What Stakes Do Professional Poker Players Play? It Will Shock You

What Stakes Do Professional Poker Players Play?
People often ask me what stakes do professional poker players play. They also ask me what stakes I personally was playing when I turned pro 10+ years ago.

The truth is that is varies greatly depending on the person.

Most professional poker players will play at stakes of at least NL25 online or $2/$5 live. And many poker pros will play at stakes much higher than this. However, there are many cases where a professional poker player can earn a living at stakes even lower than this such as NL5, NL10 online or $1/$2 live.

So in this article I am going to break it all down for you from a poker pro's perspective. These are the stakes that professional poker players play.


What Stakes Do Professional Poker Players Play? Lifestyle


The biggest thing when determining what stakes you need to play as a professional poker player is your lifestyle and situation.

For example, I live in Bangkok, Thailand.




I rent a nice condo, I have a girlfriend and I travel a fair bit as well. But I do not have any kids and I do not own a car or a house.

Also, the cost of living in a country like Thailand is much lower in general than a Western country like the one I come from, Canada.

So my overall expenses as a professional poker player are much lower than some other poker pros.

In fact, this is one of the primary reasons why so many online professional poker players continue to move to places like SouthEast Asia or South America.

The cost of living in these regions tends to be a lot lower than in North America or Europe for example. The year round good weather and tropical beaches are a nice bonus as well!

So for me personally, I could probably get by as a online poker pro playing at stakes as low as NL25 ($25 buyin game) with my current lifestyle.

This is assuming multi-tabling and regular play by the way (4-6 hours a day, 6 days a week). At higher stakes I would not need to put in as many hours.

But honestly, if I wasn't renting a luxury condo in the middle of Bangkok, I could probably get by here playing at stakes as low as NL10 ($10 buyin).



For example in a smaller town like Chiang Mai, Thailand or Da Nang, Vietnam or Cebu, Philippines you can easily rent a modest (but still totally modern and liveable) condo for $300 a month.

Any winning multi-tabling reg at NL10 online is going to be making much more than this each month with regular play.

Now let's compare this to someone who lives in an expensive Western city like London, England or Los Angeles, U.S.A. and has a wife, a couple kids, owns a house and some vehicles.

This person's expenses are going to be way, way higher than mine. I would guess 4 times higher at a bare minimum.

Therefore, somebody in this situation would never be able to get by as a poker pro playing at stakes as low as NL25 online. They would probably need to be playing probably NL200 at a minimum.

If you play live poker, then maybe I could get by at stakes of like $2/$5 but the family man in London or LA would need to be playing a lot higher than this, probably $10/$20 at a minimum.

I think you get the point by now.

So this is the biggest reason why it is difficult to say what stakes a professional poker player plays. It is going to be vastly different depending on where they live, their lifestyle and situation in life.


What Stakes Do Professional Poker Players Play? Winrate


The next most important factor in figuring out what stakes a poker pro needs to play is their winrate.

If you don't know what a poker winrate is by the way, it just refers to how many big blinds per 100 hands you profit if you play online, or how many big blinds per hour you profit if you play live poker.

I have already written about what I think are good poker winrates for online poker if you are curious.

Now, as a professional poker player ideally you want to be crushing the games for the highest possible winrate.

What Stakes Do Professional Poker Players Play?

For example, somebody who is beating a $1/$2 live game for 5 big blinds per hour is only making $10 a hour, barely minimum wage in most Western countries.

However, if you are capable of beating this game for 10 big blinds or 15 big blinds per hour, then you can see that you are making a lot more, $20 an hour or $30 an hour.

Increase the stakes while maintaining a similar winrate and the hourly gets even better.

So this is why I discuss the fundamentals of a solid poker strategy so much for the lower stakes on this blog and in my poker strategy books.

Because my goal is always to be as efficient as possible when I am playing poker.

In other words I want to maximize my table winnings at lower stakes rather than have to jump up to higher stakes, play against much better competition, and endure much bigger swings both financially and emotionally.


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How Many Hours Do Professional Poker Players Play?


Let's talk about the workload next, how many hours poker pros need to play.

Sorry to be so non-committal but again this is going to vary heavily depending on your situation. For example, in my heaviest days of grinding the online micro stakes poker games I was playing as much as 12 hours a day.

However, nobody can handle these kind of hours forever especially when you are playing 20+ tables at a time as I was often known to do.

By the way, in case you are wondering, yes, I use a lot of poker tools and software aids to play this many poker tables and play sessions this long.

For the complete list of all poker software tools I use as a pro, click here.

Now, these days I have also developed a large side business teaching the game of poker through this blog, my poker YouTube channel, various freelance work (I write for pokernews.com for example).

All of this takes up a lot of my time.

However, this also enables me to earn a significant side income away from the poker tables meaning that I don't need to put in such long hours anymore.

For somebody who is just starting out though their situation is going to be different. Like me, in the early going they will probably need to be putting in heavy, heavy hours at the tables.




