Thursday, December 8, 2011

Ego In Poker-Winrate vs. Rakeback

There is way too much ego in poker. People are always quick to boast about their Superior poker IQ at the tables, either by pointing out where you went wrong in a hand and berating your play or by posting their opinion as fact on the forums. I'm certainly guilty of all of the above and while I'm not proud about it, I also can't think of a single poker player that doesn't have an ego problem to some extent. The fact is that in order to be a successful poker player, you need to be confident in yourself and the line between confidence and arrogance is so thin that it's easily crossed.

I want to preface my argument with the most important part to take away from this post. I have learned that flaunting one's ego is mostly just a reflection of insecurity. I know this because when I first began playing poker (and even now, but to a lesser extent though), I would berate a play or factually tell someone that they're wrong to reassure myself that I knew what I was doing, even if I didn't. In poker, it makes sense for people to be delusional about their skill level or they probably wouldn't be playing the game in the first place. When there are no definitive right and wrong answers, no clear-cut yeses and noes, it can be tough to know if you're winning (or losing) because of your play or simply because of variance. As a result, I think that a lot of people are insecure about their game and as an attempt to reassure themselves in what they are doing, they pretend or imagine that they are brilliant at poker by talking down to others.

With that said, the point of this post is not to plea to you to leave your ego aside while playing poker. Instead, the point of the post is to recognize that ego certainly exists among almost all poker players and to make a case for us mass-multitablers out there that the "winrate" statistic is very trivial so long as you're focused on the bigger picture of making money. Why am I trying to prove that people should be less focused on winrate and not other statistics? Well, if there's one thing that drives ego-centered arguments-it's people's winrates!

This post is inspired from an incident that occurred during my session today where I butchered a hand pretty badly against a winning regular and out of frustration wrote "why do I always pay off the nits?" to no one in particular, after the hand. This started a brief banter back and forth about who was the better poker player (aka the standard toolbox E-Argument) and after a quick glance at his results I found out, as I suspected, that he had only won less than 1/3rd of what I had earned in the same time frame yet his winrate was more than double mine!

Comparing Results

Results are how we keep score in poker. It's not a perfect system but it's the best we got. It would make sense then when trying to determine who is the better poker player to simply compare everyone's results and we would have a clear-cut answer to end all arguments. However, basic complications quickly arise because players have each played a different number of hands in their lifetime so it would not be fair to compare two players unless they had the exact same number of hands under their belt. This is where the winrate statistic comes into play and why people put so much emphasis on looking at someone's winrate, we can learn how much money per hand someone is earning and thereby have a consistent measurement to use among all players. Sounds like the perfect way to compare people's skill level then right? A lot of people think yes but some smarter people would say NO!

Not surprisingly, those with a good winrate will be quick to defend the stat, while others with breakeven or marginal winrates will downplay it's importance. In my mind, there are two main reasons why I don't care more than I have to about my winrate.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to playing poker professionally, it all comes down to winning the most money that I can. Obviously I want my winrate to be as high as it can be so I can maximize my profits but unless you're playing high-stakes cash games it's almost always going to be the case that you can make more money from rakeback + small winnings rather than large table winnings +small rakeback(of course there are exceptions). Using myself as an example, in 2 years I've won about 130K in table winnings but because I've played over 4 million hands in this time span my winrate is nothing amazing (bit less than 1). One of the most amazing winrates that I've seen is around 6.6 from a player at 100nl but guess what, he's only earned 80K in the same time frame. The arguments starts now because you could easily say "well if the player with the high winrate played as many hands as you then he'd have won WAYY more money!" Yeah, well guess what, he CAN'T play as many hands as I can or he WOULD HAVE DONE IT TOO. There's a skill within itself that's required to mass multi-table and I think that it's very undervalued. People that have great winrates have them for a reason-they pick good tables and can pay attention to every detail. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying they're not fantastic poker players...just that take away their table selection and throw them on 24 tables and we'll see what their winrate drops to.

