Can You Make a Living Playing 1/2 No Limit? Here's the Facts

Can You Make a Living Playing 1/2 No Limit?
Do you play 1/2 no limit at the casino? Or maybe you make frequent trips to Las Vegas to play live poker cash games?

If so then you have probably thought at one time or another if you can make a living playing 1/2 no limit. Because after all, these poker games are often pretty easy to beat even for a beginner.

Well, here is the short answer:

Playing $1/$2 poker for a living is hard. And it is pretty difficult to make more than about $20 an hour. However, for a small amount of people with the right discipline and work ethic, it would be possible to make a living playing 1/2 no limit at the casino. Most people though should keep their day job and just play poker on the side.

Now of course there are many other factors at play here as well such as where you live, your expenses, your bankroll and more.

You need not worry though because I am going to cover it all in this article!


Playing 1/2 For a Living at the Local Casino


The first thing that is important if you want to consider playing live poker for a living is plenty of action and good games with lots of recreational players in them.

While there are casinos all over the world and many of them spread low stakes poker games like $1/$2, there isn't always enough consistent action in order to depend on them to make a living.

I would say that this probably won't be too much of a problem if you live near any major city in America, Canada or Europe.

However, if you are extremely serious about playing 1/2 no limit for a living, you might want to consider moving to a place like Las Vegas where you can find a good low stakes poker game at any hour of the day.

However, most major western cities will have enough action. I am from Vancouver, Canada for instance and you can find a decent 1/2 no limit game to play in almost all the time since there are several local casinos.

And if you live in Asia like I do now, the two best places for live poker are without a doubt Macau and Manila. However, you can also find plenty of live poker games in places like Seoul, Phnom Penh, Auckland and Melbourne.

Basically as long as you aren't living in Africa or the Middle East, it shouldn't be too hard to find a good $1/$2 poker game!


How Much Money Can You Make Per Hour Playing 1/2 No Limit?


The next thing you need to consider is your hourly playing $1/$2 no limit. Let me warn you right off the bat, it isn't glamourous.

The best live 1/2 players typically only make around $20 an hour. It might be possible to make a bit more than this in some super deep stacked games full of drunk fish, but I think you get my point.

Now this might actually sound like a lot of money depending on where you are from. However $20 an hour is just above the poverty line in most major Western cities.

Now of course your goal really should be to move up to higher stakes games like 2/5, 5/10 and 10/25. In these games you can make a lot more, $50 an hour, $100 an hour or higher.

Phil Ivey actually discusses this in his new poker training course. It's important to move up the stakes as quickly as possible in order to make more.

So this is why I typically suggest that most people who are still battling it out at the 1/2 tables should just keep their day job for now. It just isn't worth giving up that steady paycheck for such a low wage.


Who Should Play $1/$2 No Limit For a Living?


Another key factor to consider is your lifestyle or living situation. Do you have a wife? How about kids? Do you have a well established career with a solid income already?

If you answered yes to any of these questions then I would strongly recommend against you becoming a professional poker player especially at stakes this low.

It is just going to be too difficult in most cases to provide the steady income as well as the stability that your family deserves. Also, if you already have a solid career (doctor, lawyer, engineer etc.) with a good salary it will be difficult to replace that money with poker.

Can You Make a Living Playing 1$/2$ No Limit?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with keeping your day job and making a significant amount of money on the side from poker as a semi-pro.

The only people who I typically suggest consider taking a shot at playing poker professionally at stakes like $1/$2 are younger guys (20's or 30's) who are single, or have a girlfriend at most, and don't have anything big going on career-wise.

Again, I am not trying to age bash here or shoot down anyone's dreams. I am no spring chicken myself. I am just trying to be realistic.

I am not saying you cannot be a poker pro if you are 40 with kids, but I think that for most people in this situation, their opportunity cost is just going to be way too high.

Also, it almost certainly won't be possible to do it at stakes as low as $1/$2 no limit because your expenses are simply going to be way higher than a single 25 year old living in a small apartment.

Lastly, you should of course also have a lengthy winning history before you ever consider taking a shot at being a 1/2 no limit poker pro. And I am going to discuss this next.


You Have to Be a Winning Poker Player


I know this is going to sound a bit crazy but many people still make the leap of trying to become an online poker pro or a live poker pro at the casino when they aren't even proven winners yet!

Crazy I know, but I see it all the time.

As I often say it really takes around 100k hands before you can come to any real conclusions about your results in poker.

Now if you play poker online you can play this amount of hands in one month if you multi-table a lot. Heck, I used to play 3 times this amount in one month during my craziest days of online grinding.

But with live poker it is a much different story. The best you are going to hope for in live poker is about 30 hands per hour on average.

This means that it would take you over a year to hit 100k hands even if you play 8 hours every single day!

Now obviously that is a bit extreme and thankfully live poker win rates are a lot higher than online poker win rates. This means you don't need as big of a sample size.

But I hope you get my point here. You really need to make sure you are a long term winner before you ever consider playing poker professionally.

