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Poker 101: Do People Actually Make Money Playing Online Poker?

Online poker cash

“Is this for real?”

It’s the first thought that the vast majority of people have after seeing an online poker site for the first time.

It’s understandable. The internet has been rife with scams and schemes since the days of dial-up. If there’s real money up for grabs — no matter if it’s online poker or stock trading — it doesn’t take long for the hustlers and angle-shooters to arrive.

Online poker has not been immune to those influences either and, in the early days of the industry, there were several highly publicized scandals that involved poker sites.

That’s why it comes as a surprise to many that not only is the online poker industry legit but it’s possible to win cash prizes that would make successful day traders or esports stars blush.

In our ongoing Poker 101 series, we’ll take a look at how players actually profit from online poker and, in turn, how the actual online poker economy works.

How Online Poker Sites Make Money

Since the very first day that poker was dealt in a casino, there has been a system in place for the casinos to make money from the game. They wouldn’t spread it otherwise.

First off, it’s important to recognize that poker is fundamentally different than most casino games because you play against other players instead of the house. That’s why casinos had to develop a system to charge players for a chance to play.

The standard way that casinos profit from poker is by employing something called the rake.

Rake is a small amount of money that is taken out of each pot that goes straight to the casino. Generally it’s around five to 10 percent of a pot. That amount differs from casino to casino and that’s why poker players are always searching for a venue that offers low rake.

Rake isn’t the only method of profiting from spreading poker and some casinos or cardrooms instead opt to charge players an hourly rate or a membership fee. For the most part, online poker operators adopted the rake business model when they started launching sites in the early 2000s.

Online poker sites had an advantage, however, because they didn’t have to hire dealers or have a physical space. Software handled both of those requirements and so online poker sites were able to offer much lower rake compared to physical casinos. Online poker sites were also able to spread games as low as $.01/$.02 because their overhead costs were low.

This model was vastly successful and industry leaders like partypoker, PokerStars and 888poker were able to become multimillion-dollar companies.

There have been some bad actors over the history of online poker (Ultimate Bet, Absolute Poker and Lock Poker all spring to mind) but the rewards for running a legitimate online poker site vastly outweigh the possibility of scamming a quick buck from poker players.

That’s how online poker companies have developed into legitimate, sustainable, long-term businesses. Now we’ll take a look at how players profit from it.

How Online Poker Players Profit

Let’s say you are really good at checkers.

You practice hard, compete in local competitions and maybe someday you might ascend to the very top of the game and win the world championship for several thousand dollars if you’re lucky.

Meanwhile, if you’re good at poker, you can log on to a poker site without any qualifying and instantly win thousands of dollars on any given day of the year.

There are very few games that are as financially rewarding as poker if you’re especially talented. The very fact that there are professional poker players tells you that there is indeed a legitimate way to make money at the game.

The trick is that you have to be better than the vast majority of your opponents and that’s not easy (depending on where you play, of course).

That’s not to say that amateur players don’t sometimes get the best of it. Poker is a unique beast because it involves both luck and skill so there’s always a chance an amateur player will take down a huge score despite playing less than optimal poker. That’s part of the beauty of the game and what keeps players coming back.

The difference is that over time the best player will almost always come out on top. That means just because you win one big tournament for a lot of money doesn’t mean you will be a successful long-term poker player.

The very best poker players in the world try to stack the deck in their favor by utilizing a number of different strategies. First and foremost, they employ some form of bankroll management so they never go broke.

Furthermore, poker pros look to augment their winnings with bonuses or rakeback from poker sites that reward players for their loyalty. Poker pros are also always on the lookout for a potentially “soft” game, which means it’s frequented by bad players. If they get good enough, and gain enough publicity, they may even seek sponsorship.

The very best poker players in the world are able to win millions of dollars without even leaving their own home.

Why Most Poker Players Don’t Profit from Poker

To consistently make money playing online poker, you’ve got to be very, very skilled at the game.

Poker experts have estimated that only the top five percent of players are actually consistent, winning players.

No one knows the exact number but if you want to make a career out of online poker, you’ve got to be exceptionally talented and have a winning record to back it up.

It’s not unlike professional sports where only the best get to play in the NFL, NBA or NHL. The players who practice the most, tirelessly study strategy or just plain figure out something that other players don’t get will almost always rise to the top.

That’s not to say that amateur poker players haven’t made huge profits from playing the game recreationally. Poker simply isn’t a full-time job to most players. It’s a hobby but it can still be a potentially lucrative one.

The history of poker is full of amateur players like Chris Moneymaker going on insane streaks at the WSOP and winning millions. The trick is to keep it and that shouldn’t be too hard unless you suddenly decide you want to be a high-stakes poker pro.

How Can I Make Money Playing Online Poker?

There are actually a number of ways that poker players can improve their ROI (return on investment) when playing poker.

First and foremost is simply getting better at poker. These days there are a huge number of strategic resources that are available for free. One of the best ways to learn these days is through YouTube or Twitch streaming, which is a far cry from the old days.

Practice is also extremely important and players who put in the time are generally better.

Outside of strategy, there are other elements that can help a player maximize their winnings. Some of the basic concepts that new players should learn include:

Bankroll management is simply a risk-avoidance strategy that helps lessen the variance of poker. The idea is that you’re never risking so much of your poker playing funds that a run of bad luck will sink you. Most bankroll management advocates advise having at least 20 to 30 buy-ins at the stakes you play. Some more conservative players like to have 50 or 100.

Poker sites are always looking to recruit new players and they do that by offering different perks that can be in the form of free tournament tickets (freerolls), rakeback (getting a percentage of your rakeback) or a sign-up bonus (sites will match the amount of your initial deposit).

Those bonuses may seem small but it can be very helpful to get some perks when you’re attempting to build a bankroll. Hunt around and try to find a poker site that will reward you for time. Think about it this way: If you’re a break-even poker player but you get 10 percent back in rakeback or other perks, then you’re making money.

Finally, playing weaker opponents is absolutely pivotal if you’re solely interested in making money. You should do your research and experiment with a few different poker sites to figure out where the weakest opposition lies.

This is called game selection and there are professional poker players who have essentially built their entire careers from finding one soft game that’s played for high stakes. A game like that will always exist somewhere in the world, it’s just a matter of finding it.