When should you retire from poker?

What would make you quit the game and try something new? Barry Carter looks at good and bad reasons to retire from poker.

Vanessa Selbst poker
Selbst is on to new challenges

The last year or two has seen some very interesting ‘retirements’ from poker. Dani Stern, for example, announced his retirement last year following a bad year at the high stakes tables. Vanessa Selbst retired last week to take on the new challenge of managing a hedge fund. Then we have the almost comical retirement from poker by Fedor Holz where he continued to play, win everything and get sponsored.

Poker as a viable profession, especially online, has been around for quite a long time now and it is little surprise we are seeing high profile figures call time on the game. But when is the right time to retire from life as a serious or even professional player?

When you have no other choice

Jason Mercier family
The travel is too much for some players

Maybe the most common way poker players retire, though we don’t often hear big announcements about it, is when a player loses all their money. Our course because of staking that in itself is not always a certainty, but either way if you are a serious player and you go broke, at the very least this should prompt some deep soul searching about whether to go on. If you were not able to beat the games anymore that’s one good reason and if you were ignoring good bankroll management and/or game selection that is perhaps an even more serious reason to try something else.

Over the years we have seen a lot of players, Selbst included last week, citing the toughness of the games as a reason to get out before things get too difficult. This is obviously a perfectly understandable reason to do it. It’s not just about how tough the field is getting, you could be the best player at the table but some games are still just hard to extract a lot of money from.

One player who is not retiring from poker but has parted ways with his sponsor is Jason Mercier, the reason he gave is because, with a growing family, he just could not commit to the travel schedule anymore. Selbst said the same thing as part of her reason to leave PokerStars, coupled with being unable to play online in the States. These are very good reasons to quit poker, it is after all a game which is supposed to promise freedom, but if your lifestyle can no longer fit around it, it really just becomes a ‘job’.

Then of course you have the simple reason, for some, that the game no longer is fun. While we all know how enjoyable poker can be, the swings in the game has made all of us hate it from time-to-time. I really admire the way Selbst is leaving the game to manage a hedge fund, which she has done in part for the challenge of something new, which she likened to the early days of poker. In contrast you then have poker stalwarts like Lex Veldhuis who seemingly still have a great deal of enthusiasm for the game, in part because they have found new ways to enjoy it by streaming it on Twitch.

Always have Plan B in mind

Lex Veldhuis twitch
Use poker to learn new things

Which brings me on to what I think is the most important point of all, and that is that I have witnessed over the years that it is much better to jump than to be pushed. It seems vastly better to have some sort of exit plan for poker than to be forced to because you went broke, got bored or had the game taken away from you by a Black Friday/regulatory issue.

I’m not saying all players should be preparing to retire from poker as soon as they get started, but as I suggested in my New Year’s Resolutions column, everyone should be learning or doing something else on the side (Like Lex did with Twitch, or Doug Polk with YouTube and Bitcoin, or Liv Boeree has managed to do with about 40 side projects) so that poker is not the only option.

The happiest people I know in the game are the ones who have something else going on and treat poker like a very serious hobby. I used to be a very serious player myself and these days I enjoy the game more than ever because I’ve always done other things on the side. In that respect maybe the best way to retire is not to quit the game at all, but instead use it as a launchpad to diversify your interests and keep it as a serious side project.

What would make you retire from the game? Let us know in the comments:

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Comments (2)

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  • wr4thch1ld


    The more interesting comment from Selbst re: toughness of games is how she doesn't feel she can honestly tell people they can start playing poker in 2018 and become a winner.
  • GrindingNajra


    Nice hobby maybe although nice it is not really nice to grind 4-5 hours to try to win a turbo poker tournament. There are much more fun things to do then this....