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Most of us have entertained the idea of becoming a poker pro at one time or another. We believe that we have the ability to succeed but we have also heard horror stories about players that have gone broke and lost it all trying to live the dream.

The question aspiring pros ask most is “How much do professional poker players make at the tables?” Can a person live on a poker pro’s salary? Like everything else in poker, it depends. The truth is that around 1% of those that become professional poker players actually become successful. Even then, some still go through period where they are broke or living on meager means.

Today we look at considerations aspiring pros need to make prior to turning pro and the financial realities of playing pro poker.

What Are Your Revenue Streams?

How much do professional poker players make playing poker? It depends and a large part of that depends on how many revenue streams you have coming in. Back when the Poker Boom started, many new players focused primarily on tournaments and many quickly discovered that the variance involved was too much to make tournament poker a viable income stream.

Of course, there are players like Daniel Negreanu, Chris Moorman and others that are exceptions to that rule but they are classic examples of “your results may vary.” Most pros will play both cash games and poker tournaments in order to maximize their profits. Cash games tend to be their bread and butter while tournaments are where they take the shots for the “big payday.”

Also, don’t limit yourself to just one format of poker. Make sure you competent in all forms of poker. How much do professional poker players make playing Texas Hold’em? Not as much as at the beginning of the Poker Boom and that is because the average poker player is schooled at Hold’em. However, those same players are likely not schooled at Stud, Omaha, Badugi and other games. This gives you other options for making money at the tables.

Read More:

Poker Jargon Explained – Learning the Lingo of Omaha Poker

5 Differences Between Omaha and Texas Hold’em

What Are Your Expenses?

So how much do professional poker players make from playing poker? It’s not as simple as saying that Daniel Negreanu won $1 million over the course of three tournaments in 2014. Looking at how much a person won at the table doesn’t give you a full view of their overall financial health.

First, let’s consider the expenses that a player incurs by playing poker. For the sake of argument, let’s assume this pro is a tournament player who is fortunate enough to cash in 20% of his tournaments.

What type of expenses does this player incur? Assuming they are a live tournament player, they incur the following expenses:

* Tournament buy-ins

* Travel Expenses

* Hotel Expenses

* Meals

* Tips for Waitresses, Dealers, Valets, etc

* Entertainment Expenses

* Other Gambling Expenses (Prop Bets, Playing Casino Games, etc)

Just to give you an inkling of how quickly expenses can rack up, let’s look simply at tournament buy-ins. If this pro played only $500 buy-in events and averaged four buy-ins per week, that’s $2,000 each week in tournament buy-ins alone.

If this player travels around (or even stays in his general area) and plays 40 weeks a year, he is racking up $80,000 in tournament buy-ins. Remember where I said he cashes in 20% of those events? That’s 32 out of 160 events a year.

Assuming that the average cash is double his buy-in, or $1,000, he is looking at a return of just $32,000 on his $80,000 investment. This stat alone shows why finishing in the top three of poker tournaments is so important. If this player has one win of $75,000, and averages $1,000 per the other cashes, he now has a return of $106k for the year or a profit of $26,000.

Wait; did I say a profit of $26,000? Remember all of those other expenses I just listed? You have to figure those in as well to figure out you true profit. Odds are that even with a big win, this player didn’t finish the year ahead.

Of course, you can control your expenses to some degree depending on whether you play live or online and by how much you travel. Many pros, tournament and otherwise, don’t go outside their local area except for major events like the World Series of Poker.

You have to consider your expenses when figuring out how much professional poker players make in a year.

OH – An Don’t Forget to Pay Your Taxes

Unless you’re in a country where gambling income isn’t taxed (like the UK), you will have to keep track of your profit and losses in order to file taxes at the end of the year.

For those of us in the United States, professional gambling is considered self-employment which means you get to pay self-employment taxes.

Keep close records of all your expenses, wins and losses at the table as you will need those to reconcile at the end of the year. Also, you need to start holding back money every month from your profits in order to cover your taxes. That’s another expense to add to the list above?

How much do professional poker players make? The IRS is hoping you make a lot so they can get their cut.

Diversify Whenever Possible

If you ever hear a poker pro speak about “variance free income,” they are referring to income that they make from poker that’s not from playing the game. In the modern poker world, this can take several forms.

In the past, the #1 way that a pro made variance free income was from a poker sponsorship. However, a large number of poker sponsorship dried up after Black Friday and as the market began to consolidate. Pros can’t simple expect to “get noticed” and cash in on a sponsorships like they could in the past. They must use other routes to make additional income.

A number of pros make money by coaching other players. This is often done on an hourly basis but some work for poker training sites like Ivey League and make money by providing content to those sites.

Read More: Poker Coaches: What Do They Charge?

Some pros have other poker related side gigs that makes them income. They may be partners in online poker sites or in iPoker mobile apps. Others have tried to run their own online poker site.

Other pros are looking outside the poker world for variance free income. Some are business owners while others play the stock market or have extensive investments.

How much do professional poker players make in these side ventures? It depends. Some make merely enough to supplement their playing income. Others rely almost exclusively on this income to pay their day to day expenses. Some are able to enjoy the life of being a poker pro because they flush with cash from their side gigs.

The point is that they are diversifying their revenue streams and are not depending solely on finding juicy games to make their money.

Professional Poker is a Hard Way to Make an Easy Living

The old cliché that poker is a hard way to make an easy living is still as relevant today as it was 20 years ago. In fact, it is harder to win consistently in today’s game than in any time in history thanks to the explosion of internet poker.

Becoming a successful pro poker player involves devising a solid game plan, taking advantage of multiple revenue streams, managing expenses and finding variance free income. Simply, pro poker is a full time job and like any other job you must work to maximize profits.

How much do professional poker players make? It depends on their skill and their planning. Those that plan the best often win the most. The rest fall by the wayside or spend a life chasing their next dollar.

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James Guill

James Guill began his poker career in 2006, spending two years traveling the US tournament circuit. Since 2008, he has covered the game extensively for some of the biggest names in the industry. When not writing about the latest poker news, he can be found hunting for antique treasures in Central Virginia.