Why You're Not Winning at Poker Yet (Brutal Truth)

Why You're Not Winning at Poker Yet

This article was written by blackrain79.com contributor Fran Ferlan.

You’ve read a bunch of poker strategy articles online, you’ve watched hours worth of Youtube poker tutorials, you’ve even printed and memorized the preflop charts. 

You know the basics of the tight and aggressive poker strategy, and you don’t play suited junk anymore, but somehow, you’re still not making bank. Sound familiar?

So what gives? There must be something else you’re missing, right?

This article will give you 5 reasons you’re still not making money playing poker, and what you can do about it. And no, it’s not because you’re not using solvers. 

Some of the answers might be a hard pill to swallow, but I promise they’re good for you. Let’s dive right in.

1. You Don’t Study Poker As Much As You Should

Learning the winning poker strategy is not overly difficult, even if you are a total beginner. 

Just play tight, play in position, and value bet your hands relentlessly. Sounds simple enough, right? 

But here’s the thing. 

Learning the fundamentals of the winning poker strategy is only the beginning of your development as a winning poker player, not the end. 

You can’t expect to read a few articles and memorize a few charts and just start printing money.

Transitioning from a totally clueless fish into a breakeven player, say, isn’t that complicated, but to go from a breakeven player to absolutely crushing the game takes a lot more time and effort.

So you’ve read a couple of articles, maybe a book or two. Guess what? So did everyone else. 

Poker is a lot more competitive nowadays than it was 10 years ago. The secrets of the trade known only to the world class professionals are common knowledge today. 

It doesn’t mean the game can’t still be beaten, though. It just means it’s not a walk in the park it used to be. 

Everybody loves playing poker. Very few people actually love studying poker. 

Because studying poker isn’t sexy. It’s not exciting, and it can feel like a major grind. 

It’s something you know you should be doing, but when it comes the time to actually do it, you’d rather do pretty much anything else. 

One of the reasons studying is such a bummer is the fact that it actually forces you to take a good look at your skills (or lack thereof) and figure out exactly where your game might be lacking. 

When you take a closer look, you realize how little you know. 

You might be familiar with all the lingo, but being familiar with something and actually understanding it are not the same thing. 

As Albert Einstein famously said: 

"If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself." 

It’s also hard to assess leaks in your own game. 

If you were able to recognize the mistakes in your own game, you wouldn’t be making those mistakes in the first place. It’s easy to see problems in other players, but very difficult to do so with your own game.

This is why an ounce of humility can go a long way. 

Everyone has leaks in their game. 

If you don’t have the results you’re hoping for yet, chances are you’d benefit from brushing up on your poker knowledge. There’s always something new to learn.

I have already written the complete guide on both the best poker training sites to study poker and the best poker software tools to improve your poker game as well.

2. You Treat Poker Like an Amateur

If you treat it like an amateur, you’re going to get amateur results. Now, let’s get one thing straight right off the bat. Being an amateur is not a bad thing. 

By definition, an amateur is a person who engages in an activity for the activity’s sake, and not as a source of income.

They are often pretty easy to stop at the poker table because they tend to use a lot of bad poker strategies, as Nathan discussed in a recent video.

Now, not everyone wants to be a professional poker player, no matter how enticing the prospect might seem at a first glance. 

In fact, a vast majority of people would be better off keeping their day job. This doesn’t mean you can’t make good money playing poker even as an amateur. 

It just goes to show that in order to achieve extraordinary results, you need to put in an extraordinary effort. 

I mean, even making $50 a day from poker is by no means a walk in the park anymore. 

And for most people, putting extraordinary effort into a card game (especially for small profits like this) isn’t possible or practical. 

However though, if you’ve ever played poker, you must have imagined what it would be like to be a full time pro, set your own hours, travel the world, and enjoy the life of luxury. 

What you didn’t imagine was sitting in a dark room in front of a computer screen for hours and days on end, studying math and staring at charts, staying in on weekends, losing hundreds and thousands of dollars due to standard variance. 

It’s not all glitz and glamour. It’s a job. Only you’re not guaranteed a paycheck at the end of the month.

