Risk Reward

Risk Reward Ratio: Definition, What It Is, How Traders Use It

If you are trading, understanding the risk-reward ratio is important. It quantifies the potential profit against possible losses, improving rational decision-making. A figure like 1:3 suggests a threefold return for every unit risked, serving as a benchmark for investment and trading suitability. This article explores how to effectively calculate and utilize the risk-reward ratio, ensuring you’re not blindly marching into financial quagmires but rather trading rationally.

Table of contents:

Key Takeaways

  • The risk-reward ratio is a key tool in investing that compares the potential profit to the potential loss of an investment, guiding investors in evaluating the attractiveness of a trade, with ideal ratios often cited as 1:3.
  • Despite its utility, the risk-reward ratio is not a guarantee of success; it serves as a guide to inform investment strategy and trade positions, which requires regular reassessment to align with changing market conditions and individual risk tolerance.
  • Common pitfalls in using risk-reward ratios include overemphasizing high ratios without considering the probability of trade success, and neglecting to adjust ratios over time, which can result in misaligned investment strategies and potential losses.

Understanding the Risk Reward Ratio

Risk Reward Ratio Concept

Imagine standing at the edge of a cliff, pondering whether to jump into the crystal-clear waters below. The thrill of the plunge represents the potential reward, but what about the risk of injury or worse?

This is where the risk-reward ratio comes into play – it compares the potential gains of an action against the potential losses. The risk-reward ratio in investing evaluates the potential profit of an investment compared to the potential loss. It is an important metric for assessing the attractiveness of an investment opportunity. This ratio is calculated by dividing the potential profit by the potential loss.

The risk-reward ratio is an essential tool that helps investors evaluate the level of risk against potential returns. An ideal risk-reward ratio for investments is approximately 1:3, which represents three units of expected return for every one unit of additional risk. A ratio of 1:1 indicates the possibility of losing the same amount of capital that could be gained. Trade advisers often recommend a ratio between 1-to-2 and 1-to-3 as a guideline for determining a worthy investment.

However, the win ratio also comes into play. If the win ratio is high, a low risk and reward ratio might be justified. As always, there are many considerations in trading!

However, it’s important to remember that the reward-risk ratio is not a crystal ball. It does not guarantee that high rewards will follow high risks. For instance, a particularly low risk reward ratio may signal a potential investment’s outsized potential gain relative to its potential risk, posing a higher underlying risk. A higher reward-to-risk ratio reduces the necessary winrate to reach the break-even point. For a 3:1 reward-to-risk ratio, a minimum winrate of 25% is needed.

Ultimately, the risk-reward ratio is a compass, not a roadmap. It guides investors in the right direction but doesn’t guarantee arrival at the desired destination. Therefore, while it’s a crucial tool in the investor’s toolkit, it shouldn’t be the sole factor in evaluating potential success.

Risk reward ratio example

Let’s show you an example of a risk reward ratio. The image below is taken from Amibroker and shows the returns and performance metrics of a trading strategy:

Risk reward ratio
Risk reward ratio

The important parameters are highlighted. As you can see, the strategy has a win rate of 58% (58% of the trades are winners), and the average winner is substantially higher than the average loser. In our opinion, this is a very good risk reward ratio.

What does the equity curve of such a strategy look like? We’ll show you:

Risk reward ratio example
Risk reward ratio example

The strategy is a seasonal trade in Bitcoin from 2015 until today.

Definition of Risk Reward Ratio

The risk-reward ratio is a mathematical expression that represents the potential return of an investment compared to its potential loss. It’s typically expressed as a figure separated by a colon, such as a 3:1 ratio, which signifies three units of potential reward for every one unit of risk.

Investors generally prefer lower risk-reward ratios, indicating less risk for an equivalent potential gain. But at the end of the day, this is a personal decision, and it might also depend on other factors, such as the strategy’s correlation (or lack of) to your other trading strategies.

Importance of Risk Reward Ratio in Investing

The risk-reward ratio serves as an important metric to assess whether a potential investment is worth making. It’s an essential part of risk management, helping investors to set realistic expectations and make better investment decisions that align with their personal risk tolerance. By taking trades with a favorable reward-to-risk ratio, investors can ensure that potential rewards justify the risks taken.

