A Poker News Daily reader e-mailed me a few weeks ago asking for advice. The young man was a college student and, while he did just fine in school, he did really well at poker. I won’t get into the details of how much time he spent playing and how much money he made, but suffice it to say that he did well.
The student was making a very nice hourly rate and believed that if he devoted all of his efforts to playing poker full-time, he’d bring home some healthy bank. His feeling was, why should he pay tens of thousands of dollars per year on school when he could make a good income, maybe even more than his parents make, doing something he loved?
Despite enjoying poker, I am a risk averse individual. Combine that with my past academic success and my role as a father and my first instinct was to say, “What? Are you crazy? Stay in school!” Then, I thought about it and weighed the options.
I can definitely see reasons to become a full-time poker player. The kid is young. If he tries it for a year or two and has a rough go of it or decides it’s simply not for him, then he can pick up where he left off. It’s not like he interrupted a career. It’s not a lot different than someone taking a year to travel after graduating from college, except my pen pal will be leaving a traditional career track earlier. He will be his own boss, set his own hours, and generally have day-to-day freedom that most people don’t have.
There’s a parallel to be drawn to a young athlete deciding to go pro before finishing college. I used to be in the “stay in school” camp, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve changed my tune. If an athlete is ready to compete with the pros, I say go for it. After all, what is the main point of school, anyway? To get a job. So why not get that job early when you have more prime earning years available to you? School will always be there, but for an athlete, elite physical talent will not. Make the money while you can, be smart with your earnings, and go back to school when your sporting career is done if you want. Just like an athlete, a poker player can always go back to school.
Plus, if this kid is truly a great player and can pull down a significant sum of money playing poker, take advantage of that skill. Not to get ahead of myself, but who knows, maybe he can earn some sponsorships and some fame for even more income.
Now on the flip side, I do fear that my young buddy may be dreaming of playing poker four hours a day, doing whatever he wants the rest of the time, and making cash hand over fist. What he fails to realize is, unless he’s very successful at high stakes, he will need to grind hour after hour, several tables at a time, on most days of the week to make a solid living. After a while, it’s just not much fun for most people. For many full-time grinders, it is all too easy to fall into poor eating habits and a life of sitting in front of the computer all day, which is not good for one’s body. I would add that there are no health insurance or employer-matched retirement plans when playing poker.
The present is also the perfect time to be in school. The world economy is down and the job market is tight. He should keep working towards that degree, all the while insulated from the “real world” by school and by the time he’s done, the economic climate may have changed. If a good job opportunity is available, he can grab it if he wants. If he still wants to play poker, he can do that, too. Plus, the legal environment for poker may very well improve over the next couple of years, making his life as a poker pro much easier.
To me, though, the biggest reason not to go pro takes me back to my risk averse personality. A bad day for most people at work is just a bad day. You still earn a paycheck and tomorrow is a new day. A bad day for a poker player means that they are losing money and that food is coming off the table. Most young people do not realize how stressful that life can be. The highs can be quite high, but the lows can be devastating.
In the end, while I told the student that the decision is ultimately up to him, I advised him to continue his studies. There is no reason why he can’t find a balance between school and poker. Most of us who have already been through undergraduate and/or graduate programs balanced school with other activities, so I don’t see any reason why the same can’t be done with poker. No, he won’t make as much money as he could if he played full-time, but he can always revisit the pro option when he is done with school and, at that point, he will have his diploma in his back pocket should he need it.