Monday, May 23, 2016

Interview With 2x Supernova Elite Sit & Go Beast Aaron "abarone68" Barone

Poker player Aaron "abarone68" Barone interview
Moving abroad has allowed me the opportunity to meet and make friends with several other very talented online poker pros. A couple of weeks back I interviewed German small stakes cash game crusher Kieran "KieHa" Harding. 

This week I am happy to bring on one of the best mid stakes Sit & Go and Spin & Go players in the world. This is two-time Supernova Elite Aaron "abarone68" Barone.

While this blog is primarily about small stakes cash games I wanted to invite Aaron on anyways because the success that he has managed to achieve in this game goes way beyond what even most online poker pros dream of. This may be inspiring to some of you.

Also, from sitting down and having coffee with this guy countless times here in Chiang Mai (and also in my hometown of Vancouver) it is very clear to me that his technical knowledge of the game is extremely high. This ability to think about poker on a much deeper level than others transcends the various formats.

Also, his story (as you will see below) is amazing.

So without further ado!


Please tell us a bit about yourself and your travels.


On April 14, 2011, I signed a one-year lease for an apartment in Sacramento, California. I went to bed that night and by the time I woke up, the U.S. government had made online poker illegal. I remember walking into the leasing office to ask about breaking my lease. They thought I was joking. I wasn’t. 

At the time I was wallowing all sorts of negative emotions – denial, anger, disappointment – but several years later I look back on Black Friday with fondness; that legislation changed my life, forcing me not only out of my home country, but my comfort zone.  

A few fellow poker players and I attempted to get set up in the Bahamas only to be foiled by odd bureaucracy – The bank wouldn’t open up an account unless I had a rental agreement, but the real estate agent wouldn’t rent to me unless I had a bank account.  

Thankfully the group of us put our heads together and audibled to Vancouver, B.C. It was a fantastic decision, as I fell in love with the area and have lived there off and on for the better part of five years. 

In addition, I’ve spent time in Thailand (Chiang Mai) and several parts of Mexico (Playa Del Carmen, Rosarito, and Puerto Vallarta). 


How and when did you first get introduced to online poker?


My friends and I started a weekly cash game around the time of the Chris Moneymaker-boom. I wasn’t close to the best player in the group. Initially I thought the game was all luck, but nearly every week the same guy would end up winning and I couldn’t stand looking at his shit-eating grin when he raked in the chips.  

I was filled with a combination of competitive fire and insecurity which drove me to search the internet for ‘poker tips.’ I then stumbled across the Cardplayer forums and read countless posts about how to improve and which online sites to play on.  


What stakes did you start out at? Did you have success right away?


For the majority of my career, I’ve been a Sit and Go grinder (more recently, Spins) but I started out playing cash.  Pretty sure it was $25 NL. I definitely did not have success in that format, as I found myself unable to leave the game while in profit.  

I’d always keep playing until I suffered some horrendous beat or punted away a stack and then close the client in despair.  Moving to SNGs solved that problem immediately and I began to post winning sessions.  


What stakes do you play at now? What was the journey like for you to get to this point?


Currently I’m a $60s/$100s Spin and Go regular.  From time to time I also dabble in 9-max SNGs and low to medium stakes MTTs, but I prefer Spins because of the lack of a time commitment.  

Up until the past few years, the journey was relatively smooth and stable. I spent the first part of my career playing lower limits in an effort to have a larger edge on my opponents and experience less variance.  

Eventually I recognized that I was ‘good enough’ to move up and had a higher expectation at incrementally higher stakes, so I took a shot. I’ve been Supernova Elite in 2014 and 2015 and while there’s been more variance in the higher stakes, the past two years have also been my most profitable ones.  

[BR79: Here are some of Aaron's results over the past several years]

Spin & Gos (May 2015-Present)

Interview Aaron Barone Poker


Sit & Gos and MTTs (2007-2015)

abarone68 spin and go interview



Do you have any advice for people just starting out in poker who are struggling at lower stakes?


