One of the great things about playing poker compared to other games is that there's the possibility of winning money, but how much money can you make playing online poker?
We'll look at the factors that will impact how much you can win from playing poker online and what you can expect to make based on the stakes you play, as well as giving you an answer to the question "how much money do online poker players make?".
What Affects How Much You Can Win at Online Poker
There are multiple factors that can increase or decrease the amount of money you win from playing online poker:
This is going to be the most important factor as if you're not a winning player then you won't be making any money from playing! We measure the amount of money you win from online poker in bb/100 or big blinds per 100 hands. For example, if you're playing $1/$2 and your win-rate is 1bb/100 you will expect to make $2 (1 big blind) for every 100 hands you play.
This might not sound like a lot but if you're playing tens of thousands of hands of poker it can quickly add up. Your win-rate will vary depending on how much of an edge you have in the game you're playing and will usually fall into one of the following categories:
- <0bb/100 - Losing Player
- 0-1bb/100 - Breakeven Player
- 2-5bb/100 - Solid Winner
- 5-8bb/100 - Leading Player
- 8bb+/100 - Crushing Player
While there is a version of bb/100 in tournaments, this only tracks the number of tournament chips you win, rather than the amount of money you win. As you're buying in for set amounts to each tournament, the money you get back from these entries is measured in ROI (return on investment).
Depending on the type of tournaments you play, anything up to a 30% ROI is achievable over the long term.
Volume is the number of hands you can play in a certain time frame, usually measured in hands per hour. This will depend on the type of games you play and how many tables you play at once.
If you're playing cash games you have two options, regular tables or 'fast-fold' tables. Fast-fold tables will take you to a new table and deal you a new hand the instant you fold, allowing you to get in a lot more hands per hour whereas regular tables play the same as they do in live poker where you have to wait for each hand to be completed before you're dealt another.
Fast-fold tables are a popular option but the downside to them is that they're harder to multi-table due to the fact you're constantly being faced with a decision. Regular tables, in contrast, are easier to multi-table because you don't have to focus on a table immediately after you've folded, leaving you time to think about other decisions.
If you're playing tournaments then you're limited by the number of tournaments that are offered for your bankroll levels. This isn't really an issue on big sites like Pokerstars that run thousands of tournaments a day but could limit the amount you play if you exclusively use smaller sites.
Another difference between the two is that in cash games you're likely to stay at that table until you finish your session, so once you're at the tables you just need to focus on playing. However, tournaments require you to register for new ones each time you're knocked out which can take your focus away from your tables and make it harder to play a larger volume.
This is the amount of time you spend playing poker. As you would imagine, the more time you spend playing, the more money you can win. Poker is a big time investment, not just in the amount of time you spend playing but also the time you spend off the table working on your game so you have to figure out exactly how much time you want to invest in the game and adjust your expectations accordingly.
You also need to be aware of when you should stop playing. It's a safe assumption to say that you're not going to be as sharp in the 18th hour of a session compared to the first, and you need to know how much your win-rate suffers because of it. Some people are able to play super long sessions and see very little change in their game whereas others need to take regular breaks to make sure they keep playing their A-game. It pays to know which one you are!
This is the one people think of the most when they're thinking about winning money from online poker. The only thing you need to remember is that your win-rate is based on the size of the big blind at your stake level and how many you can win per 100 hands you play.
Some people think that win-rates are uniform across all stakes, meaning that if they're a 5b/100 winner at one stake they can move up to higher stakes and keep the same win-rate. This simply isn't true, as you move up in stakes the games will become tougher as there are more and more good players in the player pools, all battling for the bigger amounts of money. You can expect to knock at least 1 or 2 bb off your previous win-rate as you move up in stakes until you adjust and get better.
Earnings Based On Game Types
With all the different poker variants, most people want to know which one they should play and how much you can make playing cash games compared to tournaments. Let's see what you can expect depending on the variant you choose to play.
