How Should a Poker Player Deal with a Big Upswing?

By Chris Wallace
September 18, 2018

So you finally had that breakthrough score. Congratulations on your big win! How you deal with this big upswing going forward will have a huge impact on your life and your poker career. I’ve fortunately had a number of big scores that were important milestones for me. Some of them I dealt with wisely, others not so much. We’ll start by talking about what things you definitely shouldn’t do and then move into recommendations for what actions you should take.

raining money

What SHOULDN’T You Do?

Don’t assume that this means that you are a world-class player or that big scores will be happening regularly.

Even the best players in the world have long dry spells. You could suddenly run cold just after a big tournament win, and within a year or two you may even find yourself struggling to get by on small wins and have trouble paying bills. A big score shouldn’t turn your life into a struggle.

Don’t start buying into every big event you can find and spending tons of money on travel and lodging.

If you are serious about a poker career, then you shouldn’t be spending more than 1% of your available bankroll on any tournament. If you are actually any good at the game, a big score is your chance to have a bankroll for life. Confidence is great. It can be very good for your game. But don’t let that confidence ruin your big chance.

Don’t spend money like you are rich.

If you are serious about poker, then you need that money you’ve won for more buy-ins. Blowing money on luxuries or on casino games like video poker and assuming that you will make more is going to land you in the poor house wondering what happened.

Don’t loan out money to everyone who asks.

After a big win you will want to tell everyone you know, and most of your friends will probably hear about it anyway. This means that everyone will know that you are flush with cash. Do what rich people do. Tell them you aren’t actually rich. Lie if you have to, but do not loan out money everywhere. You are just freerolling yourself when you loan out money and if you loan enough of it you will go broke. Feel free to tell people that you sold a ton of action or had big debts to pay off if you aren’t comfortable simply saying “no.” Your finances are none of their business.

You may have been lucky, but you also earned that money and you have to treat it the same way you would treat it if you had earned it working at a traditional job. As a general rule, you shouldn’t loan someone money in a card room unless you would loan them that same amount if you saw them on the street in another city and had not seen them in a month. You also shouldn’t loan anyone money unless you are completely confident that they will find you to pay you back without you asking them for the money.

Don’t quit your job.

The poker landscape has changed drastically since I quit my job in 2002, and it’s very hard to make a good living playing poker these days. You need to be very strong and very well educated to survive. Even if you can make decent money playing poker, you’re self-employed, so you won’t get health benefits, a matching 401(k), a holiday bonus, or a retirement plan. You need to make twice as much money playing poker as you would in your job to get the same long term financial gain. And poker isn’t a sure thing. Unless your job really sucks and you can get another one like it any time, it’s really not a good idea to quit working until you have enough money to retire.

What SHOULD You Do?

Now let’s look at things you should do with that newfound big pile of cash.

Give it time to sink in.

Take a few days or even weeks without spending too much and make some decisions about what to do with your money after you have some distance from the euphoria of the big victory. You’ll make much better decisions after you have had some time to think.

Decide how much money you want to set aside for poker specifically.

If you don’t have a separate bankroll for poker, now is the time to make it happen. Keep that money separate and use it for tournament buy-ins and travel expenses only. When you win, put the money in the account. This makes accounting easy.

READ MORE: On poker budgets and poker bankrolls

Get a good accountant.

I overpaid on my taxes by approximately $60,000 during my first five years playing poker for a living because I did my own taxes. I now use Kondler CPA here in Las Vegas. They don’t pay me to endorse them, but I do it anyway because they are great. They are happy to answer questions on the phone or via email anytime and they are the experts on poker taxes. They love the game and play themselves and they know better than anyone exactly how to deal with tax issues related to gambling.

READ MORE: Interview with poker tax specialist Ray Kondler

Pay off debts if you have them.

You can borrow more money later if you need to, but any debt that has a high interest rate should be paid off immediately. Credit cards are the usual culprit here. Pay them off, and if you get short on cash later you can always use them again for some travel expenses, but don’t pay high interest rates while you have cash sitting in the bank.

Set aside some cash to pay your taxes.

Your accountant should be able to give you some idea of how much you will owe, and with a good accountant the amount won’t be as high as you think. Poker players usually have a lot of potential expenses they can deduct.

Have some fun.

Yes, it’s OK to splurge a little. After my WSOP bracelet win in 2014 I took a vacation around the world: 45 days, 43,000 miles, tons of flights, and tons of fun. I probably spent more than I should have given my available cash, but I was also making pretty good money playing cash games and knew that it was replaceable. That $40,000 vacation I took was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I will remember long after the cash would have been spent on something else.

Use some of the money to work on your game.

You have the bankroll now, and you can afford to take a little time off and invest some money to really put a fine edge on your game. Whether you pay a coach (shameless plug, I’m available) or join a training site or just buy a few books and study up, improving your skill set now will help you make more money for the rest of your poker career. Let’s look at a potential example:

If you spend $400 on four hours of coaching, join a training site (I like for $20 per month for a year, and buy three books for $70, you will have invested $710 in your poker education. Assuming you study and make good use of those resources, you will increase your hourly rate. Let’s be conservative and say that this education increases your hourly rate by $4 per hour. At first glance, that might not sound like much.

However, if you play part time – say 25 hours a week – your investment will increase your income by $100 a week. If you play poker for 10 years, you will earn $52,000 (extra) from having made that $710 investment. These numbers are all conjecture, of course, but it illustrates how investing in your poker education can potentially be extremely profitable.


Before you decide what to do with your newfound wealth, you have to consider your financial situation. If you have a good job with benefits, and you’re otherwise financially secure, then have fun and don’t worry too much about a bankroll. If you hate your job, don’t make a lot of money, and really want to play for a living, then you owe it to yourself to do everything in your power to protect this windfall with everything you have. Stay at your job, spend money on poker training, and keep grinding until you are sure that when you quit your job you will be able to survive.

Congratulations again on your big win. My big scores are some of the happiest moments of my life. Enjoy it! I hope you have many more.



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Chris Wallace poker author
Written By.

Chris Wallace

Chris ‘Fox’ Wallace is a poker world champion who has been writing about and teaching the game for over 15 years. With over $1 million in tournament winnings and a WSOP bracelet among his accomplishments, The Fox is one of the most respected names in the game. Chris is the co-owner of the iNinja Poker […]


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