The players that I consider truely elite are those that can mass multi-table and have solid winrates to boot. I don't put myself in that category but I don't feel as though I'm leagues off either. To name a few names, guys like Ronfar3, TimStone, gutter23, Vinivici9586 and a few others have been able to maintain great winrates while maximizing rakeback and have it all figured out in my opinion.

Sacrificing Attention

The main reason why I think that the winrate statistic should not be boasted in the face of any mass multi-tabler is because they are aware that they are not playing 100% optimally and ACCEPT that in order for more overall profits, as mentioned above. When you're flying through 24 tables, you accept that you are going to miss little things, misclick more, and probably most importantly, practice worse table selection because you're going to earn more money from rakeback than you would from winnings alone. I don't care if you have a winrate of 2.x when I feel that I could have a winrate of 4.x if I also bumhunted 8 juicy tables all of the time. Of course, I'll be reluctant to prove this because I know the value of my time and will be instead busy grinding out them VPPs :)

Sample Size/How One Is Running

One last point to use against those bragging about their awesome winrate is to say that their sample size is usually meaningless. For reasons that were mentioned above, usually players with good winrates will be playing few tables and as a result, have a relatively small number of hands under their lifetime belt. People that think they have it all figured out after playing only 1 million hands (especially 100K-500K, lol) have another thing coming. I can play 250K hands in 1 month and in that month I could win $10K at the tables only to lose a few grand the very next month. When your sample size is small, variance will play a much greater role in your results and you could easily be on a heater the whole time and not even realize it.

Should We Care About Winrates At All?

Sure, we should care about winrates. I'm not saying someone's winrate doesn't matter...just that it's importance should be downplayed when getting into ego wars. Apart from the obvious reason of maximizing profit as much as possible, winrates are also important for things such as coaching. Whether I like it or not, having a good winrate and respect often go hand in hand in the poker community and therefore is not something to ignore completely.

And that's that. I'd like to hear other people's thoughts about this...especially someone that wants to defend their 2.56 winrate lol!


  1. Hey Frosty,

    haha,i somehow knew that you would make our small conversation worthy a blog post :))
    As i said,i like your blog a lot and i like your last blog entry a lot,as well.
    You are speaking the truth and i obv respect your ability to mass table for like 10 hours a day for a decent winrate thus making more money than me.Not even counting in your better rakeback as a online pro:)
    I was already pointing that out in our small conversation though,that since i only play 12 tables on average i am able to recognize/renember some betting patterns/ history better and thats why i dont respect your poker play TOO much,i.e. am able to exploit your "mass tabling mind " from time to time,while still respecting your ability to make more money.
    I got some more things to say about that whole bottom line/winrate thing:

    -there are people like me,that play poker only semi-professional...i got a real job as well.
    So i not only play less tables ,i play only like 30 hours a week at best...thats why my bottom line isnt that big, and btw it could very well be,that by playing 60+ hours week my winrate would drop solely bc i would become bored:)
    -Its not that simple since many mass tabler 24 players dont play better when cutting tables to,say,half.They become bored or simply arent very creative to be able to use more time to think in the correct way.And bumhunting is possible with 24 tabling as well btw:))
    -I for my self have 24 tabled in 2010 for 180k hands at 100NL,100k of this are tracked at PTR.I was only breaking even.I belong to the type of players where the winrate drastically improves when 12 tabling and even more drastically when 6-8 tabling(for lifetime 400k hands 200NL for 6PTBB).For players like me,it makes sense to not play max tables.
    - I do think that many regs and semi-regs do it the wrong way...that they either should cut tables to half or play more maximise the bottom line.

