Why Should You Stop Dreaming of Becoming an Online Poker Pro and Focus On a Normal Career

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Remember the good old days when online poker was a gold mine? When you could get 70-80% rakeback and actually break even and still make good money? Remember the not-so-distant days of the Supernova Elite, when you could make over $100,000 a year basically just for playing a lot? I think most players are aware of that, but those days will never come back.

On the other hand, I'm not saying that online poker is going to die a total death, because that's probably not going to happen in the next couple of decades. But it will get worse and worse. And it is very unlikely that the trend will change.

This article will not spread defeatism, but realism. And hopefully it will keep at least a few people from tying their future to online poker.

#1: Massive Drop in Traffic

all time cash games traffic

All Time Cash Games Traffic History (the avg peak cash game traffic of all poker sites and networks) – the screenshot comes from primedope.com

What conclusions can we draw from this graph? First, cash game traffic in 2023 is about 3 times lower than it was at its peak. As of this writing in November 2023, there has been a drop of about 20% since January 2023 alone. That's bad. But that's not the whole picture, because it only illustrates the decline in cash game traffic. The problem gets worse when you factor in the near-extinction of HU games and the decline in SnG traffic.

MTT? Prize pools in the biggest tournaments, such as the Sunday Million, have dropped dramatically. On regular days when there are no major festivals, the number of players in tournaments is also several times smaller than it was over 10 years ago, and the prize pools are dramatically smaller.

Another thing you can see from this graph is the large seasonal fluctuation in traffic. Traffic is higher in the winter and lower in the summer. This is normal because people spend more time at home in the winter. We could also see a significant increase in traffic in early 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. People were bored at home and played more online poker. There were also more players from Asian countries, where GG Poker in particular became more popular.

Ask yourself, do you want to tie your future to an industry that has seen such a decline in traffic?

#2: Higher Rake, Low Rakeback

Gone are the days when you could count on high rakeback. On GG Poker, which is now the largest poker site in the world, you can get a maximum of 40%. However, the reality is quite different thanks to their PVI system, which is designed to give you a lower rakeback when you win and a higher rakeback when you lose.

In practice, most players get only 10-20% rakeback, which is ridiculously low compared to what it was many years ago.

Add to that the high rake, which ranges from 8bb to 10bb/100 at GG for example, and the game is hard to beat and basically impossible to make money on in the long run.

#3: Downswings

One of the harsh realities of being an online poker pro is the unpredictable nature of income. Unlike traditional careers with fixed salaries, poker pros experience financial highs and lows, and perhaps the most challenging aspect is facing downswings.

These financial storms can be mentally and emotionally draining. In practice, it is basically impossible not to think about downswings. Imagine playing almost every day for several hours at a time, and for several months, month after month you are down. It is sick!

Most pros will tell you that it doesn't affect them at all. Bullshit. The human brain, including the reward system, works in such a way that it is impossible to turn it off. Downswings, especially long and painful ones, turn pros into stressed, miserable people.

#4: Mental Health

Online poker pros often lead solitary lives, spending hours at the virtual tables. This often leads to isolation and loneliness. I don't think anyone wants that kind of life. You often have to stay up in the evenings and nights, get up at noon, and this affects your mental health.

As an online poker player, you are often outside the “system”. The public often doesn't understand what you do or take what you do seriously. Many pros also have trouble finding a long-term partner or starting a family. A family needs stability, and poker doesn't provide that. Unless you're Daniel Negreanu and have millions in sponsorship money. Then yes.

#5: Poker is Like a Jungle. The Weakest Die.

Between 2005 and 2012, the skill level of the players was dramatically low. A lot of them didn't know any strategies, and they were basically playing every hand. At a 6-handed table, you'd find 3 or 4 players who had no idea what poker was all about. It was much easier to make money if you had a little knowledge and intelligence.

Then poker schools came on the scene, raising the overall skill level of players. Poker streams also helped. Even unknowingly, as people watched their favorite streamers, they were learning the game and improving their skills.

Nowadays, if you want to have a tiny edge over others, you have to work VERY hard. Spending hundreds of hours with solvers doesn't sound very appealing, though. Even at NL2 or NL5 you are likely to meet a lot of solid players these days. In short, you are fighting harder and harder for less and less money.

#6: No Mortgage

If you want to get a mortgage as a poker pro, I have some bad news for you. Banks won't give you the same kind of credit as if you had a real job. This is a big problem because most pros can't afford to buy an apartment or a house.

Also, if you live in a country where online poker is not regulated, you won't be able to buy an apartment or a car with online poker money. Everyone wants to settle down sooner or later, so this might be a problem.

#7: You Won't Make That Much Money

Of course, it all depends on many different factors, including the stakes you play, how many hands you play per month, the tables you play at, and most importantly, your skill level.

But let's give you an example. If you play $1/$2 cash games with a win rate of 3bb/100 (which is good at these stakes nowadays) and 100k hands per month (which is quite a lot), you can earn about $6k USD + rakeback. Keep in mind that very few people make that kind of money in the long run. Consider the amount of work and all the points I've written about above and answer the question yourself if it's a lot. In my opinion, no.

In cash games, the variance is lower, so cash players have smaller downswings. On the other hand, professional MTT players can lose money for months on end hoping for that one golden shot.

Is There Any Chance to Reverse the Trend?

The chances of poker becoming great again are very slim. The millennials are not very interested in poker. The allure of card games seems to have lost its appeal among the younger generation, who are drawn to alternative forms of entertainment. The influx of new players is decreasing. Also, AI can disrupt the poker industry.

The only chance to reverse the trend and save online poker is a common player pool. If the Americans returned to the international market, and the Spanish, Italians or French didn't have a separate player pool, there would be a chance for poker to recover. But the chances of that happening are very slim.

Final Thoughts

If you are playing as an amateur, even if you are doing well, and are considering whether to go all in and become a pro, I would advise against doing it in 2023. Sorry, but you are about 10 years too late.

Last Updated on November 8, 2023 by Dan (Danny) James

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