A win-rate in poker measures how quickly a player wins, whether they play cash games or tournaments. This rate is then reduced to the number of big blinds that a cash game player wins per 100 hands on average, or a tournament player’s return on investment (ROI). While cash games and tournaments vary wildly in their composition, it is possible to judge your win-rate across both disciplines and build consistency across the board.
In tournament play, return on investment is often viewed as a percentage. As an example, if you entered 10 tournaments for a collective buy-in of $100 and only cashed out for $10, then you’d have a return on investment of 10%. You obviously want to be aiming a lot higher than that.
When playing online poker – and even while budgeting for live events – many of poker’s elite players use software to calculate their win-rate. This is optimization at its finest, allowing players to refocus their efforts and make themselves more profitable, and we’d recommend that you do exactly the same.
Many of online poker’s best poker trackers allow you to calculate your winrate automatically or ROI based on your previous hands and tournament or cash game session history.
How Can You Calculate Your Cash Game Winrate?
If you’re a cash game player, then its harder to work out than simply totting up your tournament buy-ins and working out a simple percentage. You’ll need to know the number of cash game hands you’ve played and your profit in terms of big blinds (i.e. if you play $0.01/$0.02 and you won $1 then you are 50 big blinds up).
If you play live cash games, this can be harder to track than scrolling back through hand histories or consulting poker tracking software. However, you’ll be able to add it all up by calculating the number of hours you spent at the felt. Let’s say that over the course of a month, you played ten cash game sessions at your local casino, each lasting an average of five hours.
Knowing that an in-person casino cash game averages 30 hands per hour, that equates to 1,500 hands of poker. You’ll then need to look at how much money you made to work out you cash game winrate. Here is that equation in simple terms:
Cash game winrate in bb/100 = (profit in big blinds/number of hands) *100
So, if we have played 1,500 hands of poker and won 200 big blinds, what is our winrate in bb/100 hands?
Winrate: (200/1,500) *100 = 13.3bb per 100 hands. If you’re playing $5/$10 then this amount would be a rate of $130 per hour.
Let’s look at five factors that allow us to increase our winrate and improve our profits in poker:
We’ll start with the biggest factor – your own skill. Of course, if you’re just starting out then you’re going to be on the bottom rung but there is no shame in this. Everyone starts somewhere and don’t listen to anyone telling you that poker is too hard to join now and be profitable. That’s what people said ten years ago and Charlie Carrel ignored them all, started watching training videos online and grinded his way up to the top of the game through hard work and focus. He’s just one example.
Working on your skill is dependent on hard work, focus, but also humility You’re never going to start off crushing high stakes. Start at the very bottom. The micros. Once you’re making a profit at the basic level of the game, take some shots in higher buy-in events and consider increasing the blind levels you play cash at.
Discipline is so important in terms of winrate that it warrants its own section notwithstanding its relation to other factors such as bankroll management and volume which we will cover later. Maintaining a winning winrate is often down to your personal discipline, not only at the table but away from it too.
Let’s say that after some time, you have a steady winrate at NLHE multi-table tournaments (MTTs) that are $5-$10 in buy-in and are freezeouts, i.e. they feature no rebuys. Now let’s suggest that after a profitable day, you decide to add in a rebuy/re-entry event to your schedule as a shot. You’re playing really well and feeling just as comfortable as you do playing freezeouts.
Then you get unlucky and bust after two rebuys and an add-on. You only min-cash and therefore lose around 2-3 buy-ins. It’s not a disaster, but such are the vagaries of playing rebuy events compared to freezeouts that variance dictates that you have effectively lost in three tournaments rather than one because you’ve lost multiple buy-ins.
So many players decide to risk affecting their win-rate by adopting a ‘chasing’ mentality here that it’s not even funny. You are far better served to view the loss as multiple losses, drop back into freezeout-only mode and put those buy-ins to more consistent use until your win-rate is where you want it to be again. Once it is, step back into the slightly unfamiliar arena, but do so with at least one eye on your bottom line. This will naturally improve your in-game and pre-game discipline, two huge factors in maintaining and improving your winrate.
3. Bankroll Management
Bankroll management is a vital part of maintaining his winrate. While variance will always play a part in both tournament and cash game poker, bankroll management is your main weapon in keeping your winrate where you want it to be. Calculating your winrate can be hard to do if its actually a ‘lose-rate’. It is something that is very much worth doing, however. Look at your results, the games you play and break down where you win or lose.
From there, focus on your bankroll management and establish the impact it has on your winrate. Lowering your buy-ins after a losing streak might suck but if you look at it as improving your winrate each time you are able to step back and improve how often you win then you’ll be onto a winner.
Managing your bankroll is a really good way of tallying up your winrate during upswings and downswings. By putting time into analysing this information, you’ll be much more clued on your ability to battle your way through each situation.
Your winrate can often be either positively or negatively affected by the position you inhabit at the table. In fact, over the course of your poker journey, whether it’s a professional career that spans two decades or a couple of years of casino tournaments during University you’ll probably be able to approximate your winrate to table position.
It may well make enlightening reading to learn the approximate bb winrate per 100 hands per position at the table:
Small Blind: (-15)
Big Blind: (-30)
Playing as much as you can to improve your winrate is entirely logical. But what should you play? Your ideal buy-in might be related to your winrate. It might even be the main influence, but when you look at winrate, you must look past what you spend and what you make as a simple metric.
An hourly rate is the best way of looking at how much you win playing poker. Your winrate may be very different if you focus your attention on a single game rather than spreading your risk across a number of tables. Let’s look at a demonstrable example.
Single-Table Examples: You play a $20-entry tournament, using your full focus to get the best result. You obtain a min-cash. At a single cash game, you play $0.05/$.010 and generate a profit of $10.00 – 100 big blinds.
Multiple-Table Examples: You play four $5-entry MTTs cashing twice and winning $40. You also play four $0.0.2/$0.04 cash tables and win a profit of $12.00 – 300 big blinds.
By upping your volume and reducing your buy-in, you can even out variance and make it a more profitable exercise. Try it next time you load up a tournament list or cash game.
What Represents a Strong Winrate in Poker?
A good winrate in poker, as we’ve discovered, is down to a number of factors. In online cash games, anything up to 10bb per 100 hands is good, with anything over 10 big blinds considered to be excellent. In live cash games this level of excellence only begins at 30 big blinds. Online tournaments should give you a return on investment of 0-30% with anything over 30% being exceptional.
In live tournaments, this goes up to 100% with anything over 100% – i.e. profit being considered great… it’s hard to win at tournaments! The reality is that if you can make a profit, you’re in the top 10% of poker players. Even winning a single big blind after 100 hands of cash games or 100 tournaments is profit, and should never be dismissed as an achievement.
Summing up the importance of winrate, while skill and experience are huge influences on improving this metric, they are not the only important dynamics in play. Improving your bankroll management, increasing your volume and retaining your mental discipline is crucial and if you can rely on those abilities, then you’ll be able to put together a strong plan of action.
If you create a solid plan, execute it well and improve your consistency at doing so over time, you will become a winning, more profitable poker player.