    Gl at the tables

  2. one more thing i would like to add for now:

    Just for your understanding,i consider guys like you still kind of newbies,or veterans of the new generation of poker players.I started on stars early 2005,played low stakes and my first 200NL hands in 2006.Lifetime 6+million hands by now and during my student time 2007-2009 i did play 10 hours a day,6-8 tabling.
    I watched you moving up to 100NL for the first time playing like 10/8 style,which was considered TAG by that time :)
    And while many of you new generation players think that the good old times have been very easy poker-wise,i dont agree completely.Sure,because there always have been 3-4 fishes at the tables,winrates of 5ptbb++ werent something unusual,the regs back then have been much better POSTFLOP.Only playing 6 tables mostly(12 tables max at that time i think on stars)and HUDS made first appearance only in 2007 IIRC,people had to rely much more on "reads" and feeling for the flow.Preflop was passive,which was great bc you got to see all the flops vs the fishes,but regs would bluff a lot more postflop putting you in tough spots.Many current famous poker players/high stakes players have been at the tables back then.
    What I want so say is,whenever i hear someone of the new generation talk about sample size,than i have to laugh a bit because robotic mostly ABC played 6 million hands are nowhere as important for the development of poker skills as like 1 or 2 million hands played 6 tabling over a longer timespan.

  3. Frosty why did you drop to 100nl? Did I miss a blog about it or what?

  4. u play way more hours than others, u forgot to mention that

  5. IMO

    1. $ hourly rate is boss

    2. hours played / ability to grind is second

    3. winrate is a distant third

    total amount won with relation to poker skill is almost useless. We would all agree a guy who wins $10K after 100 hours is more skilled than a guy who wins $10K after 1000 hours - assuming tangebile factors like stakes and varience are controlled.

    There are nice perks with having a higher winrate - like community recognition, smaller swings etc, but at the end of the day you would be stupid to value these perks over getting paid more for your time.

    "Ego wars" in game at the table arn't going to help your hourly rate or your winrate,


  6. just get rid of ptr!

    its inaccurate as hell,only did track 2010 and half of 2011 decent.
    And its the reason many ego wars occur.
    While we are at it,Total amount won there can be very misleading,thats why i only look after the winrate at the site.Friend of mine ,100NL player played HU end of 2009 for like 6 hours on 400NL vs bad player,won like 20 buyins and it wasnt tracked...and guess what,instead of being happy he was angry at first lol

  7. Hi Tyler,

    As I sit here hungover on a usual Sunday drinking a coffee reading your blog i would have to agree with you ALMOST completely.

    The one thing I think that most coaches argue is that if you are mass multi tabling it may be the best way to make the most amount of money possible at that stake (up to a certain level, say 5/10). I don't think many people can debate that multi tabling at 100nl or 200nl CAN make you the most amount of money possible. This does however leave out the idea of improvement. If someone is playing 24 table's for 6 hours a day how much better are they actually getting at the game? I don't know because i don't pull that volume but what do you think?

    Its like a job in the business world, are you willing to grind out a lower paying job which is a necessary requirement to become an account executive to make top $$? The skills and experience you gain in that lower role prepare you to be an executive. Same can theoretically be said for poker. Are you willing to stick to 4-6 tables and really pay attention to other players, patterns, reads, betting strategy; make less money but ultimately you "Learning Rate" is higher? by the time someone who has mass multi tabled for 3 years is still at 200nl you are now at 5/10 10/20. Will you make more money at this stake? Maybe? Variance is higher due to the higher average skill, lower amount of hands, and hit and runners etc.

    So that I guess asks another question... if you arent going to ever be playing 25/50 or higher is it worth it to climb the ranks experiencing super variance?

    Would you rather make 100k/year for 10 years or make 30k, 50k, 80k, 75k 150k... etc ?? Its probably up to the person most likely what kind of security they need or what their actual skill-cap is? Not everyone however good you may be at 400nl, 1000nl is not cut out for 25/50. How will that stress impact the rest of your life?

    Its an interesting argument for sure..

  8. Mardagg/Lewis:

    Nice post, you make some good points about why people choose to play fewer tables and why those people often claim to be surperior poker players to 24-tabling "robots." That said, the main point that I was trying to address with this article was just to suggest that people shouldn't be so quick to flaunt their winrates in front of rakeback grinders (not saying you were because you weren't-just speaking in general), mainly because those FPP pro's are usually earning more money in the first place.

