Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Start Playing Winning Poker Now: 5 Simple Mental Techniques

play winning poker
Let's face it, the game of poker is mostly all in your head. It is about how you perceive your relationship with the game.

Go to any poker forum, comment section or even your local casino and you are bound to find somebody who can't wait to tell you their tired old bad beat stories. You know, the bad beat stories that nobody actually cares about except the person who is telling them!

This game makes some people go so crazy that they literally convince themselves that it is all rigged against them. It's all one big conspiracy man! I picture them foaming at the mouth like a rabid dog.

The bottom line is that all this craziness of course inevitably leads to terrible play at the poker tables and therefore terrible results. It is like a self fulfilling prophecy.

But it doesn't have to be this way at all. By implementing the 5 simple mental techniques that I am going to discuss in this article, you can learn to think like a winner instead. And therefore you can finally start playing winning poker now.


1. Stop Expecting Fast Results


The biggest reason why some people lose their mind in this game, go on tilt and throw away their money, is because they expect the game of poker to provide them with immediate positive results. Even if you are the very best player on planet earth, this is simply not the way that the game works.

It can take as much as 100k hands or even more in order for basic variance to sort itself out in poker. For an online poker player who plays quite a bit this could represent months of play. For a live player, this could represent years of play.

This is the hardest thing to overcome in this game. The idea that results can take months or even years. If you can learn to overcome it though, you will be able to bend this game completely to your will.

When you really think about it poker is very much like building a small business. You are essentially a one man team as a new startup. There will be many ups and downs in the early going.

You really should not have any expectation of significant results in the first 6 months or even year. This is almost like a testing period to separate the weak from the strong.

Poker is basically the exact opposite of a "get rich quick scheme." If you need fast results, I am sorry but this is probably not the game for you.

While it is always nice to "book a win" in a session it ultimately means nothing in the grand scheme of things. Keep grinding. Keep applying a winning strategy against bad players and the results will come in time.

There is no other way.


2. Bring Your "A Game" to Every Session


Ironically though, even though you should expect to wait months at least in order to achieve any real results in this game, if you don't bring your best effort to the tables every session, those results will never materialize.

In today's tougher poker environment it is simply not enough anymore to routinely sit down and play your B, C, D or worse game. You need to be playing your A game at all times. You need to play solid poker all the time.

This means that you are not tired, distracted, hungry, angry or depressed. You should be completely dialed in to play your best and your concentration should be solely focused on the action at hand.

So this means no texting, no Facebook, no Tinder, no TV, no anything. Turn everything off except some music (if that's your thing) and focus on playing poker.

If you want your results to be great in this game, then you need to approach it like a professional. Respect the game and it will respect you back.


3. Confidence Bordering on Arrogance


If you listen to the very best at nearly anything in life they often have a confidence about them that is unflappable. In fact it borders on arrogance with some. This is the approach that you need to have at the poker tables as well.

When I am playing at the lower stakes I would be lying if I said that I respect all of my opponents. Because honestly, I don't.

In fact I have gotten some flack in some of my videos before for having open disdain for some of them. I think most of them are terrible. I also not only believe, but know, that I am way better than most of them.

You can call this arrogance, elitism, whatever you want. It is completely besides the point. If you don't believe in your own abilities with unshakable conviction, you really need to ask yourself why you are even playing.

Now of course you should only be playing in soft poker games that have at least one huge fish in them. So that even from a totally objective viewpoint, you have a clear edge in the game.

But you should also never fear any player at the poker tables. You should tackle them head on and believe 100% in your own abilities. In a game that is so mental, both literally and figuratively, those who believe in themselves the most are much more likely to succeed.

You don't have to convince yourself that you are the best player on earth. That is probably delusional. But you should believe that you are the best player at any poker table that you choose to sit down at.


4. Aggression is the Name of the Game


Show me a poker player who doesn't believe in himself and I will show you a losing player. But also, show me a timid poker player who likes to call a lot, "wait and see" what their opponent does, limp along etc. and I will also show you a losing poker player.

Winning poker players are aggressive by nature. You can see this most emphatically in the middle to late stages of tournaments. There is always "that guy" who is willing to move the chips into the middle much more easily than everyone else and ends up building a huge stack without having to show a hand.

The same thing happens in cash games although on a much more subtle scale. The best players are routinely picking spots to pounce on their opponent's weakness. They make plays when they know that the other player cannot possibly call.

This is one reason why over-betting is such an incredibly valuable and under-utilized weapon in No Limit Hold'em. It allows you to stick so much money in the pot that even if your opponent thinks that there is a high probability that you are bluffing, they still won't call unless they have the absolute nuts.

Now I am not suggesting that you start over-bet bluffing the river every hand against a bunch of calling station donkeys at the lower stakes. This would in fact be a very bad strategy!

What you need to do instead is look for spots both preflop and postflop to take control of the pot and win more often without having to show your hand.

Check out my popular 9 point guide to fixing your red line (non-showdown winnings) for more on that.


5. Play More, Study More, Win More


This last technique is less of a mental adjustment and more of just something that you do over time which helps with everything above.

One of the biggest reasons why I have 100% confidence that I am the best poker player in any game that I choose to sit in is because I have probably played more hands of poker than everybody at the table combined. I have almost certainly studied the game more than they have as well.

I have also trained myself to almost completely forget the short term and never expect quick results in poker. This again is something learned through playing millions of hands and seeing first hand how variance really works.

I have also trained myself to be more aggressive over the years. I am actually a pretty soft-spoken, non-aggressive person by nature. I am usually the last person to get in an argument or a fight.

