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Is it Worth Turning Pro at Poker?

From Rupert Walters
July 2016.


What's your dream occupation? For some it's racing car driver, pilot or vet. For others it's brain surgeon or something wholesome and rewarding like gardener or teacher. How about professional poker player? Perhaps you believe you're someone who could take the high-octane living, the adrenalin of chance and the fun of the big wins. For the everyday amateur poker player who looks forward all day to getting online and trying their hand against competitors across the globe, the notion of becoming a pro certainly has appeal. You're your own boss, free to 'work' or not 'work' as you see fit, with no deadlines or annoying colleagues to deal with.

As a game, poker is easy to learn but hard to master. Those starting out may feel buoyed on by some good initial wins, only to find themselves in a hole a few hands later by not tempering their play. Learning when to be reserved or play aggressively is a key component for people wanting to make a career from poker. Career pro's recognise when the cards aren't going their way, and minimise their losses through reserved play ready for a good hand to come their way.

The only sticking point is pay. Would there be sufficient cash in playing like a pro to support you and your dependants? As you might expect, there is a vast range in the earnings different pro players make annually. High-profile players like Greek Australian Billy the Croc (aka Billy Argyros) and Mel Judah (aka The Silver Fox) have made their names and their fortunes with cards and chips but the game isn't so lucrative for everyone. How much you win, or earn, depends very much on three key factors. These are the stakes you choose to play at (whether micro, low, medium or high), the sheer number of hands you're dealt on a weekly or monthly basis, and, of course, your overall win rate. Taking these numbers into account, as a professional poker player it's possible to earn as little as $7,800, or up to $45,000 and over.

It's important to note however, that while there are literally millions of people playing poker every day and night across the planet, a relatively small number of them take away a solid profit from their game. In fact, it's thought that of the millions playing, only around 25% are making money in the long term. Further, only 10% do exceptionally well, winning time after time and generating enough money to represent a respectable income. With this in mind, it's worth thinking long and hard about whether your game would see you in the 10%, or even in the 25%.

In many respects, professional poker players are like any other Australian sports person; they've lifted their game to a higher level and can make money by doing something others do simply for pleasure. However, one way in which poker pros differ from their cricket or rugby playing peers is in wallet size. Let's say that the average pro poker player's salary is around $50,000. While this may seem acceptable, and even generous compared to that of the average office worker, considered side-by-side with other sports pros' salaries and it begins to look a little on the small side. As the below infographic shows you, an A-League soccer player at the top of his game commands $5,500,00; a NBL basketball player is on a top salary of $200,000 and, most staggeringly, a Big Bash League cricket player pockets $4,500,000 annually at the height of his career. Looked at in this light, the lot of a poker pro begins to look less enticing, although it is obviously an easier career to get into.

As the below infographic shows, players must maintain a strong win percentage to ensure to maintain an average income of $60,000. Therefore, unless you're completely confident you have what it takes to be a top player, when it comes to transferring from the amateur ranks to the professional league, pro poker may not be the wisest career choice.


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Note: Opinions expressed in the 'Articles' section of Smartgambler are those of the guest authors and are not implicitly endorsed by the owners of Smartgambler.




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