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StrategyFixed Limit

The Luck Factor in Fixed Limit Hold\'em

Video: Click here


In this article
  • The predominance of short-term luck
  • How to act on an upswing
  • How to act on a downswing
 You might play any arbitrary hand entirely correctly and still lose. This is not rare; indeed it happens very frequently and can go on for long periods of time. On the other hand, you can play a hand all wrong and win a lot of money. Short term results depend not only on your playing style but also on luck.

It nevertheless pays to play better than your opponents. In the long term, only skill matters and you will win if you play well. Occasionally, you will play hundreds or thousands of hands and lose (a downswing), but other times you will win much more than on average (an upswing). When these extremes occur, you must be cautious and react correctly.


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How to act during an upswing

An upswing is a great experience. It's fun to win money quickly and watch your bankroll grow fast, but the euphoria this brings with it can easily induce mistakes. It is important to pay attention to the following:

1. Always look for mistakes and try to improve your game

Even if all is going well, it is important to constantly improve your game. Look for mistakes, post hands if you aren't sure whether you used the right strategy, read articles and books and ask questions in the forum if you don't understand something.

2. Stick to bankroll management

It's best to consider an upswing as a thing of the past. It does not exist in the present. Luck (good or bad) in the past has nothing to do with luck in the future. To be certain not to lose your bankroll when things aren't going well, it is absolutely necessary that you follow the guidelines in the bankroll management article at all times.

How to act during a downswing

First, I want to explain what this means. A downswing is a phase in which you lose more than 100 BB. Smaller losses are not good news, but they do happen a lot and are not a big problem.

When you are in a 'real' downswing with losses over 100BB, it is important not to lose your head. Pay attention to the following:

1. Always look for mistakes and try to improve your game

A downswing does not necessarily mean that you are playing badly. You could be playing just fine but having bad luck. A large loss is always a warning sign however, since you might have developed a leak. Look for mistakes, post hands you aren't sure about, read articles and books and ask questions on the forums.

2. Take a break after a big loss

Hardly anybody ever thinks that they are on tilt. Nevertheless, they often play differently (worse!) after heavy losses. To avoid losing more money, it is very important to take a break, preferably of at least a day, in order to come back to the tables with a fresh mindset.

3. Stick to bankroll management

It is harder to pay attention to this on a downswing than an upswing. Everybody has felt the pull of money lost demanding to be won back. It is absolutely necessary to fall back to a lower limit when your bankroll gets too small. There is no shame in playing a lower limit when you are on a downswing. It is a shame though to lose your bankroll because you played at higher stakes than you could afford.

Even if you follow these guidelines, you will experience the occasional downswing. It won't be pleasant, but you will survive and your bankroll will grow again. You will emerge from the downswing a better player than you were before.

Winning expectations

To help you gage your results, here's a rough guide showing how much you can possibly win at different limits.

The 'winrate' is measured in big bets per 100 hands (BB/100). If you play 100 hands on a 5c/10c table with a winrate of 1 BB/100, you'll win 10c; 300 hands would make 30c. If you divide your gains (or losses) in BB by the number of hands you play and multiply the result by 100, you'll get your winrate.

You can expect to play around 65 hands per table per hour. If you have software like the PokerStrategy.com Elephant, you can have it show you your winrate for the different limits. This software will be made available to you through PokerStrategy.com after you have played a certain number of hands.

Keep in mind that you will need at least 20,000, better still 60,000 hands, for your winrate calculations to be reliable.

In the beginning, any positive winrate is good. For 2c/4c and 5c/10c, 4BB/100 is very good. For 10c/20c through 1$/2$, try for 3 BB/100 and for 2$/4$ it's 2 BB/100.

These values are not absolutely necessary to reach; a lower winrate is good too. Aside from skill, luck plays a rather large role in poker games, especially if you haven't played many hands at a particular limit. Your results might therefore fluctuate from these values quite considerably, even if you play perfectly.

How quickly your skills and your bankroll develop depends on the following: the time you invest, your talent, the skills you learn and luck. I hope that you will begin to appreciate the last factor after reading this article. Next time you are stuck on one limit and losing, don't worry. Follow the advice in this article and work on your game. You'll see that within a few months you will advance both technically and financially.


In the short run, you can go from a big win to a losing streak very quickly. However, in poker, true results are visible only when looking at long term results. It is a game of strategy, not action.

Whether you are getting bad beat after bad beat or your day is going so great it seems you can't lose, these are all short term results. You will only be guaranteed long-term success if you make as little mistakes as possible and aren't preoccupied with the results of individual sessions. Look at the big picture.

If you play well, after the many natural ups and downs, you will notice a solid profit.


Comments (4)

#1 mouse89, 06 Oct 08 14:21


#2 Gambitwd, 30 Nov 08 13:43

loving this article...thumbsup!

#3 Pirokunn, 05 Feb 09 14:05

In the long term, only skill matters, so you will win if you play well. Golden words :]

#4 krumvirek, 15 Aug 10 20:38

Happiness is probably the most important: D