But at the poker tables my play can sometimes be described as maniacal aggression. This is the result of years of training myself to play this way and learning the right spots to pull the trigger on a huge bluff for instance.

Lastly, I almost always bring my A game to the tables when I play. Turning pro helped a lot with this because dicking around becomes much less of a viable option when your bills depend on results at the tables.

The bottom line is that when you choose to work harder and put in more time than the rest, you will become better in all of these areas by default.


Final Thoughts


As I said off the top, the game of poker is mostly all in your head. Playing winning poker is much less about what you know and more about what goes on between your ears in the heat of the moment.

With a basic tight and aggressive strategy, some emotional control and a little bit of game selection pretty much anyone can have success at the smaller stakes at least.

If you can train your mind to think like a winner at the poker tables though, then you can achieve huge success in this game. Hopefully the 5 techniques outlined in this article helped a bit with that.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Do you have any mental strategies that have helped you achieve better results?

winning poker player

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A Data-Driven Method to Defend Against 4Bets

playing against 4Bets in poker
As small stakes poker games have gotten tighter and more aggressive over the last few years 4Bets have become more common. In fact some even say that 4Betting is the new 3Betting.

However, many people still get themselves into trouble when defending against them. They don't know how to put their opponent on a proper range and therefore they don't know what the most profitable counter strategy is.

So in this article I am going to talk about everything concerning 4Bets in micro and small stakes cash games.


What is a 4Bet?


Before we even get started here let's get on the same page as to what a 4Bet actually is: 

A 4Bet is a re-raise of a 3Bet.

So somebody has made an initial raise (often called an open raise), and then somebody else has re-raised that (a 3Bet), and then somebody else has re-raised the 3Bet (which is a 4Bet).

The action can also occur between just two people instead of three. In fact this is actually much more common. 

Example:

It is folded to the button who raises. The small blind decides to re-raise and the big blind folds. The action is back on the button who thinks for a minute and decides to re-raise again, putting in the 4Bet. 

The action is now back on the small blind who can either fold, call or make another raise, which is usually "all in", also called a 5Bet.


What is a Typical 4Bet Sizing?


Many people get confused about 4Bet sizing so let's also talk about that right off the bat also. It is extremely important to get your sizing right as I will explain below.

A typical 4Bet size should be between 20 and 25 big blinds.

Let's discuss how we get to these numbers.

The open raise size that I recommend these days is 3x the big blind. You can make it less if you are in a steal situation (i.e. folded to you on the button) and more in particularly wild and loose games (some NL2 games for instance).

The 3Bet sizing that I recommend these days is 3x the original raise when you are in position and 4x when you are out of position. 

I want to be clear that these are the bet sizings that I recommend against one opponent. You need to add additional big blinds if you are squeezing (multiple opponents).

So on average then (versus one opponent), the pot size should be about 10 or 11 big blinds after the 3Bet. My typical 4Bet sizing is just over double this, something like 2.2x.

So if there is exactly 10 big blinds in the pot, I will make it 22 big blinds to go when 4Betting. 


Reasons Why We 4Bet on the Small Side


Why the smallish raise size you might be asking?

Because I want to be able to fold on occasion and lose the least. If you always just bomb the pot to 30 big blinds or more you are committing a huge amount of your stack which makes it difficult to ever fold.

This makes no sense if you want to be able to bluff sometimes with your 4Bet range or even make a really sick fold with JJ or AK for instance if you are up against a nit who always has AA or KK.

This is why I prefer the smaller 4Bet sizing. Because basically: 22 big blinds accomplishes the exact same thing as 30. Either sizing says to your opponent, "Hey, I am dead serious about my hand, you need to fold now."

The difference though is that 22 big blinds allows you to fold on occasion and save those 8 big blinds. In today's games where the edges are smaller little things like this can make a huge difference to your long term winrate.


What Does it Mean When Somebody 4Bets You?


Ok, let's get into ranges now because that is what matters the most. While the games have gotten tighter and more aggressive in recent years even at the lower stakes, many people make the mistake of thinking that everybody is bluffing them now and they need to call down light.

I still play these games all the time and let me tell you that this is definitely NOT the case. 

While plenty of people at the micros will 3Bet a little bit light these days, a 4Bet still means a very strong hand a large amount of the time. 

The particular stat that is the most important here on your Pokertracker HUD is 4Bet ratio. I have used ratio instead of % for years now because I find it to be much easier in predicting ranges. 

You need a big sample either way (at least several hundred hands) but here is a rough guide:
  • 4Bet Ratio of 1: AA or KK only
  • 4Bet Ratio of 2: AA, KK, QQ, AK
  • 4Bet Ratio of 3: AA, KK, QQ, JJ, AK, AQ and a few bluffs
  • 4Bet Ratio of 4: AA, KK, QQ, JJ, TT, AK, AQ, AJ and several bluffs

And so on. You get the point. And obviously these ranges are by no means an exact science. This is an extremely rough guide from my experience over the years. Every player will have a different range.

Most regulars at the lower stakes these days (NL10 and below) will have a 4Bet ratio of 1 or 2. At NL25-NL100, most will still have a 4Bet ratio of 1 or 2 and a few of the better regs will be at 3 or 4. 

I don't play live as often, and obviously you don't have this information available, but I would expect most 4Bets to be a strong hand at the lower limits there as well, unless the opponent is a huge fish.

4Bets still mean business most of the time at the lower limits. You should take them seriously. 


How Should You Defend Against 4Bets?


So considering these tight ranges, how should you defend against a 4Bet?

Well, you should probably just fold most of the time when somebody 4Bets you and you don't have a premium hand. If it is a 4Bet ratio 1 nit often I will just make a slightly sick fold with anything that isn't AA or KK.

