Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Is Poker Still Profitable in 2018?

Is Poker Still Profitable in 2018?
People ask me all the time is poker still profitable in 2018 or not. Or they want to know if you can still make a lot of money playing online poker in particular.

And this is because some people are pessimistic about poker these days with the tighter games and governments constantly meddling in the industry, just to name a few reasons.

So in this article I am going to discuss if poker is still profitable these days and how to ensure that you are maximizing your success at the tables.

Poker is Tougher Than 5 or 10 Years Ago

There is no question that the games today are simply harder to beat than they were 5 or 10 years ago. Many fish have either gone broke or quit. And many people have simply learned to play better.

This is a natural progression. There are very few people who are just going to keep giving away their money forever.

This is why it is so important to constantly keep bringing new players into the game and to make sure that poker stays in the public eye.

But a lot of people forget that the time of the "poker boom" (which was roughly between 2003 when Chris Moneymaker won the WSOP Main Event and 2011 when Black Friday hit the US poker market) was really a unique time in poker history.

In fact, it was a total outlier really.

Unless we somehow hit it big in Asia one day (China in particular) we are just unlikely to ever see something like this happen again.

Let me explain for those of you who are newer to the game.

During the poker boom everybody and their dog was playing poker. It was all over the TV every night and every celebrity was wanting to be seen playing the game. In short, it was the "cool" thing to do in popular culture.

This meant tons of loose action and tons of bad players.

I remember railbirding (watching) some high stakes games at the time and there were people playing online at limits like $5/$10 and $10/$20 with thousands of dollars on the table who barely knew the rules of the game!

You really can't even compare the games of today to this time period (especially early on in the poker boom, '03, '04, '05, '06) because this was a unique moment in poker history that is very unlikely to ever happen again.

Poker Boom is Over (Returning to Normal State)

So what we really have then is just a return to the normal state of poker today. Many people forget that the game of poker has been around for a very long time, first being played along the Mississippi river region in the early 19th Century.

And it has been popular in casinos and played by professionals and amateurs alike for a very long time as well.

So after the brief time period between 2003 and 2011 when poker suddenly became insanely popular on a much bigger scale than we have ever seen before, it is just returning to a more normal state now, although it is still much more popular than it ever was before the poker boom.

Is poker hard in 2018?

Poker is a game that has a large and loyal following whether it is played in casinos, home games or online. However the game of poker still doesn't have that true breakthrough appeal to the much broader public like movies or video games do for instance.

And there is nothing wrong with this at all!

Most people will likely always view poker as a game of luck similar to other casino games. And quite frankly, I am fine with that.

I don't want them to educate themselves and understand that it is a game of skill that can be beat. Because that would reduce my edge.

I want them to keep thinking that I just get lucky all the time. So they can deluding themselves into thinking that they will finally beat me when their luck turns around.

But this large level of ignorance will also prevent the game of poker from ever gaining that huge level of mass appeal again (and huge amounts of dead money with it).

We simply have to accept that. Poker is likely to always be viewed as a fringe "gambling" game by the broader public. It is better to just keep it that way.

Poker is Still Very Popular (And Profitable) Today

But many people under-estimate just how big the industry still is. We don't need the game to be on ESPN every night or to have every celebrity playing it in order to have lots of games to play in.

Poker is a game that many people especially from Western countries like the US, Canada, England, Germany, France, Australia etc. simply love to play. It is part of our heritage and culture in some ways.

It has also really caught on in places like Russia, Poland, Hungary and Brazil in recent years. And many might be surprised to know that the game is also gaining significant interest in Asia as well in places like Japan, Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.

In fact here is a breakdown of the top 10 traffic sources to my website in the past year. And note that at least a few of these countries would typically be classified as non-English speaking (this is an English only website).

Worldwide popularity of poker in 2018.

So this continued growth (and now worldwide interest in the game) ensures that there will always be a steady supply of new blood coming in and with that bad poker players as well.

What does this mean in terms of actual numbers though. How profitable is poker still today?

Well as I discussed recently, it is still possible for a good poker player who plays regularly to make hundreds or even thousands of dollars a month in the micro stakes games online today.

Beating the mid stakes or high stakes games online these days is certainly no walk in the park. But it is possible over time for somebody with a strong work ethic who is committed to continually improving their game.

With live poker, the games are considerably easier. At the lower limits in particular the play is often like something you would have seen 10 years ago online with all sorts of extremely bad and very easily exploitable players.