Forget the 40 hour work week. If you want to be a professional poker player bad enough like I did, then you are literally going to be sleeping at the poker tables.

I think this is one of the biggest misconceptions about being a professional poker player. Some people think being a poker pro is just a life of total freedom, sipping pina coladas at the beach and putting in a few hours whenever you feel like it.

No, being a professional poker player is actually one of the most demanding and stressful jobs you can possibly do. This is especially the case in the early days when your bankroll is thin and you are still trying to make a name for yourself in this game.

Literally all I did for the first 5 years of my career as a poker pro was eat, breathe and sleep this game. I was at the poker tables playing all the time. There was nothing else. And that is why I made it happen.

You can read all about my tumultuous journey as a 10+ year poker pro right here.


Are Professional Poker Players Rich?


Another common question that I see is are professional poker players rich.

Let me tell you that most of them are not. In fact many of them just scrape by grinding it out for long hours in low stakes poker games.

As you guys know, I like to keep it real on this blog and tell you guys the real story from the perspective of someone who has actually made a career out of this game over the long haul.




All that million dollar final table nonsense and the flashy diamond bracelets that you see when poker is mentioned on TV or social media is honestly just complete bullsh*t.

Even the best poker players in the world (who actually do make $1 million+ dollars a year) routinely have horrendous downswings where they will be down $1 million+ dollars in a year.

They never show you this on TV or social media.

They only show the guys who are currently winning big and they become everybody's hero. While last years big winners are quickly forgotten about.

The other thing they always fail to mention is how much staking is involved in high stakes poker these days. Literally everyone sells action these days.

And what this means is that the guy who just won that $5 million dollar tournament is only going to take a small portion of that in reality after he pays off all his backers as well as the taxman (depending on where he lives).

Guys, the truth is that becoming a professional poker player is not likely to make you rich. Now, can you create a comfortable living or a significant side income grinding low to mid stakes games (online or live)?

Yes, you certainly can. I am living proof of this!

Especially if you are smart and learn to branch out a little bit like I have mentioned so many times on this blog before (i.e. coaching, staking, endorsements, sponsorships, Twitch, YouTube, training sites).

But most people who decide to become professional poker players will not get rich from it. You should only decide to pursue this game as a career if you truly have a true deep passion for it.

Yes, it does bring freedom and the ability to be your own boss. Believe me, these are two things that I absolutely love and it's why I got into this game in the first place.

And yes, I also travel a lot and make money from anywhere on earth, often a tropical beach. I wouldn't trade this for anything on earth.

Follow me on Instagram if you want to see more: https://www.instagram.com/nathan79williams

But if your goal is to get really rich in life, then I would say that there are probably better opportunities out there than poker.

With all that said, I am also not here to be a dream killer. Here are 50 poker pros for example who have all made at least $12 million dollars in poker tournaments winnings alone!

If you really want it, then you will go make it happen.


Final Thoughts


So what stakes do professional poker players play?

Well, it depends heavily on your lifestyle and situation in life. Do you live in an expensive Western country? Do you have a wife, kids and a mortgage to pay?

Or do you live a more modest lifestyle with no big attachments in a developing country? These two people are going to have vastly different financial goals as a poker pro.

Your winrate is also extremely important when determining what stakes you need to play as a poker pro. Somebody who crushes the games for the highest possible winrate will not have to put in nearly as many hours as a small winner does.

Lastly, you should be aware that becoming a professional poker player is not the roses and sunshine glamorous lifestyle often portrayed on social media or TV.

It is actually one of the most stressful and demanding jobs you can possibly do and if you really want to make it in this game, then poker will literally be your whole life especially in the early going.

If you want to know the exact poker strategies I used to become an online poker pro and travel the world, make sure you grab a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.

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Let me know in the comments below what stakes you think a professional poker player needs to play. If you are a poker pro yourself, what stakes do you play?

What Stakes Do Professional Poker Players Play?

17 comments:

  1. Great article as always Nathan. I have been a "semi-pro" playing NL50 and NL100 for quite awhile now after starting with your books. I have thought about quitting the 9-5 and just moving to Columbia or Thailand many times!

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    1. Thanks for reading as always TJ. It's definitely not the life for everyone but it works for some!

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  2. Anytime a pro or expert shares some insight is truly helpful for those with similar passion. Thank you for being candid it helps to see things in perspective.
    G

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  3. I wrote a thank you for your insight and sharing that apparently didn't post. Thank you
    G

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  4. Hi Nathan,

    I have been following you for a couple of years and having been playing semi-professional poker for close to 10 years now, it is such an absolute pleasure reading your articles. Your articles are well written, honest and with the passion it requires to captivate the audience. Proper professional.

