Many people are familiar with professional poker players on televised poker tournaments. Those players are stars who seem to earn millions each year. However, there are many more players who aren't as recognizable, and few are able to make a full-time living on the poker circuit. The average player does not take home millions, and must keep his insurance bankroll and win rate at a certain level to make a modest yearly income.
A professional poker player's pay is determined by his performance, so it's difficult to establish an exact average annual salary. In 2010, the top 20 wage-earning professional poker players took home an average salary of $1.58 million in 2010. This represents the earnings of a tiny group of players at the top of the earnings bracket; the average salary earned among all professional poker players was $15,000 as of 2011.
The average poker player needs to have enough in his bankroll to serve as insurance against large losses. The consensus on how much a professional player should keep in his bankroll ranges from 200 to 2,000 times the big blind. With a high bankroll, a player can safely play at tables requiring higher blinds and have a better chance at earning more money than players at tables with smaller blinds.
A player's win rate is expressed as the number of big blinds he wins over the course of 100 hands of poker. Regardless of the monetary amount of the big blind, a professional player aims to win the equivalent of at least six big blinds over 100 hands. An excellent win rate is 10 big blinds per 100 hands. If a player is sitting at a table with a big blind of $5, he should aim to take in at least $30 every 100 hands.
Cost of Playing
Professional poker players are responsible for finding their own gambling opportunities. Unless the player has sponsorship help, part of his salary goes to expenses like the tournament buy-in cost. The buy-in amount is fairly proportional to the amount the player can win. Online tournaments can have buy-in costs of $5 or less. A legitimate live tournament may cost $1,000 or more to enter. Buy-in costs for World Series of Poker events can be as much as $10,000, but the prize money is generally greater than $1 million. The player could also be responsible for travel expenses.