Being a professional poker player can be incredibly lucrative, however it is quite different than many careers or investments. Professional poker players have capped potential unlike many other industries. In almost any other industry your career will tend to trend in a consistent upward manner. Take real estate as an example. If you get a mortgage and invest in a revenue property your upside is uncapped. If you make good investments and have some luck you may soon be able to take some equity out of your existing properties. If you are successful and a bit lucky you can relatively quickly have several properties all paying for themselves and you will have turned your small capital investment into a mini real estate empire. Professional poker players simply don’t have this kind of upside potential.
When you are starting out at micro stakes and are thrilled to win $10, the upside of poker seems infinite. However, the reality for professional poker players is that your upside, as far as profit goes, is actually heavily capped by the number of games available to play at higher stakes. Professional poker players can only profitable if there is a player at the table who is significantly worse than you. Unfortunately, there are a great deal more skilled professionals than there are recreational players. When a recreational player shows up to play online at a high stake level, the competition to get on that game is fierce. This competition seriously limits your ability to play a large volume of hands against weak players.
Cash game players tend to fall into two categories. The first category is the mass multi tabling grinders, who try to play as many hands as possible at the same time. The strategy here is that though your win-rate may be very small, but the large number of hands you are able to play allows you to win a large amount of money. The second category is usually a higher stakes player or heads-up player who table selects very carefully. These players are also known as “bumhunters” because of their unwillingness to play strong opponents. The table selector will play fewer tables and fewer hands, but hope to win more money per hand due to the poor quality of their opponents. Both of these styles place a very real cap on the potential winnings of professional poker players. For the multi tabler, there are only so many tables you can play before you actually start losing money at the tables. The reason for this is because you lose a sense for the game flow. For the “bumhunter” there are only so many weak opponents playing at any given time, and as mentioned before, a lot of other pros trying to get on the same game.
Years ago in the online poker world there would often be an open seat or two at the $5/$10 NLHE or $10/$20 NLHE game for at least a few minutes. If you were on the network, you would have a good chance of getting a seat, and eve if you didn’t get the seat initially, the wait list would move relatively quickly. In today’s online poker world, where the action is quite sparse at the high stakes those tables fill up almost instantaneously, and professional poker players practically never give up a seat at a good game once they get it. This is dramatically reducing the win-rates of online players. So be aware when you are working your way up the stakes that there is indeed a cap on the number of games you will be able to play, and therefore the amount you will potentially be able to earn. Liquidity dries up in a rather dramatic manner the moment you go above $2/$4 NLHE on most sites, and even lower on others. Good luck at the tables!