From time to time in my travels, I meet twenty-somethings (almost entirely men) who think they can play poker professionally. None of them has a wife and kids and a mortgage and a retirement plan. Oh, I’m friends with a couple of middle-aged guys with families for whom poker provides the only income — they haven’t worked for anyone else for years — but they are a rarity.
For the record, I am nowhere near a professional poker player. While I do sit down at the tables a couple of times a week, and have been known to travel to Vegas and other places to get into more games, I do not look at it as a real source of income. I am simply a recreational player for whom poker does not pay the mortgage.
If you live in a city like St. Louis, the action doesn’t go 24/7, so many of the younger pros I’ve met and played against have moved to Vegas, where there’s always a game somewhere. It’s not easy to grind out a living in a city where so many others are trying to do the same thing. Since you’re unlikely to make a lot of money from each other, you have to wait for tourists with deep pockets and loose action to donate their chips to you. Fortunately, Vegas offers a never-ending supply of donors, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to be the recipient of enough of it to support yourself on a regular basis.
Daniel Negreanu, one of the most respected and rewarded poker pros in history, wrote a column in which he lays out the math of how difficult it is to grind your way to success:
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.
Negreanu goes on to explain that maybe 2-5% of players who try it will actually be able to make a living from poker — even if they don’t blow the rest of their meager earnings on craps and blackjack (not to mention strippers, drinks, drugs, etc.).
I had a friend whose son graduated from college and wanted to move to Vegas and support himself by playing poker. The kid had saved up about $25,000, which he thought would be a good bankroll to both start with and fall back on. He promised to never ask mom and dad for money, and was confident he’d never need to get a job.
Six months later, the son was back living in his parents’ house.