What It Takes to Be a Mid-Stakes Pro

by , May 6, 2008 | 10:43 pm

Joel the MySpace Friend / Account Exec in Dallas writes in inquiring about a possible career change:

—————– Original Message —————–
From: “Joel”
Date: May 5, 2008 2:02 PM

How are things? How is Vegas? I might be moving out there at the end of the Summer to play poker professionally. Cash games and tourneys. Any advice, suggestions or best games you are finding out there? Any tips would help. Thanks!

—————– Original Message —————–
From: Pokerati
Date: May 6, 2008 10:05 AM

Indeed, you could do very well out here if you are properly bankrolled.

I haven’t played the 5-10 games, so i don’t know them well, but i think they aren’t that different from the big 2-5s here, which are beatable and ALMOST a viable way for a player like yourself to make $1k-$2k a week on.

At 5-10, I suspect the difference is you can expect about 1.5 more good players per table.

—————– Original Message —————–
From: “Joel”
Date: May 6, 2008 11:06 AM

Yeah, I have about 125K I could take out there. I am single, with no kids, so I have that flexibility too. I do own a house, for about 5 yrs now and have about $50,000 in equity built up. I make $70,000 per year at my current job, so I would be risking that of course. If I hated my job or got fired, I would give it a shot for sure! I have even thought about buying a retail, fast food type of franchise to provide me with a stable income flow while I played poker out there. I could get a small business loan to pay for it. I have talked to other people who live in Vegas and they suggest having another income stream if you want to play poker for a living. Very wise I think. I could just hire a manager to run the store I purchase, thus would free up more time for me to play poker. Thoughts?

Joel, I think you are clearly asking the wrong guy. I recommend calling Suze Orman and asking her about your plan. If you want to know how to make $1.88/hr at the tables, then I can speak more authoritatively. However, all your numbers make sense-ish, and I’ve seen you play just fine. Question though:

How much of that 125k was built playing poker? The answer to that will be very telling, at least about maybe what games you should be eying when/if you should start.

As to running a fast-food joint … I dunno if that’s the best alternate income. I think it’s not the easiest business from the start, and I suspect the Carls Jr. and In-n-Out gangs who control the drive-thru burger market here might make it even rougher on you.

Have you considered blogging, or taking the whole wad and betting it on red?

25 Comments to “What It Takes to Be a Mid-Stakes Pro”

  1. Tom Schneider

    Blogging, Dan? That must be what you were referring to when you mentioned making 1.88/hr. You certainly don’t make that playing poker.

    Believe it or not, Dan makes a good point. How did you get the 125k? Was most of it accumulated at the tables or from savings? Unless most of it was earned playing poker, I’m not a big fan of moving to Vegas and playing poker. First of all, Vegas isn’t the place I would move to for poker. Los Angeles is where you need to be.

    The first thing I think you need to do is determine if money is more important than doing what you like to do. There aren’t many people who make 75k a year playing poker.

    In addition, Vegas can eat you up. Look what it has done to Dan. He’s an awful mess.

  2. DanM

    Tom you don’t even know the whole of it … I have indeed been bitten out here. As strange as it may sound, the little poker bubble in V-town is actually kinda a safe refuge from all the zombies looking to suck your brains.

  3. Uncle Ray

    Don’t blame Dan being a mess on Vegas. I’m family, and I’m an equal mess (or at least as much of a mess) and I only go to Vegas a couple of times a year (Maybe we can blame it on his time in Chicago).

    As usual, Tom, your advice is better, and Dan did infer that with his “Joel, I think you are clearly asking the wrong guy”.

    I think the real question you must ask yourself is “If it doesn’t work out, will I regret trying?” If you can honestly say that no matter what happens you won’t regret trying, then in some way you have to go for it. And I guess that really goes back to Tom’s comment about how important the money is.

  4. Joel

    About half of the 125K was earned playing poker over the last 3-4 years. The other half is savings. Playing part time 2-5, 5-10 NL cash games and a few selected tourneys each year as well.

    I have heard from other players as well, that L.A. is the best place to play poker for a living. I have played both the Bike and the Commerce and did very well at each when I was out there. I heard the 10-20 NL cash game at the Commerce is juicy. Maybe L.A> is in fact the place to be, but there is also that dreaded cost of living factor …

    Dan, always bet on Black. And … aren’t those In-N-Out Burgers so damn good though?


