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Quitting For Poker

by Greg Raymer |  Published: Feb 26, 2020

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Greg Raymer Please let me encourage you to reach out to me with article ideas and questions for future columns. You can tweet to me at @FossilMan, or send me a message at info@fossilmanpoker.com.

I want to address a question I am asked a lot. It usually goes like this: I am thinking of quitting my job (or dropping out of school) and becoming a full-time poker pro; what advice can you give me?

The short answer is, “Don’t do it!”

Most of the time I am asked this, I have not actually seen this person play poker, and have no idea how well they play. Despite this lack of information, I am comfortable saying that most who ask this question are simply not skillful enough at poker to make a living at it. Some of them will even say that they are not currently a winning player, yet believe that if they quit their job and focus on poker full-time, they will quickly become a winning player.

Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. Getting better takes a lot of time and effort, and most of that effort happens away from the table. To improve you can’t just play, you need to spend time reading books, utilizing training sites, studying training videos, reading this magazine, and the like. Different people learn better using different tools, but nobody gets very good without making a serious effort at improving their game, away from the table.

For decades, I have heard people talk about what percentage of regular players are long-term winners in the game, and usually the estimate is 10 percent, or less. I think this number is reasonable. However, many of those long-term winning players are winning at a very low rate. If you want to make a living at this game, you need to win at a rate that is high enough to cover all your expenses, and then some. The percentage of regular players who can accomplish this at their current skill level is probably as low as 2 percent, maybe less. So, most of those who ask me about turning pro, simply can’t cut it.

Now, of those who have the skill, or who could gain that skill with some hard work, most will still fail as a full-time pro. There are countless stories of strong, winning players who are broke because they lost their poker profits somewhere else. There are some amazing poker pros who regularly lost all their money at the craps table. Or, they lost it all betting sports, or some other form of gambling where they did not have an edge against the house. There are others who started using drugs or became alcoholics, and either spent their money there, or as a result of those addictions lost their ability to play at a high level.

Then, there are those who play well, finally win some big money (often in a tournament), and then spend a lot of that money on luxuries. They feel like they have finally made it, and from that point forward, they expect the large wins to continue. When the inevitable period of run-bad hits, they have no extra bankroll to fall back on, and go broke. That $100,000 sports car they bought a year ago only gets them $40,000 when they are forced to sell it. Similar numbers for their high-end watch and expensive jewelry. Based upon what I have seen, I would guess that half or more of the players who have the necessary skill to win big at poker still end up losing for one or more of these reasons.

Finally, we are left with 1 percent or less of the regular players who have the desire, the skill, and the work ethic to be a strong, winning player, and do not have the degenerate tendencies that will defeat them despite this. Of those players, many will find that after a few years, they will grow bored with playing poker full-time, and want to get back to something more like a “real” job. The problem is, they have a huge hole in their resume after playing poker full-time for all those years, and now find it almost impossible to return to the regular world. I have heard many successful poker pros talk about wanting to quit, but, with nothing but poker on their resume for the last 10+ years, who will hire them?

I am lucky in that I still love poker, and still enjoy doing it full-time. I quit my prior job as a patent attorney after winning the World Series of Poker main event. But the only reason I did so was because a major online poker site was offering me more money to be their ambassador than Pfizer was paying me to be their attorney. If that had not been an option, I would have remained at least a part-time patent attorney, and also played as a part-time poker pro.

The funny thing is, I probably played at least as many hours a week of live poker when I was a full-time attorney as I do now that I’m a full-time poker pro. If poker is important to you, and you love it like I do, then yes, play as much as you can. However, keep your job, or stay in school (and then get a regular job after you graduate). But if there is no poker room near you, then maybe change jobs and move to a location where there are some good poker rooms nearby. You will find plenty of time to play. More importantly, you will have plenty of time to improve your game away from the table, so that you will be a winning player whenever you do sit down to play. ♠

Greg Raymer is the 2004 World Series of Poker main event champion, winner of numerous major titles, and has more than $7 million in earnings. He recently authored FossilMan’s Winning Tournament Strategies, available from D&B Publishing, Amazon, and other retailers. He is sponsored by Blue Shark Optics, YouStake, and ShareMyPair. To contact Greg please tweet @FossilMan or visit his website.