Be honest with yourself and your weaknesses. There’s so much ego in this industry and even more delusion.  It’s easy to put the blame on the cards, bad luck, or a “fishy” opponent, but that doesn’t do anything to help you improve. The goal should be to get better as a poker player, not to justify subpar results.  


What is your opinion on the future of online poker (especially with regards to the recent changes at PokerStars)? 


Yuck. I wouldn’t say the future of online poker is bleak, but I do think it’s trending in the wrong direction: higher rake, fewer legitimate competitors, more country-wide segregation, etc.  

My biggest issue with the changes at PokerStars (in regards to them scrapping the upper end of the VIP system) is not that they decided to alter the program, but that they did so without proper notice. 

The Supernova Elite program was a two-year agreement and advertised as such on PokerStars’ website; if a player paid enough rake in a calendar year, they not only get 53% rakeback (RB) for that year, but earn 68% the following year.  

In November 2015, PokerStars announced that players who reached SNE would no longer earn the 68% RB that was promised to them.  It’s effectively a “bait and switch” as they undoubtedly used the VIP System to motivate customers to pay rake all year only to revamp the rules at the last second.  

I won’t mince words – it’s theft.  PokerStars stole from their most loyal customers.


Do you have a blog or any social media accounts where the readers can follow your progress?


I do, but it’s currently down at the moment.  Hopefully it’s fixed by the time this gets published, the domain is: www.aaronbarone.com

You can also read about me on the Personal Goals and Challenges subforum of 2+2 where I have a thread entitled “Still Grinding”: http://forumserver.twoplustwo.com/174/poker-goals-challenges/abarone68s-2016-still-grinding-1607074/

Twitter: www.twitter.com/abarone68

Facebook: www.facebook.com/abarone68

Twitch: www.twitch.tv/abarone68


I understand that you do staking and coaching now as well?


Yes, I’m the owner (and one of the coaches) at Psyduck Staking.  We provide backing and coaching for aspiring MTT players who want to bring their game to the next level.  You can contact us on our 2+2 thread, here: http://forumserver.twoplustwo.com/222/staking-offering-stakes/psyduck-staking-low-midstakes-mtts-1580929/


Final Thoughts


I want to thank Aaron for coming on my blog here and telling his story along with his candid thoughts on the industry as a whole and his advice to newer players.

While the games are not always easy these days, I hope that this interview helped provide some inspiration to some of you out there. As his high 6 figures results attest, there is still some pretty big money to be made in this game if you want it bad enough.

And that really is the key. 

Even though Aaron did not mention it in this interview (because he is far too humble no doubt), from knowing him personally over the years I know that he has some of the sickest work ethic that I have ever seen. 

He has worked for every penny and bit of success that he has ever achieved in this game. I have also seen him handle numerous absolutely brutal downswings like a consummate pro.

The other big takeaway that I hope you get from this interview is that being a professional poker player is all about knowing how to adapt.

From being forced to move out of his own country due to government regulation, dealing with unforeseen rakeback program changes, to tackling new formats such as Spins and expanding into staking and coaching, Aaron shows that the ability to constantly re-invent yourself in this game is crucial.

I hope that you enjoyed this interview. If you have any questions or comments feel free to leave them below and Aaron or I will be happy to reply to them.

Lastly, if you found this article useful, do me a favor and "Like" or "Tweet" it below!

Interview With Online Poker Player Aaron "abarone68" Barone

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

5 "Five Minute or Less" Poker Tips That Yield Big Results. Tip #3 Tripled My Winrate.

5 Poker Tips That Yield Big Results at the Micros
The game of poker, both online and live, is always changing. Therefore, if you want to stay on top you need to always be evolving with it as well.

So this is why I am constantly experimenting with new lines of attack at the poker tables, studying my opponents and running filters away from the tables in Pokertracker. 

In this article I am going to share with you 5 of my top strategies that have created big results for me at the poker tables. And the best thing about them is that they can all be implemented in a matter of minutes.


