Op-Ed: How many poker players really win money

Posted by Steve Ruddock on Aug 14, 2012 Posted in Poker News | 3 Comments »

There seems to be an abundance of professional poker players running around casinos and posting on online poker forums these days, but anyone who has been in the poker world for any length of time knows the deal, and understands just how many players are in fact winners. In this article I’ll give you a little bit of insight into the poker economy and why perception is most assuredly not reality when it comes to winners in poker.

Prior to the poker boom in the early and mid-2000’s, before it was fashionable to be a professional poker player, there was a running joke that if you asked people in a card-room if they were a long-term winner or loser a majority would claim to be winners, which obviously cannot be the case. Nobody ever claimed to be a professional poker player (these were the actual winners) they were simply “winners”. Now that poker has gone mainstream these same people have moved from being mere “winners” to professional poker players — Which again is their perception not the reality of the situation.

Before I go any further let me explain what I mean by a professional poker player. A professional poker player survives on their poker winnings; they play out of their own bankroll; and they beat the game enough to live a good lifestyle. Players who are in debt (from borrowing or makeup) are not professional poker players… Sure they are playing poker and not working, with enough money in their pocket to eat and not be homeless, but this is only because they have borrowed or landed some type of backing deal; poker is not putting food on the table anymore than an unemployed person racking-up credit card debt is earning a living wage. At best they are treading water, holding out hope of one big score to get them back on their feet.

I’m also dismissing players on a good rush who don’t have the bankroll to survive their inevitable crash to earth. Remember, for every bad run there is a player on a heater, and often times these players show-up with $500 and turn it into $5,000 in a single night. They then go back the next week and win another $2,000, and two months down the road they quit their job and take the $10,000 they have to their name and try to play $2/$5 NLHE –which lasts anywhere from 2 weeks to a year for most of them. These players are currently beating the game and earning a living, but they haven’t experienced the inevitable downswing yet, which is what separates the real pros in the game from the pretenders.

I’m also going to eliminate people grinding out $50 NLHE tables online. If your poker income still qualifies you for government assistance than you are not a professional poker player. These are winning players, not professional players. Just because you are content with earning $25,000 a year, doesn’t mean you are a pro.

So back to the original question: How many players in poker are professional poker players? The answer to this question is the same as it has always been in poker (except during the heyday of the poker boom); less than 5% (my own estimate would be about 2%-3%, or 1-in-30-50 players). This may seem like a low number but go to any casino on a Friday night and figure that one person at every 3-5 tables is a professional player –sure there are winners scattered throughout but they are not professional players with the proper bankroll to survive in the game long-term.

During the poker boom the number of professional poker players probably swelled to between 5% and 10%, but many of these players have since fallen from the ranks of pro poker players, even if they still cling to the title. A lot of these players now supplement their income in the poker world (affiliates, coaching, media, etc.) some because the game has simply become too tough to continue beating it at their previous clip, and some because they were flash in the pans who are still parlaying a good run into sponsorships and dollars.

As the poker world continues to advance, and the gap between winning and losing players continues to shrink, more and more former professional poker players will be finding out that the good ole days of poker are now officially over, and they can no longer maintain their lifestyle with their poker winnings.


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3 Responses to “Op-Ed: How many poker players really win money”

  1. bluegarage says:

    Well said. I think we all knew a player or two that “found there calling” 8 or 10 years ago, invested in bigger screens, upgraded their computers, and even quit their jobs, because they hit a good run online. I’ve known a few. Only one of which is a winner these days, or so he says, and he has a full time job.

  2. bluegarage says:

    Really “waiting for moderation” That’s so 1990″s!

  3. Steve Ruddock says:

    Haha, you know how much spam would be on here otherwise!!!

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