  5. Thomas

    I recommend finding a business or career to go along with Poker. I have found for me that 2/5 is a good game to play with quick returns assuming you cash out when your up. I would not recommend this career to anyone.

  6. 85nutz

    It’s interesting; I considered a lot of the same things when I decided to move to Vegas. I was in a similar situation, no wife or kids to consider, just myself. I didn’t have a bankroll but did have a job dealing the WSOP and though what better time will there be in my life to make the plunge so I did. Uncle Ray I agree 100% that Joel should ask himself if he is going to regret it if things don’t work out. On the other side of that though, are you going to regret it later if you don’t take the chance now when you have it? It’s like the old man on the commercial who tells his grandkids about how years ago he could have bought a Harley but instead bought aluminum siding for the house. The siding is the safe play but years later wouldn’t you have rather had the Harley?

    Oh and Dan don’t worry about the $1.88 an hour, focus on the winning play, the correct decisions, the money will come, and quit playing 8-2 in early position!!

  7. DanM

    8-2 isn’t my problem … I know how to play that hand. It’s A-2 UTG that I most recently bled with.

  8. enzyme

    2k per weeek / 40 hours = 50$ an hour.
    Say you play 33 hands per hour, so your winrate would be 150$ or 30bb per 100 hands.
    Not attainable winrate and we haven’t even counted the rake yet.

  9. DanM

    I really don’t think you can calculate NL revenue in terms of BBs. It just doesn’t work that way when you’re sitting there for hours waiting for the opportunity to felt your fellow big-stacks (like a dude did to me the other day). The rake is simply a tax that can be handled when it’s $4-5 max.

    I know a couple of people here — like literally two — who have been pulling off the above numbers for about a year-and-a-half. Sometimes they have big weeks (or even sessions) and win $3k or more. Other weeks they lose $1k. But overall they are living relatively comfortably yet hardly living large.

    At 1/2 NL, I fully agree with your premise … even though there, too, the BB isn’t really an appropriate factor.

  10. DanM

    The idea of netting $150 per 100 hands is sooooo doable. Heck, I can do it in half a hand! In fact, I try to do it just about every five minutes, and therein may lie the reason I personally can’t beat the rake … but not everyone plays as badly as I do.

  11. Scott Chaffin

    A poker blog probably isn’t the place to answer this question, Joel, but do you have any other goals in life besides pokering? And have you considered what the equity in your home is really worth today? I say this as a man who just take a brutal beating in Dallas in the $250-500K market – it is, how you say, saturated.

    And, please don’t take this personally, because I’m sure you just have no idea, but the idea of financing your poker dreams with a fast-food franchise back-stop is outrageously foolish, and dare I say, ignorant. Talk to someone in the business about the margins on fast-food, and the time spent by the owner maintaining those margins. Please do that if you consider that part of your plan seriously.

    OK, enough wet blanket. I say keep selling shit as a backstop, and go do it. This is America, and if you screw up, you get to take a second and tenth shot.

  12. 85nutz

    A-2? Apparently I miss understood, that’s a little more acceptable but still, UTG? If your going to play it you might as well raise it!

    Back to the important issue at hand. I do agree with you that $50/hr is very doable. I myself have not yet reached that high but I am averaging $38.86/hr at 2-5 since moving here to vegas. That number gets better if you isolate a couple of casinos but that’s kind of cheating the numbers. I have yet to play in any 5-10 games so I can’t say if the competition is any better or not but I would think so. 5-10 is a pretty big jump, maybe next year!

  13. DanM

    I think A-2 is less acceptable, frankly. And you are right … If I was going to play it all, I shoulda raised. A-10 to my left woulda called, and 88 in late position presumably woulda re-raised … at which point I woulda either called or folded, depending on the size of his re-raise. (And they generally were pretty big.)

    Even if I then called — which woulda been another mistake — at least I woulda represented a stronger hand, which woulda then played out way differently when the flop came 10-10-2.