Also, live poker rarely has to deal with any of the government restrictions or segregating of the player pool that has hurt online poker in recent years. So the games continue to be good and it is easy to consistently create a very large win-rate.

We Have to Keep the Dream Alive

The biggest key to making sure that the game of poker continues to be profitable is to keep the dream of the big score and all the fame, fortune and bracelets alive.

As you may know, I only talk about the micros on this blog. These are the games where you are playing for $2, $5, $10, $25 online or maybe $100 in a casino.

Nobody gets rich playing these games.

The whole purpose in my showing you how to crush these games is for you to steadily progress through these stakes and move on up to the higher limits.

Because that is where the real money is made in poker. And big time success at those limits (high stakes) is the stuff that makes the headlines and draws the recreational players in.

This is why it is so important that we keep fostering an environment (both online and live) where we consistently hear about phenoms like Fedor Holz or Dan Colman who rip the tournament scene to shreds and win tens of millions of dollars.

And we also need to keep hearing about the OtB_RedBaron's and the WCG|Rider's of the online poker world who climb up from the micros and go on to crush the highest stakes games for millions of dollars.

Is online poker profitable in 2018?
OtB_RedBaron's graph courtesy of: highstakesdb.com
(*Note only includes $25/$50 and above games) 

Heck, it doesn't even have to be for millions though.

Last year I interviewed a friend of mine who has made something like 700k playing SNGs on Pokerstars. And he has a very big following because of it.

The bottom line is that stories like this are extremely important for the ecosystem and future growth of the game.

And the poker sites themselves would do well to take note of this especially when considering changes to the rake or rakeback programs.

If people can see that poker is not only profitable, but can also give you the chance to make life changing money, then it will continue to attract the recreational players in big numbers.

It will also continue to attract all the marginal regs who have big dreams but ultimately aren't willing to put in the effort to make them become a reality.

Work Hard and Get What You Want in Poker

And that really is the key these days. It simply takes hard work (and lots of it) in order to have big time success in poker today. And this quickly weeds out all the pretenders, of which there are tons of them.

A lot of the easy money that we saw during the poker boom 5, 10 or 15 years ago is gone. There is no point in crying over it and despairing the state of the games like many people like to do these days.

In fact, as I tried to explain above, the state of poker today can really be seen as a market correction that was bound to happen, a return to "normal." The money falling out of the sky was never going to last forever.

And what that means is that you need to compete harder for your slice of the pie today. There just isn't going to be some completely clueless fish sitting on every table waiting to give their money away to you.

Sure, there are some ways to improve your chances of finding these players, such as by table selecting and playing on the softer poker sites.

But at the end of the day, you are going to have to learn to beat decent, thinking players if you really want to succeed in this game. And that requires you to work hard not only at the tables but away from them as well.

Specifically, this means that you need to be willing to put in the long hours at the poker tables no matter how things have been going for you lately. So many people are just wishy washy in their play. They only play when they "feel like it" or when things are going well for them.

This just isn't a serious approach to the game. I played 5 million hands in my first couple years playing poker. I literally devoted my entire life to this game.

You can't buy this type of direct experience or learn it from a coach, in a book or a video. And let me tell you, it will absolutely force you to learn and get better!

If you are really serious about poker you could even consider moving to some tropical country and joining a poker house like somebody mentioned in the comments below. Grind all day and learn with a couple other serious and motivated poker players by your side.

Poker does not have to be such a solitary game!

Now maybe not everyone needs to take it this far but I hope it helps show the point. Every single poker pro that I know has played ridiculous amounts of poker especially when they were first starting out.

You also need to be consistently working on your game away from the tables. This means studying your hands (and your opponents) in Pokertracker, reading poker books, watching poker training videos, posting hands on forums and so on and so forth.

The bottom line is that poker is still profitable today (and very profitable for a few). I live in Thailand which probably has the largest concentration of online poker pros in the world.

So I know first hand that there are still a lot of people out there getting very good results playing this game. But the key is that you have to really want it.

Most people say they want great results in this game and get super excited in the beginning. I know because I get the emails and the comments from them all the time.

But when it comes time to put in the hard work on a consistent basis (and especially when that first big downswing comes), we see that they weren't really that serious about it after all.

Poker today is all about the small edges and you can't half ass your way into big success in this game anymore. If you want world class results, then you need to put in world class effort.

