Cole South

A lot of people have asked me "How do I quit poker and move on to something else?"

It's hard (but doable). if you're a successful pro, you definitely have golden handcuffs to the poker table.

Starting over as a white belt at something new is humbling. even if it goes well, it's going to take a while for it to replace your income stream.

I played poker for a living for over a decade. I definitely don't have anything against it, but if you feel like you're ready for something new here's my advice...

(all of this assumes you want to be your own boss. of course, getting a job is a totally reasonable option. that's what most people do. but i've never done it and don't know anything about it)

the first thing I'd do is get clear on why you want to move on from poker. if you don't do this, you'll get sucked back in.

you need this to be crystal clear so when a friend texts you about a super juicy game "You need to hop in right now," you know why you're not going to.

You want to be able to actually get some pleasure from not sitting in the game. embrace the feeling of working toward a big-picture goal, rather than the FOMO of missing out on some sweet sweet short-term gambling dopamine rush.

Write your reasons down. put them on a sticky note, and stick it to your computer monitor.

For me, it was a variety of factors:

1. Burnout. I had played so many hands of poker across so many years that I was just ready for something new. I no longer had the spark or drive to sharpen my poker axe.

2. I didn't want to be permanently trading my time for money. poker was very lucrative at times. but at the end of the day, I had to be sitting at the table playing. there isn't really an off-ramp to this treadmill. you're not building an asset in a poker career, if anything you're building a growing liability (bc it's harder to move into another field the longer you play).

3. My wife and I were starting a family and I wanted a more flexible career. you might be asking yourself "Isn't sitting on a computer playing online poker whenever you want as flexible as it gets?" not when you're as big of a gambling addict as I am. I have no interest in playing a 90-minute session while getting interrupted at the worst possible moment by a crying baby. I'm the type of poker player who needs to lock myself in a room playing 16-hour straight marathon sessions. not exactly conducive to being a great husband or father.

4. The game was headed in a direction that I wasn't excited about. I got out of poker toward the start of the "solver era" when the way in which people studied poker changed a lot. I wasn't motivated to keep up with the latest breakthroughs in solver technology and strategy.

5. Online poker was becoming logistically harder and less profitable. I was spending quite a bit of time outside the USA to play on poker sites that wouldn't serve Americans. The ceiling on what top online pros were making was going down every year. I felt like both the lifestyle and profit potential were decreasing.

Ok now that you've got your reason for moving on nailed down, here's the key: you need to find a new "game" to attack with the ferocity you put toward becoming a poker pro.

The game you choose next is important. you're going to want to give yourself some time to really think this through and maybe sample a few options, but then pick one and go all-in.

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I separate the games available to you into two categories:

1. Money-winning competitions: day trading, sports betting, NFT flipping, retail arbitrage (buying stuff from Target clearance aisles and marking it up to sell on Amazon), and generally any sort of arbitrage.

2. Real business: building a product or service that people get value from and will happily pay $ for.

As a poker player, category 1 is going to come naturally to you. you'll probably be great at it. i'd really step back and consider if it aligns with the reasons you want to move on from poker in the first place though.

For me, I wanted to work on building assets and separating my time input from my income output. don't get me wrong, I love money-winning competitions. I still bet on sports, invest in individual stocks, and enjoy flipping things. but I didn't want whatever I was focusing the majority of my energy into after poker to be in Category 1.

If you want to do Category 2, you've got a lot of brainstorming to do. my one recommendation is that even if your initial idea is "small" you have a pie-in-the-sky roadmap to a huge outcome if things go very well. winning money at a negative sum game like poker is HARD. don't sell yourself short. give yourself a chance to hit out of the park. you don't have to start big, but give yourself some runner-runner outs to end up big if you run hot.

EOk now for the logistics of the next question, I always get "Yeah but I'm making a bunch of money in poker and if I start something new I won't be."

You've gotta be OK with making a short-term income sacrifice for the chance to achieve your long-term goals.

If you can afford to, quit poker cold turkey for a set period of time while you pursue the next chapter in your career.

If that's not realistic, take the number of hours per week you play poker. divide that number by 4, and schedule these hours into set time slots throughout the week. you'll almost certainly make half of your previous poker income 25% of the time. you are not allowed to play or think about poker outside of these hours. As you start getting some momentum in whatever you do next, gradually trim your poker schedule even further until you're not playing.

Now that your schedule has opened up, spend some time thinking about what game you want to play next. brainstorm business ideas; the more the better, coming up with ideas is a skill that you have to practice like anything else.

Then pick one (not two, not one, and maybe a backup you'll switch to in a few weeks). don't get distracted by anything else. until you have booked a solid win outside of poker, a degenerate level of focus is going to be your secret weapon. take action, and attack this one business idea with the same intensity you did when you were diving into poker.

Finally, the last and most important step: if you do all of this and start something new, let me know so I can give you some money and be along for the ride (if you've read this far, you know luck is real and my $ is some of the luckiest 🎲).

I love working with and investing in poker pros as they move on to the next game they are going to crush. my business partner is an ex-poker pro. so is our Ecom business' warehouse manager. most of the people I invest and brainstorm with are ex-poker. Hopefully, you're next.

Good luck 🤞🏻

Replies from the poker community:

Noah Schwartz (@noahjschwartz) – Seems like the best & brightest minds, who have had success in poker tend to leave the game knowing it’s not a means to an end. Sounds like you made a solid decision. Congrats & very well said about making the transition.

Cole South – To me it seems kinda all over the place – I know plenty of super smart people that still play poker. And nothing wrong with that if it aligns with their long term goals.
TheBiggestGameInTheWorld (@Ryanknowscrypto) – Great Read Cole. I eventually left FT poker and went hard into trading. I can say that Trading is 1000Xs easier than poker, and has no cap on how much you can make. Have to start at the bottom though just like anything else.

Cole South – For sure, it's a very common transition and I know a bunch of ex-poker people who are crushing in trading now. Def takes humility to start at the bottom in it when you're used to big swings of poker. congrats!
mikemcnick (@mikemcnick32) – Great thread! Any thoughts on buying businesses? Most of the stuff i see listed on loopnet for example seems dusty but maybe there’s some great deals on there or elsewhere?

Cole South – Yes, I think buying a business is a very underrated route to go for poker players. It’s really easy to buy a stinker though if you don’t know what to look for. I’d get an advisor and/or only shop with brokers that have at least some vetting standards (quiet light, empire flippers etc) vs marketplaces like bizbuysell
Vadim Markush (@Markush1331) – Amazing read! Someone finally made a post about the topic. I would say I am mostly 2 (investing and operating real business). Though do some 1 activities occasionally (crypto) I know very few successful players quit, some became successful 1s, and very few became 2s. Its addictive personalities For me it was about the toxicity of poker people (they are everywhere though) and pursuit for bigger meaning and real collaboration between people. The therapists also say if your life is only a game – you are a teenager. I wanted to discover my grown up psyche...
Garrett Adelstein (@GmanPoker) – Great read Cole, thanks! Have continued to follow you from afar over the years.

Cole South – Thanks Garrett. One of my life reel of cringe moments that subconsciously gets replayed in my head every year or two is rage chatting at you on PokerStars. I was a total dick, I’m sorry.

Garrett – No worries bro, I was no picnic myself in my early 20s. Never took offense.