Many poker players aspire to become successful at playing poker for money, and it's certainly true that one of the most exciting things about the game is the prospect of making good money, and even real good money, just by playing it. When you can have this much fun and make decent to great money doing it, how can you beat that?
So naturally, a lot of players wonder how much you can actually make, in other words what the really good players make from this, to give them a good idea of what they may expect if they put the work that is needed into their games to reach their potential.
There are a lot of factors that go into an estimation of this sort, so we really need to go over these first before we can talk what would be reasonable to expect as far as win rates and net profit.
Poker Is Essentially A Game Of Skill
Over time, luck always evens out, and although that can take quite a while, where players can expect fairly long runs of above average or below average luck, in the end what makes poker so appealing to so many of us is that it ultimately always comes down to differences in skill between players.
So naturally, the better of a player you become, the more likely you are to succeed, and the higher your profitability will tend to be. This is something that all poker players realize, but what they may not fully appreciate is that the greater the gap here, the more profit they may expect.
So what can happen when we don't pay enough attention to this is that we may have achieved a certain level of success that we've become comfortable with, for instance playing some simple strategy across a great deal of tables at once, and then not continue to look to make significant improvements in our game to achieve higher levels of success.
What this player should be doing is spending more of his or her time learning, which may involve slowing down and playing less tables at least some of the time, in order to spend more time thinking about the game, as well as spending enough time on off table learning. This all will reduce one's profit in the short term, but if done right, can make big differences in one's long term profitability by making us better players overall.
Their Skill Level Matters Just As Much
While our own skill level playing poker matters a great deal, the part that a lot of players don't give enough consideration to is the relative skill level of our opponents. Now we all know that the weaker the opponent, the bigger our advantage will be over them, and so it might surprise you that people generally don't put enough emphasis on this.
You can simply make more money seeking out the weakest opponents you can, regardless of your skill level. However, these weaker players often play at sites which don't have a ton of traffic, and they think that this is a big deterrent.
However, the more savvy players realize that you can play at several poker sites at the same time, and in fact it's very beneficial to play at the weakest games out there that you can find for your chosen stake, regardless of whether they are on one or several other poker sites. This can easily make a big difference in your profitability and it's something you need to pay attention to if you want to make as much money as you can.
So How Much Can You Really Make At Playing Poker?
Well the next biggest thing after looking to increase your skill level differential, the difference between your skill and the average skill of your opponents, is the level of stakes that you play.
We always recommend to first learn to beat the smallest stakes and then as you improve, work way up gradually, moving up to the next stake as you demonstrate ability to beat the current one at least to a degree of reasonable certainty.
Naturally, the higher the stakes that you are playing for, the more money you stand to make at the game. There are top poker pros who make millions of dollars a year playing poker, mostly in the high stakes cash games. Sure, you can make some big scores in the top tournaments, but these big money wins are pretty infrequent, even for the best players, while cash games provide a more steady and reliable source income, and some pretty big income at that.
So along the way, players wonder how they stack up as far as how they compare to other winning players, so let's talk about win rates at cash games, which are expressed as how many big blinds per 100 hands that you win on average.
If you have a positive win rate, you need to really pat yourself on the back. Almost all poker players lose money over time. We don't want to discourage you here if you are not a winning player yet, as it really isn't that hard at all to master the game enough to start making money from it. However the fact remains that most players do not.
Most winning poker players average between 1 and 4 big blinds per 100 hands, or in other words up to 4bb/100. This doesn't mean that you are limited to that though, and the better you are, and the worse they are, the more you will make.
Naturally, higher win rates are possible at the lower stakes, since the players there tend to be weaker on average. As you move up the stakes, you will find that your win rate will tend to go down, so while it's not uncommon for instance to see a good player with 10 bb/100 at a lower stake, it becomes a lot tougher to do this at the higher stakes.