Very few people can make a living playing cards, and when you take a closer look, it’s not something most people would want to do in the first place. That doesn’t mean you can’t make money playing poker, though. 

It just means playing a couple of hours over the weekend with a beer in hand is probably not going to cut it. At the end of the day, the amount of money you make is proportional to the amount of effort you put in.

This is why 70% of people lose at poker and only a small handful make most of the big profits. Some people simply want it much more than others.  

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3. You’re Not As Good a Poker Player As You Think

Poker is deceptively simple. It only takes an hour to learn how to play, and not much longer to learn a successful winning strategy. 

But there’s a long way to go from not making glaringly obvious mistakes and being an expert. 

As a general rule, people tend to overestimate their abilities. There is usually a huge gap between people’s self-reported understanding of the subject and their actual understanding of the subject. 

In psychology, this is called the Dunning-Kruger effect. And poker players are especially guilty of this. That’s because unlike other endeavours, it’s difficult to accurately assess your skill level. 

Over the long run, we measure our success or failure with the dollar amount won or lost. This is an unreliable metric, but at the end of the day, that’s what counts.

Of course, there is variance to account for. How much you win or lose over a certain sample size is not entirely up to you. 

But this is exactly where the problem lies. It’s much easier to ascribe your bad results to negative variance than the underlying flaws in your game. 

The problem with blaming variance is also not accounting for all the times you’re actually running well. 

It’s easy to spot the situations where you lose to a suckout three times in a row, or when you’re card dead for hours on end. 

It’s much more difficult to spot, or even admit, that you got lucky by coolering your opponents. Variance goes both ways. You have to take the bad with the good.

Now, it’s entirely possible to run like crap for a long time. Many people are surprised to learn that even world class pros sometimes run bad in poker for months.

And it is absolutely brutal, I can tell you from experience.

But the cards you’re dealt are only a part of the equation. There are going to be some losing days, guaranteed. The point is, you need to make sure you lose no more than absolutely necessary. 

The other part of the equation is making sure you make as much money as possible when you actually run well. 

Here’s the thing: 

If you lose a lot when cards aren’t falling your way, and win a little when you’re on a heater, guess what? Variance is not to blame for your bad results. 

So instead of ruminating about your All-in Equity Adjusted graphs, take a moment to reflect if there is some part of your game that might be improved upon.

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4. You Tilt Away Your Profit

Having a solid grasp of a fundamental winning poker strategy is only a part of the equation. 

The far more difficult part is coming to terms with periods when the winning strategy isn’t producing the results you’re hoping for. 

Everyone can play well when the deck keeps hitting them in the face. It’s an entirely different story when you do everything right and seemingly get punished for it. 

You start getting agitated, you begin playing hands you shouldn’t be playing, getting involved in marginal spots you’re better off avoiding, which ends up costing you even more money. 

Then you bemoan your luck and blame variance. Some people go so far as to believe every poker site is rigged against them.

While variance does play a part in bad results, it’s not the whole story, and many players use it as an excuse. If you experience a couple of suckouts in a row, there’s really not much you can do about it. 

But if those suckouts cause you to start open-raising marginal hands, or calling down your opponents too wide in order to get even, the subsequent losses you incur can’t be blamed on variance, or other players, or the dealer, or the poker gods. 

It’s up to you to keep your emotions in check. This is something that Nathan discusses at length in The Micro Stakes Playbook.

If you can’t do that, you’re better off taking a break. There’s no shame in walking away. Poker can be unbelievably punishing, and it’s emotionally and mentally draining even at the best of times. 

So if you’re emotionally compromised to the point it affects your decision making, quit and live to fight another day. The games will always be there tomorrow.

On the other hand, simply quitting everytime something bad happens is hardly an optimal long-term solution. 

In order to put in more volume, which is the only way to assess your true results, you will need to develop a thicker skin. 

This means you need to get to the root cause of your tilting problems. What is it exactly that sets you off? Is it the money lost? Is it the perceived injustice? Do you just hate losing? 

Whatever the case might be, taking some time to reflect on these issues is just as important as knowing which hands to 3-bet light with, or when to check-raise the turn as a bluff.

