How much can a poker pro expect to win?

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Every time I do a webinar, where members of my training site, JonathanLittleSecrets.com, can log in and ask me questions, I find myself answering one specific question every time. It is “When should I become a professional poker player?” To hopefully avoid re-answering the same again in the future, here are my thoughts on the subject.

Let’s assume you play $2-$5 no-limit hold’em at a local cardroom, which is around the stakes most people play that ask the question. The reason this is the general stake is because it’s the highest level played at most local cardrooms and most players that can beat this game feel like they are awesome at poker. Let’s assume you make $50 per hour. When I played $5-$10 at Bellagio a few years back, over the course of a summer, playing around 60 hours per week, I made around $100 per hour. Seeing as $2-$5 is half as big as $5-$10, we can assume $50 per hour is a decent, while sustainable win rate. So, if you play 40 hours per week, you will make around $8,000 per month, which sounds great.

There are a few problems with this nice $96,000-per-year salary. First, no one wants to play 40 hours per week. I found myself constantly wanting to take days off or cut sessions short because I simply didn’t enjoy sitting at the table for numerous hours. Also, most players feel a desire to take time off when they’re winning or losing. Because of this, you will probably only be able to get in 30 hours per week. We’re now looking at $72,000 salary.

Next, you have to pay taxes. Assuming you pay your full 20 percent or so, you’ll actually bring in $57,600 or so, which still isn’t too shabby. You’ll probably need to buy medical insurance, which will cost around $200 per month, bringing your profit to $55,200 a year. While this doesn’t sound bad, you also need to set aside money for retirement, which will set you back around $10K per year, though you’ll eventually get that back at some point. You’ll be left with around $45K per year to live off and spend while trying to grow your bankroll.

It should be noted that it is suicide to try to become a professional without at least a year’s worth of living expenses set aside and a nice bankroll, at least 50 buy-ins for cash games. So, if you spend $3K per month, you need at least $61,000 before even considering becoming a pro.

There are numerous factors that should greatly weigh on your decision to become a pro player. If you have a family, your expenses will be much more and probably will increase as time goes forward, especially if you have young children. You’ll also find it hard to justify putting in numerous hours at the table while you miss your child growing up. This will often result in playing during non-peak hours, which will dramatically cut your win rate. If you have a job that pays well, you’ll also find a tough time justifying the move. If you make $40 per hour at your job, which is a nice, secure paycheck, there is really no reason to rely on poker, even if your actual hourly rate will be slightly better.

One thing most players don’t consider when going pro is you may not be as good as you think you are. If you don’t have a long track record of winning, you shouldn’t even consider it. I would estimate that you need at least a 500-hour sample in the given game you plan on playing before going for it. These 500 hours will also have let you grind up an adequate bankroll for the game. Ideally this will let you know what your win rate it is.

You may find you enjoy poker as a hobby and not a job. I suggest taking some vacation time and play poker as you would if you were a professional before quitting your job. This will hopefully let you know what it feels like to play poker every day.

In the end, if someone hates their 9-to-5 job and wants to play poker, they are probably going to do it. Make sure the decision is the correct one, because if you’re wrong you may be left with a wasted year and no bankroll. If you have any questions or comments please email me at support@jonathanlittlesecrets. com.

— Jonathan Little is the Season 6 WPT Player of the Year and is a representative for Blue Shark Optics. If you want to learn to play a loose-aggressive style, which will constantly propel you to the top of the leaderboards, check out his poker training website at FloatTheTurn.com.