The Truth About Being a Professional Poker Player

The Truth About Being a Professional Poker Player
Many people ask me about what it is like to be become a professional poker player. And as somebody who played poker professionally online for 10+ years, I have a little bit to say about it!

Is it all about sitting at the beach sipping pina coladas living the easy life while you hop online for a couple hours a week, crush some souls and print money?

Or maybe you hop in your private jet to play in the big game in Vegas after a relaxing weekend in the French Riviera?

Unfortunately, the reality for most poker pros is quite a bit different than this.

And unfortunately there are also tons of myths and even downright misinformation out there about what it is truly like to become a professional poker player.

Short Answer: No, the life of a poker pro isn't like what you saw on Instagram or YouTube, with million dollar tournaments and a life of total freedom traveling the world. In fact, for most professional poker players, their day to day life is nothing like this at all, and it is a lot less glamorous than you might think.

So in this article I am going to finally dispel some of the ridiculous myths out there about what it is like being a professional poker player, and give you the reality of it, from someone who has done it.

This is the truth about what it is like to be a professional poker player.


1. You Probably Won't Win at Poker


Let's start with the most important point of all. And hey let's face it, nobody really wants to talk about this!

But I think it is rather important.

And that is the simple fact that most people don't even win at this game in the first place over the long run.

Poker is a hard game to beat these days, and for a variety of reasons, most people end up losing more than they win.

In fact, as I have discussed before, at least 70% of people lose at poker over the long run.

And the large majority of those that actually do manage to win are only very small winners, just above break even.

If we are talking about "going pro," it is probably 5% or less of all people who play poker who are significant enough winners in order to even consider it.

Bottom line:

Most people don't even win at poker over the long run.

It should of course go without saying that a major pre-requisite of becoming a professional poker player is being a proven long term big winner.

So for the large majority of people who play this game, becoming a professional poker player will just never be possible.


2. You Probably Won't Survive as a Professional Poker Player


But here's the other perhaps far more important part about becoming a professional poker player that nobody mentions very often either.

Even if you do manage to become part of that small group of elite winners in this game, it's really tough to stay on top and survive in this game over the long run.

I can't even begin to tell you the number of so called "poker pros" that I have seen come and go over the years.

For a variety of reasons (which I will discuss later on in this article), most of them didn't last. In fact, most of them don't even last one year before it is too much for them.

You need to be 100% self-driven and have a superhuman work ethic in order to survive in this game as a pro. You also need the mental stamina and the emotional control of a Buddhist monk.

You also need to be constantly studying and improving your game if you want to stay on top.

For example, you need to be putting in the long hours away from the tables finding your leaks and fixing them in PokerTracker.

The bottom line is that for most professional poker players, the game is all-consuming if you actually want to stay ahead of the competition and make it in this game over the long run.

This is why most don't last.


3. Being a Poker Pro Can Be Really Lonely


The other thing they never tell you about what it is like to be a professional poker player is that it is really, really lonely most of the time.

Poker is simply not a team sport and the sad truth is that at the end of the day nobody actually cares about your wins or losses. They only care about their own.

And so most online poker pros end up spending long hours in a room (often by themselves), with nobody to really interact with or ever feel like they are part of something bigger.

For somebody like myself who is fiercely independent and doesn't really require too much company or interaction with others in order to be happy, this was never a huge deal.

But I am well aware that this isn't the case for most people. Most people enjoy being part of a "team" and they also enjoy the camaraderie of the office for example, at least to some degree.

If this is the kind of person that you are, becoming an online poker pro is probably not going to be the best choice for you.

What about live poker though?

There is more social interaction if you are a live poker pro, playing in a casino. With that said though, nobody at the poker table is really your friend.

While you can get more face to face human interaction in a live poker game, at the end of the day, you are there to take their chips, and they are there to take yours.


4. Becoming a Professional Poker Player Requires Incredible Mental Strength


As a professional poker player, your entire life will become one big emotional roller coaster. In fact, this is one of the biggest reasons why most don't make it over the long run (5 years, 10 years etc).

What do I mean by this?

I am talking about the never-ending ups and downs that are inherently built into the game of poker. And it doesn't matter how good you are, they will always exist.