This is especially true at full ring by the way. I am not going to go too deep into the differences between 6max and full ring in this article, but there will be obvious differences between these games when facing 4Bets due to 3 more players being at the table.

The action in the hand is extremely important as well as I frequently discuss on this blog, in my books etc. (i.e. LP vs Blinds is far different than LP vs EP).

So most of the time at the micros versus a 4Bet you should indeed just fold. When should you continue then?

Well with most premium hands versus 4Bet Ratio 2+. And sometimes with speculative hands as well depending on how wide their 4Betting range is and if you are in position or not. 

Having position (if you intend to call and play a flop) is going to be extremely important to your ability to win the pot. This is because regardless of the hands, the person getting to act last after the flop in poker is alway a big favorite.


5Bet Shipping


A lot of the time versus a 4Bet you should just be shipping the rest of the money in the middle though if you think you are ahead. And of course once all the money is in the middle, the positional advantage is removed.

The reason why I like 5Bet shipping quite a bit is because it gives me that fold equity. Sometimes you can get another reg to lay down his JJ for instance which flips versus your AK. I have no problem just taking down that 20-25bb pot when out of position versus them.

Versus the recreational players and bad regs I will be more inclined to call the 4Bet when in position though. The reason why is because I know that my postflop edge is large and so therefore I would rather avoid flipping coins versus them.

I want to be clear here that I am assuming 100 big blind starting stacks throughout this article by the way. If the stacks are 200bb or 300bb deep you can and should be calling 4Bets much more often. This is because the implied odds are massive.


Should You Ever 4Bet or 5Bet Bluff?


What about 4Bet or 5Bet bluffing. Should you ever do it? 

For the most part at the lower stakes I would say no. 

The reason why is because often they won't be able to fold their AK, AQ, QQ/JJ/TT type hands (and sometimes even worse) and you will be at a pretty severe equity disadvantage.

In fact at the very lowest stakes (NL10 and below) I am very rarely bluffing when I 4Bet or 5Bet. It is almost always a premium hand.

I will have a small 4Bet/5Bet bluff range though at NL25+. This is because these are the limits where you will start finding some better players who are thinking a little bit deeper about your range.

If you have no 4Bet/5Bet bluff range against players like this, then it will be hard to get action against them with your good hands. 

Lastly, the hands that I choose when I am considering a 4Bet/5Bet bluff will almost always have some high card blockers, a small suited ace for instance. These hands also give you some reasonable equity (~30%) versus every big pair except AA.

On the other hand, 4Bet/5Bet bluffing with a hand like 87 suited is typically a bad idea because you block nothing at all and are typically in terrible shape when you get action.


Example Hands


Let's finish up here with some example hands. Because as always in poker, every situation is unique and it is very difficult to make concrete rules that apply to every spot.

I am not going to give my reply yet to these hands by the way. I want you to post your thoughts in the comments below and I will give mine in a day or so after I publish this article. 


Hand #1 - NL5 6max


TAG Villain (4Bet Ratio 2) open raises from LP. 

Hero decides to 3Bet AK from the big blind.

Villain 4Bets

Hero???


Hand #2 - NL2 Full Ring


Nit Villain (4Bet Ratio 1) open raises from MP.

Hero decides to 3Bet QQ from the small blind.

Villain 4Bets

Hero???


Hand #3 - NL10 6max


Hero open raises with JJ from LP.

TAG Villain (4Bet Ratio 2) 3Bets from the big blind.

Hero???


Let me know your comments about these hands below. What would you do?

Thanks for reading guys. If you want to know my complete strategy on how I created some of the highest winrates in online poker history at the micros, make sure to pick up my free poker ebook.

how to play against a 4bet in poker

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

How to Play Ace King From the Blinds - The Complete Guide

How to Play Ace King From the Blinds
How play AK from the blinds is a very common strategy question that people send me and that I see all the time on poker forums as well. I have long promised that I would write a guide for this specific spot one day and so here it finally is.

I want to be clear up front though that the reason why so many people have difficulty with this spot is because it is not easy. There is rarely one right way to play it.

It depends on so many different factors such as where the raise came from, who made it, if there were callers in between, history, stack sizes, game dynamics and so on.

Furthermore, as I will also discuss in this post, you should be mixing up your play not only for balance against the better players, but also against the range of the weaker opponents.

Anyways, there is a lot to discuss so let's just get started!


Ace King From the Blinds in a Limped Pot


Let's start with the easiest of scenarios, AK in a limped pot. This sort of thing will still happen from time to time in loose passive games at the lowest stakes online and certainly in live games sometimes as well.

You should ALWAYS raise in this spot. There are very few "100% plays" in poker but this would be one of them. Always raise even if the entire table has limped already.

Why?

Because AK is an incredibly strong hand and you often have a solid equity edge before the flop. The raise is purely for value.

Also, we win in poker by playing aggressively. Most of the time nobody has anything very good after the flop. The person who was the preflop aggressor often takes down the pot in these situations.


How much should you raise it?

I will typically make my raise 4x the big blind when out of position like this and then add one more big blind for every limper. If the table is extra loose then you should consider making it even more.

Let's take the most extreme example possible (family pot):

6max: Hero has AK in the big blind and the entire table limps.

I would raise it to 9x the big blind here. If the big blind was $1 for instance, then that means that I would make it $9 to go here. 4x standard plus 5x for all the limpers (5 of them).

Once again, if there are some huge fish at the table who will call anything, then you should consider making it even more here. A lot of people make the mistake of making their raise size too small in spots like this and end up getting called by the entire table.

