I have to be honest, this question used to annoy the crap out of me! It would always happen at a social event or a party where I was talking with somebody who I had just met or barely knew. Once they got light of the fact that I played poker on the internet for a living, a slew of ridiculous questions would spasmodically begin spewing out of their mouth such as:
"Wow, you can actually make money doing that?"
"So uh...like what's your biggest win?"
And this line of interrogation would always end in the unabashedly blunt:
"So uh...like how much do you make bro?"
In what other alternate universe is it cool to just walk up to a near complete stranger and ask them what their income is? It's not in any of them of course! I would never ask any of my friends (let alone a complete stranger) how much money they make in their jobs as doctors, factory workers, small business owners or social workers. Why? Because nobody asks this question! It is considered taboo in our society. But because I am a "poker player" it is ok in their mind for some bizarre reason.
Alright, deep breath.
Just to finish up though, especially for the benefit of other beleaguered poker players reading this. I learned to eventually just get over it after being asked this question countless times. I would either find a way to mess with them or just avoid the subject altogether. Usually the latter nowadays.
Them: "So, like what do you do?"
Me: "Uh...I work on the internet."
Them: "Oh yeah? Cool! Like in what way?"
Me: "Uh...like affiliate marketing, stuff like that. Hey did you see that hockey game last night? Was that something else or what?"
You get the idea. The key is to say something vague about what you do on the internet. A big word that not too many people understand like "affiliate marketing" works great. After that quickly change the subject before they have time to dig any deeper. Hockey often works perfect when I am back in Canada. Ask about the premier league if you are in England, the local NFL or college team if you are in the States etc.
It's even better if you actually do make a little bit of income with something like affiliate marketing each month because then you aren't even lying! But who cares, do whatever it takes to change the subject. Tell them you are a librarian if all else fails. That is guaranteed to kill the conversation real fast!
Anyways, all kidding aside, I understand the fascination that most people have with a career like a professional poker player. After all, it's an exceedingly rare vocational path and most people still consider the game to be straight up gambling (or luck) anyways. So I know that they don't mean any harm with their ridiculous line of questioning. It's just a genuine intrigue with something that is incredibly foreign to them.
This question isn't going to go away any time soon so I am going to do my best in this article to explain exactly how much money poker players make.
Online Poker Cash Games
Alright, so let's get right into it. I am going to talk about what I know best which is online poker and cash games in particular. If you play SNGs or MTTs then this article is probably not going to be overly useful for you. There are certainly plenty of professional grinders in these formats that do quite well for themselves. I am no expert though so I don't want to speculate.
I am not going to say anything about live poker either. Obviously the slowness of the game and the fact that you can only play one table really sucks. However, this is mitigated by the fact that the worst players on earth love to play live poker in casinos. There are many live pros out there who do quite well for themselves I am sure. You would have to ask them how much they make though, because I have no idea.
As I have mentioned before in my article about win rates at the micros the first thing that you need to understand is that most poker players actually lose money.
Yes, you heard that right.
Even after rakeback, in the long run as much as 75% of poker players lose money. This is mostly due to the rake kicking in and a lot of bad play.
So only something like 25% of the people who play poker are actually making any money from it in the long run. Further to this, only 10% of people are making anything significant (i.e., are considerably above break-even). These are the people who are mostly likely to "go pro" so I will be focusing on them in this article.
These estimates are partly why I have tried to preach the reality of professional poker on here before. Poker for a living (or a good side income) works great for some people. However, for most people this game ends up being a hobby that doesn't exactly pay so well.
But let's suppose that you are in that roughly 10% of serious winners in this game. And keep in mind that while 10% is a small number in relative terms, when you consider the sheer volume of people who play poker online and in casinos around the world, this is actually a huge number of people. I have met dozens of professional online poker players here in Thailand for instance.
So How Much Do Poker Players Make Already Bro!
Hang on a sec bro! It's not that simple.
We will have to run through some calculations with rakeback added in. I will use a typical volume level for a full-time professional online multi-tabling grinder of around 100k hands a month. If you are playing a moderate amount of tables (8-16) for 4-6 hours each day it should not be too hard to hit this number.
Say you play 12 tables for instance 5 hours a day. If you are playing full ring you can probably expect to get about 70 hands per hour at each table and therefore 840 hands per hour.
70 hands per table x 12 tables = 840 hands per hour.
And this would be 4200 hands per day.
840 hands per hour x 5 hours = 4200 hands per day.
If you play 24 days in a month (so that you have a day or two off every week) then you will still hit your 100k hands a month just fine.
4200 hands x 24 days = 100800 hands per month.
Now what does this actually mean in terms of actual dollar amounts though? Well, we will need to plug in some win rates to go along with these volume numbers. Since we are assuming that you are a serious winner (in the top 10% of the player pool) I will be using the best win rate possible (in my opinion) at each stake with a mid volume approach. All of these win rate numbers were in fact taken from the previously mentioned article that I wrote a few months back on win rates at the micros.
I will also be calculating the hourly by simply dividing the total winnings (table and rakeback) by 120. This is the workload of a full-time grinder playing 5 hours a day, 24 days a month (5 x 24 = 120 hours).
I will also factor in some rakeback. These will be rough estimates based off of my experience with the Pokerstars rakeback program. I will use them as the example here simply because they are the largest online poker room in the world. Pokerstars has a yearly based, volume incentive rakeback program which greatly benefits heavy grinders who play decent stakes. However, it leaves a fair bit to be desired for people who plug away at the very lowest limits. Keep in mind that not all online card rooms operate in this way.
Alright, to the numbers already!
