Poker as a Career – Win Rates and Yearly Profit Expectations

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Published

15 Dec, 2022

Undoubtedly, the golden times of poker are past us; at least if you take a look at specific formats like sit-and-go’s and cash games that are either ultra competitive or have little traffic nowadays.

However, money can still be made online or in live games, and not too little. 

But how feasible is it to make a large enough income to live comfortably off poker in 2022?

In short, poker has become tough, especially online, but it’s still doable to produce an above-average income.

Couple the attractive income with the luxury of working in the comfort of your home, and it’s a viable option to consider for many people who haven’t found their career path yet.

We have created this article to answer some questions aspiring poker pros might have. 

How much money can you make playing poker?

You can expect an income of $0,00 all the way up to $5,000,000+/y depending on your skill, choice of game and willingness to put in hard work.

Before thinking about how much money you can make, you should know that becoming a professional poker player takes a lot of dedication. 

It’s not easy.

Only the top-tier players will ever exceed making more than $100,000/y, and out of those top players, an ever smaller percentage will ever make $1,000,00 re more within a year.

And the people who are making more than that often can’t replicate their results within the following years.

Poker is still a game of chance where variance can skew outcomes.

Nonetheless, it’s possible to beat poker consistently and turn in a profit, and below we will exemplify realistic win rates you can expect playing different games and formats.

1. Cash games ($10,000 up to $5,000,000)

Cash games are the most profitable format, but only at nosebleed stakes which mere mortals will have difficulty ever entering.

According to Statname, top winners make up to $500,000/m, with lower positions in the leaderboards making $100,000/$200,000/m.

But, at those stakes, you’ll battle with only the most talented and successful poker players for razor-thin edges. 

In your first year as a professional poker player, you likely won’t exceed $20,000 in income as a cash game player.

In fact, it’s more likely that you’ll lose slightly as you learn how to handle all the challenges and become better. 

While it’s insanely hard to reach high-stakes cash games and perform successfully over time, it’s not too challenging beating low to mid-stakes cash games (NL25-Nl100) where you could generate an income of ~$30,000-$120,000/y. 

Win rates in cash games

Win rates in cash games are calculated in big blinds won per 100 hands played (abbreviated as BB/100). 

  • 0BB+ – easy to achieve. 
  • 1-3BB – can be done.
  • 4-7BB – difficult to achieve.

So, as an exceptionally skilled player making, let’s say, 4bb/100 at NL100, you make $4 for every 100 hands you play. If we assume you play 1000 hands per hour playing 4 tables of Zoom Poker, you will generate an hourly rate of $40.

Pretty good income if you ask me. 

But, you also pay rake, of which you get a percentage back if you get a rakeback deal.

At Nl100, you pay an average of 8bb in rake per 100 hands, of which you can expect to get 25% back as part of the rakeback deal. 

That is an extra income of 2bb/100 which adds another $20/h to your already pretty good $40 hourly. 

Assuming you play 200h/m, you could make $12,000/m and $144,000/y.

Hourlies at different stakes with a 4bb win rate would look as follows:

  • Nl500 – $280/h
  • Nl200 – $120/h
  • Nl 100 – $60/h
  • NL50 – $30/h
  • Nl25$ – $15/h

But, and that’s a big but, it’s challenging to maintain such a high win rate playing such high volume, especially at higher stakes where bad plays are more likely to be spotted and exploited. 2-3bb win rates are more realistic to achieve and maintain for regular players.

Competition in cash games

Zoom Poker pools are generally much tougher than regular tables, as you can’t choose who you play against. You’ll be seated with a bunch of players that don’t care who they play against, and that’s most often convenient for confident players that believe they have an edge against most opponents and want to maximize hands played. 

Regular tables allow you to play with chosen players, so if you have marked someone as weak, you can join the table and play against them – a luxury not offered at zoom. 

At higher stakes, regular tables usually run around one weak player from whom your win rate will be extracted.

