Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Should You Quit Your Job and Play Poker? (Read This First)

Quit job play poker
Many people dream about quitting their job to play poker for a living. I know this because I get the emails all the time from people who tell me that this is their goal.

But as somebody who actually did quit my job to play poker professionally over 10 years ago, I think it is necessary that I let you know what it is really like.

Because I think many people have this rosy vision of professional poker being their ticket to total freedom and the easy life printing money from their laptop on an exotic beach somewhere.

However, in most cases this isn't very close to reality.

Poker is actually one of the most mentally and emotionally demanding jobs that you can possibly do. And believe me when I say that it is a real grind.

However, I also know from meeting countless other online professional poker players here in Thailand and around the world that the "dream" is still possible, even in today's games, for a select few who really want it.

So before you go ahead and quit your job to play poker let me tell you what it is really like first as somebody who has actually done it.


Playing Poker for a Living is Really Hard


Let's just go ahead and get the first and most important point out of the way here. And that is, making it as a professional poker player, especially over the long haul, is really, really hard.

If poker truly was the ticket to the easy life, then believe me, everybody would be doing it!

It doesn't matter if you play poker online or in the casinos, there just isn't as much easy money out there anymore.

I am talking about the totally clueless fish, who barely know the rules of the game, just throwing away their money like you would regularly see online and in live poker games 10 years ago.

Now don't get me wrong, there are still tons of bad poker players out there today who talk a big game and think they are really good, but in reality they aren't.

Quit job and play poker

But that totally ridiculous "dead money" from the drunk tourists or the online fish playing 80% of their hands is harder to find. The skill level of the average regular player has also increased.

So what this ultimately means is that what is considered a good poker hourly rate in today's games isn't nearly what it used to be in most cases.

And what many people do not realize is that when you have a lower win rate like this (measured as bb/100 online), then your variance will be much higher as well.


Translation in Plain English:
  • More wild swings
  • More losing days

Not fun.

In fact this is the biggest problem with quitting your job to play poker in my opinion. Handling the ups and downs of poker is much easier to do when you are an amateur.

When you are a professional poker player every bad beat feels like a kick in the guts because this is what you do for a living. It is some idiot taking food off your table with his terrible play.

And since professional poker players also tend to be some of the most competitive people I have ever met, this is even harder for them to handle.


Being a Full Time Poker Player is a Lonely Job


Another issue that a lot of people do not consider when thinking about quitting their job to play poker is the lack of a real social environment.

This is especially the case if you are a full time online poker player. You will often be sitting in a room all by yourself for long hours on end.

For me personally this has never been a big issue. I am a very independent person. But I know that not everyone is wired like me.

Quit job and play poker

Many people need that "water cooler chat" that the office provides. Or just the general banter and gossip among co-workers typically found in the workplace.

As a full time professional poker player you won't really get any of this this. Even if you play live poker or move into a "poker house" with other online poker players, it is still not quite the same.

Because poker really isn't a team game. And in many cases, like in a live poker game, you are actually in direct competition with the people you are seated with.

So for me personally, playing online poker for a living often means hours and hours spent alone with nothing but some music or a podcast to listen to.

Again, this is fine for me, but it might not be fine for you.

If you are serious about quitting your job to become a full time poker player, then you need to understand that it is a solitary and often very lonely pursuit.


Should You Quit Your Job to Play Poker?


So now that I have laid out some of the facts of quitting your job to play poker:

  • More difficult poker games today, less easy money
  • Lower poker hourly rate than in previous years
  • Constant ups and downs (very emotionally challenging at times)
  • Lack of social environment, can be lonely 

You need to ask yourself if you personally should quit your job to play poker or not. Because this really isn't a question that I or anyone else can answer for you.

And believe me, it will feel like a giant leap into the great unknown should you ever choose to pull the trigger on it.

Because there is no way to actually know what it is really like to be a professional poker player until you actually do it.

However, let's get back to that in a moment and first talk about who absolutely should NOT quit their job to play poker for a living.


Do Not Quit School to Play Poker


First of all, if you are currently in university or college please finish your degree first! I was kind of lucky in this regard.

The year that I graduated from university (History/Philosophy - 2003) was the exact same year that Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker and the poker boom really started.

So it was absolutely perfect timing for me. Clearly I was running good before I ever even played my first hand of poker!

However, I know that many other people in the following years chose to quit school to pursue a professional poker career, especially during those early poker boom years when the money was literally falling out of the sky.

Quit school and play poker

I am sure that it probably worked out well for a few of them. That was a crazy time (2003 - 2008) when many young millionaires were made playing online poker.

In fact the current cryptocurrency boom (although now arguably in decline) seems very similar to me. A lot of young people got really wealthy very fast once again.

But I still think that quitting school to play poker (or go full time crypto) was and probably is a mistake for most people.


Here's Why:

Look, we all think we are pretty good at this game and have the skills to make it. Poker is a lot like driving though. Nobody will ever actually admit that they are just average or bad at it.