Win rate = 30bb/100
[I will run through the math in this example so that you can see how I calculate the table winnings]
When we talk about a win rate of "30bb/100" this means that you make 30 big blinds for every 100 hands that you play. Since the big blind at NL2 is 2 cents:
30 x 2 cents = 60 cents
So in this example (with this win rate) you are making 60 cents for every 100 hands that you play at NL2. Since we are assuming that you play 100k hands a month though, we need to know how much this equates to given that level of volume. To do this you simply take 100k and divide it by 100:
100k / 100 = 1000
We can now just multiply this number by our bb/100:
1000 x 60 cents = $600
So let's see the totals now.
Table Winnings = $600 per month
Rakeback = $50
Grand Total Monthly = $650
Grand Total Yearly = $7800
Hourly = $5.42
Our new inquisitive friend will probably be a bit underwhelmed by these numbers. After all, the hourly is quite a bit below the minimum wage in the United States which is $7.25 at the time of this writing. However, let's not be too bummed out by these figures. After all this is a reasonable living for many people in parts of the world such as Eastern Europe, South East Asia and Central America. If you happen to live in a hut in an African village you would probably be ballin' out of control by grinding NL2 all day! Let's move up the stakes a bit though and see what happens.
Win rate = 17bb/100
Table Winnings: $850
Grand Total Monthly = $950
Grand Total Yearly = $11400
Hourly = $7.92
The NL5 grinder (with this win rate) has managed to surpass the minimum wage in the US! Given the fact that he doesn't have to waste any time or money commuting either, grinding NL5 all day is easily superior to flipping burgers!
Win rate = 12bb/100
Table Winnings: $1200
Grand Total Monthly = $1350
Grand Total Yearly = $16200
Hourly = $11.25
This is still a poverty line income in nearly all Western countries and this is why it is not recommended that you even think about quitting your day job even if you happen to be the very best NL10 player in the world.
Win rate = 8bb/100
Table Winnings: $2000
Grand Total Monthly = $2500
Grand Total Yearly = $30000
Hourly = $20.83
Let me please remind you again that these numbers are based off of what the absolute best NL25 grinders on earth would make in a typical month. The vast majority of people who play NL25 (and win) do not make anywhere close to this amount. However, it should be noted that our prolific NL25 superstar here does make more per year than the average yearly gross income in the following countries: Israel, Greece, Portugal, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Estonia.
Win rate = 6bb/100
Table Winnings: $3000
Grand Total Monthly = $3750
Grand Total Yearly = $45000
Hourly = $31.25
You can see that by the time you become one of the best NL50 players in the world you can finally brag to your friends that you are earning a typical Western income. Your gross yearly income is now higher than the average gross yearly income in the following countries (see link above): the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Sweden and Spain. It should also be noted that this is the first limit where it is realistically possible to achieve milestone bonuses on Pokerstars. Therefore, this rakeback figure could be a fair bit higher.
Win rate = 4bb/100
Table Winnings: $4000
Grand Total Monthly = $5000
Grand Total Yearly = $60000
Hourly = $41.67
If you are among the best NL100 players in the world then your friends will probably be impressed because it is pretty likely that you make more money than they do. Our NL100 superstar here takes home more per year than the average gross salary in the richest countries on earth (see link above) including the United States, Switzerland, Australia, the Netherlands and Canada. Rakeback could also climb significantly higher at this limit due to the ability to gain more and more milestone bonuses on Pokerstars.
Mid Stakes...High Stakes???
Since I have not actively played at NL200 or higher in several years I do not want to speculate any further on the win rates. Clearly though you can see that the best mid stakes grinders in the world will likely take home well over 6 figures per year. This is especially the case when you realize that these are the first limits where one could realistically attempt Supernova Elite on Pokerstars which is worth more than 100k on it's own.
The best high stakes players? It depends how high you are talking about but clearly volume will become somewhat of a problem as these games just don't run that often. Also, at this level there are many non-poker playing endorsements such as getting signed by poker sites, training sites and guest appearances as well. Who knows what these could be worth. You can go check out the HighstakesDB for all of the latest carnage at the nosebleeds.
With a little over two months left to go in the year, they currently list 5 players who have over 1 million dollars in earnings since Jan 1.
So what is the conclusion here? Play like jungleman12 obviously.
Ok seriously though, the conclusion here is that yes there is still good money to be made in poker. However, in order to get it you need to be among the best at the stakes that you play and you need to be playing somewhat decent stakes as well.
If by good money we are talking "going pro" then this would mean probably at least NL50 if you are living in any Western country. If you live in a country with a lower cost of living like Thailand, Romania, Hungary, Columbia, Mexico or the Philippines then perhaps you could get by at NL25 or even NL10. If you are reading this from your hut in Africa and you crush souls every day at NL2, then I would consider going pro immediately.
A Couple of Important Technicalities
Lastly, (as pointed out by Rosh in the comments below) it should be noted that in some countries you are not required to pay taxes on poker winnings. This can obviously be a massive boost to your bottom line when most people are shipping 30-40% of their yearly earnings to the government in many Western countries.
Also please note that in the comparisons to regular salaries in this post I used the "average income" in all of these countries. Average incomes are always skewed heavily upwards by the ultra rich. If I had instead used "median incomes" (the point at which half the population make below and half make above) poker would do much, much better versus the salaries in many of these countries.
That's all I got!
Please note that several parts of this article were certainly meant to be taken as tongue in cheek. Please don't send me hate mail. I do think that all of the numbers that I speculated about are pretty accurate though. That's how much poker players make bro!
Let me know in the comments what you think of these numbers. Do you think there is still "good money" to be made in poker today?
If you found this article helpful do me a favor and click the "Like" or "Tweet" buttons below!