The Real Poop
It'd sure be nice if you could make a living playing cards. You'd never work a day in your life if your job was to know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. Plus, if you were a professional poker player, you could win millions and be on ESPN. Where's the downside?*
As crazy as it sounds, some people really do make a living from playing poker full-time, and some of them actually do make millions. Whoa, hey, get back here. We're not finished yet. Before you start clearing out your bank account on the way to Atlantic City, you should know that the average salary for a poker player is a lousy $15,000 (source). We swear we're not making that number up.
The odds of you, or anyone else, making enough money to live off of by playing cards are absolutely terrible, and a poker player's salary is wildly inconsistent. Even successful poker players' earnings are constantly in flux.
Successful, by the way, doesn't always mean making millions. It often just means not losing money. When your salary depends on something that's totally out of your control (i.e., what cards you get and whether or not the other players are cheating), you can kiss financial security goodbye.
To hack it as a poker player, you've got to be made of some strong stuff. The game's not physically dangerous—you can play poker until you literally keel over and die on the table, if you want—but mentally, it's going to put you through the wringer.
One bad game could cost you your house or mean you can't afford groceries for the next few weeks.
While poker has been a mainstay in gambling circles for a century, it's experienced a renaissance of sorts in the U.S.
Since the poker boom of 2003, hordes of hopefuls have packed it up and moved to Vegas or taken a sizable bankroll and tried their luck online, all for the dream of being able to play cards all day—and get paid handsomely for it. Very few people have enough real talent to succeed; even fewer are able to stomach the massive swings in income or make it profitable in the long run.
There's also the fact that most of the game rooms are massive money pits. Even if you're playing aces at the poker tables, you then have to walk by the roulette table without losing it all on the spinning wheel. You're not a professional wheel-spinner, so take your winnings and get out of there.
The majority of poker players who attempt to do this as a living end up packing it up and begging for their jobs back within a few months. A few others are able to squeak by, but their stories aren't much more inspiring.
These players are the workhorses who nit it up at the tables and play strictly poker, full stop. Nothing fancy or high-stakes; they're just putting in ten hours or so at the cash tables and hoping to end the day with a moderate take.
It's a living, but we don't see a lot of difference between that and an unchanging office routine. They don't even make you wear ties to the office anymore.
Obviously, a few people are really successful. These are the people you see over and over on ESPN at 2:30PM on Saturdays. They're always making final tables, pocketing huge pots, and snagging sweet endorsement deals from major companies. They make it look so easy, too. Just remember: these people lie for a living. Only when they do it, it's called bluffing.
If the real-world poker scene is starting to look unappealing, you might consider playing online. Because you can play multiple tables at once, and because the hands are played much faster, a strong player can vastly increase their win rate if they take to the virtual tables.
Of course, they can also lose a lot faster—but that's why people play, right? For the thrill of taking risks?
If you're going to go this route, you'd better make sure that it's legal for you to do so. Age restrictions apply online, too. You'd also better have a reliable internet connection. How terrible would it be to be this close to taking a huge pot and have your Wi-Fi go out? We're guessing so badly that a laptop may go flying out your window.
Maybe trying to make money off of Candy Crush isn't such a bad idea; at least when you throw the tablet out the window, it's less likely to do serious damage.
If you do find yourself making some hefty paydays, money management is key. Nearly all of the poker pros who have lasted in the biz will tell you that without a good head on your shoulders and a penchant for saving and investing, you're going to find that your entire life will be one long, bad beat.
*Disclaimer: We really think you should at least consider another career. Learn something else, just in case this whole professional gambler thing doesn't work out. Like they say: you've gotta know when to hold 'em and when to...well, you know.