Poker Notepad: Tournaments are fun, but cash is cash


Poker Notepad: Tournaments are fun, but cash is cash

Here is thesis: you can’t earn for a living playing live poker tournaments. At least, in the USA. The statement is made by the person who understands a thing or two about poker. So is it true that poker earings can’t buy you living?

The article about disability of making money for a descent living playing live tournaments in America was published on

In the beginning author quotes Brian Devonshire:

«It’s nearly impossible to be a tournament specialist in the States unless playing high stakes. Even in Vegas, the full schedule of tournament series supplemented by dailies isn’t a viable profession. Yeah, you can make money doing it, but not nearly as much as you can make playing $1-$3 no-limit. If you want to be a tournament specialist, move to Mexico and grind online. »

The author tries to prove the opinion above.

In that way.

What’s your ROI?

Everything that follows is mainly important for American players.

So let’s figure out optimal ROI for tournament players. Let’s take Chris Moorman as an example, although he plays only online. His ROI on Full Tilt Poker on size sample of 14,000 MTT is over 50%, on PokerStars – 20% (and size sample is even bigger – 25,000 MTT).


Average yearly ROI of top regular is 26.5%. Roughly it’s $1 of profit on $4 of investment. So to earn $10,000 per year you must invest $40,000.

But $10,000 per year is not enough. What about $60,000? It’s a little more than average yearly salary in the USA. So you must invest $240,000 to get that!

So if we make some quick calculation, we’ll figure out that we must spend minimum $5,000 per week, or $1,000 per day (with two days off). Even highest poker earnings don’t cover that.

Dreams of consistency

So here come first problems. Even in Vegas on weekends it’s hard to find tournaments with buy-ins over $300. Buy-ins not on the weekends are $150-200 maximum.

Of course there are decisions to that problem. To play high rollers events with buy-ins of $10,000 (what seems close to impossible to most of Russian-speaking players). But this tournaments increase variance and take too much time. It is still impossible to earn money playing poker online.

So let’s turn to Hendon Mob base of poker players.  There are 78,948 in the list for year 2013. WSOP champion Ryan Riess is in the first place with $8,440,813, and there are over 400 poker players with profit over $300,000 (that’s what we seek for).

In other words, 99.5% players are already out.

What’s important: most of the players get most of their winnings in one or two tournaments. Many earn more than 50% or their yearly income in one tournament.

The same is true for many regulars who play maximal number of tournaments per year.

Big numbers

So let’s turn to other statistics. German site has one table of results of 140 players on WSOP 2011 and 2012. The list is of those who invested 50 buy-ins!

So if we exclude $1,000,000 Big One for One Drop, there are 7,926 entrances for 136 people. Solid sample. The cashed 898 times, that’s 11.3% ITM. And only seven players have ITM over 20%.


So average ROI of those players is 11% ($32.25 million on $29 million invested). And only 42 of 136 players have profit for two years playing WSOP.

Among them are Phil Helmuth, David Sands, Stephen Chidwick – top pros.

Is it time to turn to cash games?

So the results of the research are quite miserable for us.

Even top players lose playing WSOP and only the best of the best make ROI over 10%. Most of the profit make 1-2 big cash per year.

And all of these is relatively true, there are many other factors:

  • backing (extremely important);
  • Hendon Mob doesn’t have all the tournaments;
  • Other poker incomes.

And we forget the most important stuff. So we took top online regular and projected it to live poker. ROI in casino and poker series must be bigger in the most cases. So to earn $60,000 we must make less investment.

Previously on the series:

Poker Notepad: Relative Value

Poker Notepad: Pot Commitment

Poker Notepad: Live poker chameleon

Poker Notepad: Maniacs can cry also

Poker Notepad: Poker isn’t slot machine


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