This is a disaster.

The last thing that you want is for one fish to call and then everybody else calls as well because they all think that they have "pot odds."

So you should be paying attention to the table dynamics and the player types at all times whether you are playing online or live. And you should know what amount it is going to take to get most of them to fold. Or even all of them, which is a totally fine result also.


AK From the Blinds Versus a Raise


Ok let's get to a much more common scenario now. You have Ace King in the blinds and there is a raise in front of you.

Well, there are two things that are of prime importance here:
  • Where did the raise come from (what position)
  • Who made the raise (what player type)

The Raise Came from Early Position

If the raise came from early position and from a tight player it is not a crime to just flat call here. Many people think that they have to auto 3Bet AK no matter what.

But if you think about your opponent's range in this spot it might be as narrow as 66+ and AJ+. This is especially true if you are playing full ring.

It is very unlikely that this type of player is going to call your 3Bet with a hand that you crush. He will almost certainly fold AJ and will sometimes fold AQ as well. He will call you with a bunch of pairs that you flip with (88, 99, TT, JJ and QQ) and usually re-raise you with the two hands that crush you (AA and KK).

So in this spot it can certainly make plenty of sense to just flat sometimes even though we are out of position. This is because it keeps some hands in his range that we are way ahead of. This allows us to win a big pot should the Ace come for instance versus his AJ or AQ.

3Betting of course is fine here sometimes as well in order to mix things up and for value. I like it even more when I am squeezing. This means when there is a caller in between.

This player (the caller) usually has a weaker speculative hand that cannot stand a 3Bet (e.g. small pair or suited connector) and is therefore referred to as "dead money."


The Raise Came From Late Position

Now if the raise came from late position things will be quite a bit different. Typically when somebody raises from LP (cutoff or button) they will have a much wider range.

They can be attempting to steal the blinds with as much as 30% or more of the deck in some cases. This means that they are playing nearly every ace, a lot of different kings, all pairs, all broadways etc.

We crush a lot of hands in this range. Also, when we 3Bet in this spot it doesn't look nearly as strong because most players these days expect to get played back light here.

We know that they are raising light from late position so we will mix in more light 3Bets from the blinds. But any good player at the lower stakes knows that we know this and will therefore flat or even 4Bet us lighter than normal.

This means that we will get action more often from a wider range and by several hands that we crush with AK. These would be hands like AT, AJ, AQ and KQ.

It is important to remember that we are at the top of our range here and this is a great spot to be in versus a thinking opponent.

So while you should still flat from the blinds on occasion here versus good players just to stay somewhat balanced, I would lean more towards 3Betting in this spot.

Versus bad regs and recreational players you should play much more exploitatively as I talk about at length in both of my books. This means just 3Betting them heavily here.

Quick Note: I will be referencing "good regs" and "bad regs" a lot in this article. If you don't know the difference go check out this post of mine.


AK From the Blinds Versus a 3Bet or 4Bet


Sometimes the action is going to get heavy preflop and once again there are several different ways to play it depending on the players involved and the ranges in particular.


Versus a 3Bet

If you are in the blinds and there is already a raise and a 3Bet in front of you the right play will be extremely dependent on the player types involved.

I would say that the safe and most common play here is just to flat call. The reason being is that when you cold 4Bet it just looks so ridiculously strong. And so you often get one of those situations again where they fold all hands that you crush and only give you action with hands that flip or crush you.

But if the game is playing particularly wild and loose or if both players are just really loose and aggressive regs, then it can be fine to make the cold 4Bet for value anyways.

This is often a judgement call that only you can know by paying attention to the players at your table or referring to your HUD if playing online.

The action in the hand is also extremely important. As we already discussed above raises in early position and late position often mean much different things.


Versus a 4Bet

Let's discuss the final situation. You 3Bet your Ace King and somebody 4Bets you.

This situation is a lot more simple. Most of the time you should either be shipping the rest of your stack in the middle or folding.

The reason why we don't want to be calling too much here is because we will be out of position after the flop with nearly 1/4 of our stack in the middle (assuming 100bb effective to start the hand).

And what's worse, Ace King is going to miss the flop 2 out of 3 times. It really sucks to put 1/4 of your stack in the middle and be left dealing with ace high out of position so often.

However, for range balancing versus good players you should still have a small calling range here. Once again versus bad regs and recs though I will play it much more exploitatively with almost no calling range (shove or fold).

Against bad regs and recreational players I will fold if they are clearly only 4Betting me with the mortal nuts, 4Bet ratio of 1 or less. See my massive HUD setup article for more on this.

Or if I think they can be 4Betting me relatively wide, then I will often just ship my stack in knowing that even if called I am probably at least a flip most of the time.


How to Play AK on the Flop From the Blinds


Ok, let's get to postflop finally here because it is a lot more interesting. When people write me about playing Ace King from the blinds the scenario is almost always a 3Bet pot where they missed the flop.

So let me just state a simple fact about this situation before I even begin.

It sucks!

There is no strategy on earth that is going to allow you to be highly profitable here. Out of position, 3Bet pot, no pair, it sucks!

When they called our 3Bet preflop they often have some sort of mid to high pair and they probably won't fold to a CBet on the flop all that often. Remember that we block both ace and king hands so it is less likely that they have no pair like us.

So we will have to be prepared to double or triple barrel them with ace high and hope they fold. This is rarely going to be a winning strategy at the lower limits versus bad regs or recreational players.

Why?

Because they will often just call your ass down with their 99/TT/JJ anyways!

So if I am up against a calling station bad reg or recreational player and the flop is all low cards and I have no draws at all, I will usually just give up. By this I mean check/fold.

