The definition of being a “poker pro” has changed over the years. A pro used to be considered as a person that made their income exclusively from playing poker. This definition has changed over the years as the game has changed.
While pros often make a significant percentage of their income from poker, most have other revenue streams to supplement that income. Some smart pros have diversified to the point where their poker earnings are a small percentage of their overall income.
Below are nine alternative ways that poker pros and serious players supplement their income.
One of the most obvious ways that players make additional “variance free” income is to become sponsored. The most common form of sponsorship is becoming an ambassador for an online poker room. Some players, like Annette Obrestad, will become an ambassador for a live poker room.
These deals vary from player to player and historically the more value a player brings to a company, the better deal they can command. For example, Daniel Negreanu is going to command more sponsorship dollars than a random bracelet winner from 5 years ago.
Staking / Backing
While not necessarily “variance free” income, there are a lot of players that make extra money from staking or backing other players. Deals vary depending on whether you’re a single backer or just buying a piece of a player. Cliff “JohnnyBax” Josephy is one of the most well known backers in pro poker.
Those of you new to poker may think it is odd to put up money to take a chance on someone else’s game, but the rewards can be massive. For example, the aforementioned Cliff Josephy and Eric “Sheets” Haber backed Joe Cada during the 2009 WSOP Main Event and ended up receiving half of Cada’s $8 million first place prize.
Coaching / Training
Outside of sponsorship, one of the most common forms of “variance free” income for poker pros is serving as a poker coach. Some pros work individually as a coach for an hourly rate while others work for training sites for a set fee.
The best part about coaching is that you can set your schedule and determine the source material you want to teach. For example, a pro may play as high as $1,000 NL but they may only feel comfortable teaching others how to win at $500 NL.
Operate a Poker-Themed Business
An obvious transition for a poker pro / serious players is to become an owner of a poker themed business. While not a guaranteed income source, those that find the right product or niche can do quite well.
Poker-themed businesses range from operating poker sites to developing apps and more. Some coaches go a step further and develop their own training sites. Phil Ivey developed Ivey League while Jonathan Little developed FlopTheTurn.com. Some players like Jason Somerville and Doug Polk have been able to develop strong Twitch following, padding their income from those subscribing to their channel, donating, buying merchandise and more.
While running a poker-themed business can take away from the time you normally spend playing, a successful business can provide long-term steady variance free income.
Why do you think you never hear about Phil Hellmuth being “broke?” Even when he is lacking in his poker bankroll, he still has plenty of non-bankroll funds.
Become a Prop / Shill Player
Live and online poker rooms will employ prop players from time to time in order to build up games. When you serve as a prop player, you play with your own money in a game but you also receive an hourly rate from the casino. The catch is that you are often only going to be playing in games to start them or keep them going.
While less common in modern poker, there are still rare instances where a casino will use a Shill player in games. The casino actually puts up the money for the player but they also receive the winnings from the player. Those acting as shills are usually only paid an hourly rate.
Prop players are the norm in this category and you will find them online as well as live. Note that some sites get tricky and try to claim you’re a prop player when all you’re really getting is high or 100% rakeback.
Take a Job in the Poker Industry
Some poker players decide to take a job in the poker industry rather than be a slave to the financial ups and downs of poker. The jobs vary according to the player’s skill set and experience. Your inexperienced players may be forced to take something as entry-level as a dealer.
Other players take industry jobs such as Tournament Directors, TV Analyst / Color Commentators or even Poker Room Managers. November Niner Kenny Hallaert is a long-time Tournament Director in addition to being an experienced player. Kara Scott is likely known more for her work in the industry than her on-felt resume.
Write a Book
Following the Poker Boom, there was an explosion in the number of poker books that hit the market. Everything from strategy to autobiographies hit the market from well-known and obscure players alike.
Nowadays there are fewer books being published due to the over-saturation of the market but a few players are still able to successfully publish a book. Some pros have went the alternative route and have published e-books on poker. While these aren’t going to be as mainstream as Chris Moorman’s book, some players make enough from the endeavor to make it worthwhile.
Become a Part of the Poker Media
Some poker players with the appropriate skill sets decide to transition into the poker media. Most often, these are players that have a background in journalism. Other times, they are experienced players that are also able to write competently.
Like other items on this list, there are multiple paths to transition into the poker media. Some start out as live tournament reporters for live events such as the World Series of Poker or Heartland Poker Tour. Others start out writing for small sites to build a portfolio and then move up as needed.
Some players take advantage of connections they have made while playing to get their name out. If you’re a fairly competent writer and have something to offer a site, many will be willing to take a chance on you if you’re rate isn’t too high.
Other Businesses and Investments
Finally, you have a number of players and pros that have other non-poker related business ventures and investments that provides them either with variance free income or even their primary income.
Kathy Liebert is a great example of someone that did very well with investments and was financially secure to take a shot at pro poker. Chris Ferguson reportedly did very well with investments outside of poker.
Phil Ivey has been known to diversify his portfolio, starting up and investing in various non-poker related businesses. Phil Gordon ended up leaving the world of pro poker to work on a new startup business.
It is always best to diversity whenever possible. While there’s a constant flow of money in the poker world, everyone experiences downswings and at times, they can be financially crippling. Diversifying in other areas ensures you have plenty of money to live your life.