However, an extremely low risk-reward ratio might indicate an investment’s high underlying risk, calling for greater scrutiny and a cautious investing approach.

Strategies for Implementing Risk Reward Ratios

Setting Entry and Exit Points

Implementing risk-reward ratios in trading requires a thoughtful approach. It involves:

  1. Conducting detailed research – we prefer backtesting because it gives you exact answers based on history
  2. Setting upside and downside targets
  3. Calculating the risk-to-reward for a given trade
  4. Adjusting these targets to achieve a suitable ratio

Let’s break down these strategies and see how they can help navigate the investing journey:

Establishing Entry and Exit Points

Determining the entry and exit points is like deciding where to start and end your journey. In trading, this involves considering a stock’s potential high and low price points, using price action analysis to read market sentiment, and analyzing key technical indicators.

By establishing a risk-reward ratio for each trade, investors can set stop-loss and take-profit levels objectively, minimizing the influence of emotional impulses on trading decisions. However, it’s crucial to base these decisions on realistic market conditions to avoid misjudgments.

This is the way most retail traders do it: technical and subjective reading of charts. We at Quantified Strategies prefer to backtest, which is based on historical data. Statistics tell you if this is a worthwhile strategy to pursue.

Setting Stop-Loss and Take-Profit Orders

Stop-loss and take-profit orders are like traffic signals on your trading journey. A stop-loss order is used to close a position when the market reaches a less favorable position, limiting your losses.

On the other hand, a take-profit order closes a position at a specified favorable level to lock in profits. They allow you to manage the balance between risk and reward in your trades, enhancing your risk-reward ratios.

Again, this is a typical retail approach. But what happens if you backtest? It turns out that stop losses in most cases make the strategy perform worse. The reason is that you sell at unfavorable times. The solution to this might be to skip the stop loss as long as you reduce size and mitigate risk by diversifying into other strategies.

Adjusting Risk Reward Ratios Based on Market Conditions

Investors should continually reassess and modify their risk-reward ratios to reflect ongoing changes in market conditions. By using tools such as market sentiment, technical and fundamental analysis, traders can adapt their risk-reward strategy effectively.

Moreover, adjusting risk-to-reward ratios in accordance with personal risk appetite allows for better investment decisions that complement individual comfort levels.

Balancing Risk and Reward: Finding the Right Ratio

Balancing Risk and Reward

Finding the right risk-reward ratio is like finding the perfect balance on a seesaw. Leaning too far toward either risk or reward can throw off your balance and lead to a less than optimal investment outcome. The key to maintaining balance lies in aligning your portfolio with your individual risk tolerance, which can be influenced by factors like market volatility, personal comfort with potential losses, and financial objectives.

Let’s delve into how investors can strike the right balance.

Assessing Personal Risk Tolerance

Just as people have different thresholds for physical pain, they have different levels of tolerance for financial risk. Risk tolerance is an individual attribute, influenced by various factors such as financial goals, investment horizon, and personal lifestyle.

Investors should evaluate the potential risk of an investment against their personal risk tolerance to make suitable investment decisions. Regularly monitoring the risk-reward ratio of investments ensures alignment with investment goals and risk tolerance.

Most investors and traders don’t know their risk tolerance until they start losing money. Most accept much less pain than they imagine. It’s painful to lose money.

Analyzing Potential Investments

Technical analysis, fundamental analysis, or models such as value-at-risk (VaR) can be used to estimate potential losses and gauge appropriate risk-reward ratios.

By verifying the expected profit aligns with the potential loss as per the risk-to-reward ratio, traders can make more informed decisions before committing to a trade, ultimately aiming for a positive net profit.

Diversifying Portfolio to Optimize Risk Reward Balance

A well-diversified portfolio is like a well-packed suitcase for a journey. It’s equipped with different items (assets) to handle various situations (market conditions). Diversification across multiple currency pairs and instruments mitigates individual trade risks and manages overall risk exposure, helping to optimize the risk-reward balance.

We at Quantified Strategies believe that the best risk mitigation is to trade and small and have many uncorrelated strategies.

