Poker Is No Longer a Hard Way to Make an Easy Living

2013 World Series of Poker $10K Main Event Final TableI’m not exactly sure who was credited with saying it (and Google has been zero help) but someone once had the perfect amount of wit and wisdom to say, “Poker is a hard way to make an easy living,” and for the longest time I found this to be a very apt description of the game.

I used to use that line whenever people were enthralled with the idea that I played poker for a living; it was an easy way to keep the conversation light without getting into the specifics of being a poker player. But that quote no longer rings true; not for me anyway and it’s time to retire it.

In the modern poker world the game has become anything but easy; nowadays it’s a hard way to make a hard living, and for most players it’s an impossible way to make a living; there is nothing “easy” about poker in 2013.

For starters the skill gap is nowhere near as pronounced as it used to be.

The average player is much better

Sure the best players are 10x better than the best players from 10 years ago, but the average player is also 10x better, and the bad players are about 100x better. Ranking them on a scale of 1-10, in 2003 75% of players were between a 1 and a 5, but in 2013 this has flipped with 75% of players now playing a poker game that I would rank at 5 or higher.

The definition of a bad player in 2013 is someone who has a tough time adjusting to an aggressive three-bettor; in 2003 a bad player was someone who thought top pair no kicker was shove-worthy, and had no idea what pot odds were!

With the skill gap diminished, and with practically no “soft spots” in any games –regardless of the stakes— the game is simply a lot harder to beat nowadays. And with less separation between the best players, average players, and bad players, professional poker players have to deal with not only less profit, but also far more variance.

The Bronze Age is over

What I call The Bronze Age of Poker occurred from the time the game was invented right up until about 2003; right before some guy with an ironic name won the WSOP and lit the match that started the Poker Boom.

During this time the life of a poker pro was generally tough and usually fraught with danger, but for the ones who had the mettle to survive in this type of environment you could make a decent life for yourself as a professional poker player.

Until modern times you had little to no chance of making a million dollars a year playing poker, but you could earn a nice comfortable living, comparable to any factory worker or office manager. You weren’t going to get rich, and you were going to have to put in long hours, but you could make a living 1 Big Bet at a time.

During the Bronze Age variance and tough opposition wasn’t much of an issue, most people sucked at poker. Instead you were faced with problems such as simply finding a game, and finding an honest and safe game to boot.

The Golden Age is also over and it’s not coming back

In 2003 Chris Moneymaker ushered in the Golden Age of poker, where horrible players lined up to give their money away in casinos, in home games, and online. Unfortunately the Golden Age only lasted about five years –so congrats to all the players who were in the right place at the right time– and even more unfortunately, it’s not coming back… EVER.

Unlike the Bronze Age that preceded it, during the mid-2000’s professional poker players were basically printing money, and did have to worry about finding a game or being robbed at gunpoint –poker was finally an “above the board” profession.

The masses had found poker, and for five years, while they tried to catch up with all the card sharks already populating the poker waters they were splendidly terrible at the game.

But it only took five years, and with the education and training materials now available, and the proliferation of information on the Internet, new players are on a different level than the players who sat down at poker tables in 2003 and asked “now what do I do?” and “How much can I bet?”

Is a Silver Age on the horizon?

The Golden Age may not be returning, but there is hope that fully regulated online markets, coupled with expanded live gambling will usher in what I’ll call a Silver Age –which will likely be a combination of the Bronze Age with its more meager salaries, and the safety and availability of games that came about during the Golden Age.

We’re already seeing signs of this in New Jersey, as there is a buzz about poker that I haven’t felt since about 2006, where people no longer consider the game’s best days behind them and there is a genuine feeling that poker’s future will be bright.

If this comes to pass, poker could once again become a hard way to make an easy living, but for now that quote needs to stay retired.


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