Because unlike most other jobs out there you do not get paid in poker just for showing up. Poker is 100% performance based. In other words you only get paid if you win.

You also aren't getting any benefits like dental, medical, retirement and so on which you will typically get in a regular job.

So my suggestion would be to at least have one full year of regular play at 1/2 no limit with consistent success before you even thinking about playing it for a living.

And even better, move up to $2/$5 or $5/$10, prove to yourself that you can crush those games too over a decent period of time, and then consider going pro.


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How Do You Crush $1/$2 No Limit Games?


Alright, let's talk strategy next. What kind of poker strategy crushes 1/2 no limit games these days?

Well, luckily this is actually the easy part. A highly exploitative TAG strategy is still absolutely the best way to smash low limit live games like 1/2.

This is essentially the exact strategy that I outline in Crushing the Microstakes.

You play tight and aggressive before the flop paying close attention to your position at the table. In a typical 9 or 10 handed $1/$2 game you should be playing roughly 20% of your hands.


Or Something Like:
  • All pocket pairs
  • All big aces
  • All broadways
  • Most suited aces
  • Most suited connectors
  • A few suited one gappers

And again, the majority of these should be played while you are in position (i.e. on the button, cutoff or hijack). You should also be identifying the weaker players right away and isolating them over and over again.

Furthermore, you should be looking to make big hands after the flop and then bet them big, even overbet sometimes. You should almost never slowplay.

You shouldn't do too much bluffing beyond your flop CBet and sometimes a double barrel versus weak players on turn scare cards.

The reason why is because you will encounter tons of calling stations in these games. A tight and disciplined approach is the only way to beat these players. You simply can't bluff them.

And that's basically it. This is a very simple strategy designed to absolutely crush the loose passive games that you will typically find at 1/2 no limit.

It isn't glamorous and it will most definitely be a grind. But this is the nature of being a professional poker player. It isn't anything like the bright lights and million dollar final tables that you see on TV.

If you want a more detailed breakdown by the way I have already written my Pro's Guide to $1/$2 No Limit Cash Game Strategy.


Playing Poker For a Living - Work Schedule


Honestly though, one of the biggest issues that most people will face if they try to play 1/2 no limit for a living is maintaining a consistent work schedule.

As a long time professional poker player myself let me tell you that when there is suddenly no boss to answer to or anyone to hold you accountable, it can be very easy to just slack off.

I would much rather be at the beach than playing poker most days!


But before you know it these days can turn into weeks or months. And since you don't make any money with poker when you aren't playing, this is a big, big problem!

So if you want to make a living playing 1/2 no limit then you are going to need to have a consistent work schedule. I would suggest getting to the casino at roughly the same time every day.

And you need to get used to playing for a set amount of time as well. Whatever amount of time that is will be up to you.

But you can't sit down in a good poker game and just decide to leave after an hour because you caught a heater and won a bunch of quick stacks.

No, you need to remain in that game and play for the 2, 4, 6 or 8 hours you had planned originally and win as many more stacks as you possibly can.

Because some days are going to be a real struggle at the poker tables. In fact many of them will. You will sit there all day getting no cards and getting countless bad beats and suckouts.

This is why you need to understand that poker is a long term game. You need to approach it just like a regular job and put in the hours consistently if you want to be successful.


Playing $1/$2 No Limit For a Living - Emotional Control


The last thing you are going to need if you are considering playing 1/2 no limit for a living is emotional control, and lots of it.

As I just mentioned, some days are going to really suck. Sometimes entire weeks or even months will be awful too with countless suckouts and bad beats.

This is simply the nature of the game. And this is when you will be really tested as a poker player and find out how good you really are.

Because anybody can look like a genius at the poker tables when the cards are all falling their way, when you hit all your draws and cooler them with your AA versus their KK.

But for every ying there is a yang in poker. And it will eventually swing heavily on you in the other direction to the point where it seems like you will never win another hand of poker again.

And the problem with professional poker is that you have to deal with this largely on your own. You can talk to other poker players about it. And some of them will give you token support.

But believe me, nobody really wants to hear your bad beat stories!

Every poker player alive already thinks they run worse than everybody else. And so they will take very little real interest in your run of bad cards.

So this is why I highly suggest living a balanced healthy lifestyle and using mental strategies like meditation and visualization before and after sessions to keep your emotions in check and keep yourself off tilt.


Final Thoughts


So can you make a living playing 1/2 no limit? Yes, you can.

But that's kind of like asking if you can be an astronaut. Yes of course you can do that too, but most people should not attempt it!

Luckily there are plenty of high level poker training programs out there these days that can prepare you for playing $1/$2 for a living.

But playing poker for a living is hard no matter what stakes you play. And it doesn't matter if you play online or live either. You need to have the right strategy, bankroll, work ethic, emotional control and a proven history of winning.

Also, I would really only suggest playing 1/2 no limit for a living if you are relatively young, without a family and you don't have a solid career already.