However, diversification is a double-edged sword. While it lessens idiosyncratic risk, it may lead to a decrease in the average overall return of a portfolio, representing a trade-off between risk and potential returns.

Common Mistakes and Misconceptions about Risk Reward Ratios

Misconceptions about Risk Reward Ratios

Just as a journey is fraught with potential mistakes and misconceptions, so too is the path of investing. Misunderstanding the risk-reward ratio can lead to poor investment decisions.

Let’s debunk some of these common mistakes and misconceptions.

Overemphasis on High Risk Reward Ratios

Striving for extremely high risk-reward ratios, such as 10:1, is not typically practical. On the contrary, investors may find more success in aiming for consistent, achievable ratios like 3:1.

Adjusting risk-reward ratios emotionally in the middle of a trade can lead to poor trading decisions, such as prematurely closing winning trades or holding on to losing ones.

Ignoring Probability of Success

Ignoring the probability of success while evaluating investments with risk-reward ratios can result in an inaccurate assessment of the investment’s potential. Even with a favorable risk-reward ratio, a trade’s expected value can be negative if the win rate is below 50%, leading to losses over time.

Historical data and backtesting can aid in estimating the probability of success, as opposed to solely relying on high potential rewards.

Neglecting to Adjust Risk Reward Ratios Over Time

Risk-reward ratios are not set in stone. They can change as market conditions fluctuate, making it essential for investors to periodically reassess and adjust their investment strategies. Neglecting to adjust risk-reward ratios over time can lead to misalignment with changing market conditions and personal circumstances.

Real-Life Examples of Risk Reward Ratios in Action

Real-Life Examples of Risk Reward Ratios

Real-life examples are a great way to illustrate the practical application of risk-reward ratios. They help us understand how successful traders have used this crucial metric to guide their trading decisions.

Case Study: Successful Application of Risk Reward Ratio

Let’s look at the example of Paul Tudor Jones, whose disciplined risk-reward approach and accurate prediction of the 1987 market crash led to a highly profitable trade. Jones sought trades with a minimum of 5:1 risk-reward ratio, showcasing the successful application of risk-reward ratios in investing.

Other successful traders, such as Larry Hite and George Soros, have also acknowledged the imperative role of assessing risks, rewards, and money when navigating the markets.

Lessons Learned from Risk Reward Ratio Failures

On the flip side, ignoring the risk-reward ratio can lead to significant trading losses, as evidenced by Jesse Livermore’s experiences. Setting a minimum risk-reward ratio threshold for entering trades is crucial for disciplined risk management.

Such lessons from failures underscore the importance of sticking to one’s risk-reward ratio and maintaining disciplined risk management.

What is a risk reward ratio in trading?

The risk-reward ratio in trading is a measure that compares the potential profit one can earn on an investment to the risk of loss. It is used by traders to plan out their trades, where the risk is the potential loss if the market moves against the trader’s position, and the reward is the profit expected when the position is closed.

An ideal risk-reward ratio is typically around 1:3, implying that for every unit of risk, an investor seeks to make three units of profit. However, at the end of the day this is a personal preferance.

Why is risk reward ratio important for investors?

The risk-reward ratio is important for investors because it helps them manage the risk of loss and assess the expected return from a trade by comparing potential profit to potential loss.

It is an essential part of risk management, helping investors to set realistic expectations and make informed investment decisions that align with their personal risk tolerance. By taking trades with a favorable reward-to-risk ratio, investors can ensure that potential rewards justify the risks taken.

How do you calculate the risk reward ratio?

The risk-reward ratio is calculated by dividing the potential profit (reward) by the potential loss (risk).

For example, suppose you’re considering a stock at $100 per share with a potential rise to $115 and a possible drop to $95, setting a stop-loss order at $95. In that case, the risk is the potential $5 loss, and the reward is the potential $15 gain, resulting in a 1:3 risk-reward ratio.

What is a good risk reward ratio for beginners?

A good risk-reward ratio for beginners tends to be anything greater than 1:3, which signifies three units of expected return for every one unit of additional risk.

