The Lifespan of a Professional Poker Player (part 2)
Please read article #1 here: http://orangepokerblog.com/2017/07/17/the-lifespan-of-a-professional-poker-player-part-1/
Congratulations, you are at the peak of your powers. You have decided to become a full time poker player and dedicate yourself to this game. Your passion is at its absolute peak and you love immersing yourself in poker through all facets: studying, playing, watching videos, discussing strategy in study groups, playing live poker, and much more. You spend anywhere from 20-60 hours a week playing or working on poker and you are a full time player. You spend hundreds of dollars each year for your poker training, be it through poker subscription sites or through poker software or poker coaching. You are playing high enough to make a living at poker and you still feel that you have more room to improve and higher limits to conquer. You play 2/5NL+ live or at least 200NL+ online at this time and you can see yourself playing poker for a very long time. You have a large network of poker friends, all of them playing a variety of limits and stakes and you have an excellent network. You have been through multiple downswings and you know how to counter them and react when going through them. Your mental game is something that you are consistently working on and you have focused on other elements of poker study, not just your technical game. You are a good enough poker player on a fundamental level at this point that you start to expand into other games; either another format (MTTs vs Cash) or game (PLO or mixed games). In addition to playing other games, you might try to coach other players in order to increase your income.
David’s Experience: I was at the peak of my poker career around 2010, where I was playing any game from 200NL-2000NL, depending on the lineups and how many fish were involved (my main game was probably 400NL). I had my biggest online winning days (+$8k) and my biggest losing days (-$7k) during this stretch. I had a large network of poker friends and was a coach on Deuces Cracked. I stayed in Vegas poker houses each summer, grinding day and night in live cash games and then I would come home and play online or sweat my friends and learn more. I devoured any poker learning material and I loved the freedom that poker brought me. I was able to travel after I graduated college and explore places that I never could have normally. I expanded to PLO (playing up to 2/4 PLO after receiving coaching) and also had some decent MTT scores ($30,000 in an WSOP circuit event and a few other low 5 figure scores). Unfortunately, Black Friday hit me shortly after my peak and, like many other poker players, it sent me reeling for a new path.
Losing Interest and Forced Grinder
Have you ever played a video game and became obsessed with it, pouring thousands of hours into this game and becoming an expert? How about getting sick of this video game after a while and then turning your focus and interest towards other things? This is pretty much the same exact situation and a very common trend that I have seen with pretty much every poker player that I know who plays full time. The passion fades slowly and you start to play poker because you have to make rent and you have to make your bills, not because you love it. This is a slow process- it might first start as you not wanting to do as many study sessions as you used to. Or it might be that you start to skip a few poker training videos or you take a few more days off than you normally would (and feel fine about it). You are not as motivated to work as hard and at the start, it’s not a big deal! You’re still a winner in your games and nothing seems to have changed. You can still get by with studying less and hey- you’ve paid your dues and put in the work in the past, so you don’t need to work as hard to stay a winner in your games. This is the first time since you started playing as a full time professional that you start to question if you want to do this for a living. Your winnings may suffer a little bit, but your overall personal life is better than before. You start to find other areas of interest- financial trading, internet marketing, law school, and business school are all very normal transitions for poker players.
David’s Experience: Shortly after Black Friday, I decided to go traveling. I did not play much poker during this time and I found some other interests in my life. Poker became something that I did not have to do in order to feel happy and I could go days or weeks without playing. I still played because I had to make a living, but I could tell that I definitely was not as passionate about it as I was. I could tell that my friends were having similar transitions in their life- many of them went to professional school and others became entrepreneurs or transitioned to corporate jobs. My earnings slowly declined during this time, both in part to dwindling volume and an overall lack of interest in studying poker. You can sometimes re-engage your passion and interest by learning a new game or format, and that is what many poker professionals do during these periods.
End Of the Line and Grinding Because You Have To
This is the end of your poker career. Poker is no longer fun and you are doing the bare minimum to make a living. You still might be playing decent stakes online, but you are not studying extra hours or more invested in new training material. You might decide that you are going to transition to live games because those are softer than online and it is easier to make a living there than online. The thought of playing long hours is not appealing nor gratifying and you are only playing because you have to do it for money. You feel stuck- you do not want to play poker any longer professionally, but you have put so much into this game and you do not have any other skills that are applicable to the ‘real world’ (at least from an employer’s point of view). Poker has become a grind. You are barely making more than you need to survive and the days of winning large sums of money (relative to your stakes) seems like a thing of the past. You feel like Joey Knish from Rounders, old and grinding on your leather ass for meager sums of money- because you have to. There are other routes you can take, such as going back to school or learning new skills, but those seem so far out of reach. The bottom line is: Poker is not fun anymore.
David’s Experience: I reached the end of my poker career sometime in 2012. I was playing sparingly and my poker study and work ethic was nonexistent. I can relate to all of what I wrote in the last section- I had a useless degree (history), a poor GPA (3.0), and zero work experience. I knew I had to transition but I did not know where I should transition to. I will likely be writing an article on this exact topic and will expand more when I go into more detail. I eventually got into full time poker staking and finally remembered what it felt like to do some hard work. The transition was hard at first but I really grew to love the job and I remembered my love for poker. If you are at this end stage of your poker career, I believe that it is time for you to start looking for a transition out. My full time poker career lasted for about 4 years. I played in a serious manner from 2004-2008 and then full time from 2008-2012. I still play recreationally now and some live poker here and there, but poker is more of a casual activity for me vs. a full time hobby.
You may have experienced only 2 of these steps or you may have experienced all of them. Many players go through life and are just recreational players at their peak and that is fine- poker is a game and games are meant to be fun and exciting and enjoyable. There are many players who exclusively play live and play simply for fun. There are others who put in 100,000 hands a month and poker is their life. Either way, I hope that you enjoyed this article. Feel free to message me if you are at any stage and want some advice. Being as old as I am in the poker world, I have seen tons of players come and go. I believe that you should strive for happiness first and foremost and that should be your #1 objective.
Photo Credit: Elias Levy (Flickr)/