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Maximizing Poker Win Rate vs. Maximizing Hourly

on 20/10/15 /posted by  admin

At some point in our poker career we start to understand that poker strategy goes far beyond the betting patterns. Everything from how we eat, and how long we sleep to how many tables we're playing and how often we're watching coaching videos can affect our bottom line.

While profit is not the only reason for playing poker it's one of the essential aspects of the game. It's the way we're 'keeping score' and even though the existence of variance makes calculating our skill level based on results imperfect, we're ultimately forced to rely on it in our estimations.

Almost every poker player strives to maximize his or her profit and there's more than one way to skin this proverbial cat (no animals were harmed in the making of this article). Some players decide to focus on improving and increasing their edge, while others prefer to focus on making as much money as possible using tools they currently possess. In this article we'll try to compare those two approaches and decide which one is the best.

Maximizing bb/100 Win Rate

First let's take a look at the strategy of maximizing your win rate. It's fairly simple, the bigger your edge is and the fewer mistakes you make and the higher your win rate will be. Because of that you should spend a fair bit of the time that you assigned for poker related activities on learning and reviewing your game.

There's no shortage of tools that you can use for that purpose and PokerVIP can be your one stop shop for all of them. You can watch and make notes or comment on coaching videos, you can review hands posted by other users and post your own hands for review, you can do the same thing with your stats, you can read articles, analyse your database etc.

Use PokerVIP to Maximise Your Winrate

It's also important to take care of your mental game because that's another way of gaining the edge over your opponents. If you tilt less than the majority of your opponents you'll get opportunities to win big pots that they'll never get and you give away fewer stacks as a result of big mistakes caused by your mental state.

Actually playing poker is still important, because you can't really test your knowledge without playing and experience gained at the tables will help you stay consistent when it comes to applying the knowledge that you developed to particular spots. You'll probably want to play relatively low number of tables, 4-6 is the sweet spot that can ensure you're playing adequate amount of hands while still being able to concentrate and pay attention to each and every hand.

4 to 6 tables is the sweet spot

It's also possible to make notes during the session when you're playing 4-6 tables so take advantage of that. As for the amount of time you should spend at the tables vs. the amount of time invested in your poker education 50:50 is a happy medium, that will ensure your improvement and adequate volume to monitor your progress.

Quick Recap

  • Play a relatively small number of tables (4-6).

  • Split your time 50:50 between grinding and education.

  • Improve by watching videos, reviewing hands, reading articles etc.

  • Focus on each hand while playing.

  • Make a lot of notes.

The Pros and Cons of Maximizing Your Winrate

Pros of maximizing your win rate

  • Life of a player with high bb/100 win rate is usually a lot more fun than the life of the average grinder. You can enjoy shorter downswings and break even stretches. You end a lot of your sessions in the black.
  • Mastery. There are some solid studies out there suggesting that mastery can be a better motivator than money. After a certain amount, you'll start getting diminishing returns from money which is not the case with mastery.
  • Motivation. Since you have both mastery and money working for you in a motivation departament you should have less trouble staying disciplined.
  • Moving up. With high win rate, you can move up faster. Focusing on increasing your edge over the player pool at your current limit will make transition to the environment with higher average player skill level easier.

Cons of maximizing your win rate

  • Even though your downswings should be less severe and break even stretches shorter you're not immune to them. They will happen and they can be really devastating for a high winrate player. It's hard to reconcile downswings caused by the unforgiving nature of variance with our constant strive to improve and get better at poker. Playing relatively low amount of hands doesn't help either since even 10bb/100 player can experience a 100k hands long break even stretch and it can take him 3 or more months to power through something like that.
  • Mindset. Aforementioned downswings and break even stretches take a bigger toll on high win rate players. Even if you know objectively that you're much better than most players at your limit, edges in poker are still relatively small, and winning is never a certainty.
  • Common fallacy: "I can just solve the game on paper and then once I'm a 10bb/winner I'll hit the tables". Well, you can't and even if instead of using your brain you'd use a bunch of processing power (that you more than likely can't get the access to) the only thing you can hope for at this moment is solving heads up limit hold'em. And if you're actually trying to play poker and not running some sort of bot, you have no guarantee that you'll be able to replicate the optimal strategy that you devised, especially with limited experience at the table.