A ratio of 1:3 means that for every dollar risked, a potential return of three dollars is expected.

How can risk reward ratio improve trading decisions?

The risk-reward ratio can significantly improve trading decisions. The risk-reward ratio helps investors gauge the potential profits against potential losses, thereby aiding them in making more informed decisions about where to allocate their funds.

A favorable risk-reward ratio suggests a potential for higher profits compared to the potential losses, which can guide investors in pursuing investments worth the associated risk.

What are the risks of ignoring the risk reward ratio?

Ignoring the risk-reward ratio can be likened to driving without a seatbelt. It might seem unimportant until an accident happens, and by then, it’s too late. By ignoring the risk-reward ratio, investors may fail to evaluate the balance between potential profits and possible losses, increasing the likelihood of making uninformed investment decisions.

This oversight could expose their portfolio to higher potential losses without an appropriate potential for gain.

How does risk reward ratio affect long-term investing?

The risk-reward ratio affects long-term investing if you ignore it and make poor decisions, leading to inevitable poor returns.

How do leverage and risk reward ratio relate?

Leverage and risk-reward ratio are two sides of the same coin. Using leverage in trading increases one’s exposure to the market, thereby magnifying both potential gains and potential losses without altering the underlying risk-reward ratio. However, leverage might also increase losses if you get it wrong.

The risk-reward ratio remains constant with the use of leverage as it scales up the level of risk taken in proportion to potential returns.

What tools help calculate risk reward ratio easily?

There are several tools that can help with risk reward calculation, making it easy to determine the risk-reward ratio. Investors use the risk-reward ratio formula to easily calculate potential investment outcomes, dividing net profits (the reward) by the maximum risk cost of the investment. Some popular tools for calculating the risk-reward ratio include:

  • Online calculators
  • Excel spreadsheets
  • Trading software
  • Financial analysis tools

These tools can save you time and effort in calculating the risk-reward ratio, allowing you to make more informed investment decisions.

Financial calculators designed for trading can compute risk-reward ratios by taking the distances from the entry price to the stop loss and profit target.

How often should you adjust your risk reward ratio?

How often you should adjust your risk reward ratio depends on many factors, such as volatility, correlation to other strategies, and other factors. It’s a personal preference. As market conditions change, the appropriateness of a given risk-reward ratio may also change, requiring ongoing reassessment.

Can risk reward ratio predict trading success?

The risk-reward ratio is a useful tool in predicting trading success, but it’s not a crystal ball. It measures potential gains against potential losses for each trade, helping traders assess the expected return and risk for each trade they make.

However, even with a high win rate, a trader can still be unprofitable if their losses on the unsuccessful trades are significantly larger than the gains from the successful ones.

What are examples of risk reward scenarios?

An example of risk reward scenario is this:

For instance, a trader might buy 100 shares of a company at $20 each and set a stop-loss order at $15, risking $5 per share. If the trader anticipates the price to reach $30, the potential reward is $10 per share, resulting in a 1:2 risk-reward ratio.

How do market conditions influence risk reward ratios?

Market conditions influence risk-reward ratios like a ship in a stormy sea. In times of significant market volatility, the risk of losing money is higher due to significant price fluctuations, but the potential for high rewards is also greater.

To manage the risk-reward balance in real-time, consider the following strategies:

  • Adjust stop-loss orders to limit potential losses and protect profits.
  • Use derivatives such as put options to hedge against downside risk.
  • Adjust your position size

Creating a trading plan helps manage risk by dictating the parameters for taking positions, differentiating from a trading strategy, which outlines specific entry and exit points for trades.

How do risk reward ratios differ by asset class?

Risk-reward ratios can differ by asset class because you might want to trade other assets to mitigate risk. It’s a personal preference.

Each asset class may have differing levels of expected return for a given level of risk, which can affect the risk-reward ratio. Methods used to estimate potential loss, such as technical analysis and value-at-risk models, can impact the risk-reward calculations for different asset classes.

The optimal risk-reward ratio varies across different trading strategies and asset classes, and determining the ideal ratio may involve a degree of trial and error.

What mistakes do beginners make with risk reward ratios?