Final Thoughts

So is poker still profitable in 2018? Can you still print money clicking buttons online or become the next live tournament poker superstar?

It is possible yes, but it is a lot harder today.

I think it is about time that we just officially declare that the poker boom is over. It has moved on. That ship has long since sailed.

The totally insane win-rates that I and some others posted in the past just aren't possible anymore. At least not without a ton of table selection and a far reduced table count.

But this doesn't mean that poker isn't popular or profitable anymore. Many online poker sites are still reporting very high numbers of players and even hitting all time highs in some cases.

The number of entrants to the World Series of Poker Main Event each year is another great indicator of the popularity of the game. The 7221 entrants (most of whom were complete amateurs) who each put up 10k to enter the tournament last year in 2017, was the 3rd most in history.

So much for poker being "dead."

Look guys, poker is not going anywhere no matter what the naysayers will say. This is a game that many people around the world love to play.

And this means that there will always be plenty of new and inexperienced players coming into the game as well. Which ultimately means that it will remain profitable.

But we also have to realize that we have returned to a normal state of affairs in poker. All of that money falling out of the sky that we saw during the poker boom just isn't happening anymore. And it isn't coming back either.

This means that you need to work extra hard these days in order to create real and lasting success in this game. You need to be willing to put in the work on a consistent basis both at the tables and away from them as well.

If you want to learn how I created some of the highest winnings in online poker history at the micro stakes, make sure you pick up a copy of my free poker ebook.

Let me know in the comments below if you think poker is still profitable these days.

Is poker still profitable in 2018?


  1. Excellent article thanks. It does make me think of that really annoying thing I find as I play on 2NL - Abuse of the Fish, why oh why do people do this?! Firstly just in terms of having some class and then secondly (and mainly) why try and shame or turn away the most profitable (for hero!) players! Anyways that is a side point, great article as ever. thanks

    1. Thanks Thomas and totally agreed.

    2. During the poker boom it was very profitable to berate the fish. Decent chance you could tilt him, and if he left, there was another waiting to sit in. I guess we need to re-evaluate our strategy for today's game though.

  2. Thanks! Your blog always inspires me.

    1. Another great article! I would like to thank you, first and foremost, for taking the time to write these. Secondly, @thomasmatthews you are exactly right! My mentality to poker has changed over the course of the years. I I best my time just as I would a business. Why would any business owner insult their best customers?

    2. Thanks for reading, glad you enjoy them :)

  3. Poker always will be profitable for those who know how yo make it profitable!

  4. I think that with the Trump administration in the US, for a number of reasons I am not going to list it is possible that Congress will remove all restrictions on online poker. I put it at 50% as opposed to 10% in a democrat administration. If that happens you will get your Poker Boom II.
    I'm in New Jersey and play $10NL Every table has 2+ 50/6/1/1 players and half the regs are nitty NJ has just given the go ahead to pool up with Delaware and Nevada and Pennsylvania has just regulated online poker. Responding to the premise of this post online poker is still very profitable and getting better in US and Live poker is booming with almost everyone within driving distance of a poker room at a casino

    1. Wow very interesting comment Jim, thanks for posting. Good to hear that the online games in NJ are good and I really hope you are right about the Trump administration!

  5. The hardest think about poker nowdays,especially live is the frustration caused by watching bad regs and fish crushing the game short term(when they are on a heater) while you are having an awfull month either being card dead or getting sucked out hand after hand.So you may enter tilt mode and spew monkey mode.(Been there done that)And that is what keeps most of the better players realize their true winrate.There isnt an aboundance of money on poker anymore like the old days.So no winning player has the luxury to spew due to tilt.No rich fish is gonna compensate you for your losses anytime soon

    1. Yup I agree with you that the mental game is more important than ever today. You simply can't afford to tilt away a bunch of money anymore.

  6. One comment about RedBaron, Fedor Holz and other names mentioned in the blog. Please remember that these guys are exceptionally talented players. The odds are super high that you will never, ever be nearly as good as they are no matter how hard you work. It is like not all the people can become as good as Lionel Messi in football or Sidney Crosby in ice hockey. I still believe that it is very likely that if you work hard enough you will be a winning player in NL10 or NL20, and if you are more talented than average players, maybe even higher.

