Play Online Poker For A Living – The Most Practical Solution

poker for a living feature image

Estimated Reading Time: 32 minutes

Make a living playing poker is not easy but practically you can make over $1,000 every month from online poker cash games without being a professional poker player but with proper commitments & strategies. 

Learn how to start a poker career and the best way to be a professional cash game poker player in online poker rooms to establish nice side income stream or even full income.    

The “Show” box underneath displays Full Contents & Jump Links for your convenience.

Full Time Poker Player – A Few Facts

Firstly, let me list a few data which would give you better insights on poker industry characteristics. 

Nature of Poker Game Skill or Luck?

Many people still assume poker is all gambling and luck mainly because it is often played in a casino with other pure gambling games. However, as our poker guides like this explains, many researches prove that poker heavily depends on skill in long run and the luck works only in the short-term variance. Let me quote an interesting article of Poker AI bot “Cepheus" developed by University of Alberta;alberta university poker research logo

It may not win every hand it is dealt, but over time, no one can beat Cepheus, a computer program that scientists claim plays a near-perfect game of poker. Cepheus loses to no one over a long enough time. You just have to play enough hands so that luck goes away. Poker program Cepheus is unbeatable, claim scientists

If so, Cepheus proves Poker is basically a game of skill rather than luck. You may want to TRY Yourself.  But again, note the word from Michael Johanson, a researcher at the lab;

I’m sure we’ll get plenty of emails from people who will play 20 or 30 hands against it, win a little bit, and then happily declare victory and say Cepheus must have a bug. But while a human or another program could get lucky and beat Cepheus in a short match, nobody could do it consistently over a long match.

Anyhow, the key point here is that if you play poker better than most of your opponents, then you will win money in the end.

How many people play poker for a living?

Then, what does skill oriented game mean to the professional life? The below is a popular Luck / Skill Continuum;

luck skill continuum without poker

Our bald guess gets Poker to be positioned like; 

poker skill luck continuum positioning

The whole purpose here is trying to look at the category similar to Poker and see how professionals earn there. Considering the individual play style of poker, let’s take tennis as a comparable activity.

(BTW, as you see the details in “Poker Intangible Benefits" section later, there are a lot of similarities between investment & poker. Both are the games of 'incomplete information’ and unlike the game of chess based on 'complete information’ which is determined solely by skill, there is randomness in poker. So, examining the earnings of stock trader or any other financial trader like Forex is one way though, this category heavily depends on the size of capital people can manage, which makes us difficult to get benchmark, thus we use tennis here.)

Professional Tennis Player Earnings

In the professional tennis, men’s tennis top players earn like;tennis atp all time career prize listIn total, 1,078 players earn over $1 million, which is composed of 658 players from ATP Career Prize Ranking and 420 players from WTA Career Prize Ranking.

Professional Poker Player Earnings

What about Poker, how much is a professional poker player salary or prize money? According to The Hendon Mob, the top players career earnings are;

poker all time money list

The above Poker All Time Money List covers Top 514,686 players and 2,050 players made over $1 million. 

Full time Poker player a wise idea?

So, what do these facts imply?

poker black friday
US DOJ issued an indictment against the 3 largest online poker websites

Are 1,078 tennis players & 2,050 poker players big number? We couldn’t find the population of tennis & poker players worldwide, but in the US, Tennis Industry Association shows 17 millions & pokerplayersresearch.com shows 15 millions (this number was 2010 data and after Black Friday – the US Department of Justice seized the domains of PokerStars, Full Tilt, UltimateBet, and Absolute Poker on 15 Apr ’11, it was said to reduce drastically even down to 10 millions) as regular players. Then, even compared with these US only industry populations, 0.006% & 0.021% can make over $1 million career earnings (please note, this is not an annual income but the career income over the last 2 decades for poker since The Hendon Mob started collecting the data). 

It proves both of these activities are esoteric industries like other team sports shown in the continuum or entertainments, writing & art (painting) etc. The great money is concentrated among the few top elites. 

Playing Online Poker for a Living – Verify Possibility

How much do Online Poker players make money? 

Well then, should ordinary people without outstanding gift forget about “make a living playing poker"?