By the way, if you want to know the mental habits of good poker players, I discuss it more in this video:



Here's the reality of being a poker pro though.

It is really difficult to win one day, lose the next day, and I am talking large sums of money for most professional poker players, sometimes 10k+ swings each day.

It is very difficult to just mentally remove these results from your mind each day and carry on as if nothing happened.

Because one day you are on top of the world and the next day you are down in the dumps. And this cycle of emotional ups and downs never ends.

This is why I always suggest being extremely well bankrolled as a professional poker player, and ignoring your short term results completely, if possible.


5. Lengthy Downswings Crush Most Poker Pros


But most real poker pros can actually handle the day to day swings. It's not the end of the world. You still ride the emotional roller coaster, but it is manageable.

The real danger for professional poker players is actually lengthy "downswings." A downswing by the way is what we refer to in poker as an extended losing streak.

These soul crushing downswings happen to everybody. You hit a really bad patch of variance (poor short term luck with the cards), and you literally can't win a hand for days, weeks or even months.

If you are a tournament pro, downswings can even last years!

As a cash game pro I have personally had multiple 100k+ hand stretches during my professional poker career where it felt like I would never win another hand again.

And I have some of the best results of all time at the micro stakes online!

Ya, variance can be absolutely brutal in this game. Much worse than most people think.

And the longer these downswings go on, the more difficult it is to handle it mentally as a pro without a good support network.

And like I mentioned already, unfortunately most professional poker players don't really have a great support system. For the most part you will be on your own to deal with it.


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The Truth About Being a Professional Poker Player
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6. The Game Isn't Nearly as Fun for a Poker Pro Compared to an Amateur


One of the biggest things I noticed when I first became a professional poker player in 2007 was that the game was not nearly as fun as it used to be.

Because after all, now I played poker to pay the bills.

And this quite frankly, changes everything.

It wasn't just a hobby anymore. And this meant bad beats hurt a bit more and I found myself getting frustrated with amateurs more easily.

The bottom line is that when you change poker from a hobby to a profession, there is something fundamental that changes about the game for you.

It is no longer just idle entertainment or a fun hobby to pass the time like watching Netflix or playing video games is for example.

No, poker is now a job to you and you also have to win.

Now, hopefully you didn't rush into going pro and you actually are a proven winning poker player, but regardless, you will still never look at the game in the same way.


7. Making Good Friends in Poker is Difficult


Alright, I don't want to throw all poker players under the bus here, as I have met a lot of really good people, especially in my travels. And some of my very best friends are poker players.

But I would be lying if I tried to say that everybody in poker is a fine upstanding individual. In fact, I usually go out of my way to avoid making friends with most poker players!

Because the reality is that poker does tend to attract a lot of people who are looking for a get rich quick scheme, instead of viewing poker as a serious long term pursuit.

Also, as I just mentioned above, most poker players are on a permanent emotional rollercoaster depending on how their results have been lately, so they aren't the most mentally stable people either.

There is also a ton of money that gets liberally tossed around (lended) in poker and, well, it doesn't always end well let's just say.

People sometimes disappear with your money, and it seems like there is a new scam of the week at times, whether it is multi-accounting, super-using, collusion or some other form of cheating in poker.

Heck, sometimes the poker rooms themselves are even in on some form of cheating!

The bottom line is that if you are looking to surround yourself with a bunch of morally upstanding well adjusted happy people, you might want to find another game.

It is an unfortunate truth that poker simply does not typically attract the best sort of people.


8. Most Professional Poker Players Are Not Rich


Another common misconception is that most professional poker players are rich. This also couldn't be further from the truth.

Firstly, as I just mentioned, borrowing or pooling money is so prevalent these days, especially in high stakes poker games, that very few poker players actually have 100% of themselves (or even close to it for that matter).

For example, most of the time when you see that guy win the $5 million dollar tournament he will actually be lucky to keep $1 million himself after he pays off all his backers and the taxman (depending on the country/jurisdiction).

The Truth About Becoming a Professional Poker Player

This is not even to mention paying off all the losses for all the tournaments that they didn't even cash in, along with travel expenses like hotel rooms and flights.