  7. One of the reason for me start with poker is, I look at people I know that play poker, never read a poker book or video.
    I even know pro players living on it, that have read like one poker book.
    I thinking to myself, can these guys still make money on it and never put any time aside for the off poker table work, then it still money to be earned.
    On top of that telling me how hard (with out them self doing any kind off off table work) it is to learn play poker so you make profit, like I expect it to be easy.
    I have an education in software engineering, I had 8 MS certification.
    If I stack the books I had to read to get this 8 Ms certifications they would reach higher then my length. That is hard. And life is hard as it is, why should poker be different. I fell some of the people that made tons on money to easy the golden days of poker, they bitching now, because they had it to easy then.
    Like you say to make money on poker now (to live on it) you need off table work, book, videos, read other poker player bloog etc, study your self and your opponents, I add this to your line, use some of great software that is able for you now and then need to play, play, play.
    Play, play, play is still what many only do and not only fishes, so do the homework also (like for me read your blogs and books and some others poker players stuff). I see still good profit to be made, still to many lazy poker player out there. Which is GOOD!!! :)

    1. Thanks for the comment BadMoe. I agree that reading books, watching videos etc. is not necessary for everyone. Some people just learn through pure experience. This is largely what I did because 10 years ago, none of these learning tools even existed.

  8. "live poker is softer than online" I hear that a lot, is that a fact? i've never played live poker

    1. From my experience and talking to others I believe live poker is significantly easier to beat than online. But there are still advantages to online like the ease of playing, the ability to multi-table, game selection and rakeback/bonuses.

    2. If you compare live to online. What kind of stakes are similar online to a 1/2 game live in a casino? Regards paul

    3. I think typically the lowest ones, NL2, NL5 and NL10.

  9. True, every word is true. Even though I don't take the game so seriously like you do. I play mostly for the thrill of the game, for its remarkable merge of psychology and logic. However, your logical chain of reasoning, scrupulous analysis of every facet of the game is very congenial to me. Way to go. Good luck, Nathan!

  10. Nathan what do you think about the new Powerup game launched by Pokerstars ? It does attract significantly more new players but there are no strategies for it .... do you think some people will become very good at it and create one or it's just purely designed for luck only since any fish can beat you even when you have nut flush if he has a Power up card like engineer or other.

  11. Guys, seriously, if you can please move to poker houses (a house shared by other poker players) where the people know what they are doing. I have never done it with poker, but I have this kind of experience with Starcraft 1 when I was fifthteen. I had a friend who was already really good at the game (among the best players of my country). This was around that time when the pro scene was coming to surface from Korea. Anyways, I loved that game a lot, but I could not afford playing too much at my home (the internet was expensive back then). My friend got one of the first ADSL connections at that time, and when he got two computers in his house, I was able to play with him and against him. I was really bad player (but I knew the basics) and at first my friend crushed me every time. But then, I spent almost all my free time in my friends house playing like 12 hours in a day against him and sometimes with him against other players in battle.net. He was guiding and teaching me how to improve and what I was doing wrong. My skill level SKYROCKETED, and just after one week I was able to defeat my friend in one match(I guess I would still have lost the best of 5 or 7 series)!! This worked to me so well in Starcraft, that I see no reason why it would not work in poker as well (or do you think its just a coinsidence that Elky, the sc legend is a great poker player too?). Unfortunately I dont know personally any good poker players to learn from, but I will definetly use the opportunity if it comes!

    It is just so helpful when there are people watching your back, because this game can make tricks to your mind so you dont know if you are doing things right or not. You will also learn SO MUCH FASTER when you play in ispiring enviroment with people who have sick work ethic (people who can play 12 hours in a day)and who can explain you how to do things better. It will give you the clear direction where to go, and you dont have to second guess yourself you are (rightfully so, because you know you are making lot of mistakes) doing right now if you are not that good yet. Getting a coach is also good. If you want to get really far in this game, I guess you must hire a coach at some point if you are not like a reincarnation of Stu Ungar. I guess almost all the top pros of today have been coached by other pros at some point of their careers.

    1. I agree, if you are really serious about this game, a poker house could be the greatest thing ever for you. I know there are tons of them here in Thailand. You can find more in places like Mexico and Malta to name a few others. 2+2 travel forum is probably the best for more info.

      All I did was play Starcraft 1 before poker as well. Although I never had anyone really good to train with and I was never really that good anyways. Still love the game and follow the pro scene though. I even went to Korea to see it live last year!