By Playing Tournaments
The amount of money you can make in tournaments depends entirely on their structure as MTTs (multi-table tournaments) play and pay much differently to STTs (single table tournaments).
MTTs pay on average 15% of the field with the min-cash being around 2x the buy-in and as much as 20% of the prize pool going to the winner. MTTs can have thousands of players entering them so the frequency you're going to win one, or even cash in one, is low. You should expect a lot of losing if you're grinding MTTs. The money almost entirely comes from your deep runs and final tables and therefore the variance in playing MTTs to make money is considered extremely high.
STTs play a lot differently, around 33% of the field will cash but the amount up top is considerably smaller, meaning it's all about consistency. One win every few hundred tournaments isn't going to do it, you'll have to win day-in-day-out and slowly grind out your profit. STTs are considered lower variance than MTTs because of the frequency that you will cash in them and win.
By Playing Cash Games
Cash games are closer to STTs than MTTs in that they're lower variance. When you're playing cash games, the players tend to have a standardized stack size of 100bb unless they're a weak player, which means the same scenarios will come up again and again and the biggest winners in cash games are the players who can master those scenarios.
Playing cash games is a lot more of a steady grind upwards for a winning player. Unless you have a maniacal playing style, your swings won't be as violent as they can be in MTTs and are generally the format of choice for people trying to earn a living.
However, it's generally considered to be tougher to be a winning player in cash games than it is tournaments due to how much deeper cash games play - so there is a trade-off if you decide to play cash games over tournaments.
Earnings Based On Time Spent Playing
Depending on the type of player you are and how seriously you take the game you can expect to earn different amounts of money. The time you invest off the table will increase your likely win-rate and the amount of time you spend on the virtual felt will increase the actual money that goes into your pocket.
As An Occasional/Casual Poker Player
An occasional player is unlikely to be an elite player in the games they play as they just don't have the time to commit to mastering the game. They're also limited in the amount of time they can play, hindering their overall win-rate.
If they can commit around 10 hours to poker split between 2 hours studying and 8 hours playing a week, a good player could get to a win-rate of around 1-3bb/100.
These players are also going to find it harder to multi-table as they don't have the experience to do so without sacrificing their win-rate. This will impact their volume, again lessening the amount of money they can make. Let's assume around 200 hands per hour.
Given all these factors we can work out that an occasional player on average will play 1600 hands a week with a win-rate of 1.5bb/100. This will work out to 24bb a week (1.5bb*(1,600/100)) or around 100bb per month.
As An Part-Time Poker Player
A part-time player will have more free time to dedicate to the game than an occasional player and can put more time into studying and improving their win-rate. Being able to increase their win-rate and spend more time playing will allow them to make a lot more money than the occasional player.
If we say they can spend around 25 hours a week split between 5 hours studying and 20 hours playing, a good part-time player can expect their win-rate to be between 2-5bb/100.
The more they play online, the more experienced they'll be with playing multiple tables so part-time players will be able to up their volume and keep a similar win-rate. We'll say they can manage on average 400 hands an hour.
We can work out that a part-time player on average will play 8000 hands a week with a win-rate of 3bb/100 - a large increase over an occasional player. This will work out to 240bb a week (3bb*(8,000/100)) or 960bb per month.
As a Full-Time Poker Player
A full-time player will be dedicating the majority of their time to playing and studying the game, trying to be the best they can be. These players will be able to put in long hours at the table and be able to keep up with all the latest strategy changes.
Given that they're a full-time player, they'll be putting around 40 hours a week in, split between 8 hours studying and 32 hours playing - very similar to a full-time job and the best players can find win-rates between 4-8bb/100.
These players will be able to multi-table with ease, playing upwards of 6, 8, or even 10 regular cash game tables or 3-4 zoom tables. Playing such a high number of tables they can manage around 800 hands per hour.
We can work out that a full-time player could play around 25,600 hands a week with a win-rate of 5bb/100 - a large increase over an occasional player. This will work out to 1,280bb a week (5bb*(8,000/100)) or 5,120bb per month.
