Why You Always Lose to Bad Poker Players (It's Not What You Think)

Why You Always Lose to Bad Poker Players

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

Imagine flopping a top set against a recreational player. You make a continuation bet, they raise. 

You shove all-in, they call. You show your set, and they flip over J2. There’s only one diamond on the flop. The turn: a diamond.

The river…

A diamond. No paired board.

Situations like these make you question not only your aspiring poker career, but your whole existence. 

How is something like this even possible? How can someone play so terribly and still win?

And worst of all, why do situations like these keep happening? 

If something like this keeps happening to you, keep reading. 

This article will try to answer why you keep losing to bad poker players, and is there anything you can do about it except quitting poker altogether.

1. Poker Variance Can Be Brutal

The most obvious reason why you always seem to lose against bad poker players is variance. 

You’ve heard of the term before, you know it exists, and you know it can be brutal, but a lot of players still have a hard time wrapping their head around it. 

Simply put, variance measures the difference between how much you expect to earn on average versus what you actually earn over a small sample size. 

The bigger the variance, the more “swingy'' your results will be. 

For example, if your average winrate is 4 big blinds per hundred hands, it doesn’t mean you will always earn that much. 

Sometimes you’ll win 10, sometimes you’ll lose 20, and sometimes you’ll just be breaking even. 

In other words, luck will play a role in your short term results. And this is exactly why you’ll always struggle versus bad poker players. 

They don’t play for the long haul. They don’t care about the expected value of their ill-conceived moves. They play to have fun, right here, right now.

This is of course the complete opposite of how a professional poker player thinks about the game.

They know that having the math on their side as often as possible is the key to their long term success in this game.

Not so with our fishy friends at the poker tables though.

But even though the math is not on their side over the long run, in any given session, anything can happen. 

This means that as long as you play poker, you WILL keep losing to bad poker players. 

But as frustrating as it may be in a moment, always try to keep an eye on the big picture. 

If you know you are beating your current limit over a meaningful sample size, suffering a couple of suckouts here and there shouldn’t phase you one bit. 

You know that these are just bumps in the road on an otherwise profitable journey. 

This is all easier said than done, of course, and it does take a while for this mindset to really sink in. 

Nobody likes losing, especially when money’s involved. And it’s even worse when someone wins, even though they obviously don’t “deserve to win.” 

So there are two catastrophic situations at play here: a) you lost your money and b) some idiot won money undeservedly.

But poker is not really a fair game. If it were, it probably wouldn’t be as popular. It’s random, unpredictable, and people don’t always get what’s coming to them. Kind of like life. 

But just like in life, the ones that endure will eventually come out on top.

And of course you can also improve your chances of winning in poker significantly by learning a proven winning poker strategy.

2. You’re Actually Playing in Profitable Poker Games

Another reason you always seem to lose against bad poker players is the fact that you’re actually playing in profitable games. 

This may seem counterintuitive at first, but hear me out. 

Since poker is a game of skill, the only way to win consistently is to play against players that play worse than you. 

And the more bad players you’re up against, the bigger the chances of some of them getting lucky against you. 

Think of it this way. If there’s only one fish at your table, you will suffer an x amount of bad beats against them, because they will routinely put their money in with a mathematical disadvantage. 

But if there’s five recreational players sitting at your table, you will suffer five times more bad beats on average. 

As they say, all the fish are actually one giant fish. They have strength in numbers. 

The more recreational players, the bigger the likelihood of you losing in a particularly unlucky way because amateurs like this make all sorts of obvious poker mistakes. 

For example, recreational players tend to play too many hands and stay in them far longer than they should. 

So if you have a table full of fish, it’s quite likely you will often find yourself in a lot of multiway pots (the pots with more than two players involved). 

The more players involved in the pot, the less hand equity you have. In other words, the more players involved, the more often you’ll lose. 

Here’s an example. If you are dealt pocket Aces and you’re up against a single opponent, you have about 85% equity against any random hand. 

In other words, you can expect to win 85% of the time. 

Now, suppose you’re dealt pocket Aces again, but this time you’re up against four opponents. Your hand equity drops precipitously to just about 56%. 

But I’d still rather play at this hypothetical fishy table than against players who actually know what they’re doing, even though it means suffering a bad beat here and there. 

Remember that good players can also get lucky and have a great run of cards. I’d much rather play against a lucky fish than a lucky regular.

By the way, there is tons of good poker software available these days to help you quickly tell the difference between the fish and the regulars at your poker table.

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3. Poker is Designed to Keep the Bad Players Playing

The reason you keep losing to bad poker players is the fact that poker is deliberately designed in a way that anyone can win in the short term, regardless of their previous knowledge (or lack thereof). 

This is what makes poker exciting in the first place. 

