Poker Coverage: Poker Legislation Poker Tournaments U.S. Poker Markets Sports Betting

How Much Can I Make?

by Ed Miller |  Published: Jan 02, 2019

Print-icon
 

I’ve been writing about poker for 15 years, and the bulk of that writing is strategy content. I try to help people learn to play better. For many players, playing better really means losing less.

But no one thinks about it that way. Most people’s ambitions—at least most people who read poker strategy content—start with break-even and go up from there.

I try to make sure to caution people early and often about what’s realistic about winning at poker. It’s not 2005 anymore. Anyone considering investing their time and money to get better at poker should have a reasonable expectation of what rewards are waiting on the other side if they are successful.

Reasonable expectations, I’m afraid, are few and far between—at least judging by the people who send me questions about the topic over email. Basically, everyone thinks they’re going to make good money playing poker.

There are three tiers of winning gamblers (I’ll throw other forms of gambling besides poker in with this article because the same basic concepts apply.) I’ll explain what they are, how they work, and your chances of slotting into each tier.

Tier 1. Educated Recreational Gambler

If you aren’t a full-time gambler, but you’re serious about trying to win, you are in this tier. I don’t know any exceptions. It’s impossible to climb to the top of the ladder in any gambling endeavor if you’re an every-other-weekend kind of player. There’s too much competition that has everything you have, plus they’re devoting themselves to it full time.

There are a few right-place-right-time success stories where someone in this tier, through a combination of knowledge, intelligence, guile, and circumstance, made some huge scores.

For the most part those huge scores had to come from big risks and a big bankroll. In plain words, the people in this tier who do have major winnings to their names were already rich to begin with.

The vast majority of people in this tier enjoy gambling as a hobby and maybe make a little money from it here or there. Anyone asking me the question, “How much can I make playing poker?” is thinking bigger than that though. This is where the massively unrealistic expectations start.

“Hey Ed, can I play poker 10 hours a week and make a zillion dollars a day?”
No. No you can’t. If you play 10 hours a week, you are a recreational player, and even being a true break-even player would be like a 90th percentile result.

Tier 2. The Grinder

Grinders put in the time. Often, they put in a whole lot of time. They are knowledgeable about their game, but to a point.

In gambling, it’s fairly easy to find roughly $10-to-$20 per hour opportunities in nearly any game. In poker, it’s $1-$2 and $2-$5 live no-limit cash games that will always be good and you can realistically learn to beat by reading just a single book. (My book, The Course, was written to serve this purpose.)

You can make this kind of money betting sports by picking off parlay cards and props with small bets at any sports book. You can make it any day of the week you like in Las Vegas grinding video poker and slot machines. You can make it counting cards at most blackjack games anywhere in the world for green chips.

In other words, the gambling opportunities that the grinder exploits are not hard to find. They are everywhere. They are well-publicized. They exist for nearly any gambling game you can think of. If you want to make $10-to-$20 per hour and you also want to spend all your time in casinos and cardrooms and/or travelling to casinos and cardrooms, you can read a book or three and probably become a grinder.

Tier 3. The Professional

What everyone who emails me wants is for me to tell them, “Yes, no problem, you can easily become a tier 3 gambler.” This is what people have in mind when they get into gambling. Again, at least the ones who read poker strategy content and send me emails. This tier of gambler makes real money doing it—say starting at the equivalent of a professional white-collar salary and going up from there.

Grinding and reading books is not enough for this tier, though. No amount of time invested will get you here unless you have something else outstanding working for you. What that is can vary. Here are a few options.

Short-Term Opportunity

This one is easy and what I talked about in my last article. The easiest way to make real money is to identify and exploit a short-term opportunity. Poker from about 2001 through 2008 was one such opportunity. There was a huge surge of marketing money that flooded into the industry. And that marketing money trickled down through the games and into the pockets of the most devoted players. You didn’t have to be a genius to make six figures playing poker in 2004. You mostly just had to be there, be trying to win, and put in the hours.

Any gambling trend tends to offer these similar opportunities. Online casinos were arguably an even larger opportunity during the same time period as poker. So was online sports betting. Daily fantasy sports became the hot gaming trend a few years ago, and in poured the marketing money and with it enough opportunity to hit tier 3 for anyone who took the time to figure the game out.

I expect us to go for round two (on a considerably smaller scale than last decade) on online sports betting, poker, and casino as these things become legalized state-by-state over the next few years.

Relationships

If you want to hit tier 3 and you aren’t going to exploit short-term opportunities, then your task is significantly harder. Probably the next path to least resistance is to exploit relationships. You can make a lot of money in poker with well-developed social skills. The main idea is you find a group of rich recreational players and make games happen with them.

I’ve known a few poker players who went this route, and they make a good living and stay off the radar at the same time. They spend a lot of time texting people trying to get games together. Once the game actually happens, their biggest problem is probably to try not to win too much too fast.

Specialization

If you want to make a lot of money playing no-limit hold’em, it’s possible. But you will have a lot of competition. An entire world of it, actually, and every day someone younger and smarter than you is going to take up the game.

Most of the people I know who have made a good living in poker for many years that haven’t gone the relationships route have specialized. They play mixed games, less popular niche variants like split pot Omaha games, and the like. If you can sustain a game like that in your area and become the best around, you can make a good professional living from it.

World-Class Skill

Or, you know, you can become the best player in the world. This seems to be everyone’s goal. Good luck. ♠

Ed MillerEd’s newest book, The Course: Serious Hold ‘Em Strategy For Smart Players is available now at his website edmillerpoker.com. You can also find original articles and instructional videos by Ed at the training site redchippoker.com.