I have referred on many occasions to the vast sums of money that can be made playing poker. It never ceases to amaze me that a player can come in ninth in the WSOP Main Event and wind up winning $1 million. When can you ever place ninth in anything and walk away a millionaire? Or turn the $100 you walked in with into $5000 in one night?
But I never thought about how many losers there are in the game, especially among professional poker players. It seemed too obvious to mention – clearly for every big winner there have to be a ton of losers. But it’s not just about the percentages, or about losers on a particular night or in a particular high-stakes tournament. I’m thinking about serious, highly ranked poker players who have gone broke . . . and never came back from that.
In fact, according to a recent article by Alan Schoonmaker in Card Player Magazine , “If you’re a pro, you have a much higher probability of dying broke than members of other professions, including people who earn much less than you’re winning now.”
Yes, there are many pros that were extremely successful; former WPT and WSOP champions and bracelet winners like Johnny Moss, Stu Ungar, Dave ‘Devilfish’ Ulliot and Gavin Smith to name a few, that not only lost it all and spent their final years penniless, but they also died broke.
How could that happen? Why didn’t they always save a portion of their winnings for their old age? Why weren’t they at least eligible to receive social security and Medicare?
The answer, according to Schoonmaker, is too much self-confidence, otherwise known as arrogance. That’s when you ignore the rules, thinking you don’t have to save money or pay taxes like normal people, believing instead that there will ALWAYS be another huge pot to count on every time you take a seat at a poker table.
Sometimes, there isn’t.