    I've heard a lot of people use the argument that if you focus on fewer tables you can improve faster and become a better player. I'm not so sure I agree with this sounds good in theory but my only counter would be that I think for me (and I'm sure other players as well), my game doesn't really improve when I play fewer tables. Instead, if I want to experiment with new plays or make small tweaks in my game I actually will learn faster by continuing to play 24 tables because I will see more hands in a shorter period of time. I'm sure that some people would definitely benefit from cutting back on tables (most notably the FPP pro's that are losing players) but I just wanted to point out that I also think that some winning players won't be affected.

    This might make my whole article sound contradictory becauase now you're saying "well, if your game doesn't improve when you play less tables then you shouldn't be able to claim that your winrate would be better if you did so." However, that's not the case because my main point is simply that while my A game may not improve from playing fewer tables, I will very likely be playing my A game MORE OFTEN when playing less tables than I would mass multi-tabling. You mentioned that I may become bored while playing less tables but I would argue that boredom and fancy play syndrome is pretty much a fixed factor in this debate (I always find myself getting bored and fancy while mass multi-tabling). There are obviously a lot of factors that will affect changes in winrates but by taking out the misclicks, less attention to detail, and heavy auto-pilot alone I would imagine a significant increase in winrate (can't imagine you can ever really be on auto-pilot for very long by playing 6-12 tables...whereas when you're mass grinding for hours on end it's easy to coast for thousands of hands).

    I guess all that I'm trying to say is that yes, I agree with you when you say that you can exploit some parts of my game by remembering more history and paying more attention to detail. However, if we were both to sit at a single table and I were able to bring my A game and pay equal attention then who knows who would be the better player. As it stands, we both approach poker from a different angle (I say we but I'm meaning to talk in a broader sense of rakeback grinders vs. winrate guys) and I don't think either of us has the right to be talking down to one another.

    Effects: No you didn't miss a blog post sir. I've been playing 100nl for the past month or so simply because it's been taking me like an hour to get 24 mid-stake tables running as opposed to 5 minutes at 100nl. It's just easier to stick to a schedule this way it's much more relaxing to just grind a single limit (don't have to have 2-3 different stacks per limit...can just have everything in one nice stack in the middle of the screen to minimize mouse movement/effort). Also, the play is obviously worse so I feel like I can probably win close to the same amount of money anyways.

  9. Anonymous 1: I'm sure I do play more hours than most but there are plenty of 6-12 tablers out there putting in heavy hours as well. Especially this year lol, I've only been playing 2 weeks out of every month and probably haven't even averaged 30 hour weeks.

    Anonymous 2: I totally agree with you that it should be about hourly...if there were a way to publically track that then that would be a argument stopper fo sho.

    Anonymous 3: I completely agree...ptr is basically the starter of all arguments despite it's inaccuracy. I think that Stars has been trying to shut down ptr for a while now but has been unable to do so thus far.

    Thanks for the feedback so far, good discussion!

  10. Hello there Frosty, excellent article. Just one question, as the rakeback in the Micros is way less, do you think that is better to multi table and break-even or win some, or it's best to cut down on tables and just think about win the most money possible in less hands?

  11. Well, I would say that you should play as many tables as you can until you feel as though your game might be suffering. For me, that would probably be somewhere around 16-18 tables...anymore and I'm probably not going to be able to play my A game as much. That said, the rakeback can actually add up pretty quickly even as low as 25nl...anything lower than that though and you're probably right.

    I also didn't even play any cash until 25nl though so I'm not very experienced in the really low stakes cash games.

  12. Frosty,

    have you ever taken a shot at far higher stakes at fewer tables for a decent length of time?

    eg, instead of playing 24 tables at 100, played 4 tables of 600nl or 1000nl?

    to the point of your post, I'm assuming you'd be making less in FPPs, but I'd be interested in overall win rate /100 and ph?

    One comment you made shocked me - do you really think a sample size of 1 million hands is small? I play for fun - 2 tables of 50nl and win over 7BB/100 over 100k hands (18 months as I'm a rec player only). Am I really to assume that I can't be sure I'm a winning player yet?

    good luck at the tables

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