The above poker all time money ranking database is based on only a live tournament results, namely the earnings of the tournament pros. Meaning it doesn’t include any moneys in online poker games which are cash games or tournaments without live. This is where online poker players usually wager their money to win or lose. 

The biggest difference between Poker and Tennis (or many other activities we described esoteric) is the existence of the online real money competition market where anyone at all level can play. 

So, let’s try to identify how much top poker players earn from online poker room. It’s often said that only less than 30% of the total players make money in long-run.

Please bear it in mind that the purpose of this calculation here is just examining the feeling of the magnitude of market & winning with ballpark number, meaning the accuracy of the number is not reliable since we are mixing up apples & oranges for the data sources (we use H2GC, Edison, EBGR, Statista, GVC Annual Report & pokerplayersresearch.com etc.) & the periods as well as using our bald guesswork, just FYI.

poker market size in europe

 

The global betting and gaming market amounted to £347bn in gross gaming revenues (GGR) in 2018, of which £40bn (11% of the total) was online. Poker accounts around 5%, means £2bn ($2.6bn). 

GGR in poker is brought mainly by poker room’s rake + tournament fee, so assuming these are 20% (use very high side) of the total bets, the players’ wagered amounts would be $2.6bn / 20% = $13bn.  However, unregulated online gambling in US is obviously huge. American Gambling Association (AGA) said;

The American Gaming Association (AGA) estimates that Americans will wager more than $10 billion on the upcoming 2018 NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Of that $10 billion, only about $300 million – or three percent – will be wagered legally through Nevada sports books.
Americans illegally bet at least $150 billion annually on sports, empowered by the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA), a failed federal prohibition on single-game sports betting. Illegal wagering is often done through bookies, on illegal offshore websites, or through sports pools like popular March Madness® basketball bracket pools.

Means, 97% of the sports betting is bet underground. However, “The Conversation" also warns AGA’s estimate by implying the hidden market size would be less than 50% of AGA’s estimate. Anyhow, most popular Poker country in the world is US, so Poker can be similar situation. 

Oxford Economics “ECONOMIC IMPACT OF LEGALIZED SPORTS BETTING" report says;

federally appointed commission reported a range of estimated illegal sports betting handle between $80 billion to $380 billion, with GGR of $4.8 to $22.8 billion.

The estimation has a quite wide range, the most aggressive estimate is 4.75X of the most conservative one. So, let our estimate be the most conservative by $13bn / 3% x 50% / 4.75 = = $46bn could be the total wagered pool.

Given the assumption that 30% of the players are said to be profitable, 3 million regulars are sharing this $46bn pot – 20% poker room fee = $37bn, which can be calculated as $12,300/player/year, or $1,025/player/month.  

Making a living playing poker cash games

How much you need for living is a relative term. Minimum wage widely varies by each country as below;minimum wage world mapping

For US, the minimum wage is $15,000/year ($7.25/hour), so our estimated $12,300/player/year earning from online poker must, if not impossible, impose an extremely tough frugal life.

Work-together couple could be manageable unless your partner complains but once you get a child, it would be almost impossible.

Remember, $12,300/player/year, or $1,025/player/month is the average profits among top 30% players, so even you can consistently win, the final earnings could be lower because the top notch grinders must take much of the total pot. 

In any case, being a full time poker player seems to be a hard way to make an easy living.

Playing Online Poker for a Living – Suggestion

poker grinder

Consider online Poker Earnings as a Side Income

The above verification makes us suggest that we should make money from online poker on the side rather than solely rely on it for a living. 

Some of you may think being the top 30% poker player online would be a daunting task because poker still involves a lot of luck in the short run. However, in reality, majority of the online players are amateur and with a bit of skill edges & the right approach, it may not be so difficult as you imagine.

Actually, it takes 5 minutes to learn how to play poker and there are huge number of spill over from sportsbook & casino into poker rooms and those players just want to spend casino winning money with no serious intention to win poker. Playing with such players is absolutely enjoyable (I talk full details of how to locate those fish in this guide). 

The earning we estimated doesn’t include any promotions (bonuses & rake-back etc) which online poker sites constantly offer, so the additions of these regular offers will help you make the second income stream better.  

