5 Signs You Are a Winning Poker Player

5 Signs You Are a Winning Poker Player

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

Do you consider yourself to be a winning poker player?

This may seem like a simple question, but the answer can be complicated.

What does it actually mean to win in poker? Is it making an x amount of money in a certain time period? And if so, how much money are we talking about?

Poker has a short-term luck element involved, so sometimes it can be hard to determine whether you are actually winning or not.

Also, due to the short-term luck element, poker allows almost an unlimited scope for self-delusion.

You may think you are winning, but are you really?

On the other hand, you may think you’re losing, when you’re actually doing better than you realize.

Either way, this article will show you 5 signs you are a winning poker player. 

It will also take a closer look ar what it actually means to win at poker in the first place.

1. You Have a Positive Winrate Over a Significant Sample Size

We’ll start with the basic definition of a winning poker player. Then we’ll take a closer look at some more nuanced signs of winning.

Due to the fact that most players actually lose money over the long run, a winning poker player is anyone that makes more money than they lose over a significant sample size.

Here are the best winrates in today's games by the way if you are curious.

It’s important to mention that this also includes rakeback, bonuses etc. 

So if you have a breakeven or even a slightly negative winrate, but earn your money back through say, rakeback programs, you are still a winning poker player.

5 Signs You Are a Winning Poker Player

That’s because most people lose money even after rakeback and bonuses.

Most online poker sites offer some sort of loyalty program where they reward players for playing on their sites with different incentives like the rakeback.

The poker site will often give you a percentage of the rake you’ve contributed back to you by directly depositing money into your account.

Even though the rakeback programs might not be as generous as they once were, it’s still important to choose sites that offer some sort of a fair rakeback program. 

When you play poker, paying the rake is inevitable, so might as well get some of it back.

It’s also important to read the fine print and figure out how exactly the rakeback program works and what are the exact requirements to participate.

Online poker sites also offer other incentives to play on their sites, like welcome bonuses, tournament tickets, and so on. 

It pays to shop around and look for good deals, because these bonuses can improve your bottom line significantly.

Important caveat: like with the rakeback programs, always make sure to read the fine print to figure out how exactly you can qualify for bonuses, how they are awarded, and what are the requirements to actually get the bonuses.

Usually the requirements will be to contribute an x amount of rake for a y amount of awarded bonus, or some variation of that rule.

Don’t be duped by misleading marketing, and always read the fine print. 

Also, be wary of signing up to sites with overly generous and too good to be true welcome bonuses. 

Only play on reputable poker sites that are properly licensed and regulated.

Anyway, back to the topic.

Poker is all about the long run, and it takes time to figure out whether you are actually winning or not.

Poker has a short-term luck element involved, so over a small sample size, it’s difficult, if not impossible to know how much your results are a matter of skill or pure chance.

The more hands you have in your sample size, the less the short-term luck element plays a role in determining your results.

In order to draw any meaningful conclusions about your game, you need to have a sample size of at least 10 000 hands.

This is the bare minimum to account for variance, but more is obviously better.

Simply put, variance measures the difference between how much you expect to earn, and how much you actually earn over a certain sample size.

For example, if you bet on a coin flip 10 times, you would expect to win 5 out of 10 times, since the chance of winning a coin flip is exactly 50%. 

If you win more than 5 times, you’re experiencing positive variance, and if you win less than 5 times, you’re experiencing negative variance.

10 000 hands may seem like a lot at first, but it’s not really a big deal if you play poker online.

Let’s say you play about 100 hands per hour on average on your preferred online poker site.

It will take you about 100 hours to play 10 000 hands. That’s a lot, but online poker allows you to multitable, meaning you can put in significantly more volume in a shorter time span.

If you’re playing 4 tables at the same time, it will only take you about 25 hours to play 10 000 hands, and if you play 8 tables, it will take you only 12.5 hours.

Playing 8 tables at once may seem overwhelming at first, but a lot of professional poker players can play 10, 12 or even more tables at once without breaking a sweat.

Check out Nathan’s article on how to multitable like a pro.

Important caveat: just because you can multitable, doesn’t necessarily mean you should. 

You should only play as many tables as you’re comfortable with, and progressively add more tables at a pace that suits you. 

If you start to feel overwhelmed at any point, scale down to the number you’re comfortable with.

Playing a bunch of tables at the same time is doable, but it does divide your focus and leaves you less time to make quality decisions.

Check out my recent article on why you should actually avoid multitabling.

Multitabling is great for putting in a lot of volume and getting to the long run faster, but you shouldn’t feel pressured to go that route. Find the pace that works for you and increase it gradually.

If you play live poker, you obviously can’t multitable, so it will take you way longer to play 10 000 hands.

Live poker is a different beast than online poker, so you can probably decrease the number of hands needed to play to draw some conclusion about your game.

In live poker, you can expect to play around 30 hands an hour.

In order to know whether or not you’re beating live poker, it will take you roughly 100 hours of play.