1. Raise the Flop More Against Regs Who CBet A lot 


This might sound fairly obvious at first but it is surprising how little most people at the micros actually do it. It is also surprising just how effective it is against many regs at these limits. 


What type of regs am I talking about?

Guys like this (all names blacked out for privacy):

Poker tips for the micro stakes

Poker strategy at the micro stakes

Both of these TAG (tight and aggressive) regs have an above average FFR (fold to flop raise). This means that when they make their CBet on the flop they tend to fold to a raise a lot. 

This is very typical with regs who like to CBet a lot. Both of these players fit that profile to a tee. As you can see they have a CBF (CBet flop) of 83 and 69 respectively.

**As a quick aside: if you are confused about what all these numbers mean, they are taken from my custom HUD setup for Pokertracker 4. You can find out what every stat above refers to and even download my entire custom HUD for free and use it at the tables yourself right here.

Back to this discussion here. There are a few more key points to consider here.


1. Sample Size

Firstly, it should be noted that I have a sample of over 1k hands on both of these regs. I wouldn't even bother looking at this stat until you have at least a couple hundred hands on your opponent. CBets don't get raised all that often and that is why you need a big sample.


2. It is OK if They Don't Have a High FFR

Secondly, it should be noted that you can still target regs who CBet a lot but only fold to a raise a more average amount of the time (i.e., 40%). You will just need to be prepared to follow it up with another bet on the turn fairly often.


3. Always Have SOME Equity

Lastly, there is never any reason to use this play as a total bluff. It only makes sense to have some equity. This could be as little as just two overcards (6 outs). Always have some outs so that you can get lucky sometimes when they call you.  


The Key Point to Remember Here is This: With this line of attack, I am specifically targeting the regs who CBet a lot, typically 70% or more. I will do it even more against the 80% and 90% CBettors.

When they are CBetting this much, they simply can't have a hand all that often. Apply enough pressure and they will fold more often than not.


2. Steal the Blinds More Against Nits


Here is the scenario.

It is folded to you on the cutoff or the button and you are in a prime position to try and steal the blinds. But be honest now, how often do you actually have a look at the people left to act. Most of the time you probably just quickly glance at your own cards and decide whether to raise or not right?

This is a mistake.

The biggest key to an effective blind stealing strategy is tailoring your range based on who is left to act. If you only ever look at your own cards when deciding whether to steal or not, you are losing some serious EV.

To put it plainly, these are the kinds of guys who I am going to be stealing like crazy against:

Small stakes poker tips

Micro stakes poker tips

The 88 and the 91 above are the fold to steal percentages for these two players. These numbers are insanely high and you still see guys folding this much all the time at the micros.

But the real kicker here is that both of these guys also only have a 3Bet of 4. This is low even for full ring these days.

So you have two opponents here who fold basically 9 out of 10 times when somebody raises their blinds and they are only going to 3Bet you if they have a premium hand for the most part.

This is absolutely free money.

If I saw these two players in the blinds behind me my cards literally do not matter at all. I am raising 100% of the time.

Picking up these extra couple big blinds every orbit will make a massive impact on your long term earnings. Make sure you are focusing on who is left to act more often in steal situations and your winrate will thank you.


5 Poker Tips that will boost your win rate3. Play Short-Handed at Full Ring Tables


Ok so given the title of this article you were probably anxiously waiting for #3 weren't you? The pressure is on! I better not disappoint...

As you might know, I have preached on and on about table selection on this blog, in both of my books, in all of my videos and elsewhere for years now. You are probably sick of it by now!

However, there is a clear reason for this: Who you are playing against is more important for your long term winrate than anything else. And it is not even close.

If you consistently get on the left of terrible players and even just employ a very basic ABC strategy against them (this means playing tight, not bluffing too much and value betting a lot) it is literally impossible not to have a massive winrate.

I have been experimenting with some hardcore "bumhunting" as this is called at all stages of the micros for several years now. By this I mean that I am typically on just a handful of tables and I absolutely do not play unless I have direct position on a massive whale (40% VPIP or more).