  14. DanM

    But bottom line is no midstakes pro can make it putting his entire stack at risk playing those kinds of hands in those sorts of situations. Even when the pot gets to $1,600, it’s not a good spot to be in drawing dead to perfect-perfect for a chop.

  15. DanM

    ***If you can honestly say that no matter what happens you won’t regret trying, then in some way you have to go for it. ***

    I really can’t imagine anyone Joel’s age — I think he’s like 37? — not regretting putting their life saving’s at risk, blowing it, and then feeling like, hey, that’s cool, because at least I gave it a shot … now I can start all over again as if I were 25!

    An exit strategy — say running your savings/bankroll down to $50k — seems an important part of your plan … like what number will you hit before you suddenly stop, take a trip far away from poker, and think about what the future holds.

  16. tbonezz111

    I really don’t have much “hands on” imput into this other than…. at 41, I moved to vegas w/no place to live and no job…. bankroll… HHAAAAA… NADA…. I found a job, got a place to live, make an ok living, in the restaurant biz, and try to find the right answers to build a bankroll….. with all that being said, I NEVER REGRET MOVING HERE………….. NEVER!!!!!!!!! I knew the risks, I know the anguish, I understand the odds that are not in my favor… but, I can’t imagine not giving this a shot.

    I can say this, with 100% confidence… do not, and let me repeat myself… do not even think about the restaurant biz as a “backfall”. Now, with that said, is it unrealistic to think that you couldn’t buy franchise X and make it work, not at all. But to really understand what it takes to make franchise X work… WHOLE OTHER BALLGAME!!! I’ve been in the restaurant biz for over 25 years and I can tell you this… I know the painstaking commitment it takes to make something like this work. It is not all sugar plums and $$$$$ in the dreams that happen to the very few lucky ones. Rather, it is usually a lot of long and tedious hours of work that are needed to just TRY and make it go into the black. The red numbers are around every corner. You would have to find a nitch in an extremely over saturated market. If you need more insight, just let me know.

    Back to the poker for a living…. Can it be done, absolutely… question is, what lifestyle do you want to lead? If making 50K a year to pay all your bills and know that when you lose 10K in 3 weeks won’t put you on emotional and financial tilt, then you are safe… if making a living like a rock star is important to you, then, you will have to be the >1% that gets the backing from poker sites with all the wonderful perks, money and endorsments that will put you over the top.

    Bottom line is this…. FOLLOW YOUR DREAM… I am a firm believer in the “life is too short” theory. I may be broke from day after payday til 2 weeks until next payday, but, to not try… unforgivable!! Not saying vegas is the best place, but it aint bad!

    sidenote: If I were to do it over again… I would probably have stayed in Florida when on my road trip out here I cashed at Hard Rock in Hollywood Florida in every 2/3 single table games I played in (donkey city!!!) but the bright lights of vegas had a strong pull on me!!

    Like Jimmy V. said “Don’t ever give up, Don’t ever give up!!”

  17. DanM


    Dude, fuck following a dream … follow a market! And then make your dream fit within that market.

  18. san fran king

    Hey guys, I’m in the same position as Joel, 37, single, 100k bankroll and I’m thinkng of pulling the trigger on vegas. I am a web designer and was thinking I could still do that part time, I never have a problem finding work because I am a ten year internet veteran. My question is, I am a tournament player only and was thinkg I could make a living playing the $100 to $500 games. I’ve about 8/10 k last year just playing small tournys part time here in the bay area, Do you guys think I’m nuts??

  19. san fran king

    Let me re-phrase that, 100/500 at first and then move up. But the bigger tournys are limited and sometimes all over the world, seems like some real expensive travel especially nowadays. Not sure what approach I should take.

  20. DanM

    I don’t think you can be just a tourney player — even if you are currently a profitable one — and make enough to live off of. (Online tourney players possible excepted.) There just aren’t enough of them that don’t come without major expenses for the math to work out.

    Not saying it’s not possible to build a bankroll with tourney play … but really, i think you’ve got to be a winning cash player to fund your tourney buy-ins, thereby putting yourself in a position for a big-big payday. Try to live off tourneys, though, and you could go down very quickly, I suspect.