Maximizing Hourly

Another popular approach to playing poker is maximizing your hourly win rate. While your bb/100 win rate can affect your hourly win rate it's just one element of it. You can still make money even if you're a loser bb/100 wise in certain games assuming you have high enough rakeback.

You can win even if you are a losing player with rakeback and bonuses

Your hourly winrate is mostly affected by your skill level (bb/100 winrate), rakeback/bonuses and the number of hands you play per hour. When it comes to skill level many players choose to grind lower limits to ensure that their knowledge gathered through their poker career will provide them with some edge. Others decide not to neglect the education completely and hope that their limited investment in education will result in a small edge or at least 0bb/100 win rate.

As for rakeback and bonuses I advise you to take a look at the amazing PokerVIP deals and promotions like Top 500 Rake Race. A quick glance at those, paired with some calculations are enough to realize that choosing a good deal can add quite a bit to your bottom line if you're a high volume player.

Speaking of volume, maximizing your hourly requires you to play relatively high amount of hands per hour. You can achieve that by either playing a large number of regular tables (10+) or one of the fast poker variants (rush, zoom, speed etc.). Maximizing your hourly winrate is a delicate balancing act.

Increasing the amount of hands you're playing per hour can negatively affect your win rate, decreasing it will negatively affect your rakeback and bonuses, and since you can never know your exact winrate, your hourly winrate calculations can never be totally accurate.

Quick Recap

  • Play a relatively large number of tables (10+) or 4 zoom/speed/rush tables.
  • Spend most of your time on playing poker.
  • Look for sources of added value like bonuses or rake races.
  • Try to figure out the optimal number of hands you should play per hour based on your rakeback/bonuses and your estimated skill level.

The Pros and Cons of Maximizing Hourly

Pros of maximizing hourly

  • Money. Players emphasizing hourly will usually earn more money at a certain limit than players focusing on improving just because profit is the main priority for them.
  • Rakeback and bonuses aren't affected by variance and therefore, are more reliable than your win rate as a profit source.
  • More free time. This is player dependent, but since players emphasizing hourly don't spend a lot of time on poker education they can usually spend a bit less time on poker related activities overall.
  • Arguably fewer mindset problems related to downswings and break even stretches. Since you're expecting break even stretches in the first place, bad results are just part of the job. As long as your bankroll management is on point and you grind hands fast enough to power through bad results everything goes according to plan.

Cons of maximizing hourly

  • Maximizing your hourly is not the best approach if you want to move up in limits.
  • Grinding a lot of hands can become boring and repetitive after a while. There's no mastery aspect to it and that could potentially lead to problems with motivation down the line.
  • It's hard to strike a perfect balance between your win rate, rakeback and number of tables you're playing to come up with the optimal plan for maximizing your hourly. 
  • Common fallacy: "I'm just going to be a break-even player, live long and happy life with my green line matching the 'x' axis, and make money through rakeback". This quote is a prime example of wishful thinking. The graph of a 0bb/100 winner doesn't look like an 'x' axis. It actually looks like this: 

break even players graph

The life of a break even player can be fairly unstable in the short run and his graph looks more like a sinusoid than a straight line. While in some fringe situations it might actually be +EV to grind games that you're a loser in (making sure you're able to hit SuperNova Elite status, some rare examples or >100% rakeback etc.) it's safe to say that for the vast majority of players it's never correct to completely disregard the win rate.


Ultimately there's no "right way" of doing things and it depends on your preferences and circumstances. Both maximizing win rate and maximizing hourly can be valid, and we should pick what suits us best and what's optimal in our current situation.  

We just have to remember that extreme versions of both approaches can be equally disastrous. So even if you aspire to be high bb/100 winner you should still spend a lot of time at the tables and if you care mostly about hourly don't disregard the education aspect entirely.

As with everything poker related it pays to be able to adjust quickly. If we stumble upon a very good rakeback deal it's probably best to adjust our strategy and increase volume. If we feel competition breathing down our neck, we should substitute one hour of our daily grind with watching coaching videos. Whichever approach you end up choosing, you shouldn't forget about balance!

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