Though my sample sizes with this approach are admittedly still on the small side, my winrates are so high that nobody would even believe me if I posted them.

And I am not talking about playing on some secret Euro sites here with tons of wild gamblers. I am doing this on supposedly "tough" sites like PokerStars for the most part.

As I discuss in my ultimate guide to table selection article, there are numerous ways to play against huge fish like this all the time especially at the lowest stakes.

5 poker tips that will triple your winrate

poker tips that will double your winrate

But one of the absolute best ways (which I have never revealed until now) is to play short-handed on full ring tables.


What is Short-Handed?

I define it as 2 to 5 players at the table.


Why Full Ring Tables?

Because most full ring players have absolutely no clue how to play short-handed.


The great thing about this strategy though is you don't need to be some world class short-handed specialist. Most of your opponents are terrible (this is the micros remember). And in any case, the entire reason I am there is because this is where some of the biggest, craziest fish show up.


Step #1

Go on PokerStars (or any site really) and look for full ring tables that have between 2 and 4 people who are actively playing.

Step #2

Take a seat to the direct left of any player who does not have a full stack or exhibits any of the other top 5 signs of bad poker players.

Step #3

Just play a totally normal game. Play a few more hands of course since it is short-handed, but you don't need to do anything special beyond that. Just value bet the crap out of the fish as usual and wait for them to flip out. This often happens very quickly when playing short-handed and before you know it they are handing you stack after stack.

Step #4

Profit (lots of it)


Best poker tips for the micros4. Play More Against the Weekend Maniacs


Another easy tip for increasing your winrate at the micros is to simply play more when they games are the best.


When are the games the best?

Friday and Saturday nights in North American and European time zones. This is when the crazies are coming back home from the bars and they fancy playing a little online poker.

I have consistently found the biggest lunatics for years now when playing during these times. They will often even show up on regular tables and in Zoom games during these hours meaning that you don't need to chase them around and do all sorts of table selection.

Now of course the variance can be extremely high when playing against a loose aggressive maniac. This is why it is important above all to do everything that you can to get position on them. If you are unable to get position on them, then you are going to have to play tight and just be patient.

Be prepared for some rough nights on occasion versus players like this. Sometimes they are going to get lucky and it will sting. However, remember that these players dump more money (and at a quicker pace) than anyone.

Some of my most profitable nights over the years have been when playing against the Friday and Saturday night maniacs. Try to put in more volume during these highly profitable times.

And on the flip side, try to avoid putting in lots of volume at terrible times like a Monday or a Tuesday morning. Nobody is looking to gamble, everybody is sober and playing like a rock.


BlackRain79 poker tips for the micros5. Set a 5 Buyin Stop Loss


Most people at the micros these days have a reasonable understanding of the game. For instance, they understand the basics of value betting, position, aggression and so on.

Where the wheels come off though for most micro stakes players is when they run bad. When they hit one of those "hell sessions" as I call them:
  • You miss every set
  • You have KK, they have AA
  • You miss every flop
  • They nail every flop
  • When you finally make a hand, they have a better one
And so on. 

When a session like this happens (and especially several of them in a row) most players at the micros lose their mind along with large chunks of their bankroll in the process.

So many people absolutely murder their winrate during these sessions by chasing losses when they are in their worst possible mental state to play.

I would say that most people's mental state starts going downhill after losing about 5 buyins. After all, digging yourself out of a hole like this and "posting a win" is going to be pretty difficult.

So why keep digging your own grave? Why not just accept the fact that today is not your day, turn the poker off and go get some fresh air or do something different?

I think it is very important especially for newer or struggling players to set a stop loss. A stop loss means that you quit for the day no matter what when you lose a certain amount of buyins. And I recommend a stop loss of 5 buyins.

Because often those buyins that you lose after 5 (6-10) are very much tilt induced. This is the kind of stuff that truly kills your winrate in the long run. One of the best kept secrets about the game of poker is that losing the least is often the real key to success.