So we set $1,000 monthly winnings as the target of the side income. And, we will show you the specific method to achieve this later. 

Poker Additional Benefits

As the tangible benefits of keep playing poker is making money, but you can also expect intangible poker benefits as below;

Investing Skill

The connection between poker skill and investing skill is already well proven. Let me quote the article of “Could poker make you a better investor?", which is based on SSRN Research Paper;

Good poker skills certainly seem to help if you’re a hedge fund manager. A new study, Hedge Fund Hold’em, has found hedge fund managers who do well in poker tournaments enjoy significantly better fund returns. “This effect is stronger for tournaments with more entrants, larger buy-ins, larger cash prizes and for managers who win multiple tournaments,” the study notes, “suggesting poker skills are correlated with fund management skills.” Is it possible the hedge fund managers in the sample are simply big gamblers who got lucky, or that they were rewarded for taking extra risk? No – managers who played poker “are not more risk-seeking than their non-player counterparts”. Quite simply, the results show “skilled poker players are, on average, better fund managers”.

Vanessa Selbst, the only woman poker player ranked GPI (Global Poker Index) No.1 joined Bridgewater Associates, the world biggest hedge fund;

Vanessa Selbst
Vanessa Selbst – Example of correlation between poker & fund mgmt skill

The article also said;

Most things in life – including investing – are like poker, not chess. It is a “game of incomplete information”, of “decision-making under conditions of uncertainty”; important information “remains hidden” and there is “an element of luck in any outcome”. Luck can allow a hopeless poker player to go on a winning streak, just as a clueless investor can make a bundle by getting lucky on a speculative stock.

So, poker seems to be “the best off-time activity to improve investing skills”.

Finally, for those who think easy way, the below quote from the same article is useful supported by this article;

Instead of learning poker skills, couldn’t investors simply invest in funds headed by skilled poker players? Alas, no – the aforementioned study found such hedge funds underperform following big poker wins. The connection between poker skill and investing skill is well known, so money tends to flood into such funds following high-profile tournament wins. Size hurts investment performance; as Warren Buffett often points out, it’s a lot easier to be nimble and to make big bucks if you’re managing millions rather than billions. Thus, it’s too late to buy into a fund after a big poker victory.

Brain Health 

Poker can sharpen your brain. 

Poker Night Benefit Save the Date Alzheimers Association
Poker tournament is regularly used by Alzheimer association

Let me quote the below from the blog related to the new research released by Dr. Jeffrey Cummings, a leading researcher in the field of Alzheimer’s disease;

Playing poker is a great way to drastically decrease your chances of developing Alzheimer’s and other brain-related diseases, typically associated with old age, by 50% or even more. Dr. Cummings references a French study from 2009 in his research. In the French study, 5,000 elderly individuals played various games that stimulate mental activity. Poker was one of the games in the study and it proved itself to be one of the most effective when it comes to combating Alzheimer’s disease.

So, are you ready to pursue Online Poker extra income journey?

$1,000 Monthly Extra Income Standard Model

As explained before, we set $1,000 as the target monthly extra earning from online poker, mainly from cash games. We assume we play “Micro Stakes" games, which is as you can imagine the game cost you very small to buy-in. Any cash game that has a maximum buy-in up to $25 is considered to be micro stakes which are NL2 ($.01/.02 blinds), NL5 ($.02/.05 blinds), NL10 ($.05/.10 blinds), NL25 ($.10/.25 blinds), NL50 ($.25/.50 blinds) & NL100 ($.50/1.00 blinds).

Key Parameters (KPI) to Earn USD1,000 / month

So, how do we construct $1,000? In order to develop successful tactics to achieve $1,000, a few key parameters need to be set, which are;

  • Play time (hours): you may be able to spare a limited time for the second income
  • No. of hands playable / hour: you may want to chose faster games for efficiency
  • Multi tabling: you can play many tables simultaneously for efficiency
  • Win rate at different stakes: it’s by far the most important key metric to measure your earning capability

We consider these parameters as sort of KPIs (Key Performance Index), thus, in case you fail to achieve $1,000 per month, you will know which factor you need to improve by analyzing your actual results of each parameter. Let’s quickly set the numerical KPI as follows;

Play Time

Assuming you have a full-time job, you may be able to spare a few hours maximum every day and longer hours for weekend. So, we set average 2 hours every day. 