In a spot like this it is often better to just not even waste a flop CBet on them. You will get called too frequently and only have 6 outs to improve.


Barreling With Equity


Now if I have some kind of equity at all though, the situation can be different.


For Example: 

Hero has: AK


Flop #1: 468

and

Flop #2: QJ3


On the first flop even though it is all low cards there is a diamond which gives us a backdoor flush draw. This will be enough to sometimes make me fire a CBet on the flop.

While we are still a pretty big underdog to a hand like 99, the backdoor flush draw gives us a 5% spike in equity. Also, this means that we can barrel nearly half the deck on the turn. Any diamond, T, J, Q, K or A.

On the second flop I will be even more likely to fire the flop CBet because we actually have some pretty decent equity now with the backdoor flush draw, gutshot straight draw to the nuts and two overs.

It is very important that you learn how to read boards like this in order to determine your real equity. Not all flops that we miss are created equal. Not even close.


Versus Good Players

Now as you have seen throughout this entire article my play definitely changes a bit when I am up against the few good players who you will encounter at these stakes.

You can't play so exploitatively against thinking opponents. You need to mix up your play here on all types of flops and sometimes mix in more creative lines as well such as: check/raise or check/call lead turn.

Versus the bad regs and recreational players (who are the large majority of your opponents at the lower stakes), you should just be playing the value based exploitative style of play described above.


How to Play AK on the Turn and River From the Blinds


Let's assume that you did decide to fire that flop CBet though. How should you play Ace King on the turn and river?

Well once again it totally depends on the players involved in the hand, their likely ranges and of course the turn/river cards as well. Also, it depends on if it is a single raised or a 3Bet pot.

In single raised pots I am going to be more likely to fire the double barrel because it doesn't commit me to the pot quite so much.

However, in a 3Bet pot, a double barrel will often force you to stick as much as half of your stack in the middle.

You don't want to be doing this very often unless you believe there is a good chance of winning the pot. This is why it is crucial that you understand who you are up against and how likely they are to fold.

I would say that in general at the lower stakes (especially NL10 and under or $1/$2 live) you should just be giving up most of the time when you fire on the flop, get called, and still have nothing but two overs on the turn.

This is because the lower stakes (whether online or live) are where you will find the most beginner level players and complete recreational players as well.

As I discuss in Crushing the Microstakes, these types of players are often deeply suspicious of being bluffed. This means that they love to play the sheriff and call you down. So frequently running big bluffs against them is going to be a great way to destroy your win-rate quickly.


Keep it Simple at the Micros = Profit

I often talk about the discipline required to win at the lower stakes and this is a prime example. It is easy to keep barreling with your Ace King high hand, but if your chances of getting them to fold are very low, you are literally just lighting money on fire.

As much as it sucks, a lot of the time in a spot like this you need to simply give up (check/fold) and just lose a smallish pot. This is actually the "most profitable" play.

Winning poker, especially at the micros, is not about trying to win every hand. You simply can't do it when many of your opponents have high went to showdown %'s of 25, 30 or even higher.

There will be some rare cases where you can try to run a big bluff but you have to know the player very well. They should be a weak tight type of opponent who is actively thinking about your range.

The biggest reason why the bad regs and recreationals will not fold to your big bluffs is because they aren't even thinking about what you can have. They are only thinking about their own hand.

A decent to good reg though knows that you are repping a strong overpair here. If your range typically has a lot of strong overpairs in it, then you can get them to fold a hand like 99 a reasonable amount of the time if they play more on the timid side (e.g. are afraid to make the big call).

But hopefully you get the point here. Big bluffs with AK at the micros will usually be a bad idea. Often it is better to lose a small battle in order to win the war.


Final Thoughts


There are no easy answers to playing AK from the blinds. There is a reason why so many people have trouble with it. It is because it is a difficult spot!

There really are no clear answers for how to play it in every scenario because so much of poker is about playing the player and their range. There are tons of other factors as well that I didn't even get to in this article like stack sizes, history and game flow.

But hopefully this article gave you some ideas of how I think about playing AK from the blinds in a variety of different situations and against different player types.

If you want to know the strategies that I use for all hands to create some of the highest winnings ever at the lower stakes online, go grab a copy of my free poker ebook.

How do you play Ace King from the blinds? Let me know in the comments below.

Winning poker strategy with Ace King

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Very Simple Secret to a Winning Poker Strategy

winning poker strategy
Poker strategy has gone through so many changes over the years. Play tight aggressive, play loose aggressive, only 3Bet with the nuts, 3Bet with a 10% range, don't be a donkey and call down light, be a donkey and call down the aggressive regs light, polarize your range, merge your range and on and on and on.

And then we have the endless math theories, coaches and training sites, software tools, "solvers" and everything in between. Honestly, it is enough to make your head spin.

I stopped paying attention to most of it years ago. I just listen to a handful of pros who I know and trust and often just discover what works and what doesn't at the poker tables myself.

But I know from talking and working with many newer players at the lower stakes over the years that many of them are very confused these days. They have been given so many different conflicting pieces of advice that they are literally just pressing buttons sometimes and hoping for the best.

All of this information overload has destroyed their ability to see the one little thing that all elite poker players do better than everybody else.


I Think, Therefore I Win


Logical decision making. Critical thinking. Finding the highest EV (expected value) play. These are all lost on many poker players these days.

People are so overwhelmed by all of this maniacal over-thinking and over-analysis of the game that they have completely forgotten (or perhaps were never even taught) how to actually think about the game correctly.

The first book that I ever read about poker over 10 years ago was "The Theory of Poker" by David Sklansky. This book was published nearly 20 years ago and pre-dates online poker. It is also largely about Limit Hold'em if I recall.

