The Reason You’re Losing at Low Stakes

Author: Patrick Howard - Lead Strategy Developer

“It is not enough to be a good player; you must also play well.”

Siegbert Tarrasch

I’m a big fan of patterns. You probably know that if you’ve read this blog. Usually, I just talk about patterns in technical data and give technical advice, but today I’m going to venture out into some new territory and talk about the soft skills that you’ll need to be successful in poker. Specifically, I want to talk about the patterns I have observed that separate winners from losers.

I know this is a rather charged topic, and I fully expect to piss a bunch of people off with this post. “How dare you tell me you know why I’m a losing player? You haven’t even seen me play!” My hope is that a few players out there are ready to read this and that they are actually humble enough to make a fundamental change in the way they approach poker. If I deeply offend the rest of you in the process, that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. đŸ™‚

Whenever I see the topic of winners and losers get brought up on a podcast or a poker video, people seem to jump to two explanations:

  1. Winners are stronger technically than losers
  2. Winners have stronger mindsets than losers

These explanations make no sense to me, at least not at low stakes, for a few reasons. First, there are tons of fish at low stakes. There are literally people who don’t even know how to play, and just deposit $100 on a website and click buttons until it’s gone just for fun. So even if you are pretty weak technically, you should be able to still turn a profit just by playing any reasonably sound strategy. Second, the other regs at low stakes are not good either. If they were good, they would be playing at higher stakes where they could actually make some money. The average reg in your low-stakes game probably has just as many technical leaks as you do, and the same can be said for the mental game. So it has to be something else entirely.

And yes, I know the rake is high, but it’s not that high.

So here’s my theory: I think if you’re losing at low stakes, which despite the rake, should be the easiest place to win, then you are certainly breaking down at the logistical level. That means there is something fundamentally wrong with the way that you approach poker as a profession.

Just do me a favor and picture this. I am going to paint a picture of a hypothetical poker player. This person plays poker about 80-100 hours per month–not a ton of volume but definitely a respectable amount. When he does play, he makes sure that he is as focused as he possibly can be. He’s not distracted by anything that’s going on around him, he doesn’t have his phone nearby, and he’s not surfing the web while he plays. He’s just hitting his volume goal and playing really high-quality poker, month in and month out.

He also doesn’t have any major health issues. He sleeps well, he exercises enough, and he puts good food in his body. He studies about 20 hours per month, sometimes more when he’s really feeling it. (That includes reviewing all of his pots that he has played over 10 or 15 big blinds to make sure he is able to justify all of the significant decisions he’s making.) He has access to a coach who is better than him who he meets with on a regular basis. He’s not under any extreme financial pressure because he has alternative sources of income, at least for now until poker becomes more profitable. He also doesn’t have any major bankroll management issues and he has a solid plan for how and when he is going to move up in stakes.

Basically, he knows his plan is solid, so he sticks to it. He doesn’t worry extensively about his plan failing. He doesn’t try to do so much that he completely burns out or forgets to enjoy his life outside of poker. He doesn’t expect that success in poker will be the most difficult thing in the world. He just knows that if he lines up enough good decisions in a row, eventually he’ll win enough to move up to mid stakes, and then mid-stakes will eventually become high stakes.

Now imagine this player is doing all of that, and he is LOSING at low stakes.

You can’t picture this person because he doesn’t exist. I am so certain of this that I will make you a bet: if you can prove to me that you did what I just wrote for six months straight and you still lost money at low stakes, then I will personally storm your last 50,000 hands, free of charge.

Until that day comes, I’m sticking to my theory. If you are willing to trust me on this, then all that is left for you to do is take an honest look at your effort over the past few months and ask what went wrong with your plan.

From what I have seen, there seem to be two types of losing players: the underachievers and overachievers. The underachievers never seem to put in enough effort no matter what they do. There’s always some reason why they didn’t hit their volume goal. “I was stressed,” “My internet went down,” “I had a headache.” The overachievers, on the other hand, are capable of putting in extremely high levels of effort, but only for short periods of time. Then, they inevitably burn out and turn into some kind of zombie that is even less productive than the underachievers. Eventually, after weeks or even months, something motivates them to get off their ass, and the cycle begins again.

Winners, on the other hand, know that the real challenge lies in putting in a consistent amount of solid effort over long periods of time.  If you can’t do this, then I honestly don’t know what to tell you. If you don’t change, you’re never going to succeed. And it’s not just going to kill you in poker, these are essential life skills for success in any career.

So I’m sorry for the tough love, but I’m tired of seeing losing players search endlessly for the one technical upgrade, or the one mindset shift that’s going to turn things around for them. And I’m tired of seeing coaches who profit off of this whole shit show. The only thing that’s going to determine your success in poker is the quality of your effort over the long term. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts. The good news is almost no one else at low stakes is willing to do what I’ve said here. So if you have what it takes, then success will come a lot faster than you’d think.