Add to the live appeal of poker the online figures and the industry of the game is huge. In 2020 alone, global online poker revenue reached approximately $3.3 billion. But what does the average poker player actually make from playing the game? From the recreational player to high stakes bosses, it’s time we found out.

The Pull of Poker

It is easy to see why anyone would aspire to play poker for a living. Poker draws people in for its social appeal as much as it does those who want to win money playing it. The perfect blend of skill and luck, poker is a game that over time, anyone can run a profit in, whether it is by playing in a live venue such as a casino or poker club, or by playing online poker while out and about or at home.

Playing poker for fun is a great way of apportioning a part of your regular earnings and enjoying it by playing cards with your friends and possibly strangers in a public environment or on the best online poker sites. As a routine habit, it has plenty of advantages over other less social practices and unlike drinking alcohol, can even keep you healthy both physically and mentally rather than wearing out those faculties early. Poker is proven to help keep older people mentally active and stimulated well into the 70s and 80s.

Earning money at poker is extremely lucrative if you can do it. Learning to play poker can often cost money, both in terms of training or coaching and the act of playing poker itself. It stands to reason that when you’re first starting out, playing poker is often something you’ll lose at. Over time, however, you can break even then run at a profit, before perhaps turning professional in the game. If you do that, how much can you expect to earn?

What Are the Factors Influencing Poker Player Earnings?

Skill Level and Experience

The importance of skill in relative terms of your success in poker cannot be overstated. While there is obviously luck involved, if you have a greater skill level than your opponents, then over time you will make money. This is subjective to the level of buy-in at which you are playing, of course. If you’re an experienced player in online cash games when the blinds are $0.01/$0.02 and you keep improving, you’ll make a profit. Step up to $1/$2, however, and you’ll be crushed. It’s all about waiting until you have the experience at a certain level of buy-in to know that you’ll make a profit. If you don’t then you need to step back down until you do.

In the live poker arena, there is more of a sense of ‘taking a shot’ and learning on the job from the mistakes that you will inevitably make. The first time you sit down in a live poker game, you’re bound to make bet sizing and timing errors, lack positional expertise and even give away physical tells.

The first time I played poker live I had pocket aces in one hand and was surprised when my pre-flop raise – not an uncommon action or at a wild size at the table I was playing at – was folded to by every player at the felt. I asked myself why everyone had folded and as if to read my mind, the gentleman to my left offered an explanation as to why my tablemates had decided to back away from the pot.

“You edged forward in your seat and licked your lips.” He said, with a smile in his eyes.

He was right, I had, and had never even realised it. It was inexperience writ large, pure and simple.

Poker Shark

The Impact of Experience on Earning Potential

How much you earn playing poker is a question that while easy to ask has an answer that is frustratingly vague. That said, statistics can back up some of what we now know. The average salary for a professional poker player in the United States is $43,000 per year, which equates to just under $21 per hour, but that is not the average salary of a poker player. That is to lose around $1,000 per year, or around $12 per hour. That’s because less than 10% of all poker players will ever break through $1,000 of profit in their lifetimes and less than just 2% make over $10,000 in their entire careers.

Experience is, then, key. But while we’d encourage you to step up when you feel you are crushing at the limits you’re playing, as you’ll discover, you have to put the work in to run at a profit. When you do regularly make money at the level you’re playing, the hours that you put in will dictate how much you earn. This will also change depending on your game selection, how many tables you have running if you’re playing online or factoring in any living expense when travelling to and from live tournaments or cash games.

Ideally, you want to choose the right game for you to maximize your profits, allowing you to press your edge at every opportunity. When you do so, dealing with variance is important. You need to know that if you go on a downswing, it’s down to your inexperience at that level or simply variance that will even out over time.

Bankroll Management and Variance

Your poker bankroll is a crucial factor in how possible it will be for you to earn money playing poker. Having a sustainable poker income is one thing, but knowing where to put your funds and managing your real-life bankroll and poker bankroll is another. Splitting these two funds is something that you should do as soon as possible if you want to start earning money playing poker. Start small; put by $10 a month to play $1c/$2c cash online and see how you do.

As you move up the levels, know when to step back. If variance or a heightened skill level are making your bankroll decrease, drop back to your previous level and don’t go back up until you reach an amount that you know can cope with the hit.

There are several risks associated with poor bankroll management decisions such as chasing losses and taking too many shots. Taking a shot is fine. Let’s say you play NL2 and you are up $200 this month. Play a session at NL5 but if you lose those winnings, you have to step back and grind it up again. Taking a shot is one thing, getting in the ring every session with better punchers is quite another.

The concept of variance in poker is one you also need to have a firm understanding of. Running at -EV (experiencing bad variance) is when the hands you’ve played and the spots you’ve played them in should have yielded more of a return, but luck denied you that profit. Most players think this is the only reason they lose when in fact, the opposite is true; it’s almost always a case where we could have done something differently.

Variance can affect both your short-term earnings and your long-term bankroll, so it’s important that you run the numbers using a solver program or even just being brutally honest in hand review sessions, remembering to judge your perceived variance against the sample size you’re using and managing your expectations for what you need to do in order to pull it back.