Now, these are theoretical estimates of win-rates. The higher stakes you play and the more tables you add, the harder it is to get close to these numbers.
Earnings Based On Stakes
I can tell you've all been waiting to see some dollar signs so instead of just looking at bb/100 win-rates, let's see how it translates to cold hard cash for each stake level. We're going to assume the following for each player type:
- Occasional players play half an hour a day with a win-rate of 1bb/100 and can play 150 hands an hour.
- Casual players play 1 hour a day with a win-rate of 2bb/100 and can play 250 hands an hour.
- Regular players play 3 hours a day with a win-rate of 3bb/100 and can play 500 hands an hour.
- Grinders play 5 hours a day with a win-rate of 4bb/100 and can play 750 hands an hour.
If you're a grinder who can commit playing 5 hours a day every day, you can expect to make $0.60 an hour at NL2 which works out to around $84 a month.
At NL2 you're going to see almost exclusively occasional and casual players given how little money is at stake. These players are looking to gamble and aren't likely going to be folding much - how often would you fold to a value betting your strong hands for as much money as possible.bet? You'll want to focus on
There will be very few regular players or 'grinders' because it's not worth their time to play so many hands at such low stakes. If you do see any of these players they're likely playing a very high number of tables as the decisions are often much simpler and a conservative strategy can make a lot of money. These are the only players that bluffs are likely to work against!
At NL5 if you can commit to playing the same schedule as a grinder you can expect an hourly rate of $1.50 which will work out to around $210 a month.
NL5 plays very similar to NL2, there are lots of players who are only playing for fun or to gamble for small amounts of money. Similarly, your bluffs are very unlikely to get through so the name of the game is value - try and get as much of it as you can!
You'll start to see a few more regular players in this pool but they'll be in the minority, again a conservative strategy works well at these stakes so you may see the same players over several tables just playing a tight, solid strategy without making many creative plays. When you see these players coming into the pot you should know that when they're playing they have a good hand so proceed cautiously.
Playing a committed week-long schedule at NL10 can net you $3 an hour or $420 over a month of playing.
NL10 is the stake where you'll start to see more and more regular players as this is the usual stake people start at when they're trying to improve their game - it's still a small amount of money that it doesn't hurt if you lose but big enough that it's worth it to play properly.
While there are going to be more regulars at this stake level, they're not going to be playing optimally. Most players who are any good will play NL10 only until their bankroll is big enough to play higher so you'll still see a good amount of weaker players at your tables and regulars who are only playing straightforward, conservative poker.
At NL25 you can make a potential hourly profit of $7.5 if you play a few hours each day which will add up to $1,050 over a month of playing.
There are even more regulars playing these stakes than NL10 but these stakes have very large players pools so there are still plenty of casual players.
There will be a slight increase in the skill of the regulars from NL10 but the majority will still be playing suboptimally. There is a misconception that these stakes (NL10-NL50) are full of very hard to beat players but the truth is, if they were that good they would be able to move up in stakes to $1/$2 and higher. Playing a strong, aggressive strategy will easily make you a winning player at these stakes.
At NL50 it's possible to make more than minimum wage if you have a good win-rate and play a good amount of volume, you could make $15 an hour which will add up to $2,100 if you play every day.
NL50 is generally considered a bit of an in-between stake - too good for NL25 but not quite good enough for NL100. This is a player pool with a large proportion of regulars, all trying to grind their way up to the next level. They will have a good understanding of the game but will have leaks that can be taken advantage of if you know what to look for.
The amount of casual players does decrease at this stake level compared to NL25 but there are still plenty of them thanks to the sheer number of players that will play NL50 compared to some of the higher stakes.
If you have a good winrate and can put in a lot of volume then your potential hourly rate at NL100 can be as high as $30, or $4,200 if you can keep it up every day for a month.
