In the past few years a new generation of poker players has emerged: the online professionals. There is something very appealing for most people about the idea of playing poker professionally from the comfort of their own home, making their own hours and not having to answer to anyone else. And indeed, online pros do enjoy numerous advantages that their live counterparts do not. For example:
• They can find a game 24/7. Nor is it necessary for them to be in reach of a casino – all they require is a computer and an Internet connection.
• They are dealt many more hands per hour, with a cheaper rake and no need to tip the dealer (and no travel expenses as well).
• They can play multiple tables (possibly even at different sites) at once.
• They do not need quite such accurate people-reading skills.
Online poker is much more a game of understanding cards and betting patterns than of deciphering tells. Online professionals also need not fear giving off tells themselves.
• They can spend time studying precise hand history records to determine their own strengths and weaknesses and those of their opponents.
• They can specialise in short-handed play (where the skill differential between strong and weak players is maximised) if they so wish.
Set against this, the downside of playing online professionally is that it is impossible to cash-out instantly from an online site, and online professionals may also experience a sense of social isolation from sitting in front of their screens playing poker day after day. Despite these disadvantages, online poker is an attractive means of earning money for many regular players. Indeed, there are hundreds of players who play online for such long periods every day that it must be their primary source of income, and thousands more who rely on online poker to earn a secondary income in their spare time.
The issue of how much online players might expect to earn is a very topical one on the various poker forums and newsgroups. In Poker Essays, Mason Malmuth discusses the issue of earnings expectations in some detail. He estimates that for $3/$6 hold’em an okay player at that level would probably be earning $4 per hour, a good player $8 and a great player $12. In full10-player ring games online you can probably estimate that you are playing at least twice as many hands per hour as you would in a live-action game (on which Malmuth’s figures are based). On that basis you could say that a great player at the $3/$6 might expect to earn $24, or four big bets per hour, playing a single table.
However, online players do not have the same opportunities to read their opponents (i.e. tells), so for online play a figure of two to three big bets per hour is probably about right for a great player at that particular limit, with good players earning anything between one and a half and two big bets per hour and decent ones between one and one and a half big bets per hour. At higher limits than $3/$6, there will be less overall discrepancy in the general level of play, so the hourly big bet earnings ratio will decrease as you move up in limits. For example, it is hard to imagine that there are too many $20/$40 players who are capable of sustaining a long-term hourly profit much in excess of $100 playing exclusively on a single 10-player table.