    I found that with most aspiring and struggling pro's that they lack 2 things
    1. Some decent business acumen as you are in essence an online trader with a bankroll / Cashflow / working capital. No roll, no business. If you dont pay rent.. no home. The most basic about pro-poker is you must understand how income & expenses work and that it is a longterm investment of your DEDICATED time that makes you comfortable, not the fact that you are "gifted". It is a job. You can't sit & drink or sit there fattening up while "trading" margins that are much smaller than you think. Most guys run well, huge roll.. then "PRO" and burn through their cash quickly. NO job works like that. Bankroll is golden fairy dust ,it has magic but bankroll is your EMPLOYER. You don't employ him. Respect your roll like you will respect the cash-flow of a business. Respect the dedicated time to your profession like a CEO would when managing the trading decisions he makes ..like when you getting cute with J8 in a raised pot..Think it through.
    2. You do it alone. Hours and hours of grinding and sometimes weeks before you run well when needed to get back to Zero. Very lonesome life. Very little conversation while playing for a living. Know yourself. The mental fortitude it takes is too much for the average joe. Rather keep your 9-5 and play some tourneys over weekends and some cash in times that you find profitable. Only the mentally strong survive being a pro, talent has very little space in a world of small margins.

    Anyway, just passionate.

    If you ever want to come sit by the beach in Cape town, come anytime, you will love it here. Would love to meet you.
    Win or learn.
    MentorrrZA.

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    1. Hey MentorrrrZA,

      Thank you for the kind words! I agree that playing poker professionally is a very difficult job both from a management point of view and a social one.

      The incredible swings that come along with this game make managing your bankroll difficult at times. This is why I suggest trying to keep your poker finances and personal finances separate at all times. I like to think of my poker bankroll as capital like a small business would.

      As for the social aspect, if you play live poker that usually isn't a problem. But with online poker it can definitely be a challenge. A lot of poker pros where I live rent a house or a villa together. For me personally, I try to have a wide social circle of non-poker players outside poker so I can just get away from the game. But I am also a very independent person so I do not mind sitting by myself in a room for long hours.

      I hope this helps. Thank you again for being a long time reader of my blog :)

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  5. These days I think, there are definitly a lot of at least semi-professional players all the way down to stakes like 2NL. Its mainly guys from low income areas like Eastern Europe, where if a normal salary is 350$ per month, then earning an additional 200$ from online poker is a big help. Maybe most of these guys still have their normal job, but they are not playing for fun, and as such they are clearly not recreational players.

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    1. Ya I agree, you see so many from places like Russia, Bulgaria, Romania and so on at the lowest limits these days. They are definitely not recs. They are playing semi-pro or pro.

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  6. So as a starting player at 25NL how many hands would you call a good session of 4 to 6 hours?

    I guess what I'm really asking is table count 6max 9max or zoom?

    Also what's your thoughts on shorthanded play I feel the the rake gets the best of everyone if theres only 3 or 4 people sitting

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    1. This depends on how many tables you play. I talk about how many poker tables you should play (including Zoom), in this article of mine:

      https://www.blackrain79.com/2016/11/how-many-poker-tables-should-you-play.html

      I think short-handed is one of the most profitable hidden gold mines at any stakes because the edges are so much bigger when you get to play against the rec more often.

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  7. I am one of the many people who play just for fun, and who lose to good players like you.

    I hope this doesn't come across as sour grapes, but I think professional gambling is not the right way to make a living. Almost everybody who has a job contributes to society. Even a garbage man, even a hooker, performs a service. But a professional gambler, like a professional thief, contributes nothing useful. He parasitically lives off others.
    I realize that your 'job' isn't illegal, but do you see my point?

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    1. Hey Allan,

      Thanks for your thoughts. I personally don't get involved in moral and philosophical arguments on this blog because that is for each person to decide for themselves.

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    2. You make profits from other people making mistakes, just like you play a sport you win because your opponent making mistakes. It's the same principle.

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    3. If you are talking about high stakes poker pros, then they do actually contribute with entertainment, just like professional athletes, since people watch TV-transmissions from some of the games. And they also provide a service to rich recreational players, who can have the experience of sitting down and playing with the best. This is something quite unique to poker, since in for instance tennis a recreational player would lose 100% of the time, if he took on a world class pro. But in poker even a donkey can win against Phil Ivey, if he run hot for a session or two.

      If we are talking about low stake online games, it probably does not add much to the experience, that there are people, who play these for profit, but at the same time this just cannot be regulated. At the lower limits most of the winning players are from places like Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Romania etc. I am sure, these guys dont give a fuck, if other people think, they should rather earn 350$ per month through hard manual labour. And honestly who am I to tell them so from the luxury and comfort of an office job in a western country.

      Also even Phil Ivey did not start at nosebleed cash games or 25.000$ buyin tournaments. He and all the other famous pros worked their way up through the stakes. So if this is not allowed for moral reasons, is there even going to be a significant poker scene in the future, when people dont have any idols to look up to? In my opinion poker would then just become another casino game, which seem to be, what some of the poker sites are attempting anyway.

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  8. When you were playing 12 hours a day did you get wrist pain or aka carpal tunnel syndrome?

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