This is the stake that most people look at as their target when they first start playing the micro stakes, the first big blind that is in dollars and not cents! You will get a lot of regs at this stake who play for a living and are good players. These regulars will have a good understanding of the game and will be harder to exploit than the regs at the lower stakes.
It's important to remember that even though this is the player pool with the highest proportion of regulars, there are still a good number of fish that can be exploited. Identifying these players and targeting them to play hands with will increase your win-rate dramatically and should be considered when selecting which table to play.
When you start to wonder if your results are enough to start playing full time, it's worth looking at whether things like rake-back and bonuses will be enough to meet your 'ramen profitability threshold. This is the threshold where you can make enough to cover your basic living expenses and re-invest everything else into growing your bankroll.
Rakeback used to be what would make or break a site as they would compete with each other to lure players to their site with larger and larger percentages of their rake given back. Unfortunately, this no longer seems to be the case with only a handful of sites giving reasonable rake-back deals.
Playing on these sites can add a nice boost to your bankroll or can help cushion the blow of a downswing. Some sites, like Party Poker, can offer up to 40% rake-back if you put in enough volume at the higher stakes. This can add up to hundreds of dollars a week which is definitely enough to influence where you should or shouldn't play. Playing on a site with a good rake-back deal could be what makes you profitable enough to play full time.
There are various forms that bonuses can come in, all of which will help contribute to the growth of your bankroll. The first is the 'welcome' or 'deposit bonus' which sites will first give you when you deposit money on their site. Some of these will match any deposits up to $500 - which sounds great! However, it's released a small amount at a time as you play and if you don't play enough in a certain amount of time you lose it, so always read the&Cs.
Other bonuses can come in the form of small challenges such as winning pots with certain hands or playing a certain number of games in a specific format and depending on your bankroll, could be worth going for. I would advise not going too far out of your way for these and just let them happen naturally, specifically the 'hand challenges' - I've seen people bluff away more than the bonus is worth going for these!
You hear stories of poker players who started out playing freerolls and after a short couple of years are making hundreds of thousands of dollars and think "I'm gonna do the same thing!". Then, after playing one for 6 hours and making a grand total, of 20c you start to reconsider.
Most freerolls just aren't worth the time invested for the money back. There are very few these days that have any significant money in the prize pool, let alone up top, and you can play them for weeks on end and barely make $10. The majority of players looking to play would be better off depositing a small amount to play what they want from the start rather than forcing themselves to start from $0.
Satellites can serve two purposes depending on how you use them. The first is what they were designed to do - allow you to win an entry into a big tournament for a fraction of the entry fee. This is a good way for up and coming tournament players to test themselves at higher stakes without taking the risk of buying in for the full amount.
However, if you are particularly good at satellites you can use them as to make money without even playing the target tournament - like this talented player. If you win two satellites to the same tournament the majority of sites will give you the buy-in for the target tournament in either cash or tournament dollars which can be sold or used to buy into other events.
Satellites have a very specific strategy to them that's hard to master so if they're something you're good at you can make a lot of money winning multiple buy-ins to the same tournament.
Grind vs Glory
Some people are naturally drawn to tournaments for the glory, the chance to say you won the whole thing and a large chunk of cash to go with the trophy. While the allure of the bright lights of tournament stardom is appealing, what most people don't see is the dozens, sometimes even hundreds of tournaments that you play without a win. The variance can be too much for some people and they can go broke chasing that glory.
Cash games seem boring to most people in comparison but offer a steady way to grind out a profit on a regular basis, compared to the swings of playing in tournaments. Don't get me wrong, there are swings in cash games which can feel brutal but if you're a winning player these happen less frequently than tournament swings.
In the end, there is no right answer for what you should play. My advice has always been to play the format you enjoy the most because if you enjoy playing it you'll be more motivated to better yourself and grind through any downswings.
Whether you're just getting into poker and wondering how much you can make or if you've been playing a while and looking to go full-time you should now have a better idea of exactly how much money you can make playing online poker.
This article was published on January 21, 2021, and last updated on June 23, 2021.