Winrates, rake and some rarely discussed considerations

This article was born as an answer to @Levi1117’s question in our Discord server. He asked about the ideal numbers regarding EVbb/100.

Let me start with a surprising fact: statistics on large samples, in different stables clearly revealed that early stage winrate in tournaments has surprisingly little correlation with the actual ROI of the player. Real moneymaker decisions occur close to the bubble and in the late stages, where a carefully selected resteal, a skillfully played limped pot or even an openfold can earn you significant amount of dollars (thanks to the chance of other players colliding).

So your primary goal should be to get to the late stages as often as possible.

You can argue that early stage moves lead to bigger stack, allowing you to pressure your opponents. This may be a valid point in high-stakes tournaments, where the fields are small and the bubble/final table bubble may go on for dozens of hands.
However, low-stakes tournaments are different:

  • the fields are usually huge –> bubble bursts very quickly –> not much to gain from your big stack
  • lots of wild, fun players you cannot put real ICM pressure on
  • average player is not capable of big folds –> you mainly want to play a patient game, going for value
  • if you happen to get to the final table with short or medium stack, your opponents will not make your life hell as if it was a high-stakes tourney
  • collision effect is much higher than in high-stakes (big stacks often punt against each other)

So contrary to the common sense I believe that THE LOWER STAKES YOU PLAY, THE MORE CAUTIOUS YOU SHOULD BE IN THE EARLY STAGES, even at the cost of usually having medium/small stacks in the later stages.

There is rarely discussed topic related to the early stages: the effect of rake. It’s a 5-12% extra price you have to pay for each tournament you enter, which you have to compensate for with superior decisions. It is a significant factor and you have to be conscious how you want to approach this challenge.
Strangely enough I’ve only heard direct discussions on this topic from heads-up sit&go experts, although i think this is a crucial concept for tournaments as well.
As mentioned, increasing your early stage bb/100 will not earn you the rake money –> Your primary goal should be to keep your early finish low! If you just blindly follow GTO, your bb/100 may be higher as you may find a lot of spots to make slightly profitable big moves, but those moves will also lead to high early finish rate, meaning you failed to make moves with real impact on your winrate.

Collecting some extra chips in the early stages will add very little to your profitability. Frequently busting early will inevitably ruin your winrate.

This is especially true for low- and mid-stakes, where players make gigantic mistakes – so if you give up on the marginal spots and stay patient, you can risk your stack with much better chances. Simply put: the opportunity cost of a borderline move is huge.

I’m aware that this concept sounds lame for most of you, as we all want to be the table captain, making life miserable for all the opponents, but still, if your goal is to make the most out of your buyin you have to be able to adjust to your opponents. And in low-stakes avoiding marginal clashes is a crucial skill.

This being said, early stages can still be great opportunity to collect chips, but let me give you 2 advices:

  1. Before entering a tournament, check and evaluate the blind structure vs rake! If the blind levels are designed solely in order to force reentries and reach the guarantee, it’s usually a rake-trap you can hardly compensate for, so your best choice is to skip or max late reg, even if your opponents look fairly weak! If it’s a phase tournament you should handle it as if it was 5x-10x bigger than the original buyin (all pros will make day2 –> field will be much tougher than the similar stage of a normal freezout of the same buyin)
  2. Consider applying some small strategic changes, mainly focusing on delaying the agression to later streets, so you don’t have to play huge pots that often + you can commit your chips with much more certainty. With careful study you can find a ton of spots where you barely give up EV by building up slightly more polar ranges on the early streets.

To continue answering the original question about the winrates: mid and late stage EVbb/100 numbers tell you a bit more about what you can expect on the long run.
You should probably check a stack size report. Winrates for my last 1M hand looked like this:

I’m not saying these numbers are fantastic, but may be a good point of reference for massive multitablers (I usually played 15-20 tables).


Being absolutely spot on with ICM and with short stack game are clearly the most important skills in tournament poker. Don’t waste time on 100bb PIO sims until you are a master of these areas!

‘Have a big stack or bust’ attitude is incorrect, especially in low-stakes tournaments!

Valdemar 'Luigi' Kwaysser

13 years as professional poker player 10 years experience as poker coach. Born Hungarian, living in Valencia, Spain. 36 yo, married, happy father of two. Founder of CheckDecide