When online poker players refer to their ‘red line’, what they mean is how much money they win in pots that don’t go to showdown. The term originates from the tracking software package Holdem Manager, which displays overall winnings in green, showdown winnings in blue, and non-showdown winnings in red.
What Do the Red and Blue Lines Tell You?
The ability to split your winnings into showdown and non-showdown was a new concept when Holdem Manager first came out, and it took the poker community quite a while to get a feel for this importance of this data and what, if anything, it tells you about your game, and how the information can be used to improve as a player.
Looking at it in the most straightforward manner possible, if you make your opponents fold a lot you’ll have positive non-showdown winnings. If you show down the best hand on the river a lot, you’ll have good showdown winnings.
Of course, the two are interlinked. If your opponent checks to you on the river and you make a very thin value bet and he folds, then your winnings get added to your red line. A player who wouldn’t make the same value bet because they thought it was too thin and checks behind has the pot added on to their blue line. You can see then that players who bluff a lot and value bet very thinly should have positive non-showdown winnings, but may have negative showdown winnings as a result of all of the times their bluffs are called.
One thing that a lot of people fail to realize is the effect that river playing style has on the direction their red or blue lines will take. For example, if a player is aggressively 3-betting pre-flop and raising a lot of continuation bets, you might expect him to have a positive red-line. However, if that same player plays quite passively on the river and tends to check-call or fold a lot, this has a much greater effect on their red and blue lines because the pots are so big on the river.
The Fuss about the Red Line
You might wonder why wonder why there is so much talk of the red line and why it has gained much more attention than the blue line. The simple reason for this is that most players lose in non-showdown pots. When they first plotted their winnings in Holdem Manager and noticed this, alarm bells went off in their heads and they desperately set about plugging this ‘leak’ and finding a way to win in non-showdown pots, and convinced themselves that they must be playing too weak-tight.
What a lot of players failed to realize is that paying the blinds alone has a huge effect on your non-showdown winnings. In a 6-max game, the blinds cost you 12.5 PTBB/100. Assuming that the dead money you have invested rarely goes to showdown, this will result in your showdown winnings being >-10 PTBB/100, before you’ve even voluntarily played a hand.
Most people were concerned about losing 2-3 PTBB/100 in non-showdown pots, but as you can see, in hands where they were voluntarily putting money in the pot, this represents a win-rate of ~10 PTBB/100 when the cost of the blinds is omitted.
Can I Win with a Negative Red Line?
The fact is that there are lots of winning players out who lose money in non-showdown pots. Different playing styles lead to different red line/blue line behavior, and if you’re losing 2 PTBB/100 in non-showdown pots, but winning 5 PTBB/100 in pots that go to showdown, then you shouldn’t be at all concerned. As we pointed out earlier, simply how you play the river skews the behavior a lot.
If your non-showdown winnings are down at -5 PTBB/100 or worse however, this is an indication that you may be playing too weak and should look at certain aspects of your game. It will be very difficult to compensate for these losses with your showdown winnings. Ultimately, try not to focus too much on this kind of thing and set about playing every hand to the best of your ability based on hand-reading, reads, and your table image, and let the results looks after themselves.