That equates to about 3000 hands, which is probably enough to at least get some sense of your game.

If all of this seems like a lot, you’re right. It takes time to accurately assess your game, let alone improve it. Mastering poker is a lifelong journey, and there are no shortcuts. 

So if you’re still not getting the results you may be hoping for, take comfort in the fact that it always takes time, and none of the successful poker pros got there overnight. 

Those that did more than likely did not last very long.

Check out Nathan's recent video to find out if you're actually the best player at your table.

2. You Play Within Your Bankroll

Playing within your bankroll doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a winning poker player, but not playing within your bankroll definitely means you are going to lose money over the long run.

In other words, having a healthy bankroll is a prerequisite to being a winning poker player.

Poker bankroll is a set amount of money that’s exclusively used to play poker with. 

This means you don’t use your bankroll money to buy groceries, and you don’t fund your bankroll with your rent money.

Of course, once you manage to win some money, you can take it out of the bankroll and spend it any way you see fit, but that is obviously a whole different story.

The point is having separate funds that don’t get commingled with your other funds. 

Due to the short-term luck element involved in poker, sometimes you will lose prolonged losing periods, even if you play perfectly. 

Even the world class poker professionals can go a long stretch without winning anything, or even losing for an extended period of time.

With a proper bankroll, you’ll be able to weather the negative variance without going broke in the process. You can’t be a winning player by default if you constantly go bust.

poker bankroll

Having a bankroll gives you a peace of mind to keep playing your best without worrying about the negative short term results.

If you start out with the proper bankroll management the first time around, it will be the last time you have to deposit money to play poker again.

I won’t get too deep into the bankroll management rules here. You can check out this article on bankroll management for more info on the topic.

In short, however, you should have enough buyins in your bankroll to withstand the standard variance that’s part and parcel of poker.

If you’re playing cash games, you should have at least 30 buyins in your bankroll. 

So if you’re playing NL10 online, for example, you should have at least 300 dollars in your bankroll.

If you’re playing tournaments, you should have at least 100 buyins for the tournaments you’re playing.

If you’re playing tournaments with a $10 buyin, you should have a bankroll of $1000 dollars.

This might seem excessive, but that’s because poker tournaments inherently have way more variance built into the structure than cash games.

This means that you can play for prolonged periods without a significant cashout. This is true even for the world class pros, who can go months, if not years, without taking down a big score.

If you want to learn how to crush multitable tournament from one of the most successful MTT players in the world, check out Daniel Negreanu’s Masterclass.

Important note: following proper bankroll management rules only works if you are a winning poker player to begin with. If not, the biggest bankroll in the world is not going to help you. 

It will just take you longer to go broke. 

If you’re not a winning player yet, don’t worry, because becoming a long term winner almost always takes time.

For proven strategies to become a winning player in small stakes games, check out Crushing the Microstakes.

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3. You Don’t Take Bad Beats Personally

If you are confident in your playing abilities, and you already have a proven track record of winning over a significant sample size, you won’t get too frustrated when you lose from time to time.

Better yet, you won’t get frustrated even if you keep losing for an extended period of time. 

Most players actually can get over a bad beat or two without completely losing their compass. 

But when the losing continues for what seems a long time, their frustration starts to build up, up to the point they completely lose their cool. 

The truth is, prolonged losing periods are inevitable when you play poker. 

Your poker results will be a never ending swing of ups and downs, and these swings can be so dramatic it’s hard to fully wrap your head around it. 

They can be so dramatic it can feel that you’re playing two completely different games. 

When you’re winning, poker seems easy and effortless, and you feel like you can basically print money.
Poker at the beach
My poker "office" near the beach (no tilt zone)
Every hand seems to play itself, you’re making great reads, you’re feeling confident and it feels like you can do no wrong. 

You’re in the zone.

But when the fortune inevitably swings the other way, it’s a whole different story. 

You can’t get a decent hand for hours on end, and when you do, you can’t get any action with it. 

When you finally do get action, another player has the stone-cold nuts. You seem to miss every draw, while your opponents draw out on you in the worst possible times. 

No matter what you do, nothing seems to be working. 

You try bluffing, they call you down. You bet for value, everybody folds. You try slowplaying, you don’t get any action.

To say that poker can be frustrating is an understatement if there ever was one. Play it long enough, and you’ll encounter crazy situations you beyond belief.

But these crazy swings of fortune make the game what it is, and it’s what makes it exciting in the first place. 

It may be frustrating when you’re on the receiving end of a bad beat, but it’s going to swing another way eventually.

Winning poker players, therefore, don’t pay any attention to these short term fluctuations. They know that the only thing that matters is the long-term trajectory of their graph. 

It may be a bumpy road, but they know that their graph is trending upwards when they zoom out far enough.

In other words, winning poker players focus on the big picture. 

They don’t get too wrapped up in how they’re running session to session, because they know they can’t control their short-term results anyway. 

What they focus on instead is trying to play to the best of their abilities. 