Mistakes beginners do with risk reward ratios is to hold on to losing trades in the hopes of a turnaround, resulting in capital depletion. They may have unrealistic expectations, treating trading like gambling and hoping for quick financial gains without developing the necessary skills.

New traders often neglect to monitor their average loss and profit per trade, which is crucial for understanding overall performance.

How do you set stop-loss based on risk reward ratio?

You set stop loss based on risk reward ratio based on a level where the trade idea is no longer valid. This price level can be determined using the risk-reward ratio by comparing the potential reward (take-profit point) with the potential risk (stop-loss level).

A commonly recommended risk-reward ratio for setting stop-losses is at least 1:2, where potential profits are twice as high as potential losses.

What role does psychology play in risk reward decisions?

Psychology plays a significant role in risk-reward decisions because we tend to risk averse and react more negatively to a loss than a similar gain. This is a typical human bias.

Human brains instinctively resolve ambiguity and take decisive action when faced with immediate threats, but this tendency can affect financial decision-making, where long-term considerations are crucial.

Investors’ psychological state can influence their interpretation of market movements, where a risk-averse individual may see a market drop as confirmation to sell, while a positive-minded individual sees it as a buying opportunity.

How does risk tolerance affect risk reward ratio settings?

Risk tolerance is a key factor that affects the settings of risk-reward ratios. More risk-tolerant individuals might accept higher levels of risk for the same level of reward compared to risk-averse investors.

By adjusting risk-to-reward ratios in accordance with personal risk appetite, investors can make better investment decisions that complement their individual comfort levels.

How can you test your risk reward ratio strategy?

You test your risk-reward ratio strategy by backtesting it. Very few do this, unfortunately, but we ca assure you it’s smart. It helps you identify potential pitfalls and make necessary adjustments.

To evaluate the efficacy of a risk-reward ratio strategy, investors should consider their own risk tolerance and use a variety of methods such as technical analysis of historical price data, fundamental analysis of financial statements, and models like value-at-risk.

By examining past trade examples where risk-reward ratios were applied, investors can assess the effectiveness and potential adjustments needed for their strategies.

What is the difference between risk reward and win rate?

The difference between risk reward and win rate is that the risk-reward ratio compares the potential profit of successful trades to the potential losses from unsuccessful ones, while win rate is a metric that represents the percentage of successful trades out of the total number of trades.

Even with a high win rate, a trader can still be unprofitable if their losses on the unsuccessful trades are significantly larger than the gains from the successful ones.

How do professional traders use risk reward ratios?

Professional traders use risk-reward ratios as a guide in their trading decisions. They view themselves as risk managers rather than just traders. An ideal risk-reward ratio as perceived by many market strategists is approximately 1:3, which aims for a potential return of three units for each unit of risk taken.

Professional traders manage risk/reward by using stop-loss orders to limit potential losses and derivatives like put options to protect their investments from negative market movements. These tools allow them to have more direct control over managing their risk exposure.

How to balance risk reward ratios in volatile markets?

You balance risk reward ratio in volatile markets best by decreasing position size. It requires skill, precision, and a keen understanding of the market conditions. In volatile markets, the risk of losing money is higher due to significant price fluctuations, but the potential for high rewards is also greater.

Investors can adjust their risk-reward ratio in response to market volatility, taking on lower potential rewards for a given level of risk to manage increased uncertainty.

What are risk management strategies related to risk reward ratios?

Risk management strategies related to risk-reward ratios act like a margin of safety. Risk management in trading encompasses the expectancy of trades and the dynamic nature of the reward to risk ratio.

When a trade moves in favor of the trader, the reward to risk ratio decreases, meaning the potential profit diminishes relative to the potential loss. Traders should treat unrealized profits as their own and avoid the risk of losing them solely to gain a little more.

How do interest rates affect risk reward calculations?

Interest rates can significantly affect risk-reward calculations because changing interest rates can influence the value of bonds; when rates rise, bond values generally fall, and when rates decrease, bond values tend to rise. Please read what happens to stocks when bonds go up.

Interest rates have an inverse relationship with stock prices; higher rates can decrease stock prices by increasing borrowing costs and reducing consumer spending. In this way, interest rates can sway the risk-reward ratios like a ship in a stormy sea.