It doesn’t take a long time to learn, and due to the short term luck element involved, even total beginners can win sometimes. 

The structure of the game prevents bad poker players from losing their money too quickly, otherwise they would just stop playing, which would obviously be bad for business.

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Here are a few ways bad players are “protected” when playing poker:

A) They almost always have some sort of hand equity. 

It’s rarely the case in poker that one player is drawing completely dead (i.e. there’s no chance whatsoever for them to win the pot). 

Even if they make terrible decisions, there’s almost always a number of outs that can turn a significant underdog into a winning hand. 

Even if they have only one out in the whole deck (an out being a card you need to improve to a winning hand), there’s a 4% chance they will improve from flop to river. 

Not a lot, but if it happens, it’s hardly a statistical anomaly.
In practice, however, there’s a number of spots where players have roughly the same hand equity, i.e. the chance of winning a hand comes down to a coinflip.

Check out my poker odds cheat sheet for much more on how to quickly calculate your odds in a poker hand by the way.

B) Bad poker players probably play even worse than you think. 

Because of the fact that you can’t see the player's hole cards unless there’s a showdown (which doesn’t happen in most hands), their terrible plays often go under the radar. 

For example, if a player makes a terrible call on the flop, an even worse call on the turn, but folds on the river, you don’t get to see their hole cards. 

This means that you don’t know that they made two terrible mistakes, which you could see had there been a showdown. 

So every time a bad player folds or mucks their hand, you don’t see just how terrible they are playing. 

The point is, if you saw how they were playing from their perspective, you’d figure out just how easy it is to take their money. 

Unfortunately, players don’t have a huge FISH sign tattooed on their forehead, so by the time you figure out that they are indeed a fish, it could already be too late, as someone else could have already stacked them.

C) Bad players can have strong hands, too. 

Just because someone’s a fish, it doesn’t mean they can’t flop a nut straight. 

Despite the fact that recreational players can hide their fishiness for a time, after a while it becomes glaringly obvious they don’t really know what they are doing. 

At that point, you might stop giving them any credit, and think it’s only a matter of time before you take their money. 

But here’s the rub: the player you’re giving absolutely no credit can wake up with a monster hand just as easily as you.

This is something Daniel Negreanu talks about in his recent Masterclass poker training.  

When that happens, they will be the one to completely stack you, instead of the other way around. 

For example, you see a huge calling station calling down huge river bets with something ludicrous like a third pair. 

You flop a top pair top kicker, bet all three streets for value, only for them to flip over a set. 

They trapped you, and you lose your whole stack. 

If something like that happens, it’s obviously infuriating, but it just goes to show you how brutal poker could be, even if you’re way more skilled than your competition.

D) Bad poker players can be unpredictable. 

Even though bad poker players make terrible mistakes, it doesn’t mean playing against them is a walk in the park. 

Since they play so many hands, putting them on a range is hard, if not impossible. This makes hand reading against them close to futile. 

While it’s usually a good idea to try to narrow down your opponent’s range throughout the street, if someone is playing 60% of all hands dealt to them, they could hold virtually everything. 

You have no way of knowing for sure. 

Not only can you not predict what hands they will play, you have no way of knowing what they’ll do next. 

They can pull off huge bluffs out of nowhere, they can trap you with monster hands, or make any sort of ludicrous plays that even they can’t wrap their heads around. 

They’ll shove all in into an unraised pot, they will donk bet a minimum amount, they will check-raise you at random etc. 

The list goes on, and playing rationally against someone deeply irrational is no easy feat.

This is something that is discussed in a lot more detail in the "Fish Psychology" section near the end of Crushing the Microstakes.

Why You Always Lose to Bad Poker Players (Summary)

The simplest explanation as to why you keep losing to bad poker players is variance. 

No matter how good of a poker player you are, or how much advanced poker strategy you learn, variance can significantly impact your short term results. 

Coming to terms with variance is challenging, so it’s worth reminding yourself that variance is what makes poker profitable in the first place. 

Without it, all the bad players would simply stop playing, and there wouldn’t be any money to be made.

But the bad players will only keep playing if they win at least some of the time. 

And there are a lot of mechanisms in poker that keep the players playing longer, regardless of their lack of skill.

Despite how bad some players may be playing, they almost always have some sort of hand equity. 

They can also get dealt strong hands, which virtually guarantees them to win some of the time.

At the end of the day, losing money playing poker is inevitable. Losing to bad players is also inevitable, but it usually hurts our ego way more than our wallet. 

In the long run, you’ll win it all back, and then some. But only if you don’t let your ego get in the way.

So try to take your losses in stride, and remember that it’s better to lose against fish than against players who actually know what they’re doing.

Lastly, if you want to know the complete strategy I use to make $1000+ per month in small stakes games, get a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.

Why You Always Lose to Bad Poker Players