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Are You a Winning Player?

Are You a Winning Player?
By Loki Luchs of

One of the best questions that a player can ask themselves is “Why am I getting the results that I am?” Regardless whether you're a winner or a loser, there are two main reasons for your overall performance: your ability and your probability variance. Obviously, your overall ability is going to affect whether you win or lose; that’s what makes poker so different from other casino games. What many novices don't understand is how variation affects your results. Variation is often (wrongly) referred to as luck. The reason why this is a mistake is that the word “luck” indicates that the rules of probability are being broken. Under the principles of the Law of Large Numbers (LLN), over an extended period of time, the probability that an action will occur and the number of actual times that the action DOES occur will converge. As the number of trials increases, the probability of an action occurring will come closer to the predicted percentage. In small portions of time, however, there will be groupings of good and bad variance.

As it applies to poker, your probability of negative outcomes will even out over time. A classic example of this is that if two immortal players were to play the game long enough, each player would have the exact same number of good and bad hands against one another. Both would lose with four kings to four aces the same number of times. In the short term, however, the variation in the number of good hands and bad hands can wreak havoc on your wins, losses and most importantly, your bankroll.

When players are “running cold,” they will be making the correct plays but will not be reaping the benefits. This is a natural part of probability theory! Players who are “running good” are having a good streak of cards and are winning more than they would given probability in larger numbers. One thing that is very deceiving (and even dangerous) about these “rushes,” is when a player is not recognizing how this variance in probability is affecting their overall wins and losses. Is a player winning because they're on a hot streak or because they're making the right decisions? The answer may be one or both of these things. We've all seen a horrible player walk away from the table with a large win. We've also seen great players walk away with big losses. Was that player making bad plays or was he having bad variance? The answer, again, may be one or both of these things.


One of the single hardest parts of being a poker player is evaluating your ability honestly. We often place blame on other people, bad luck, or bad cards, but an honest player should first look at their own ability before thinking that variance (luck) is to blame. Some outstanding players have weeks and months where they are playing bad poker. It’s a blow to the ego, especially for good players, to be able to recognize that they've been making bad decisions. Poker isn't about ego, however; it’s about money. If a player isn't willing to set their ego aside and recognize the potential flaws in their game, they will never improve.

Keep in mind that the best way to watch for variance is by keeping accurate records. As cliché as it is, keep accurate track of your wins and losses in EVERY game you play! Make a note if you won or lost an extraordinary pot that may have caused your session to change. For instance, if you had been losing all night and won a huge pot on a hand with three outs, make a note of that. In addition, by having a separate bankroll for poker, it’s easier to keep track of your overall profits or losses. This will help you look at the big picture instead of the short term.

A personal belief I have is that over 90% of the players who say they're winning, are actually long-term losers. If they can't open a book and show me that over a long period of time they're winning consistently, then I refuse to believe them. There are many more losers than winners in poker. Some players are too lazy to keep records. Others are too proud to say that they aren't a winning player. I feel that some losing player’s hubris unconsciously keeps them from tracking their records because they know that they haven't been winning overall. I also question a player whose records show only winning sessions. You're going to lose sometimes! Everyone takes bad beats or has second best hand sometimes. Over the course of thousands of hands, a session here and there doesn't drastically affect your overall outcome.

By keeping track of your records, you can figure out the truth about your ability. Over the long run, only the winning player will be making money. Even though those two immortal players will eventually have an equal amount in the quality of their cards, only one of them will be a winner in the end.


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