No. of Games Playable per Hour

How many number of hands can be played per hour? 

  • Six-Max table (Normal Speed): anywhere from 75-100 hands per hour, per table.
  • Full-Ring table: nine-handed online No Limit Hold’em yield 60-80 hands per hour, and it may go up at times when the table has less than nine players.
  • Fast Fold table (PokerStars Zoom, partypoker fastforward, Ignition Zone): yield 200-250 hands per hour.
pokerstars zoom
There are many grinders making a living on pokerstars zoom

Multi Tabling

poker multi tabling
This is exactly how reg plays online poker.

For a newbie, playing even 2 tables sounds difficult, but almost all reg usually play well over 10 tables at a time. With experience, you will actually find it easy to manage.

Win Rate at Different Stake

We use “bb/100" to indicate win rate, which translates how many big blinds we win for every 100 poker hands we play.  So anything >0bb/100 means your poker life is positive profit rather than negative. In real world, majority, say 70% of the players must indicate negative bb/100 in long-run. 

There are clear tendency that;

  • The bigger the buy-in, the lower the win rate, means win rate at NL100 is lower than NL2, this is because there are usually more experienced players in the bigger buy-in table.
  • The more Multi Tabling, the lower win rate, means 16 table play win rate is lower than single table play, because your focus will be diluted

Based on our own experiences & various forums’ comments, we assume very good players (top 30%) will achieve the rates as follows;

  1 – 8 Tables Over 9
NL2 ($.01/.02 blinds) 30bb/100 20bb/100
NL5 ($.02/.05 blinds) 22bb/100 14bb/100
NL10 ($.05/.10 blinds) 17bb/100 11bb/100
NL25 ($.10/.25 blinds) 10bb/100 7bb/100
NL50 ($.25/.50 blinds) 8bb/100 5bb/100
NL100 ($.50/1.00 blinds) 6bb/100 3bb/100

Target Model

We formulate the Daily Earning model as follws;

No. of Tables x Win Rate x Win Amounts x No. of Play hands per hour x Play Hours

So, let’s assume you play just single NL5 game at 6-max table with 100 hands / hour for 2 hours,

Your Daily Earnings = 1 x 22bb/100 x $0.05 x 100 hands x 2 hours = $2.2

Not an impressive amount. 

There are 3 ways to increase this earning by changing your key parameters as follows (we stick to 2 hours of playing time to avoid any negative influence to your full time job);

  • Move up to the higher stakes
  • Increase the hands per hour (more six-max & fast fold)
  • Increase tables

Namely, if you play 5 tables NL25 at 140 hands / hour (combination of 6-max & Fast Fold tables) for 2 hours,

Your New Daily Earnings = 5 x 10bb/100 x $0.25 x 140 hands x 2 hours = $35

This $35 / day makes the monthly earnings $1,050.

It’s just an example to develop a benchmark, you can adjust key variable which will suit your conditions. 

Many people asked “Can I make $100 a day playing poker?", so you can answer by yourself with the above model. 

$1,000 Monthly Extra Income Successful Tactics

As said, the most critical parameter is Win Rate. The benchmark win rate in the above table is based on very good players, so if you’re a novis, you should make everything right to reach those win rate effectively. The key factor of success are;

  • Master Basics: Understand the poker mathematical logic and master the basics first. Remember, majority of online players are amateur, although the number of players with basic knowledge has been increasing, yet they are not serious but recreational, therefore developing the skill edge over this majority is essential. 
  • Locating Fish: Play with weak opponents is Must. If you fail to consistently play against bad players then it is simply not possible to become top 30% by consistently making profits. Learning which poker sites you should go, which poker table you should play & how to locate the fish with sophisticated tools are critically important.  
  • Exploit Bonus: Make the best use of bonuses & rakeback which will improve your profits steadily. Start bonus hunting by measuring which bonus gives you real value, this also enables you to practice poker skills & fish hunting skills in various online poker sites. 
  • Multi Tabling: Playing multi table at a time is a key skill you need to master because it will drastically improve your profits. Use the tools which will help you save time & improve your profitabilities for long-run. 
  • Tilt control: Lastly but not least, even if you develop the best technical skills, without knowing how to control your emotion, you can’t win consistently. Find the methods to avoid tilt caused by short-term variances.  