If they can’t do that for whatever reason, they cut their losses, and come back the next day when they are ready to perform at their highest level.

If you want to learn how to bring your A game to the felt every time, along with learning all the advanced poker strategies you need to beat today's games, check out the Microstakes Playbook.

4. You Are Constantly Working on Improving Your Game

Nobody is born a pro, and excelling in any area requires time and effort. Poker is no different in this regard. 

You may be under the impression that success in a given field is predicated on some innate talent, but that’s mostly a myth.
5 Signs You Are a Winning Poker Player
My other poker "office" in the city
Many just play online anonymously and earn a comfortable side income or even a full time income as a pro.

Now sure, there are some prodigies that are just born with certain abilities that can’t be replicated no matter how hard you try. 

But even the prodigies need to learn certain skills from scratch in order to excel at what they do.

And they still need to practice to hone their craft. They may be naturally better at it than most people, but that doesn’t absolve them from having to make an effort.

Fortunately, you don’t need to be a math genius or have near-psychic abilities to win at poker. All you have to do is play better than your opponents.

And since most people put zero effort into trying to improve their game, you’re way ahead of the curve by the mere fact that you’re trying to improve your game in the first place.

Trying to improve your game doesn’t mean you’re going to start crushing the game immediately, though.

Since there’s also a short-term variance to account for, and you’re not seeing any progress in your results, you may be under the impression that you’re not making any improvement at all despite your best efforts.

If that’s the case, it’s important to keep going, because improvement always takes time.

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5. You Enjoy Playing Poker

At the end of the day, one’s success at the poker tables is measured by the dollar amount won or lost. A winning poker player is someone who earns more money than they lose over the long run. 

While this is a technically correct definition, looking at it purely from that standpoint doesn’t tell the full story.

Winning doesn’t mean the same thing to all the people. People are different. They have different motivations for why they do the things they do. 

Also, one’s success can’t be measured by dollar signs alone. 

Your time is also valuable, and needs to be taken into account.

For these reasons, it may be worthwhile to pause for a second and think about what winning means for you specifically.

If it means making an x amount of dollars in a y amount of time, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. 

Check out Nathan's recent video on how to make 10k a month playing poker.

But as mentioned, you can’t control how much you win or lose in a certain time period, so when you fall short of your desired outcome, it may feel like a failure, even though the outcome is totally outside of your control.

If your primary concern is to make money, there’s certainly easier, and less stressful ways to go about it.

The appeal of poker is not the fact that you can make a boatload of money with little to no effort. 

Rather, it’s the ability to potentially make money while doing something you actually enjoy doing.

Even if you don’t make any money, but you still enjoy playing the game for the sake of it, that’s still a win in my book.

At the end of the day, poker is a hobby for most people. And all hobbies cost money, so why should poker be any different?

But you can still make money playing poker if you’re willing to go the extra mile and put some effort into improving your game.

Improving your skills is rewarding in and of itself, and it’s a huge win even though you’re not making any money out of it just yet.

However, it’s only worth doing if you enjoy the game for what it is. There’s no point in trying to make a buck out of it if it’s going to be a miserable experience.

5 Signs You Are a Winning Poker Player - Summary

1. You have a positive winrate over a big sample size.

Poker has a short term luck element involved, and anything can happen in the span of a couple of sessions. So in order to draw any meaningful conclusions about your game, you need a significant sample size first.

If you’re playing poker online, you need at least 10 000 hands at least to figure out if you’re actually winning or not (more is always better, of course).

You can use a hand tracking software like PokerTracker 4 to keep track of your winrate and stats, find and fix leaks in your game, and much more.

2. You play within your bankroll.

Playing with a healthy bankroll doesn’t mean you’re going to win, but playing without it guarantees you’re going to lose. 

Because of poker variance, you will often lose even if you play perfectly. In order to withstand short-term negative results without going broke in the process, having a healthy bankroll is a must.

3. You don’t take bad beats personally.

Losing in an unlikely fashion over and over again sucks, but it’s a natural part of poker, and it can’t be avoided. 

It’s just the nature of variance, and without it, poker wouldn’t be as profitable. So instead of bemoaning their bad luck, winning poker players actually embrace it for what it is.

If you are winning over a significant sample size, and you’re properly bankrolled for the stakes you’re playing, bad beats and suckouts shouldn’t bother you at all.

4. You work on improving your game.

Most players don’t work on their game at all, so if you’re making an effort to improve your game, you’re already way ahead of the curve.

If you want a systematic, step-by-step programme to take your game to the next level, enroll in Blackrain79 Elite Poker University.

Whether you’re a tournament or cash game player, you will learn everything you need to know to start crushing.

5. You enjoy playing poker.

Money is important, but it’s not the end goal. Your time is the most valuable resource you have, and you need to be deliberate in the way you choose to spend it.

No matter if you’re currently winning or not, being able to potentially make money while doing something you actually enjoy doing is a win in and of itself.

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

5 Signs You Are a Winning Poker Player