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A Foolproof Plan to Becoming a Professional Poker Player

by Daniel Negreanu |  Published: Apr 24, '15


I think the most important aspect of dealing with kids like this is to have an honest, coaching conversation with them. One that illustrates the complexities involved in making a living gambling. You don’t want to come from, “It’s not possible,” because obviously it is. There are thousands of professional poker players in the world, but I can’t think of a handful of pros that are successful today that are not treating it like a serious job and working hard both playing and studying the game.

So my intention in this coaching conversation is to really illustrate what it takes to make a living doing this. To have them fully understand what it really looks like, but doing so in such a way where it’s they themselves that are realizing it, rather than me preaching to them that they shouldn’t bother trying.

I start by explaining to them that a professional poker player is a small business owner, in the business of entertaining their customers (players who aren’t as skilled as they are). Most every successful business has a mission statement. Since this is a one man small business let’s call it a vision statement.

The vision statement should be one to two sentences on exactly what you want to see for the company. You are the company of course, so I would encourage you to write this vision statement now. It could look something like this:

My vision in poker is to use it as a vehicle to create abundance in my life. To passionately dedicate myself to learning, improving, and developing my skills, while also being financially responsible.

That’s just one example, you need to write one that speaks to you personally because you will be coming back to this statement often. It is the statement that will guide you during your career. The next step is to get a little more specific and quantify what abundance looks like for you. A concrete yearly income you are hoping to achieve. For this example, let’s use $100,000 as the goal.

So now we have the vision statement and the goal, next up is the HOW. The real plan. Drawing from our vision statement, we need to make sure that our plan is financially responsible and that we are continuing to develop our skills away from the table. To hit the $100,000 a year mark, it also requires that you are able to gauge how much money you can expect to make hourly in the game you are playing.

For example, let’s say your bankroll and skill level have you playing $2-$5 no limit hold’em at Bellagio. It’s important to know how much that game is worth to you. The best place to start would be to ask around and see what the best player in that game can expect to make, then deduct about 30% from that total. Yes, you may become the best player in that game, but until you have proven you can be, lets assume you are still in the learning phase and shouldn’t expect to jump out of the gate and be the best player at the table.

Based on what I’ve heard, the best players in that game may make as much as $30 an hour. Deduct 30% from that, if all goes well you can target $21 an hour. To make the math easier, let’s just make it $20 flat per hour. Since our goal is to make $100,000 a year, now we can have a rough idea of how many hours we actually need to spend at the table playing poker. That comes to 5000 hours a year playing. If we break down that further, that comes to 417 hours a month, which breaks down to over 100 hours a week! This is before we even add all of the study hours required to be in line with our vision statement. For ever 10 hours of play, you should add at least two hours of study time. Add on another 1000 hours a year of study, which boils down to 14 hours a week.

So now we have you playing 105 hours a week, and studying around 14 hours a week for a total close to 120 hours in a week. Do you know how many hours are in a week? 168. If you plan on sleeping 8 hours a night, that's another 56 hours a week. With work/study at 120 and sleep at 56, that totals 176 hours a week.

Uh oh, Houston we have a problem! While your vision statement was quite clear as was your goal, your plan just isn’t feasible. It’s just not humanly possible unless you plan on skipping out on sleep entirely and having absolutely no social life whatsoever! No matter how good you play, your plan is destined to fail and it will.

So the most obvious thing to adjust is your expectations on your yearly income. Maybe lowering it from $100,000 down to $50,000 a year. To save time, let’s assume you can make a plan work where you make $50,000 a year working very hard. Will this allow you to create abundance in your life? Maybe, maybe not. That depends on your monthly nut, meaning how much your expenses cost you monthly. We are also going to assume you are a law abiding citizen who pays their income tax, so right off the bat let’s whack of 30% of that $50,000 a year. That leaves you with $35,000 to spend over a 12 month period, or about $2900 a month.