The bottom line is that most poker players are not nearly as rich as they make it out to be and most of them are highly leveraged in the games that they play in.

In fact, there are many well known professional poker players who are chronically broke and only appear to be "rich" on their Instagram profiles.


9. Most Professional Poker Players Actually Make a Pretty Average Salary


In fact, if you really want to know the truth, most poker players make a very average salary of say between $20k and $100k per year.

On the bottom end of this scale, you can barely survive these days in any first world Western country. This is why many online poker pros move to a much cheaper place like Thailand or Mexico for example.

But even on the higher end of this scale, $100k per year is not exactly amazing money anymore these days, again, assuming you live in a Western country like the UK, USA, Canada etc.

The other thing is that most professional poker players do not have much of a safety net. They don't have a college degree for example or any other real world skills.

Professional poker players also don't get a medical plan, a retirement plan or any of the other perks often associated with a more traditional career.

So it is quite a big risk to take to become a professional poker player when the potential ceiling on your earnings for most poker pros is not even very high these days.

It is really only a handful of nosebleed stakes poker pros that actually can afford to live the wealthy lifestyle with the exotic cars, world travel, buy that NYC penthouse apartment and so on.

The large majority of poker pros are actually stuck grinding out minimum wage at NL25 online or $1/$2 live. I did it for years myself, as I talk about in my latest book, The Micro Stakes Playbook.

And believe me, while it does give you a bit more "freedom" than a traditional office job for example, it is far from glamorous and feels like a never-ending grind just the same.


10. Your Freedom is Limited


This next point is perhaps one of the biggest ridiculous myths about being a professional poker player, especially if you play online.

Sure, in theory, you can travel the world, play whenever you want and where ever you want, sip pina coladas on the beach all day and so on.

After all, I do post this sort of lifestyle on my Instagram a lot these days.

The Truth About Becoming a Professional Poker Player

But what most people don't see is the 10+ year buildup to get to this level, and all the blood, sweat and tears involved.

The millions and millions of hands played. The endless hours studying, improving and working on my game. The 15+ hours a day, 7 days a week grind for years and years with next to zero social life.

They also don't see the incredible amount of work that went into creating the teaching business I built (thousands of blog posts, three published poker strategy books, hundreds of videos etc).

Because I knew that putting all my eggs in one basket like most poker pros do (only relying on poker winnings), is a pretty bad idea.

I have discussed all this before by the way in my big "10 years as a poker pro" post.

The bottom line is that most people are simply just not willing to put in this level of commitment in my experience. But this is the price to be paid if you want real long term success in this game.

Secondly, you can't just play poker from anywhere in the world anymore.

With online poker for example, you are limited in what sites you can play on in many jurisdictions like America or Australia.

And if you play live, while there are casinos all over the world, realistically if you want to be a live professional poker player, you need to be in a few select places like Las Vegas or Macau.

This is because this is where you will be able to find the most consistent action and games running at any time of the day.

But you still won't be completely "free" as a poker pro because there will always be better times to be playing than others. You need to be playing in the best games (most fish), in order to maximize your winnings.

For example, I live in SE Asia most of the year (Thailand, Bali, Philippines etc), and so I can't just online poker play any time I want.

And this is because most of the fish are from North America and Europe (i.e. not my timezone!), and so I often need to play either very early in the morning or very late at night.

Even if you play live poker for a living in Las Vegas, there are always going to be better times to play than others.

Such as a Saturday night for example, when all your friends want to go out and have a big night on the town.

As a professional poker player though, you need to be at the poker tables grinding out those tourist dollars instead.


11. Poker is Not Easy Anymore


This last point is arguably the most important of all especially for all you younger aspiring professional poker players out there who are reading this.

Poker is a lot harder today than it was when I was first coming up in this game over 10 years ago.

No longer can you just hop on a couple low stakes games online for example and expect to be surrounded by a bunch of huge clueless fish waiting to give you all their money.

Quite the contrary actually.

Even in very low stakes games these days (both online and live), you can expect to encounter many serious poker players, some of whom are even full time pros.

Some of them study to improve their game away from the tables and even learn some advanced poker strategy just like you do.