But the reality is that most people do not win at poker in the end. And even fewer have the ability to make significant life changing money in this game.

These are just the cold hard facts, please don't shoot the messenger!

But the thing about a university or college degree is that you always have it and you can fall back on it if playing poker for a living doesn't work out for you.


Career or Family Man Should Keep His Day Job


Next on the list of people who probably shouldn't quit their job to play poker is the guy (or girl) with a solid career already (100k+ a year). Or the family man who is married with 2.5 kids, the white picket fence and all that.

If you went the higher education route and have a solid career as an engineer, doctor, lawyer or so on, then you should definitely not quit your job to play poker.

Just play poker as a profitable side income.

The same thing applies if you skipped college to be an entrepreneur and you have a successful business. Keep doing that!

Quit job and play poker

The chances of you equaling a good salary like 100k+ a year by playing poker is extremely unlikely.

In fact, most guys who I know that play online poker professionally are not even making 6 figures a year. Many of them make around 50k a year.

Now I know that many people read this blog from all over the world and perhaps 50k USD a year might be considered a small fortune where you are from.

But in most Western countries this is just not a great salary these days.

In fact where I am from, Vancouver, Canada, 50k a year is borderline poverty. This is especially the case if you plan on buying a house or having a family.

The bottom line is that in poker these days there aren't nearly as many people making real money anymore, 6 figures or 7 figures.

So if you are already in a high paying job (and/or have a family to support), then you should definitely keep your day job and don't even think about playing poker for a living.


Who Should Quit Their Job to Become a Professional Poker Player?


Ok, so far I have painted a pretty gloomy picture of being a professional poker player in today's environment. But is there anyone who actually should quit their job to play poker for a living?

Well, I wouldn't suggest it to many people but I still remember when I was first coming up in this game and all the dreams I had about quitting my job to play poker full time.

I will tell you flat out that there was no way on earth anyone was going to tell me that I couldn't do it. In fact when they doubted me, they just fueled my fire even more.

So here is a quick checklist for anyone who is possibly considering quitting their job to play poker:

  • Deep passion for the game
  • Young and unattached (20's or 30's)
  • Adventure seeker
  • Independent minded
  • Can handle risk
  • Emotionally stable
  • Considerable history of proven winning (at least 1 year)
  • 6 months to 1 year savings in the bank (not the same as poker bankroll)

The first thing that you need is a deep passion for poker. You gotta truly love this game even when it is kicking your teeth in for weeks or months on end.

Poker is just a hobby for most people. For the people who eventually do go pro though, it is better characterized as an obsession.

My first several years in this game literally all I did was eat, sleep and think about poker. There was nothing else. At all.

Next I would only consider quitting your job to play poker if you are young and unattached, (20's or 30's). And you are also an independent minded adventure seeker as well.

I am not saying that older folks can't make it happen but multi-tabling online in particular is kind of a young man's game. Also, most people who are 40+ are typically in a high paying career already.

You should also have a lengthy winning history in poker before ever deciding to turn pro. Now it is kind of crazy that I even need to say that, but you haven't seen some of the emails I get!

Being a professional poker player requires you to be a proven winning poker player.

I would suggest having at least one year of consistent success at the poker tables before you ever even think about going pro.

You should also have at least 6 months life savings in the bank.

And please note that this is completely separate from your poker bankroll. Your life savings (in your bank account/investments) and your poker bankroll are two totally different things.


Never Try, Never Know


Alright, I have said enough bad things about being a professional poker player at this point.

While it is absolutely true that the vast majority of people should never even think about quitting their job to play poker, the truth is that it does work for a few people.

At the risk of getting all "YOLO" on you, I will just say it. You only live once.

When I quit my job to become a full time online poker pro 11 years ago it felt like I was jumping off a cliff at the time. And this was despite that fact that I had all my ducks lined up in a row.

I hit the checkbox for everything that I just stated above: young, unattached, proven winning history, 6+ months savings, independent, emotionally stable etc.

But honestly I still had no clue if this poker thing was really going to work or not. It could just as easily have wound up being a really stupid decision.

But I thought I was young enough at the time to easily recover if it didn't work out with a college degree still in my back pocket.

And I felt like I would rather deal with a 6 month failed shot at being a poker pro than a life-time of regret over what might have been.

Quit job and play poker
My workstation near the beach in Da Nang, Vietnam earlier this year

I gotta be honest though, I am still yet to get super rich playing this game. But poker has allowed me the freedom to live life on my own terms as well as travel the world and live in paradise year round.

Poker also allowed me to create a large side business teaching the game which continues to grow (3 books, video course, blogging, freelance writing, coaching, youtube and so on).

So for me, (and this is just for me personally), yes I can say it was worth taking the shot. And if given the chance I would absolutely do it all over again.


Final Thoughts


So what is the final verdict here? Should you quit your job and play poker for a living?