You want a car, you will have rent to pay, and I assume you also may want to eat food at some point. Maybe even have a telephone and wifi in your apartment. So let’s say you find an apartment for $1200 a month, spend another $300 on your car and gas, and then $1000 a month for food. That’s $2500 total, leaving you $400 a month to cover EVERYTHING else! Not to mention the fact that you need to maintain a bankroll big enough to deal with the inevitable swings. Heaven forbid you ever have to fix your car or get a speeding ticket!

If you aren’t playing with a bankroll big enough to play the games you want and live the lifestyle that you want, then what is your plan if you run out of funds? How will you stay in action? Borrowing from friends is one option, but how will you ever build a bankroll big enough to pay them back? At best, you have an extra $400 a month. If you borrowed $5000 it would take two years of everything going perfectly for you to pay them back. How many people do you know that will loan you $5000 on the hope of being paid back in two years if all goes well? So you will get staked you say? Ok, so now someone is putting up the money for you to play in the $2-$5 game and you get to keep 50% of your winnings. Now you will also have to slash your monthly earnings to $1450 a month while your living expenses are at $2500. You are still underwater. Well what if I get staked to play higher limits? OK, so you are going to find a backer to put you in $5-$10 games where you have no experience, there are tougher players, and your win rate isn’t guaranteed to be any higher than the $2-$5? Good luck with that.

This is all painting a dark picture by design. It is the reality that most of you who are hoping to become professional poker players face. One that can’t be ignored. Is it possible that you have the work ethic, the modest monthly nut, the skill set, the emotional stability, the drive, the will, the bankroll, etc. Sure, but don’t be fooled. There are maybe 2%-5% of people that can make this lifestyle work. Less than 5% of ball players in the minor leagues will ever make the big leagues. Even less high school football players putting on weight in the hopes of an NFL career will make it. There are many careers where the odds are heavily stacked against you. There are heroes, those special people who have “it” and find a way to make it, but most will fail. This holds true in poker as well.

My intention wasn’t to discourage you from chasing your dreams, whatever they may be. My intention was to illustrate to you that it will require HARD WORK. It will not be as easy as it looks on TV. Are you willing to put in all that hard work, all the while knowing that even if you do, it still may not be enough?
Any views or opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the ownership or management of


almost 2 years ago

Best blog he has written. Tells the truth "Hard Work".


almost 2 years ago

Good blog. However there are a few things he did forget to mention: FICA at around 12.5%, life insurance (if married), health insurance, car insurance, state and possibly local tax (he might have included them in the 30%), travel time to and from casino. Other than these few things, I feel that he hit the nail right on the head.


almost 2 years ago

Although I agree that you have to treat poker as a business if you are going pro, let's paint a more realistic picture of what expenses really look life for those that don't have their own personal chef.

Rent for a one bedroom in Las Vegas: $700
Utilities: elec, internet, etc. $300
Food: $400, less if you eat with your comps
Car + insurance + gas: $400
Total: $1800

If you make $20 hr x 2080 hrs (full work year) you get $41,600
Taxes are not 30% in this bracket but for sake of argument we will use it. Gross after taxes: about $29,000
Monthly income: about $2,400.
Income - nut = $800 disposable income every month.

Anyone working their tail off now at a job they hate have an extra $800 at the end of every month? Me neither.


almost 2 years ago

Except floating flops - if you worked at a regular job that pays $20/hr - you get a paycheck every two weeks - the income tax is already taken out and your employer pays half of your social security. (6.65%) Plus you might even get two weeks paid vacation to go to the WSOP in Las Vegas.

Self-employed as a pro poker player, you aren't guaranteed any income and you owe 15.3% self-employment tax in lieu of social security.