    Tom had the very best year of his life in tournaments last year, and was absolute tops at the WSOP … and when it was all said and done, he hardly netted a house. Greg Raymer made two final tables and finished 16th in the $50k horse event at the WSOP last year … and he lost $100k overall.

  21. san fran king

    Yeah your not the only one that has mentioned that its really tough to just play tournys and make a living. I just don’t have as much fun playing cash games – what a grind. I’ve actually done fairly well at cash games I just don’t think I could handle it all day without getting board. I rarely get board playing tournys. I guess I’d better just stick to part time. Any other opposite opinions out there? 🙂

  22. DanM

    So how much of your 100k bankroll came from tourney-play … and how much did you have to put in to get there?

  23. san fran king

    Well I only made 10k so far in small buy in tournys netting about 7500, the 100k is my savings. I know my plan is flawed I just wanted someone to tell me it is. Maybe I could move to Vegas do my internet work full time and tournys part time. I love that damn town.

  24. Donkey Bomber

    This whole discussion comes back to another post. How many people have made more than $100,000 per year the last 3 years in a row? If that number is somewhere between 200-300, which I think is high, then what are you wasting your time for?

    How many attorneys, accountants, fast food franchise owners have made more than $100,000 per year for the last 3 years? my guess is 20,000 attorneys, 20,000 accountants and 20,000 fast food franchise owners. I could add many more professions to this list.

    If your goal is making money consistently, poker is not where it’s at. Sorry. Invest in a business or get a good job and move up the ladder and play poker all along the way. First of all, you keep poker in perspective and you have a world to go back to when things get a little rough.

    Higher stakes poker is getting tougher and tougher, fewer dead stacks and bigger, stronger pigs at the trough (sp?).

    I am seriously considering going back into the business world full time. I’m 48 right now and losing marketable business value every day. Imagine how desirable I will be when I’m 58 and haven’t made much money in 5 years.

    I do believe in pursuing your dreams. I did, and it worked out very well, but those were different times in the poker world. I could make a lot of mistakes and still win. If you want to make $50,000 the rest of your life, poker is probably OK, but I and most other people have loftier goals than that.

  25. Anonymous Asshole

    I think Tom makes a great point re: poker and income. I am going to add one element to that comment and it relates to ENJOYING your winning/time with others you truly care about. It boggles me to see the number of poker players at the tables and guess what, 90% don’t have wedding rings (myself included.)

    I am a casual player but I like to:

    (1) win $$$ – that is how the wins/losses are determined at the end of the day (not making a call to lose $$$ and determine my read was right.)

    (2) play against better and better competition (moved from 1/2 to 2/5) and:

    (3) improve my poker skill sets (read books, put them to work at the tables). Some people, who consistently make $$$ are amazed at some of the reads I can make. My problem is I make a few mistakes here and there and they cost me so I am trying to avoid that now 🙂 Additionally, the best thing I ever did was recognize most of my losses were from 2 a.m. and later so I don’t play past 2 a.m.

    Anyway, getting to the point:

    I make good $$$ for a living, at roughly $80k a year. On a per hour basis I would be insane to play poker for a living due to the volatility/inconsistency of earnings. I like what I do for a living, I am pretty good at it and people I work with/for seem to recognize that as well, which has led to a steady stream of promotions over the years (now a VP in my mid 30s).

    How do I enjoy poker? Well, I use poker and the income from it to buy me nicer stuff in life that I can cherish, like investing in my house (speakers all throughout), paying for landscaping (that I can enjoy for years to come). I’ve used income from poker to buy my lady a nice dinner or a gift, which helps alleviate her concern re: me playing poker 🙂 And that little gift to her also buys me some extra time at the tables too 🙂

    My goal this year is to have poker pay for my hot tub. I have done the math and, at $9k total (including electrical) it works out to roughly $750 per month or $175 per week. I just set that goal 2 months ago and I am up $1200, having not played enough poker lately to keep me on track. Once a week isn’t even happening lately….

    Just remember (at the risk of sounding really preach) life isn’t about who has the most scruples or the sexy career/lifestyle, it is also about who you enjoy them with.

    I am sure everyone here can find someone they would like to enjoy more time with (a special trip paid for by poker – ie. creating memories) or something they would like to purchase with poker WINNING.

    Anyway, just a thought…

    AA out