Let’s briefly discuss each factor.

Master Basics

poker hand range rate lecture image

Make sure you follow the basics. What you need to master are;

  • Pre flop Technical Skills: Position, Winning Rate & Hand
  • Post flop Technical Skills: Pot Odds, Equity & EV
  • Mental Technical Skills: Bluffing, Fold, Opponents & Table Selection, all of these skills are covered in the below guide, so suggest you go through this even you are not a newbie because it may remind you of some key basics you usually overlook;

texas holdem strategies skills feature image

Remember, fish may get luck in short term variance but basically they keep losing and pumping the money into the poker room, evidenced by the recent continuous online poker market growth globally. Most of these players play the game purely for fun and have no intention to study hard to improve. This is the opportunity for you to learn basics right and beat hard the bad players and make money. 

Locating Fish 

poker grinder spot weak player

The importance of playing with fish is paramount. Just following the right & advanced strategy only will not let you win consistently, you need to consistently play against weak poker players otherwise, you can’t be in top 30%. Your profits come from your opponents’ losing, yes online poker is zero sum, to be precise negative sum game considering the fee you pay to the poker room. 

How Do You Find the Fish?
We have a full list of fish poker sites by category as below;

  • Easiest Sites to Win
  • Moderately Soft Sites to Win
  • Low Traffic Crypto Exclusive Sites Easy to Win
  • Highest Traffic Non Crypto Sites Need Careful Table Selection to Win

, which are based on 5 clear rationale to support the fish rate. The list also includes specific instructions on how to locate the tables with a lot of fishes & who is the worst player in the table;

best crypto poker sites feature image

When it comes to spot the bad players in the table, the below HUD software is extremely useful. 

HUD – Tracking Software

HUD stands for Heads-Up Display, which collect data on everyone you play against as well as your data, and display right next to your opponent’s seat at the table as below example;poker tracker hud example

I’s an essential tool to spot easy opponents. You can customize the data to be displayed, and a few useful stats & readings are;

  • VPIP (VP): Voluntarily Put in Pot (%) – Measures how often a player voluntarily puts money in the pot preflop, which is always higher than PFR. 
  • PFR (PR): Preflop Raise (%) – Measures the frequency that a player raises preflop instead of call or fold, limping preflop will increase VPIP but not PFR.
  • 3Bet (3B): How often a player 3bets preflop given the opportunity.
  • Flop CB (CB): How often a player continuation bets the flop given the opportunity, expressed as a percentage.
  • Remember that passive play preflop is often an indicator of passive play post-flop.
  • Generally, the higher the PFR, the more aggressive a player is. The bigger the gap between VPIP and PFR, the more passive a player is.
  • High VPIP / low PFR like 70/10, 53/8, 40/5 shows a sign of weak players. Such opponents play far too many hands passively, called “Whales", and yes, this is the player you want to play with.
  • Normal VPIP / low PFR such as 20/3, 33/5 indicates very tight players, known as “rocks" who wait patiently for high cards, and only like to raise with their best hands.
  • Low VPIP / PFR with a tight gap like 10/8, 16/14 shows called “nits", who play a very tight range of hands, and usually play their range advantage aggressively post-flop.
    Grinders which you should avoid show also small gaps between their VPIP and PFR like the nit but from very tight to very loose range such as 15/14, 19/17, 22/20, 32/29.

The belows are the most reputable HUDs;

Remember, the above software are the tracking tools not only for HUD but also to analyze your poker hands namely finding your leaks & studying opponents to spot their weaknesses. The above links include Free Download for 14 days trial, it’s absolutely worth trying. 

Exploit Bonus

We previously used inflated 20% as the total fee to the poker room to estimate the wagered amount in online poker conservatively. Actually, the % would be much lower, nevertheless the rake & tournament fee are the mandatory cost and the bonuses including rakeback that many poker sites offer will improve your profitability straightaway. 

