“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 Players Earn a Living Playing Online Poker
It’s hard to imagine some people actually earn a living playing online poker. For many game enthusiasts it would be a dream-come-true to get up every day and experience the thrill of the table. But for some people, online poker truly is their day job.
How they actually earn a living playing poker is a combination of skill and dedication, with a little luck thrown in. It’s an exciting way to live if you’re willing to take the risks.
But you need more than just instinct and talent if you want to earn a decent living playing poker online. Professional poker players are incredibly intelligent and train in poker strategy for years before signing on to hit the tournament circuit.
What’s more, to play for a living, the pros also have to have a serious handle on their poker bankroll. They need to make sure they’re only playing with cash they can afford to lose.
No matter how good a player you are, Poker is a game of luck. You need to be prepared for the inevitable losses that go along with your wins.
Keep scrolling and we’ll share some of our favourite tips and strategies to help you make the most of your real money poker play. We doubt you’re planning to quit your office job anytime soon, but everyone has to start somewhere.
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 legal, 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.
How Much Does an Average Player Make?
So, can you make money playing online poker legitimately? Is it actually listed as a profession? Surprisingly, yes.
According to Comparably (a site that looks at salary ranges), the US average salary for a professional poker player is $64,168 USD and players from San Fransisco make the most money. We’re not surprised that San Fransisco has the highest average. It’s a tech Mecca and it is online poker, after all.
All that said, the range has a wild swing—anywhere from $19K annually up to $187,200. Since it’s a luck-based game, your salary al depends on the things we mentioned earlier; your talent, dedication and luck.
Oh, and don’t forget, you have to pay taxes on your earnings. A player making an average salary has to give 22% of their earnings to the government.
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.
How to Choose the Right Games
There’s a little bit of alchemy involved with choosing the right online poker table. There are tons of options out there, and some casinos are certainly better than others. It’s important to do your research. Here’s what our experts have to say about choosing the right online poker games:
Play for Free First
As we mentioned earlier, poker is a game that takes skill. Building that skill takes practice. A great way to get a feel for a particular casino or poker variant is to play for free first. Most reputable casinos will allow you to play in demo mode.
Look for Bonuses and Promotions
Online casinos will do just about anything to earn your business. That includes lucrative bonuses and promotional offers. Utilizing bonuses is an excellent way to add a little buffer to your bankroll. Just be sure to review the T&Cs and check out any wagering requirements before you play. Only a handful of casinos allow their Poker tables to count toward the rollover.
Play at Strategic Times
Some experts say that playing poker on weekends or during the North American prime-time hours is best. The theory suggests that this is when the most recreational or casual players are hitting the tables. It means you’d be up against less experienced players and have a better chance of beating them (especially if they’re enjoying a scotch or two).
Online Poker Buy-ins and Costs
We’ve talked a lot about how professionals and online casinos earn money through online poker. Now we’ll get into more of the actual game costs and what to look for when you want to start playing poker online for real money.
First, we’ll cover poker buy-ins and costs:
Buy-ins are the minimum amount of money you need to in order to join a particular poker game—it’s essentially the entrance fee. We’re sure you’ve played home games with a poker buy-in of something like $30+2. This means the $30 goes to the prize pool and the extra $2 goes to the host to cover the snacks.
Costs will vary by casino but most online poker rooms have a minimum buy-in 20 to 40 times the big blind. Most No Limit or Pot Limit games set their minimum at 40 times the big blind and the games are usually $1 or $2 No limit games. Therefore you’ll expect to pay at least $80 to join a game.
Types of Online Poker Games
Before we get into the most profitable poker variations, we should talk a little bit about the types of games you can play online. There are three; Cash, Sit & Go and Tournament. Experts recommend playing cash games or Sit & Gos before entering any tournaments. Most would suggest that if you’re looking to earn a living playing poker, cash games can be a fine way to do it.
Profitable Online Poker Variants
Here are some of the poker variants most preferred by professional players.
Texas No Limit Hold’Em
Texas Hold ‘Em, No Limit Hold’em or just NLH, whatever you call it, it’s still the most popular poker variant in the world. This means there are tons of resources available for you to learn the ins and outs of the game.
Playing No Limit Hold’em can also be very strategic—most beginner poker players start with this variation, so you might be able to score a few wins by playing the newbies.
Omaha is a poker variant that’s quickly gaining in popularity. This game is played with 4, 5 or 6 cards and players like it for fast-paced gameplay, which means they can play more flops, turns and rivers.
Since Omaha is so fast paced, new and less-disciplined players tend to make either risky or gutless moves. If you’re a measured and informed player, you can take advantage of your opponents’ recklessness.
Simple Strategies for Real-Money Play
How much can you make playing poker online?
The short answer is yes, but the amounts you can make fluctuate wildly. If you’re a good poker player and playing small stakes games, you could possibly make around $5,000 a month. A professional player in high stakes tournaments can earn $10,000-$100,000K a month or more.
Can you get rich by playing poker?
Yes, and some people do, but you need to be strategic and very smart to do it. You need to have the instinct to play the right games and the right cards. You also need to have a lot of self control and discipline. Most wealthy pros started somewhere, but it takes intelligence and grit.
Which online poker game is most profitable?
In 2022, the most profitable poker variant is Short Deck Hold’em. Not really because the odds are any different, but it’s relatively new to the online poker scene and therefore it takes time for players to learn how to play correctly.
Can you make a living off playing poker?
Over time, professional players are able to build their skills to a level where they can play poker professionally and make a decent living doing it. So yes. As we’ve been saying, however, prepare to put in the time to learn the necessary skills and strategy before you quit your day job.