“Yeah, but how much did you lose?”
If you’ve played poker for any amount of time, you’ve probably been asked a version of this question. It’s most likely a reaction to when you post a photo of a big win at the tables on your social media or when you’re telling a non-poker player about your last winning session.
The assumption is that people only pay attention to the times they win, and slip the losers under the rug never to be thought of again. That’s not really how serious poker players calculate win rate, but the question is not entirely irrelevant. How much did you lose?
In other words, what’s a good win rate?
That all depends like most things with cards, but it’s pretty widely accepted that anywhere from a few big blinds per hour and up is an acceptable win rate.
Even for top pros, this is a good win rate. That might surprise the recreational player that spends her free time watching huge pots exchange hands on YouTube, but it’s true. That’s why the best players keep moving up in stakes. When you’re trading time for money, you want to get the most per hour that you can. So if you can be a 5x BB winner at 3/5 or a 3x BB winner at 25/50, you’d obviously take the higher stakes. Even though you BB/hour rate is lower, the actual dollars are way higher.
As the stakes get higher, the BB per hour actually gets smaller. Many top pros are happy with 1-2 big blinds per hour. But when you’re playing at 100/200 or even 400/800, that’s a pretty good living.
Now, back to the small stakes. For the first four or five months of 2018, I had a win rate of about 10-12 big blinds per hour. It felt like I was printing money. Then for the last four or five months, my win rate is down to 5 big blinds per hour. I’m still happy with that rate, but it’s not what it was. Keep in mind that my regular game is 1/3 NL.
Now if I was going through my records and I was running at negative 5 big blinds per hour over 10 months, it would definitely catch my attention. At minus 10-12 big blinds per hour I would be doing some serious soul searching. I would take a careful look at my strategies and see if there are some leaks that need fixing right away.
It’s entirely possible that I’m actually playing well and just losing some big pots in a reasonable way.
A few monster pots either way can make or break your week or even your month. Let’s say for instance that you have a 100 BB stack and you get pocket aces. You’d gladly get it all in preflop all day long. Well, statistically, you’ll lose that hand 20% of the time.
You’re out 100 BB by no fault of your own. You made the correct decision, and it just didn’t go your way that time. Using our accepted win rate from before, you’ll have to grind out at least 20 hours to make up for that loss over the long run. Sure it’s possible that you could swing the other way on the very next hand and be back to even. But in the long run, over months and years, win rates regress to the mean.
So what’s the takeaway here? Sustained win rates are relatively low because of the variance built into poker.
If you are absolutely crushing a game for 10 or more BB per hour, it’s time that move up in stakes.
And finally, keep good records. Otherwise you might as well put your money in a slot machine.