Heads-up (HU) poker (playing against only one opponent) is considered the toughest format. There is little action to be had nowadays because the game is somewhat solved, making it not the most viable choice to generate an income. 

But HU cash games are a great practice ground to become a better poker player fast, as you are battling against the elite and are forced to go post-flop almost every hand. Learning how to play mediocre hands efficiently will set you up for success.

Pros and cons of cash games

  • + reliable income stream with little variance
  • + good side income from rakeback alone
  • + high potential income
  • – tough opponents and pools
  • – not enough action at higher stakes

2. Tournaments ($10,000-$5,000,000)

If you take a look at the “scheduled” leaderboards on Sharkscope, you will see that the top-performing players of 2022 have amassed over $1,000,000 in net profits across different online poker networks, with the leader sitting at a whopping $4,000,000+ in yearly profits.

Now, most of the top winners entered high-stakes games with buy-ins ranging from $1,000 all the way up to $50,000 – so that is not something you’ll likely achieve in your first year as a professional. 

To get to play such costly tournaments, you need to amass a massive bankroll.

You should typically invest no more than 0.5% o your bankroll in a single tournament – exceeding that threshold will make a risk of ruin more likely. 

So, to play a $1,000 tournament, you’d be best off playing with $200,000 in backup funds as you’d otherwise be too likely to bust your account – long-term. 

Those Highroller tournaments are best suited for long-standing professionals who have a proven track record of being profitable at lower stakes – that’s how they got their bankroll.

And playing those lower stakes tournaments is where you would have to start in your early career, just as they did.

Win rates in tournaments

Playing multi-table tournaments (MTTs) has the highest potential reward for players and offers the biggest bang for your buck. 

You can somewhat easily achieve an ROI of up to 50% at low-stakes MTTs, which means you can profit $5 for every $10 tournament you enter.

Here are some achievable win rates for different stakes at MTTs:

  • Low stakes ($2-$10) – 50% ROI
  • Mid stakes (11$-$50) – 35% ROI
  • High stakes (51$-$$10,000) 25% ROI

The higher the stake, the more professionals you’ll face, which is why your ROI will get lower.

But the potential income can be incredible at higher stakes. If you look at Sharkscope’s leaderboards, you will see people that make $150/game over 10k games which translates to $1,500,000 in winnings. And that, in most cases, is not due to luck and instead the skill of those players. 

Poker is a grind where you slowly climb the stakes if you do things right. And with each ladder you climb, the rewards get higher. 

If you want to play poker full-time, you should aim to play at least 1000 tournaments per month. 

Competition in tournaments

Tournaments are incredibly soft because many newbies are attracted by the large payouts they offer. It’s not uncommon to see people who usually play slots and other casino games enter tournaments hoping to scoop a big win, and some of them evidently barely know the rules of Texas Holdem. You’ll frequently find inpatient or tilted players who spew away their chips after losing a big pot. Some players get tired after having played for 7 hours straight, and they just don’t care to win anymore as they prioritize getting to sleep or away from the computer. 

All these factors make tournaments great for novices and professionals alike. Of course, the higher the stakes, the less likely you are to find such players, but you will still find them more frequently in tournaments than in other poker formats. 

Pros and cons

  • + Massive earning potential
  • + Great for beginners
  • + Super exciting
  • – Your income will not be stable
  • – Can be soul-crushing

3. Sit and gos ($10,00 – $100,000)

Sit and gos play like regular tournaments but have fewer (2-10) players at the start, and this format is unfortunately not widely available. The best two poker rooms to play sit and gos are Pokerstars and Americas Cardroom.

You start off with 75bb, and the blind steadily increase, turning the game dynamics into an all-in or fold feast at later stages.

With that comes massive variance, as you can’t alter the outcomes of hands where you went all-in preflop. So, the income from sit-and-go poker is not as reliable as that from cash games but more reliable than that of multi-table tournaments. 

The earning ceiling in sit and gos has continued to decrease over the years due to regulations that prohibit players from certain countries from playing poker, with one of the highest earners this year sitting at a mere profit of $75,000 – according to Sharkscope.