However, keep in mind that as the stakes rise, the value of a big blind also goes up, so you will typically see your big blind win rate go down but your profit per hour go up. Of course, if you hit a point where you end up losing money, that's a negative win rate, and at that point it is usually best to move back down until you are more ready for the tougher stake.
So as far as what's reasonable for you at your given stake and point in your poker development, we can say that any positive win rate is good, 5 bb/100 is quite good, and over that is very good indeed.
So if you have a winrate of 5bb/100 in $1/$2 NL, you are winning $10 for every 100 hands you play. We can assume that you can play 60 hands an hour on average in full ring games, so by playing 4 tables at the same time it will be 240 hands per hour and $24 profit. Let's go further and assume you are playing 5 hours per day - your daily profit will be $120 and on avarage you will win $3600 per month.
If you're playing tournaments, then the standard of measurement here becomes what is called return on investment, or ROI for short. This is calculated by taking the amount that it costs you to play in terms of buy ins, and calculating the percentage of this that your profit consists of.
So if you make $10 for every $100 invested in tournament entries, your ROI would be 10%. 10% is a pretty good ROI in fact and while you can do better at the smaller buy ins if you're a good player, this amount is what most good players strive for, even at the highest buy in levels.
Once again though you can expect to see some real differences as far as what is achievable at a given level, and it's not uncommon to see good players crush the smallest ones for considerably more than the 10%.
With the help of tracking sites like Sharkscope we can see how much the top players are winning.
Top 3 Players - 2010
1. ShaneO19 Profit: $367K, Avarage ROI: 4%
2. R-Quaresma Profit: $351K, Avarage ROI: 4%
3. iCeVeNoM Profit: $333K, Avarage ROI: 5%
Top 3 Players – 2009
1. Adonis112 Profit: $320K, Avarage ROI: 2%
2. skilled_sox Profit: $317K, Avarage ROI: 5%
3. FAFA39 Profit: $305K, Avarage ROI: 7%
Top 3 Players – 2008
1. skilled_sox Profit: $455k, Avarage ROI: 5%
2. Adonis112 Profit: $428k, Avarage ROI: 3%
3. livb112 Profit: $421k, Avarage ROI: 5%
Quality Versus Quantity
Many successful poker players play a lot of tables at the same time to increase their per hour profit, and very often see higher profits per given amount of time even though their bb/100 may go down.
You do need to pay close attention to this though as this isn't always the case, and it depends a lot on how well you're able to play with a given amount of tables running at the same time.
The higher the stakes you play, the less tables you should be playing, as a general rule, since the competition will be better and it will generally require more thinking on your part to beat them. As well, given that so many players look to push things as far as they can, their playing more tables than you do and therefore having their attention spread out more can be in itself an advantage for you.
Frequent Player Rewards
Not all poker profit is made by taking money from your poker opponents. A pretty big part of a lot of a lot of successful players’ profit comes from Frequent Player Rewards or Poker VIP Programs. This is especially the case with those who play a lot of tables or games at once.
This only adds up to a very small amount per hand on average, but over time it can add up to a pretty nice amount of extra money in your pocket. There are players in fact who play so much that they make a nice living from poker even though they are only otherwise break even players, and get almost all or even all of their profit from player rewards.
It's important that you don't take this too far though and end up playing more tables than you should simply to reap player rewards. They aren't so important as to want to give up too much of the advantage you would enjoy had you not spread yourself so thin.
In The End, How You Do Is All Up To You
The best answer to how much money you can make playing poker is that it all comes down to how much work you want to put into this. The great thing about poker is that it is a game where only a modest amount of natural talent is required to succeed at it, provided that you are willing to make the right amount of effort to go along with that.
The most important thing to realize is that, wherever your game is at and whatever level of success you currently enjoy, you can indeed do better but it's all up to you to make the improvements needed to reach your goals and beyond.
There is indeed a lot of money that can be made playing this game, and the excitement of higher and higher rewards is what drives players to go beyond what they once believed they were capable of, and reach the higher heights that they once only dreamed of.