Still, there is a reason why it is often considered one of the best books ever written on the game and it is one of the only books that I recommend (besides my own of course). This is because it teaches you how to think about the game.

In fact this is the subtitle of the book: A Professional Poker Player Teaches You How to Think Like One.

I see it every day in the hands that people post on my forum and elsewhere. The #1 reason why many people have so much trouble beating even the very lowest stakes these days is because they simply do not know how to think about the game correctly.

And by this I mean assessing a situation and quickly being able to determine the highest +EV decision. I see the wrong decisions being made in very simple spots again and again and again.


A Winning Poker Strategy is Very Simple


When you really think about it, winning poker is very simple. You always have just a handful of options in any given situation.
  • Bet
  • Call 
  • Raise
  • Fold
Pick the right one on a regular basis (or at least more often than your opponents do) and you will win. In fact you will crush the games. It really is that simple and this is what I have based my entire poker career around.

Let me give you an example from a hand that was posted on my forum the other day.

Now just to be clear here I am not making any assumptions about the person who posted it nor will I even name them (it is from a private member's only part of my forum anyways). I am just using this hand as an example because this is the type of thing that I see all the time at the micros.


PokerStars No-Limit Hold'em, $0.05 BB (8 handed)

MP1 ($5)
MP2 ($5.14)
CO ($7.90)
Hero (Button) ($5.50)
SB ($5.46)
BB ($5)
UTG ($6.13)
UTG+1 ($9.37)

Preflop: Hero is Button with Q, Q
1 fold, UTG+1 raises to $0.15, 1 fold, MP2 raises to $0.46, 1 fold, Hero raises to $1.05, 3 folds, MP2 calls $0.59

Flop: ($2.32) J, 4, 3 (2 players)
MP2 checks, Hero bets $1.15, MP2 raises to $2.30, Hero folds

Total pot: $4.62 | Rake: $0.19


So hero gets dealt QQ here and there is lots of action in front of us with 100bb+ effective stacks. Happy times right? Of course! We have the 3rd best hand in Hold'em! This is a great spot to be in. What's even better is that we are in position as well.

So raise it up right? After all we very likely have the best hand here. Many people would go ahead and make this play without even thinking about it. And that is fine. But let's look at this situation a little bit deeper first.

We have QQ on the button and there is already a raise and a 3Bet in front of us. If we go ahead and cold 4Bet here this basically screams from the mountaintops, "I have a monster."

Versus any two reasonably sane opponents this is going to force them to fold everything but the absolute nuts. So basically they will only give us action with their AA, KK or AK.

You can probably already see what a disaster this is by now right?

We get every hand that we crush and want to play against to fold and only get action from hands that we flip with or which absolutely crush us. Lose/lose.

From a logical perspective the highest expected value decision in this spot is instead to simply flat the 3Bet especially given the fact that we are on the button and get to play the entire hand in position.

If I was going to cold 4Bet here I would rather do it with either the absolute and total nuts (KK+) or with a bluff (Ax blocker hand). I would not want to do it with an amazingly strong hand like QQ but which can't stand huge action preflop or postflop.

Now once again, I am not trying to shame this player in any way. I understand the reason why he played it the way he did and this is a mistake that anyone could make. I have done it many times myself especially if rushed.

I am using this hand instead to illustrate why it is so important that you forget the math, the odds and every little theory you have been told over the years and just simply assess each situation in poker for what it is.

Simply ask yourself this: What is the best play right here and right now?

What play is going to yield the highest return/profit for you in the long run? This is what a winning poker strategy is all about.

There is usually going to be one specific decision that yields the highest EV in any given situation (even if it is a negative amount). If you make this decision on a regular basis, you will without a doubt absolutely crush the games.

This is the big "secret" that all elite poker players already know about.


Mathematical Analysis Paralysis


One of the biggest reasons why I believe so many people fail to find the highest EV decision on a consistent basis in a spot like this is because they are too caught up trying to turn poker into one big math equation.

This works in a game like Limit or maybe Pot Limit but in No Limit Hold'em with deep stacks, endless bet sizing possibilities and sometimes crazy implied odds, it simply doesn't work this way.

No Limit Hold'em, especially with deep stacks, is much more art than science. It is more logic than math. You can't just look at the equity or the odds like in the hand above and make a decision from there. Because the mathematically correct play is not always the EV correct play as we just saw.

Too many people these days are becoming robots who can't even think about the game properly anymore because they are obsessed with studying advanced mathematical theories, equity tools and trying to play like their favourite high stakes hero.

The problem is that most of this stuff has little to no value at the lower stakes where you are often playing against very weak competition with large imbalances in their play. You should be learning very basic strategies to exploit their weaknesses instead.

The other reason why this stuff will harm your poker career is because it leads to mass over-analysis of the game and ultimately paralysis. How can you ever make any money in this game and become successful if you don't even play it?

Beyond the basic math of the game (which you should definitely know and which you can learn in an afternoon on Google or in an article I wrote right here), the key to success is endless trial and error at the poker tables.

I don't know any top player who hasn't played millions and millions of hands. Because this is how you learn how to think about the game. Much like you learn how to speak a new language by the relentless use of it, not by studying textbooks.

Continuous application of a very simple strategy is how you learn to understand poker on a deeper level. This is when it starts to click and you don't even need to think about common spots anymore.

You just know.


Final Thoughts


The big "secret" to a winning poker strategy shouldn't even be a secret at all. There is so much noise and over-analyzation nonsense out there these days that many people have simply forgotten how to even think about the game anymore.

