What It’s Like to Be a Professional Online Poker Player in Vancouver
"If you want to be the best, if you want to succeed, you need to almost be obsessed."
February 20, 2017
Tyler Frost began playing poker online as an alternative to a summer job in university—and wound up making his living at the digital tables for the next seven years.
How did you get into online poker?
I began playing with my friends in high school, and after some success against them, I deposited $100 online and grew that conservatively.
It just took a lot of getting used to how things worked online, and learning about the different game types. You’ve gotta play with small stakes and work your way up, and those skills develop slowly over time. And then you can basically earn enough hourly to make it make more sense than working another job.
When did it become a full-time thing for you?
Every summer I would come home from university and get standard job, but the summer before my last semester, I decided to test the waters with online poker to see if I could actually do it over the course of a few months full-time and earn what I was hoping to earn at a regular job.
It was a risk for sure—my parents were not going to allow me to stay at home and play online poker for a job. They didn’t understand it: they thought it was gambling and I don’t blame them. So I pre-paid my rent for the summer and went into it knowing I’d have to make enough to pay myself back for that, plus tuition, or that I needed to give it up.
How often were you playing at that time?
The first year, I was all-in with poker, treating it like a normal job but going beyond 9 to 5. I was probably playing anywhere between eight to 10 hours a day on average, with no days off. When you first start, you really just have to be all about it. If you want to be the best, if you want to succeed, you need to almost be obsessed.
My goal in 2010 was to achieve the highest VIP status you can get on the site, because there are a lot of financial rewards that come with that. The stakes I was playing require insane hours to get to—I think I played over 3 million hands that year.
What’s your strategy?
My whole thing was playing as many tables as I possibly could (the cap was 24 at a time). I wasn’t playing any stakes that were too high, but at the end of the day you can make an hourly rate by playing so many tables. There was actually a glitch at the end of 2010, where for one month there was no table cap. I was playing 40 tables at once, which is insane. I would never do that now. Nowadays, I play way fewer, probably around 15 at max.
What do you think it takes to make poker a full-time job?
It kind of takes two things: you need to be good at the game, but also good at managing your funds and bank roll away from the table. I think I’ve always been good at that. It’s tough for a lot of poker players to stand the test of time: even if they’re very good at the game, there’s a lot of variance, and you can go broke.
You were signed by PokerStars.com from 2010 to 2016—how did that happen?
The thing about being signed by a poker site is you have to make it happen—people don’t get chosen at random. Back when blogs were becoming a thing, I started a blog and the idea was for it to be half about poker—I was very open with results and what I was doing day-to-day in my life to succeed—and the other half was about trying to show a balanced lifestyle. I wanted to break the stereotype of the geeky online poker player, and show what the lifestyle can allow you to do…I was writing a lot about going out partying and travelling. There was nothing out there like that at the time. I emailed PokerStars a link to the blog, and a lot of the people at the office started reading it, so eventually when I got the highest VIP status, Supernova Elite, they reached out to sign me.
What does it actually mean to be “signed” to a poker site?
The gist of it is that you get compensated for playing on their site. They have live pros and online pros—I was an online pro—and there are some obligations that came with that: maintaining a presence on the blog and Facebook, hosting tournaments, stuff like that.
What’s it in for PokerStars to pay you for that?
People like playing with someone who’s a pro, they get excited. And there’s the whole social media aspect, and talking about what you’re accomplishing on the site—that’s big for them. It’s all about driving new players to the site and making money on new depositors. They want sponsored players to inspire people and put money on their site.
What’s something people wouldn’t know about playing online poker for a living?
You have to treat it as a job. People think the luck factor is higher than it is. In the short term, yes, but at the end of the month, it’s going to be mitigated by the amount of hours you put in. In my seven-year career, I’ve only had two losing months. As long as you’re playing within your means, it’s not so risky. I think people overestimate luck. You have to treat it as a job. Yes, I love the lifestyle and flexibility it allows you, but you really have to put in the hours at some point.
What are the downsides to the job?
There are a lot of long and intense hours in front of a computer—it’s pretty unhealthy. And it can be tough to manage losing money. Losing always hurt way more than winning feels good. If I have five winning days in a row, I’ll feel okay but if I lose on the next day, I’ll feel terrible. All of a sudden, you start questioning everything about the game…a couple days isn’t a big deal, but a week or two and you start to question things about yourself, what you’re doing, can you win anymore, have the games gotten too tough? There’s going to be swing, you can’t control that. It’s a hard thing to deal with.
And the upsides?
One of best things is the ability to accumulate a lot of capital quickly compared to other jobs. You’re not going to know how much you’ll make on an annual basis because you’re not locked into a salary, so the sky’s the limit. There aren’t too many professions where you can accumulate that much in a large amount of time. And if you manage that risk, there’s opportunity to do well financially in a short amount of time.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to try making a living with online poker?
A lot of people think about poker as a get rich quick thing, but if you approach it that way, it’s not going to work.
If you are going to get into online poker, you’ll want to start at the smallest stakes with a small deposit, take your time and learn how to beat the smallest games and move up accordingly. I put in $100 and played the smallest games, then when it got to a certain level, I moved up stakes. If you start at the bottom, you’re playing with new players too, so you’re actually able to win there and helps confidence and growing bankroll slowly.
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