Earnings Potential in Different Poker Formats

Cash Games

There are numerous pros and cons of playing cash games for income. One huge benefit is that you can walk away at any time. For this reason, building a stop/loss amount into your plan for any cash game session is crucial. Maximizing what you win and minimizing what you lose is the key approach to playing cash.

So how much can you make? Good poker players in small stakes online games like $1c/$2c to $50c/$1 will make between $600 and $5,000 a month whereas playing live cash in $1/$2 or $25/$50 will make between $1,000 and $10,000 a month as a guide. Really good high stakes poker players will make over $100,000 a month or more if they can find the right private games.

In general, big winners at the following levels make these amounts:

  • 1c/2c Online: $2 per hour
  • 2c/5c Online: $5 per hour
  • 5c/10c Online: $10 per hour
  • 10c/25c Online: $20 per hour
  • 25c/50c Online: $40 per hour
  • 50c/$1 Online: $65 per hour
  • $1/$2 Online: $110 per hour
  • $1/$2 Live Cash: $20 per hour
  • $2/$5 Live Cash: $40 per hour
  • $5/$10 Live Cash: $65 per hour

That means if you play online for five hours a day, paying 12 tables at once, you might play 840 hands per hour and could obviously run at a good profit. To scale up from playing one table to 12, however, takes time and like we’ve already covered, moving up those buy-in levels carefully and with humility and a solid plan are key.

Playing at the lowest cash game levels – and winning – might see you win around $600 per month, with a potential rakeback addition of $50. Over the year, that totals $7,800 which is great money, but not if that’s all you’re earning. That’s an hourly rate of a little under $5.50 per hour, too, so climbing the levels in year two and beyond can really have a huge effect on your bottom line.


Playing poker tournaments poker as a source of income comes with a degree of risk, purely down to the lower level of frequency (or rate) that you’re able to play them. Playing a single $500-entry multi-table tournament in a live casino over three days could yield nothing or $100,000. It will depend on many factors, and both the prizepool and luck are key indicators to that.

Can you afford to return home with nothing from an event after you’ve spent expenses to travel to the venue and enjoy accommodation? If you can’t, it’s time to grind a bit longer, because you need to approach a tournament buy-in, travel and accommodation as a package that you can afford to lose as easily as the buy-in to your next cash game session or online $5 rebuy.

There are many factors that influence tournament earnings in poker. These included but are not limited to the standard of your fellow players, table draw, live variance, physical and mental rest between tournament days, exercise, diet and of course, sleep. All of those elements should be weighed up when it comes to approaching tournaments but don’t let them put your off. Many of the world’s best poker players are still mastering parts of their poker journey around the world to this day and still have a great time doing so!

Real-life Examples of Poker Player Earnings

High-profile poker professionals seldom break down exactly what they have won over the years, either because they want to keep an element of mystery to their lives, are afraid of the consequences of oversharing with fans or simply because they don’t know. Many poker players do reveal, however, that the moment they outstripped their current wage at the time of them quitting poker was the push that told them they could turn professional.

Last year, Daniel Negreanu went into minute detail about exactly how well – or otherwise – his past year at the felt, as well as the prior decade, had gone. The truth was revealing, that he often suffered through too much quantity without optimizing the quality, either of the events he was playing, the frequency with which he attacked each tournament schedule, or his own play.

There are plenty of lessons to be learned from the top players as they can often break down the way we look at poker differently if its our supplementary or sole income. A good recreational player should generally be delighted if they break $10,000 in a calendar year as it puts them into the upper percentile without any doubt. Poker is not easy to run a profit at and these days takes more work than ever before.

In Conclusion

There are many misconceptions about poker income and hopefully in this article, we’ve settled some of those concerns. Making a profit at poker is all about setting out clear goals, moving up the levels only when you are ready to do so and looking honestly at the reasons why you should play the games you are playing.

Keep your expectations small and from there, you never know what will happen. The double EPT Main Event winner Victoria Coren-Mitchell was once asked what she thought it took to ‘go pro’ in the game. Her reply surprised many when she replied asking why anyone would want to do so when it’s so much fun to pay without the pressure of it being your job.

Your potential earnings as a poker player will be affected by many factors, including where you live, the cost of your lifestyle and looking after any dependants you have in your home. In the Western world, you can make a decent amount by playing poker for eight hours a day five days a week, where 200,000 hands of poker should yield profit if you’ve been sensible along the way.

Did this article deal you a winning hand?

Jackpot! You’ve flopped a winning hand! This article has surely added some extra chips to your stack. Tune in for more valuable insights and pro-level strategies!

Looks like you’ve been dealt a bad beat. We’ll shuffle the deck and try again.

Paul seaton


Paul Seaton, a poker luminary with over a decade of experience, has reported live from iconic poker events, including the World Series of Poker, European Poker Tour, and World Poker Tour. He’s not just a spectator; he’s been the Editor of BLUFF Europe Magazine and Head of Media for partypoker. Paul’s poker insights have graced publications like PokerNews, 888poker, and PokerStake, where he’s interviewed poker legends such as Daniel Negreanu, Erik Seidel, Phil Hellmuth, and The Hendon Mob’s, entire lineup. His exceptional work even earned him a Global Poker Award nomination for Best Written Content. In the poker world, Paul Seaton’s expertise is a force to be reckoned with, captivating enthusiasts worldwide. 

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