So it is by no means a walk in the park anymore to crush these games. It is a lot of work to stay ahead of these players and average winrates have generally decreased as a result of this as well.

Rakeback programs have also declined in recent years if you play online. And the player pool has been split due to government regulation, making it harder to always find good games.

Bottom line: Is poker still profitable? Sure, for those willing to work really hard and put in a lot of work improving their game away from the tables as well.

But the "golden era" easy money days are long gone. You gotta really want it much more than the next guy these days.


Should You Become a Professional Poker Player?


So should you become a professional poker player? Is there any bright side here?

Honestly, I would say for 99% of the people reading this right now, the answer I would recommend is no, keep you day job or stay in school.

Heck, if you really want to be smart, start an online business, learn about digital marketing, learn Amazon FBA, learn content marketing, start streaming on Twitch, start a YouTube channel etc. (by the way, here is my poker YouTube channel).

Because honestly, there are many much easier ways to make a good to great income these days online (if this is your goal), besides online poker.

But hey believe me, I get it. Many poker players have a big dream of making it as a poker pro one day. It's totally natural, especially once you start winning to at least harbour the thought.

However, many poker players also tend to over-estimate their abilities substantially. This is especially the case if they run hot for a few weeks or a few months.

Many of them also severely under-estimate just how big of a mental toll this game will take on you when you choose to play it for a living day in and day out.

The cold hard reality is that most people don't even win at this game in the first place. And if if they do manage to turn a profit, almost nobody survives as a poker pro over the long run.

Now with all of that said, I was that stubborn young kid once and there was nobody on this earth who was going to tell me that I couldn't make it as a poker pro.

I will move mountains, I don't care what they say.

The Truth About Being a Professional Poker Player

My own family told me I was crazy and that I was throwing my life away. I just used it as fuel for my fire.

And if this sounds like you who is reading this right now, then don't listen to me.

Follow your dreams instead.

Because the reality is that some people do make it in this game. Some people do manage to win big over the long run and make it as a professional poker player.

I hope this article has given you a bit of perspective about just how hard that is. I nearly quit/lost my mind countless times.

That would be a story for a whole different article that I may write one day.

But through all the insane ups and downs, the torment, the self-doubt, the haters, the brutal downswings, I came out the other side on top.

And this game did in fact change my life.

I have been traveling the world non-stop for almost 10 years now. I also haven't had an alarm clock or a boss in over a decade now.

And I live my life the way I want to live it, every single day.

Because a long time ago I had a crazy dream and goal to become a poker pro. And there was nobody on this earth that was going to tell me that I couldn't do it.


Final Thoughts


The truth about what it is like to become a professional poker player is often far removed from the fantasyland of million dollar final tables and a life of fame and total freedom that many people think it is.

The reality is that most people do not even win at poker in the long term, and most professional poker players do not last either, for a variety of reasons.

One of the biggest of those reasons is that playing poker professionally is a constant emotional rollercoaster and the lengthy downswings may even have you questioning your sanity at times.

Furthermore, poker does feel much more like a job when you choose to go pro, it is difficult to make quality friends in this game, and the financial ceiling isn't nearly as high as most people think.

Lastly, the games are quite a bit tougher to beat these days, and you need to put in a lot of long hard hours both at the tables, and away from them, in order to continually stay on top.

This means a continued commitment to learning and studying the latest cutting edge advanced poker strategies.

Now with all that said, I don't want this entire article to be all doom and gloom though. Becoming a professional poker player does in fact work out well for a small amount of people.

It changed my entire life for example and gave me the ability to work for myself (be my own boss) and travel the world as well, two things I cherish deeply.

But it has been anything but "easy" and it is difficult to put into words the emotional toll it took at times and the amount of work that went into it.

The reality is that most people should just keep their day job and play poker as a profitable side hobby in my opinion.

By the way, if you are looking to make a decent side income from poker, I recommend grabbing a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.

It will teach you all the strategies that I personally used to crush the small stakes games online as a professional poker player for some of the highest winnings ever recorded.

You can pick up your copy of my free poker "cheat sheet" right here.

The Truth About Being a Professional Poker Player