In 1998, after seeing the preview for Rounders, I decided to make my living playing cards. That’s right. I didn’t even wait for the movie to come out. I looked at the life of a professional poker player and what I saw was freedom and possibility.
Making a living as a poker player requires three things:
- The poker skill to beat the available games
- Access to games that allow you to make enough money to live on
- Access to a bankroll sufficient to play in the games you need to play in
Not everyone has equal access to games and bankroll, but I think most people can develop the skill necessary to beat a fair game. Back in the day, I had access to great games, and I had the bankroll and low expenses that allowed me to live off of the games that I could beat. From 2006 through 2012, things got harder, but not prohibitively so. There was no point at which I could look at my options and say, “I cannot make a living playing poker.”
One great thing about playing poker for a living is the freedom. You have no boss. You set your own schedule. If you work hard and smart, you make more money than if you work less-hard and not-so-smart. Poker is a meritocracy.
Now, it’s not a pure meritocracy, but it’s closer to one than anything else I’ve known. The 100 most successful poker players may not be the 100 best poker players. But most of them are among the best, and most of the best players do very, very well.
Starting off with more money and financial flexibility is a huge advantage. Where you start can have a big impact on where you end up. But that’s looking at poker as a career. When we look at playing poker at a fair table (i.e. no cheating), there are only two factors: skill and chance.
Poker doesn’t care what you look like. Poker doesn’t care where you come from. Once you’re at the table, the only thing that matters is how you and your opponents play. From there, chance will have its way with all of you.
That’s not to say that poker always feels fair. No. You can play great and lose big. You can play awful and win bigger. But if you play with the same crowd for long enough, poker will tell you who’s playing well. Poker will tell you who needs to improve their game.
In the long run, the best players in the game have the best results. It’s too bad life doesn’t always work that way.