re not prepared and it can defeat you mentally if you’re not mentally prepared for them.

This is another reason that steady job with a steady pay check may end up being better than being a poker pro.

3 – The Grind

I’ve already touched on this a little bit, but most professional poker players are grinders.

A grinder is someone who plays hour after hour grinding out a small edge. Someone who plays $10 / $20 limit Texas holdem and averages $10 an hour and grind out a living. They can even consider themselves a pro. But if you have to play 100 hours a week to make $1,000 is it better than a regular job?

After you play 100 hours a week for a couple months see if you feel like it’s the best job ever.

But what if you’re better than that? What if you’re good enough to win $20 an hour playing $10 / $20 or $20 / $40?

If you make $20 an hour on average you still have to play 50 hours a week to make $1,000 a week.

And let’s face it, $1,000 a week is still only $52,000 a year. While this isn’t chump change, it still doesn’t put you anywhere near the top of the food chain in comparison to most professions.

How much do you need to make a year and how much do you want to make a year to consider yourself a successful poker player?

Let’s consider two different numbers. Some people live a nice lifestyle on $100,000 a year and others want to make $250,000 a year. Here are some numbers based on each of these yearly income numbers as they relate to poker. These assume you play 50 weeks a year.

To make $100,000 a year you have to make $2,000 a week. This means you have to play the following number of hours at different hourly average win rates to reach your goal.

  • 100 hours a week at $20 an hour.
  • 67 hours a week at $30 an hour.
  • 50 hours a week at $40 an hour.
  • 40 hour a week at $50 an hour.

While this is possible, the fact is most poker players struggle to make more than $10 an hour. Even fewer are able to consistently make $20 an hour, and the ones who can make $50 an hour make up a very small percentage of the poker population.

So it’s possible to make $100,000 a year playing poker, but it certainly isn’t easy or done by many.

To make $250,000 a year you have to make $5,000 a week. Here are the numbers for this goal.

  • 100 hours a week at $50 an hour.
  • 67 hours a week at $75 an hour.
  • 50 hours a week at $100 an hour.
  • 40 hours a week at $125 an hour.

How many players are good enough to consistently make $100 an hour or more playing poker?

Of course it doesn’t matter how many are that good. All that matters is if you’re good enough to make that much. Sadly, the odds are stacked against you.

The best players are usually able to win a big bet per hour on average playing limit Texas holdem. This means if they play in a $20 / $40 game they win $40 an hour.

So you’d think that to make $100 an hour they’d just need to play in a $50 / $100 game. But the problem is that the competition improves as you move up in levels and the same player who can win one big bet per hour at $20 / $40 may only be able to make $50 an hour at $50 / $100.

They might find that they can’t even beat the higher limit game.

What about if you play no limit Texas holdem?

You’ll find that the hourly win rates end up being similar for good but not great players at the no limit tables as at the limit tables.

A few players are able to consistently beat the no limit tables for more money per hour, but there aren’t many of them.

And the swings of no limit are much larger than the swings at the limit tables.

Are you willing to play 60 to 100 hours a week grinding out a living?

You may think you’re ready, but the truth is that many players burn out trying to do this.

4 – Travel

Remember when I mentioned in the section about how the hours suck that you have to play when the game you can beat is running?

You also have to travel to the best game if you want to maximize your wins.

Many professional players travel to the city holding the biggest tournament every week because they know the best cash games are available there. Many of them don’t play in the big tournament. They play in the big cash games filled with players who bust out of the tournament who’re looking to win back some of their buy in.

Other pros travel to big private games filled with rich people who want to play but aren’t very good. They’re always looking for a profitable game and willing to go wherever they need to in order to take advantage of the situation.

Poker is a simple game at certain levels. If you consistently play against people who don’t play as good as you it means that in the long run you’re going to win.

So if you have the bankroll required to handle the swings and can play in a game with eight rich people who aren’t as good as you what are you going to do?

If you want to maximize your profit you’re going to go wherever this game exists.

Some professional poker players spend their entire lives doing this. Professional backgammon players have been doing this for years.

Many pros create these games and get close to others who create these games. Many Hollywood stars like to play poker so they put together big games. If you’re a good poker player and know how to get invited, these games can be quite lucrative.

A movie star making $10 million a year can drop $50,000 or $100,000 in a poker game without it putting a dent in the way they live. They don’t even need to be a decent player to want the rush of a chance to win from time to time.

Are you willing to travel wherever you need to in order to win as much a possible?

Even the poker pros that don’t travel the country or world to find the best games have to be willing to play in many different places and situations.

If you live in Las Vegas or Los Angeles, two of the poke capitals of the world, you can find plenty of good games in the poker rooms. But some of the best games are private games played elsewhere.

Even if you’re willing to travel and / or play in these games do you know how to find them and get invited?

Are you able to judge a situation to make sure it’s safe?

If you make a big score have you figured out how to get out of there and somewhere safe with your winnings?

The thrill of a huge win can quickly go away when you have to figure out how to get somewhere safe with hundreds of thousands of dollars or more.

You might think this is a good problem to have until you face it. People get killed for a lot less than that kind of money every day.

5 – Poker over Everything

The final reason you might not want to be a professional poker player is because to maximize your profits you have to be a poker player over everything else in your life.

You have to put your family second. The odds of having many true friends are slim because you’re never there for them. You’ll form relationships with other poker players, but are they really friends?

Can you call anyone who’s trying to take your money every day a friend?

You can take time to do fun things every once in a while, but the majority of your life is going to be spent playing poker and trying to find the best games.

It can quickly become a lonely and sad existence.

You might think things will be different, but you’re either maximizing your profits or you’re not. Maximum profit doesn’t come from taking vacations and hanging out with your family.

Of course you don’t have to maximize your profits. You can have a family and a real life. Just understand that if this is the choice you make that you won’t be making as much money as you could.

No one can tell you how to live your life, so only you can decide how poker fits in.

But you need to make these types of decisions before you decide to play poker professionally. If you’re married will your spouse understand when you’re gone for two or three days or more at a time?

Will your spouse support you and understand when you leave at midnight for a hot game and don’t come back home for 20 hours?

If you have kids how do they fit into your schedule?

You might say that because you control your schedule you can always be there for their big game or recital, but are you going to miss a poker game filled with rich fish to watch a recital?

I’m not judging you based on your decision, but I’m telling you these are things you need to consider now, before you start.


It’s easy to see professional poker players on TV and become envious. They seem to have everything in life.

They play a game for high stakes and sometimes win a huge tournament. It seems like the perfect life.

But the truth is most professional poker players have to play terrible hours, face huge swings, are forced to travel all of the time, grind out a living, and have no life.

Is this the life you truly want to lead?

Petko Stoyanov
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About Petko Stoyanov
My name is Petko Stoyanov, and I've been a gambling writer for more than ten years. I guess that was the natural path for me since I've loved soccer and card games for as long as I can remember! I have a long and fairly successful history with English Premier League betting and online poker, but I follow many other sports. I watch all big European soccer leagues, basketball, football, and tennis regularly, and I keep an eye on snooker, volleyball, and major UFC events.