I think there will be very few cases of people with established careers and a family where it will make sense to play stakes as low as $1/$2 for a living.

Let me tell you from experience, it can be easy to dream about quitting your day job to play poker for a living, but the reality often isn't nearly as glamorous as people expect.

It's a job like any other. You need to have a strong work ethic and be disciplined in order to win. You also need to learn how to manage yourself when there is suddenly no boss (this is much harder than most people think).

And ideally I would suggest moving up to $2/$5 or $5/$10 for most people before you even think about going pro. This is because you can make a much better hourly income in these games if you are able to consistently beat them.

However, with all that said, it certainly isn't impossible to play 1/2 no limit for a living. Many people do it. And I am not trying to crush anyone's dreams here, I am just trying to be realistic.

So if you do decide to play 1/2 limit for a living I hope this article gave you a bit better insight on what it takes to beat these games as a pro.

Lastly, if you want to know the strategy I use to consistently make $1000+ per month in 1/2 cash games, make sure you grab a copy of my free poker strategy cheat sheet.


Let me know in the comments below if you have ever thought about playing $1/$2 no limit for a living.

Can You Make a Living Playing 1/2 No Limit?

18 comments:

  1. Solid article as always Nathan thanks!

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    1. Thanks TJ glad you enjoyed this article :)

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  2. Nice Read Nathan Sick beach Pic, Have a Great Day Peace . . .

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    1. Thanks as always for reading Dfox! :)

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  3. Golden Nugget in Freemont St.LasVegas,has $1/$2 No Limit Holdem.The great part about playing there is that the buy in is open.Minimum is $100 but maximum is your choice.I buy in for $1000 as do about three others.Maybe three more for $500.I travel from Australia to Vegas every year for about SIX weeks.Rake is $4 max plus great bonuses for four of a kind and straight flushes.In Australia rake is 10% Max of $16 for pots of $160 0r more.Hard to beat.Plus No bonuses or free drinks or food vouchers.Viva LasVegas.

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  4. I played about 460 hours of live 1/2 NL last year.
    I averaged about 70 CENTS an hour.
    closer to $7 if you count the promotional money earned.

    still paying for lessons, it seems!

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    1. Most people lose money at their hobby :) Keep learning, improving and see if you can get that hourly up in 2019!

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    2. Hey EKW,
      FWIW 460 hours live probably isn’t even 20k hands. You basically had a 20k hand break even streak, which online is a few weeks of play for even a semi-regular grinder. In other words, chin up! The long run takes a looooooooong time live.
      Jason

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  5. Totally agree with what Nathan says. IMO, emotional control is the hardest part when it comes to playing for full-time. It is really painful when you are having a downswing and poker is the only source of your income.

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    1. Yup absolutely. This is why I suggest always playing over-rolled and trying to create some other income sources as well. So many live guys doing YouTube now for instance, smart.

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  6. Hello Nathan,
    i have a question to you.
    online is it sometimes crazy because i get nothing! i am sure you now what i mean. But it is sooo much more than Live Poker.Yes we can say that it is variance but i feel it is so much more online. Do you know why it is so? thanks for answer. Best Regards

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    1. Hey Sam,

      Online poker deals way faster than live poker so it feels like there is more variance. But really you are just getting to the long run faster. This means that you will see way more crazy stretches of hands both good and bad.

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  7. Hi Nathan,

    I Had played online poker in the past, microstakes cash game and had some good success back then. I would like to return to cash games and start again in micro stakes. Do you think full ring is still good? And what are your thoughts about this new cash games 6+ holdem?
    I guess the bankroll requirements should be the same, like minimum 40 buyins for full ring and probably more for 6 man.
    Thank you and you are an inspiration. :)

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    1. Thanks Luis glad I could inspire you :)

      I have lots of articles about 6max and full ring on my website.

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  8. The biggest problem with these live games is probably the required bankroll. Who has 50 or 25 buy-ins of these games? You can win a sick amount of money, but you will also loose it all again to fish after fish. Notice the "can" and "will". :-)

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  9. Oh wow did I need to read this! I have been trying to make 1-2 my primary income source for 6 months now and I have been struggling quite a bit. This article was so relatable though and it's such a relief to know that my struggles aren't unique. I've had a really hard time with playing enough hours and managing emotion. Right now Im only at 500 hours (20 hours per week) at a rate of $16 an hour which is a little less then my rate as a rec player was. I feel like my limited emotional resilience hasnt let me play my A game and that has affected my win rate and that it's been remarkably hard just to motivate to play at all. The games where I live are VERY good and I know that I could make a decent wage if I could be disciplined enough to play my A game 30 hours per week. But I definitely didnt realize how hard that last part would be. It's really hard to imagine having any success if I didn't have a bankroll, a low cost of living, and my youth. My current plan is to give it another 6 months and then re evaluate. Thanks so much for the awesome article I feel a lot better about moving forward having read it!

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    1. Thanks for dropping by, glad it helped!

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  10. I've made it NL2 - get up to NL5

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