Exit Strategies for Professional Poker Players
This article is written for professional poker players who might be looking for the next career stage in their life and what is next after poker. If you think that you are at the end of your poker career and the game is not fun and has become a grind (see The Lifespan of a Professional Poker Player) and are unsure of what is next, this article offers a few options that might fit you for the near future.
Author’s note: I have seen hundreds of poker players come and go over the years, many of them full time professionals who have transitioned to other careers. I feel very qualified in talking about this topic as I have both experienced it first hand as a former professional and also had many friends go through this process. This list below is not in any order.
To begin, if you are looking for a transition out of professional poker, be sure to consider your options wisely and to also make sure that you ENJOY (at least a little bit) your future job/career/transition. Many of the options below have many self-employment options within each category and it will be difficult to succeed at the below options if you are not interested in learning. Why do poker players go professional? In most cases, it is not because of the massive earnings that poker players make. Relative to a corporate job, poker players can show graphs of 50k+ winnings at the table (which is great in a poker sense these days) and those earnings can be equaled in many corporate earnings.
Instead, it is the lifestyle that makes poker so attractive- being your own boss, making your own hours, and making money that fills your wallet, not an employer’s. Below are a few jobs that cater towards the qualities that poker players excel at, as well offering the benefits that draw many to professional poker in the first place (independence and more).
Coding and programming is an excellent transition for professional poker players for many reasons. Poker players are often gifted at math and science and are also used to sitting at the computer for hours and solving long problems. Coding requires many hours of hard work and can be very tedious. Like poker, there are many free resources available for coding and I have known many poker players who have transitioned to coding. One of the most well known poker players turned programmers is Haseeb Qureshi (aka DOGISHEAD): http://haseebq.com/farewell-app-academy-hello-airbnb-part-ii/ and http://www.businessinsider.com/haseeb-qureshi-how-to-negoitiate-250000-starting-pay-2016-9/#what-qureshi-doesnt-mention-but-is-key-to-understand-silicon-valley-tends-to-use-a-lot-of-professional-recruiters-that-are-experts-at-negotiating-also-worth-knowing-contract-headhunters-earn-about-30000hire-so-they-are-motivated-to-get-a-prospect-to-take-the-offer-1
One of the biggest appeals for programming is that a 4 year college/Uni degree is NOT necessary in order for you to succeed. Many other professions require at least a college education in order to apply; programming does not. While it is necessary to gain creditability in some way (either past projects that you can put on your resume or coding boot camps, which act as a short term school environment), programmers do not necessarily need 4 year college degrees in order to get their foot in the door for jobs and employers. Furthermore, the entire developer/programmer industry is one of the top current professions in the corporate world, with many starting in the high 5 figures/low 6 figures for starting salary.
The similarities between finance/day trading and online poker players are obvious: Both make quick, calculated decisions with money, both have to understand basic statistics and math, both have to use psychology in order to predict their future plan, and both are used to losing and making money as a profession (there are also many more). Finance and trading is another profession that does not require a college/Uni degree in order to learn. Nearly anyone can sign up for a stock trading account and trade. Like programming, there are many free resources available for teaching trading concepts.
With trading, there are many ways that people can make money; be it through large trading firms or alone/solo. Prop trading firms in Chicago are a good way to get your foot in the door if you want to learn to trade with an institution (several of my friends have gone this route). Alternatively, one can easily trade on their own.
One great way to get into trading is learning crypto currencies. Crypto currencies (cryptos) appeal to poker players because they are not nearly as regulated as stocks and the edges are bigger in trading. Furthermore, it is a much newer market than the stock exchange, still in its growth stages. Many poker players have transitioned to crypto investing and research.
Perhaps the ‘safest’ option of these four is going back to school and getting a degree, with the intent on getting a corporate job. For those who already have a degree, going to graduate school is an option. Getting a degree and completing Uni/University gives most people a solid chance at a corporate job, everything else being equal. Corporate jobs are generally a steady, secure path and a good source of income.
While poker players may have difficulty adjusting to the corporate life, corporate jobs offer many benefits that self employment lack. Health insurance, bonuses, steady pay, and other perks (occasionally employers will provide more pay for travel, gym costs, technology, etc) are all general bonuses from employers.
School also gives a variety of options for employers upon completion. Degrees and majors that poker players excel at are: Finance, engineering, and programming. The downsides to school are obvious- it is expensive, requires a few years of hard work and dedication, and can be a costly mistake if the student decides to not finish the degree.
The last job on this list is not really a job at all- it is the continual transition as an entrepreneur. This may be the easiest transition in terms of lifestyle- poker players are used to working on their own schedule and not having an employer write their checks. Online entrepreneurship can mean several things for transitioning poker players: e-Commerce, affiliate marketing, building a business in conventional sectors, and many others. Poker players are used to being their own boss, and entrepreneurs know that better than anyone.
I have friends and associates who have opened bars, restaurants, e-Commerce sites, web marketing services, and many more businesses. The benefits to these are obvious: Like poker, it is a risk and the upside is very large. Furthermore, there are unlimited opportunities in the world in terms of business opportunities.
The bottom line is that many poker players ask themselves “Okay, what is next?” at the end of their career. If you are at this stage in your professional poker career, it is most important that you ask yourself this: What do I like? What am I interested in? What can I do that will make me happy and also give me motivation to work very hard, just like I did when I initially played poker at the start of my career? Starting is the hardest thing for any new transition.
My advice to you professional poker players is this: Continue to play poker to pay the bills and slowly transition to something else (if you do indeed feel that you are ready to move on). Once you have found that ‘something’ that you want to transition to, dive into it and play poker recreationally/on the side.
Photo Credit: Coding: Flickr/Ruiwen Chau, Exit: Flickr/Chris Griffith,