Can risk reward ratios help in options trading?

Risk-reward ratios can certainly be a helpful tool in options trading. Risk graphs and risk to reward ratios are essential tools for managing risk in options trading, indicating potential profits and losses based on price movements of the underlying securities.

Options traders use risk to reward ratios to decide on trades by comparing anticipated returns of a position with potential losses to establish suitable risk levels and profitability.

How does diversification impact risk reward ratios?

Diversification impacts risk-reward ratios because it helps spreading investments across different asset classes, reducing overall portfolio volatility and enhancing risk-adjusted returns.

However, diversification is a double-edged sword. While it lessens idiosyncratic risk, it may lead to a decrease in the average overall return of a portfolio, representing a trade-off between risk and potential returns.

How should risk reward ratios change with experience?

Risk reward ratios could change with experience because experienced traders have a better understanding of their risk tolerance, which can in turn affect their risk-to-reward ratio.

Experienced traders might adjust their risk-to-reward ratio by modifying position sizes to maintain a consistent risk level across trades.

What historical data is important for risk reward analysis?

All historical data is a valuable resource for risk-reward analysis. Historical data helps assess a stock’s volatility, sensitivity to market movements, and overall risk level, which informs investment decisions. It’s all about backtesting as much as you can.

Technical analysis employs historical price and volume data to identify recurring patterns for market prediction. Some common tools and models used in technical analysis include:

  • Moving averages
  • Relative strength index (RSI)
  • Bollinger Bands
  • Fibonacci retracement levels
  • Candlestick patterns

The use of models such as the capital asset pricing model (CAPM) can be based on historical data to analyze risk-reward ratios.

How to use risk reward ratios in portfolio management?

We use risk reward ratios in portfolio management to avoid potential pitfalls. Investors use the risk-reward ratio to manage capital and minimize potential financial losses associated with their investments.

An ideal risk-reward ratio as perceived by many market strategists is approximately 1:3, which aims for a potential return of three units for each unit of risk taken.

Are there alternative metrics to risk reward ratio?

The best alternative metric to risk reward ratio is to look at the performance metrics of a strategy when you backtest it. You need to look at the win rate, the average winner, and the average loser.

There are several alternative metrics that can offer valuable insights into investment risk and potential returns. For instance, standard deviation measures how much the returns of an asset deviate from their average over time, providing a measure of investment risk.

The Sharpe ratio, on the other hand, is used to determine risk-adjusted returns, revealing the effectiveness of an investment strategy in generating returns relative to the level of risk taken.


In trading, the relationship between risk and reward is a fundamental one. Risk refers to the potential for financial loss, while reward is the potential for financial gain.

You want to take on trades and investments that have the potential to make money in the long run. Preferably, the winners should be higher than the losers, but this also depends on the win rate.

However, risk is also inherently linked to reward. Generally, higher potential returns come with higher levels of risk. Traders must balance risk and reward in a way that aligns with their investment goals, risk tolerance, and time horizon.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the ideal risk-reward ratio in trading?

The ideal risk-reward ratio in trading is typically around 1:3, meaning that for every unit of risk, one seeks to make three units of profit. This helps to ensure a favorable balance between risk and potential reward.

How do I calculate the risk-reward ratio?

To calculate the risk-reward ratio, simply divide the potential profit by the potential loss.

Are there alternative metrics to the risk-reward ratio?

Yes there are alternative metrics to the risk-reward ratio. You can consider metrics like standard deviation, beta, maximum drawdown, Sharpe ratio, Sortino ratio, and Treynor ratio. These metrics provide a more comprehensive view of investment performance.

How does diversification impact risk-reward ratios?

Diversification can lower overall portfolio volatility and improve risk-adjusted returns by spreading investments across different asset classes. However, it might also result in a trade-off between risk and potential returns, leading to a decrease in the average overall return of a portfolio.

How do interest rates affect risk-reward calculations?

Interest rates can impact risk-reward calculations by affecting the value of bonds and stock prices. When rates rise, bond values usually decrease, while higher rates can also lower stock prices.

Similar Posts