For some reason, the whole mental game aspect is often overlooked in the poker world. One of the reasons might be that people tend to look for quick fixes and easy solutions. 

It’s a lot easier to assume you suck at poker because you don't know how to play Ace-King in 3-bet pots than it is to admit you have anger management issues.

But here’s the thing: 

Everyone playing poker today can learn how to play Ace-King in 3-bet pots. Very few people are willing and able to work on the psychological issues lurking beneath the surface. 

If you take time for some honest self-assessment, you’ll be way ahead of the curve not just at the poker table, but in life in general.

For much more on this by the way see my massive guide to using a Stoic philosophy to win more in poker.

5. You’re Focused On The Results Rather Than The Process

Making money is how we measure our success in poker. However, the amount of money won is an unreliable metric. 

For most people, poker is a hobby. And like other hobbies, it costs money. 

Even if you are a breakeven poker player, you’re actually way ahead of the curve, as most people actually lose money in the long term. 

But if you want to be a decent winning player over the long term, you need to forget about the money for a second.

You need to quit daydreaming about how you are going to make $5000 a month playing poker.  

This may seem like a paradox, but hear me out. If you’re in it for the prospect of making an easy buck, chances are you’ll end up poorer for your efforts. 

There’s a ton of content these days about making money online, and poker is just one of many. What they all have in common is they treat money as the end goal, rather than means to an end. 

They’re all focused on how to make an x amount of money in a short amount of time, preferably without any skill, expertise, or effort. 

What people fail to realize is the only way to actually make money is to provide valuable goods or services. There’s really nothing more to it. 

So where does poker fit into the equation? 

Well, it doesn’t. Poker is a zero-sum game, which means one person’s gain is another person’s loss (minus the rake, of course). 

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, as there are other factors that provide the added value (i.e. the entertainment aspect). 

Still, if having fun is not your primary motivation, and making money is, you’ll need to be more skilled than the competition you’re up against. 

And the only way to do so is focus on your improvement as a poker player, rather than monetary gains. Money is the byproduct of effort. If you put in the work, the money will take care of itself eventually. 

The most successful poker players aren’t the ones that are motivated by the prospect of becoming filthy rich, but the ones that are the most passionate about the game itself. 

They don’t mind studying. They don’t mind the grind. 

They don’t mind losing money to endless suckouts and coolers (well, they do, but far less so than most of us). They want to improve, because improvement is its own reward.

And luckily, there are more ways than ever these days to quickly improve your poker game.  

Why You're Not Winning at Poker (Summary)

It takes a lot more to succeed in poker than memorizing a few charts. 

Poker is an incredibly competitive endeavour, especially today with the abundance of information readily available to anyone interested.

For example, there are lots of good advanced poker training programs available these days for anyone who is ready to take the game seriously.

So to get ahead of the competition, you need to keep improving your knowledge base beyond the basic “just play tight” approach. 

You can apply the 80:20 rule, where you play poker 80% of the time, and study 20%. As you develop your game further, you can play more and study less.

Designating the time to study is also one of the ways to approach poker in a more business oriented way. 

If you just play whenever you feel like it, without a plan and a goal in mind, your results are going to be lackluster at best. If you want to make money like the pros do, act like one.

Reflecting on how much, or how little effort you actually put in your game can highlight why you have the results you do. Chances are, you’re overestimating your abilities. 

There’s a lot more to winning poker than knowing which cards to play in which position. 

How you deal with the periods when the tried and true strategy isn’t producing the results you’re hoping for is what separates the pros from the amateurs. 

Handling these obstacles is also a skill, and is just as important as the technical game knowledge.

Finally, the best way to improve your poker results is, paradoxically, not worrying about them in the first place. 

What you should focus on instead is your improvement as a poker player, be it from the technical or mental game aspect. 

Take a tiny step forward each day, and forget about the money for a second. Money will take care of itself eventually.

Lastly, if you want to know my complete strategy for making $1000+ per month in small stakes poker games, make sure you grab a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.

Why You're Not Winning at Poker Yet