Well, I would say that in the vast majority of cases it is probably a bad idea. If you are still in school, have a high paying career or you are a family man, I would not suggest it.

There are very few people who are truly capable of surviving as a full time professional poker player over the long run. Because it doesn't matter how good you are, this game will chew you up, spit you out and bury you again and again.

And nobody is going to want to hear your bad beat stories, believe me. You need to be able to keep your sanity even when it feels like you are never going to win another hand again.

However, there will always be a small group of people out there who are made for this crazy game. And there are some obvious benefits that go along with it. The ability to be your own boss and choose when and where you work to name a few.

If you want to know how I became a micro stakes poker pro and travel the world, make sure you pick up a copy of my free poker strategy book.


Let me know your thoughts in the comments below on quitting your job to play poker full time. Would you ever consider it?

quit job play poker

18 comments:

  1. I am always wondering which stakes are you playing. 25nl? 50nl? Don't tell me you can live with playing 10nlz or multi tabeling 10nl.

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    1. I play at the micros and sometimes higher if it is a good game. Some people can make a living playing very low stakes depending on where they live and their life situation.

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    2. Living in a low cost country like me(southern europe) you can make 900-1500usd/month if you are a solid player and live above the poverty line.No boss no fuss no rain no train every morning.But you have to put volume and hate life sometimes no matter how passionate you are about the game.Playing tired or absent minded or worried about personal matters will make your game suck and your winrate ravaged.working tired in an office wont result in a negative paycheck at the end of the day.

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    3. Hey Nathan,

      Nice article! Can you show some recent recent graphs of yours? And what stakes you play nowadays?
      I'm not running very well lately. I need something good to see to keep going :(

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    4. Thanks Roland glad you enjoyed! I post my graphs from time to time on social media. I play all micro stakes games, sometimes higher.

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  2. Great article as always Nathan. I have played full-time under various circumstances over the last 2 years. But I'm under the category of, "can always find a corporate job" - I'm sure you can see since we are connected in LinkedIn.

    One of the things that I would add is that yes, downswings suck, but when you are on an upswing, there is no better job in the world. Period. You can offer me to be a porn star, an astronaut or the lead guitarist for Aerosmith, whatever, I would take poker player over that. There is simply no better feeling in the world.

    Yes, I understand that your article is generally trying to discourage people - it is absolutely a rough grind when things aren't quite going your way. But I don't regret the times when more than 80% of my income was from poker and wouldn't think twice of doing it again if the need arises.

    Congrats to you for keeping it going for more than 10 years, not an easy feat!

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    1. Thanks Dennis and I agree with you.

      I was mostly speaking to the 90% or so of people, who for whatever reason (lack of poker ability, discipline, work ethic, tilt control), won't ever be able to play poker for a living.

      For the 10% or so out there like yourself who have done it, or could do it, I don't need to say anything to them. They will just go ahead and do it.

      And ya, I did forget to mention how fun the upswings are! :)

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  3. Nice post. You forgot to mention there are no sick leave, holiday pay, pension pay that a full time job provides you with. So you have to be even more diligent in handling your finances.

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    1. Yup good points Ryan especially for people who come from countries that have a significant social safety net.

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    2. Holiday, sick days, all come from your pocket, though indirectly. Your monthly salary is decreased in other to have this benefits, through taxes, insurance, etc. But that's a discussion for an economic forums.

      For all the self-employed people, you have to administer your "safety money", be prepared for holidays, sick days. It's tough to have the discipline to save something each month, realizing you're making less money to be prepared for emergencies.

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  4. I made a lot of money back in the day playing semi-professional (still had a job) online fixed limit at 888. Occasionally, just for fun I watch the games now and I think it's next to impossible to be a big winner in today's games. Too many people understand the game well now and the fish are nowhere near as prevalent as they once were. Also, big fish would just get crushed so quickly in today's games that if they were playing, it wouldn't be for very long. The poker boom was a once in a lifetime thing that will never come back.

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    1. Very true Adman, the games on the traditional poker sites are not always that easy these days. Same even goes for some live games.

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  5. Great post, Nate. I like the reality check vs rose colored glasses. I'm actually about to go full time for my own business instead of a "regualar job," and there are still a lot of good (applicable) points here. Thanks!

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    1. Nice Anthony, I think there are a lot of similarities between being a professional poker player and a small business owner. A lot of the skills translate. All the best with your new venture!

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  6. Great Read BlackRain79 hope Thailand is treating You well hope to go there sometime, here is some grind music . . . 🦊 😎
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_G39GOUaaM

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    1. Thanks Fox, be sure to let me know if you ever stop by Thailand!

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  7. Great post, showing the good, the bad, the ugly of making this a living.

    Just a curiosity, 50k a year in Vancouver may be borderline poverty, where I live, Brazil, 50k a year is what doctors, professors, judges make. It's crazy.

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    1. Ya it really depends where you live. This is why I like working online, making money in a strong currency like dollars/euros, and then living in a place where that goes a long way.

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