Win rates in sit and gos

Let’s take a look at what your ROI could look like at different sit-and-go poker tournaments.  I am drawing these numbers from my experience and tracking sites like Sharkscope so that they’ll be representative of reality. 

6/9-max

  • Micro stakes ($1-$5) – 8-12% ROI
  • Low stakes ($5-$10) – 7-9% ROI
  • Mid stakes ($10-$50 – 3-7% ROI
  • High stakes ($50-$500) 1-6% ROI

Competition in sit and gos

Sit and gos are relatively competitive, with an average of ~60% professionals at 6/9-max tables at stakes above $10.00 being present, but most of them aren’t too great. Then there are many casual players who like to gamble who are playing nearly every hand, and those usually play much worse than casuals do in cash games.

Heads-up sit-and-go poker tournaments are arguably one of the toughest poker formats you can play online. Each lobby is occupied by a professional, and if you haven’t proven to be skilful enough, none of them will make space for you to “open-sit”.

They basically track who is a proven professional and only allow those to sit in the lobbies. You’ll have to battle those within the cartel and get positive results to become a member, which is tough and becomes even tougher at higher stakes where only elite players await you.

Aside from that, there are 6/9 max sit-and-gos which are much softer with good enough traffic to play many tables simultaneously.

Pros and cons

  • + Relatively easy to bet
  • + Steady and safe income
  • + Good side income from rakeback
  • – Barely any high-stakes run
  • – Need to play at Peak times to get enough traffic
  • – Need to play at major poker platforms that offer SNGs

How to maintain success and prepare for your exit from the industry

Poker won’t be around forever, at least not in the state it currently is, and that is why you need to prepare your exit financially – better sooner than later.

A lot of outside influences, like regulatory changes, can have a negative impact on your income. For example, playing online poker has become illegal in some countries, so professionals have to move to other countries to keep going in such cases. 

That can be a real problem as you obviously have your family and friends in your country, and even if you make a lot of money, that trade might still not be worthwhile. 

Also, solely relying on poker income can be nerve-wracking as you continuously need to perform well to get good results. 

So, that is why we suggest keeping an eye out for other opportunities that can make you more stable financially. 

Here is what we recommend professional poker players do to build a stable side income that can potentially substitute your poker earnings.

  • Do affiliate marketing in the poker niche
  • Offer to coach for profits or an hourly
  • Stake other professionals and get a cut
  • Write for poker magazines online

Wrap up

Tournaments with large fields are the easiest format to make excellent money at because you’ll find plenty of fun players chasing a big win over there.

Every mistake made at any table in tournaments will benefit you – acting almost as compound interest – which is why this format is so profitable. At the end stage of a large field tournament, people get afraid to bust and play very passively with the intent to ladder up the prize ranks, which is an excellent opportunity for professionals to act predatorily. 

Tournaments are also by far the most popular poker format and the least likely to ever truly die.

Taking a look at how sit and gos developed over the years, we have noticed a steady decline in traffic, with more and more professionals being present while tournaments were as lively as ever. 

If you look at the leaderboards from 2017, you see that the top guys made over $300,000 in that calendar year, while the current top earners sit at less than $100,000 in yearly profits – that’s a 300%+ decline in just a few years.

The return on investment on average per game is also much higher the more entries there are in a tournament, so that makes MTTs even more attractive.

And cash games have really dried up in regards to the availability and softness of the pool. Most games revolve around one weak player, and you might get less than that in zoom pools. However, cash games are great for practising and honing your skills so that you are better prepared to play deep-stacked poker in tournaments which is an important skill needed in the early stages. 

To summarize, we recommend novices and professionals alike to play MTTs as those games offer the highest potential income, are easy to bet and least likely to ever dry up in regards to traffic.

Whatever you choose, we wish you the best of luck.

 

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Author bio

I am Max and have a special interest in everything related to online gambling, but especially online poker. I have been working in the field for over ten years and love writing about my experiences.