You can't reduce a decision like this to accounting - you have to be comfortable making your living in a skill/talent based business that has nine folks at your place of business who believe they are as talented/skilled as you are - all wanting to take your money. It's the same world faced by writers, actors, musicians, comedians, artists, and professional golfers. The rewards at the top are extreme but there are no guarantees that more than 2% will ever reach those heights. Even established players are eager to take on sponsors - write books / do commercials/ sell teaching videos etc to make some income away from the felt.


almost 2 years ago

$1,000 per month for food? And you are a vegan?


almost 2 years ago

$1,000 per month for food? And you are a vegan?


almost 2 years ago

This is the most lucid response to want-to bes I've ever read. Well done, Daniel!! Hub


almost 2 years ago

Good article Daniel. Having been a successful pro and semi pro for 20+ years I've seen many hopeful pros be losing players - they just are not as good as they think they are and play too high too fast. It is critical to keep careful records of hourly results for each game you play, where you played, and how many hours. Then analyze that data and eliminate or fix any leaks. If you are losing at stud, quit playing stud at that limit until you improve, or drop playing it. The point is, you have to build in some losses and variance for also learning new games and improving, so you can't simply say you can make a certain hourly rate playing 8 hours a day. In addition to study hours there is also losing money as you learn something new. Then if you play some tournaments that can set you back too, or propel you forward with a big score - but you need to carefully budget in tournaments, travel costs, etc.

It is hard to make a comfortable living and be able to save and build a bigger bankroll unless you can be in the top 10% playing 10-20 NL/PLO or 40-80 Limit games and be making $120 - $160/hr, at a minimum. This level takes a bankroll of $80,000, and that is if you have 6 months of living costs as savings on the side and you are a world class player. That means playing at just a few places in the world where you can play at that level consistently, and the competition is very tough so to be in the top 10% is even tougher. And these stakes are just mid-level grinding.

Playing 100-200 or higher (I've played and beat the games up to the 400-800 level but that is my cap of experience) almost becomes easier in terms of competition as one or two wealthy non-pros feed those games and they may play a lot worse than anyone playing 40-80, in my experience, but the pros in those games all play better than the 40-80 pros. But to play that high takes a correspondingly big bankroll, so if you want to build up you need a good saving plan as a small business owner.

Then, don't go blow your winnings at craps, sports betting, etc.

It is a hard way to make an easy living, as the saying goes.

My two cents. Good luck, and most of all enjoy what you do!


almost 2 years ago

One last comment. Daniel Negreanu is one of the hardest working, most likable and talented players I've had the pleasure of knowing and watching over the years and he so deserves to be in the Poker Hall of Fame. Congratulations!


almost 2 years ago

So what's the solution?! We get that hard work is required.thats true for most careers that you want success in. How do we build up our bank role so that we can put in the time to study and play? Please outline the best path that you recommend too about this.


almost 2 years ago

The solution is find a good coach that can help you out! Some1 that knows how the business works... Atleast that worked for me! Great post!


over 1 year ago

hey Daniel Negreanu
thanx for sharing great and very useful information of all love rof poker game,,,its very useful for new poker player who begin his game.....and also useful for who are beat some step of poke rtips and poker startgies....i love this blog.....great experience....


4 months ago

Finiciall planning asside.
Most people dont realize how hard it is to deal with an unsecure income.
Not getting paid for vacation and paid sick time.

People only look at million dolalr winners and think yea easy life.
well yea if you win a couple mil on tournaments then yes.

reality for most is that they rely on their monthly winnings.
and this may be even the reason why so many aint make it. its not for everyone, just like having a business isnt for everyone.

you need to be resistant against that pressure that never ends.
that lifestyle where you simply aint have a afternoon off. not really.
youre always a little bit with your head at work, at least you should be. no matter if poker pro, business owner or some other sort of professional like in sports.

you aint have 9-5, steady paychecks, you even wont have an easy mortage if you wanna buy a house (go to a bank and say yea i have a monthly fixed income at 3k playing 2-5 goog luck with that).

no this kind of life has many benefits like freedom, independence and no real boss talking down to you. but with that comes the responsibility for everything. if your boss makes a mistake in his business he will pay for it, but now you will both benefit and pay for any decision you do.

that may soudn fine, but when you living depends on it, its really not a cup for everyone. most people wont understand until they tried it out themself.

personally i cant think of a better way to life as a self sustainable business (no mater which kind) but it really is something for a few