Winning poker at the lower limits is not a math formula and there is no secret theory or guru that is going to show you the light either. It is really just about assessing each situation as it stands and thinking logically about what the correct play is.

This becomes much easier the more you do it because you have seen the same situations over and over again. If you put in millions of hands and thousands of hours like I have, you can literally just play this game in your sleep.

There is almost always one decision that is better than the others. In the few cases where it is razor thin (these are most of the hands that people post on forums and squabble about), it really doesn't even matter. Flip a coin.

If you want to know the very simple strategy that I have used to create some of the highest winnings in the history of online poker at the micros make sure you grab a copy of my free poker ebook.

Let me know your thoughts below. Do you think that good decision making is the key to a winning poker strategy?

winning poker strategy

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

9 Ways to Keep Your Cool Against Bad Poker Players

How to stay calm against bad poker players
We have all been there when playing poker. You bet your overpair the entire way and a bad poker player shows up with some bizarre two pair that he hit on the river.

Or you flop your trips and there is simply no amount of money on earth that you can bet to get them to fold their flush draw (trust me I have tried).

Of course the river comes with the flush card and he bets into you. This is the third time in a row this has happened. You already know you are beat before you even toss the chips in the middle. And as sure as the sun will come up tomorrow, he turns over the flush and scoops the pot.

How do you deal with stuff like this at the poker tables without losing your mind? This is one of the main challenges that you will face coming up in small stakes cash games whether live or on the internet.

There are lots of complete beginners, lunatics and fish at these stakes. Even some of the regulars have very little clue what they are doing and will call you down with all sorts of ridiculous holdings (and nail it on the river of course!).

Well I gotta be honest with you, I don't have all the answers. But I have a lot of experience dealing with players like this. In this article I am going to provide you with 9 ways to keep your cool against the bad poker players.

Since many people have big problems with tilt at these stakes learning how to maintain your sanity when things go horribly wrong can really make a big difference to your long term winrate and ultimately your profit.

Alright let's get started!


1. Laugh it Off


Honestly, this has always been my main go to when the bad players hit something ridiculous against me. There is a point where you just have to see the comedy in it.

Poker simply isn't a game where you can win every hand. Being able to just laugh it off (much like in many other situations in life) will go a long way towards keeping you relaxed. And ultimately boosting your winrate and profits.

Always remember this, at the lower stakes online we are often playing for amounts that are equivalent to the price of a cup of coffee or a movie ticket. How much does it really matter?

Is there really any point in losing your mind because some donk got lucky against you and won a $10 pot? You know he called with incorrect odds the whole way. You also know that he will lose in the long run if you run this same situation 10 times or 100 times.

Just laugh it off. Next hand.


2. Understand the Odds


Building off of that, it is important to understand the odds in poker. When you are betting pot or 3/4 pot they simply do not have the correct odds to be calling with their flush draw or bottom pair.

This is why I have always been such a big advocate of betting big against bad players at the micros. Yes it is going to lose you a big pot on occasion but it will win you a big pot on so many other occasions.

If they are calling wrong, without the right odds, this will catch up to them in the end. Winning poker is a process. If you keep the math on your side, you will win in the long run.

Make sure you understand the basics of hand odds, pot odds and implied odds and then you can always bet an amount that keeps you on the right side of the math.


3. Don't Make it Personal


One of the biggest things that I had to learn early on in my poker career was not to make it personal. Don't get focused on Donk X that just bad beat you twice in a row.

It is better to think of all the donks as one big universe of donkdom instead. Collectively they are all geniuses at chasing their draws without the right odds and getting their money in bad.

Always remember that your battle is with the entire universe of donkdom, not some individual donk that has been getting lucky against you lately.

Think about how a place like Las Vegas works. Something crazy like 40 million tourists go visit there every single year. Many of them win. Some of them even win big! But more of them go home losers.

This is because the casinos know that the math is ultimately on their side. So do you think they cry about Donk X who got lucky all night on the roulette wheel and took them for a small fortune?

No of course not.

As long as people keep voluntarily putting their money on the line in a -EV game like roulette (millions every year), they will always win in the end.

Don't make it personal. Don't focus on the specific bad player who has been getting lucky against you.


4. Imagine Being Them


When somebody makes a terrible play and gets lucky against you, it is very likely that they do this all the time. Just imagine how terrible their results are.

Back in the days of good old pokertableratings.com after somebody gave me a terrible beat I would often search them right away. Once I saw their catastrophe of a graph this would help me a lot with point #1 above, just laughing it off.

Trust me, these bad players are getting absolutely owned in the long run. Their graph goes straight down at a 45 degree angle in the wrong direction. They are deposit machines. They bankroll the entire industry.


This is how the poker economy works: 

You have a small amount of people winning big and removing large amounts of money on a regular basis. Then you have a huge amount of people who are situated somewhere around breakeven. They don't take much out but they don't put much in either.

So after the online poker room or casino takes it's cut where does the profit for the good players come from then? Yup, you guessed it. It comes from that fish who just called you the whole way with his 74 offsuit and hit two pair on the river.

He is the reason why this game is profitable. That is why I preach about table selection to no end on this blog and elsewhere.

When you know where the money is actually coming from in poker, it becomes a really easy game.


5. Respect Your Customers


You should also learn to view the bad poker players as your customers. Despite how frustrating they can be to play against sometimes in the short term, they will ultimately be your biggest profit source in the long run.

If you get mad at them and berate them one of two things can happen:
  • They will feel disrespected and stop playing
  • They will realize that they suck and get better at poker

You should know that both of these results are absolutely terrible for you. If you happen to be one of those people who berate the fish when they suckout on you I hope you remember this next time.