When it comes to the bonus, never overlook the welcome bonus every online poker sites offer including No Deposit Bonus (NDB) which is basically risk free such as 888Poker (click 888Poker logo at left top to see NDB). Suggest you access to the below guide which covers available types of poker bonuses, the method to measure the value of each bonus based on clearing requirements, bankroll management & key tactics to make poker bonus hunting profitable etc;

best poker bonus hunting guide feature image

Bonus hunting, meaning you hop from site to site discharging initial welcome bonuses, is good not only for making money but also practicing poker if you’re new to online poker. So, try to exploit as many poker bonuses as possible, the previously mentioned Best Crypto Poker Sites – Latest Soft List to Prey Fishes includes both Welcome & Ongoing offers and accepting countries (actually restricted countries) of each site, thus you can start the hunting immediately. 

Multi Tabling

poker multi table tournament image

You need Multi Tabling skills which will drastically improve your profits. If you’re new to online poker, obviously your priority is making a correct decision on each hand & play. Therefore, start up with single table, and gradually (yes slowly) add one table at a time and get accustomed to a faster pace of action. 
If you need time to think very basic decisions like which hands to go, wager amount & EV calculation etc. then multi tabling is probably almost impossible to manage. Therefore standardizing your decisions is critically important here. In order to do that, poker tracking software like Poker Tracker & Holden Manager come into play. As explained, one of their biggest benefits is finding out which action works the best by analyzing your & opponents’ data for almost all scenarios. This will help you standardize your decisions even taking your opponents’ playing types into account.  
You may want to use another software exclusively tailored for multi tabling. The best tool for multi tabling is Tableninja 2;

tableninja logo
Go Holdenmanager site & select Tableninja 2 (30 days Free Trial)

Tableninja will automatically open tables, managing wait lists, compute bet sizes in Big Blinds, manage sit-n-go registration, handle your time bank & provide hotkeys etc, which make your multi tabling plays very efficient by saving huge time as well as avoiding mis-clicks. Watch the below video which gives you better insight on how it works;

Tilt Control

poker tilt

Wiki explains Tilt (Poker) as;

Tilt originated as a poker term for a state of mental or emotional confusion or frustration in which a player adopts a less than optimal strategy, usually resulting in the player becoming over-aggressive. Tilting is closely associated with another poker term, “steam".
Placing an opponent on tilt or dealing with being on tilt oneself is an important aspect of poker.

When people face losing streaks including bad beat like “lose despite the strong hand", it’s difficult for them to make the right decision calmly. We all face such the bad beats and need to prepare for such short-term variances by clearly understanding what matters is a long run and short run is nothing. As you know the advantage of robot is making the objective decision without being affected by emotion. From this perspective, the standardizing your action we discussed in the Multi Tabling strategy will help you do this non-emotional decisions thus tilt control.  

However, we human being still constantly suffer from irrational decisions caused by frustration & tilt. There are many commonalities between poker game and financial trading as previously explained. You may want to explore the best Trading Psychology Course, access to “Basic, Psychology & Advanced Level" section in;  

 
Forex Succsessful Trading Model Feature Image
Check the current available course discounts.

Conclusion

We have laid out the basic model consisting 5 variables which enables you to predict how much you can earn from online poker cash games and how to improve your profits. 

Our basic policy is “Help Ordinary People All Over The World Earn Steady Extra Money On The Side, Which Will Enrich Their Life For Long Term”. This is reflected in our name of GEM – Global Extra Money. Therefore, we suggest make online poker a nice side income rather than a full time income. 

However, as long as you feel confidence on improving any factor of the 5 variables, nothing will prevent you from going into the next level. Full time poker players are highly self motivated, emotionally stable and a true passion on poker. In any case, your commitment to keep learning is the most important factor for the success. After you go through the 3 guides we listed above, the free courses of PokerStars school will be a good materials for further learning.

Whichever the path you take, remember poker is a skill game in the long run. As long as you follow the right strategy & consistently play against people who are worse than you, then no matter how your profits & loss fluctuates in short-run affected by variances, your profits will achieve smooth rising right graph in long-term. 

 

Good Luck!!

Joshua Walker (bio

Editor – Global Extra Money (GEM)