I know you are emotional in the moment. It's frustrating to lose a big pot to some goofball who doesn't even know what he is doing.

But these guys are the lifeblood of the entire industry. It is better to learn to respect them as your customers. When they lay some ridiculous beat on you give them a simple "nh" (with no sarcasm) or just say nothing at all.

They are just there having fun. They will get lucky from time to time. That's why they keep coming back again and again to give away more of their money.

Don't bite the hand that feeds you.


6. They Don't Even Know What They Are Doing


Sometimes the recreational players honestly just don't even know what they are doing. How can you even be mad when this is the case?

You see this the most in low limit tournaments online because they attract more totally clueless fish than any other format. Sometimes you are actually playing against play money players who won a freeroll to get their seat.

I remember a hand awhile ago early on in a $2 dollar tournament online. I hit top set on the flop with my pocket 9's but the board was monotone (all hearts I believe).

I knew that my opponent was really bad and would call with any flush draw so I just shoved my entire stack in the middle knowing that I would be a big favorite.

Before calling he got in the chat box and told everybody his hand, naked ace of hearts. He wanted to be sure that if another heart came that he would indeed make a flush.

That's right, doesn't even know the rules of the game! Proceeds to call off his entire stack with about 27% equity. Nails it on the river of course.

Seriously, how can I even be mad? "That's poker."


7. Humour Them or Troll Them


The art of table talk is sadly a bit lost these days due to the solitary nature of online poker. But there is a lot to be learned from the old school pros in this regard.

I know it is rare but there will be occasions when you actually get lucky against the fish yourself. And you should expect to get solidly berated about it. I know because I have been called pretty much every name in the book over the years at the poker tables!

Legendary live poker pro Barry Greenstein once told a story (in his famous book "Ace on the River" by the way) about getting lucky against a recreational player in a particular hand. The fish subsequently let loose about how terrible Barry was at poker for what seemed like forever.

After the lecture was finally over (face to face by the way, this is live poker) Barry simply replied with the following:

"If you think that play was bad, stick around for awhile, I am sure I will make much worse ones than that!"

Consummate professional.

On the odd occasion when you actually get lucky against a bad poker player expect them to lose their cool and perhaps berate you. Don't ever engage with them on any level. Just let them have their say.

The best policy is just to say nothing at all back to them. But if you do make it short and simple like this and hopefully tilt them even more.


8. Inject the Logic


A term that I often steal from renowned poker mental game coach Jared Tendler is to "inject the logic." I actually interviewed him here on my blog last year by the way.

What does this actually mean?

Well I see it as doing your best to use the rational part of your brain during a stressful situation (such as a bad beat), rather then using the emotional part.

As I said above, know the odds. There are a million little free equity programs out there. If you use Pokertracker 4 then there is one built right into the software.

Just plug in the hole cards and the board if you don't know the exact odds in a particular situation. And then you can see the exact equity in the pot that each player has for yourself.

If your opponent got the money in bad against you (had the worse odds), then you actually win in this situation. This is because in the long run this guy is just handing you his money. Be grateful for that.

The thing with poker though is that the hand with the best odds doesn't always win. It is very rare that somebody is actually drawing stone dead (0% equity in the pot).

So sometimes the guy who plays badly and gets all his money in the middle with 27% equity gets to win the pot. But logically you know that you cannot fight the math like this and expect to win in the long run.

However, if we didn't throw the bad players a bone every once in awhile they wouldn't keep coming back again and again, depositing their money and bankrolling the entire industry.

As frustrating as bad beats can be, try and view them in a rational and logical way instead of with anger. If you got the money in good, you won. Let the cards fall however they will.


9. Take a Step Away


Now I wanted to save this one for last.

Despite everything that I have said above, sometimes the best thing that you can do when the bad poker players are getting lucky is to simply walk away.

It just isn't worth tilting off a few stacks to them because this is the stuff that absolutely destroys your winrate and profits in the long run.

There will be days at the poker tables where you simply will not be able to win no matter what you do. If you feel angered, frustrated, have a feeling of hopelessness, find yourself making bad calls or wild bluffs, you should step away from the game.

And preferably for the rest of the day. Remember, the games aren't going anywhere. They will be there again tomorrow. Also, don't even bother reviewing the session right now. It will just piss you off even more.

Just go do something completely different (and totally unrelated to poker) and come back the next day with a clear head. Review the session before you play again and you will be able to see without being emotional, what actually happened.

If you lost a bunch of pots when you got the money in good, don't worry about. Inject the logic, you won.

If you got the money in bad though in some spots, or perhaps some of those "coolers" weren't really coolers (you could have found a tough fold), then consider some ways in which you can play these hands better next time.

You could also get a second opinion by posting them on a poker forum or asking some of your poker playing buddies.

Bottom line, some days at the poker tables you just won't be able to win. It is better to accept this and learn to quit before you start tilting badly and do some real damage.


Final Thoughts


Keeping your sanity against the bad poker players can be difficult under the best of circumstances. But you gotta remember that they are the reason why you are able to profit in this game. And yes, they do lose huge in the long run.

Sometimes in the heat of the moment though anything can happen. This is the big illusion that makes this game so great and enticing to the bad players. The very best poker players are able to see right through it.

I hope this article gave you a few ideas to help you keep your cool next time the recreational players start handing you some crazy bad beats.

If you want to know what strategies I personally use to crush these types of players make sure you pick up a copy of my free ebook "Massive Profit at the Micros."

Lastly, make sure to let me know in the comments below what strategies you use to keep your cool against the bad poker players.

 How to stay relaxed against bad poker players