If you can prevent yourself from tossing away buyins when you are on tilt it will make an enormous difference to your bottom line. Do yourself a favor and start implementing a stop loss and your winrate will improve tremendously.


Final Thoughts


I hope that a few of the tips mentioned above will provide a healthy boost to your profits at the micros. Try them out for yourself and let me know how they work for you!

Furthermore, let me know in the comments below what tips and tricks have helped increase your winrate the most at the micros.

Lastly, make sure to check out my "Start Here" page for all of my top strategy articles on crushing the micros.

If you found this article helpful, please "Like" or "Tweet" it below.

5 "five minute or less" poker tips for the micros

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Interview With Small Stakes Crusher Kieran "KieHa" Harding

Interview With Small Stakes Poker Grinder Kieran "KieHa" Harding
One of the best things about moving abroad as an online poker player is meeting new people and especially those in the poker community. And this is really easy to do here in Thailand where there are probably more "poker expats" than anywhere on earth.

One of those people who I have met is German small stakes grinder and pro Kieran "KieHa" Harding. He is also a former student of mine and a good friend now as well.

He has quite the story of climbing up the ranks of online cash games in recent years and becoming a full-time pro with very impressive results in relatively tough NL50 and NL100 games. I thought I would invite him here on my blog to tell his story.

So without further ado!

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your travels.


Hi my name is Kieran. I’m 30 years old and I’m from Germany. I have always loved travelling and being location independent is definitely one of the main reasons that I chose to play poker professionally.

I was 20 years old when I first travelled to Thailand and I instantly fell in love with this country. I travelled all over the place for 3 months and it was just one big adventure. I’ve been back about 6 or 7 times since then and last year I finally decided that flying back and forth was too much of a hassle, so I just moved here!


When did you first get introduced to online poker?


I got introduced to poker around 10 years ago. I was on vacation in the Dominican Republic and it was pouring down the whole day. I had ESPN in my room and they were showing every episode of the WSOP 2005 Main Event [This was the year that Joe Hachem won it all for a cool 7.5 million dollars].

I had never even heard about No Limit Hold’Em before and I was instantly hooked by the complexity of the game and the amount of action. I literally watched the whole thing for about 8 hours straight and didn’t even want to leave the room to go to dinner. That was probably the first clue that I was going to become a poker addict.

I didn’t actually start playing online until about 2 years later. We started playing some home games with friends and I loved playing even more than watching poker but for some reason I didn’t sign up with any online poker room until later.


What stakes did you start out at? Did you have success right away?


No not at all lol.

I actually struggled really hard with poker for the first 5 years or so. For some reason I kept going though (did I mention that I’m a poker addict?). Eventually I stopped messing around and started taking things more seriously.

When I began playing online I think I deposited something like €20 on Pokerstars and jumped straight into the $7 Sit & Gos. I had no clue about bankroll management and played like a huge Nit, just waiting for premium hands and betting them when I hit something.

I ran pretty good from the start and built my bankroll up to about $200. Then I started to play NL25 cash games and from that point I went broke a bunch of times. Who knew that playing with an 8 buy-in bankroll is not the formula for long term success in poker?

I kept going like this for years. I would play solid poker and slowly build my roll but then any sort of downswing would send me on monkey tilt and eat up 30 – 50% of my bankroll.

Finally I stumbled upon your book, Crushing the Microstakes, and things just clicked right away. I dropped down to NL2 and slowly worked my way up the limits with at least 20 or 30 buy-ins for every level.


What stakes do you play at now? What was the journey like for you to get to this point?


Right now I’m playing mostly NL50 on Stars and NL100 on iPoker (6-max exclusively).
Getting from NL2 to NL50 definitely took some time. I would only move up when I had 30 buy-ins for the next level and move back down when I only had 20 left.

There were a number of times when I moved back down after taking a shot which is definitely normal. I think for most people taking it slow and using conservative bankroll management is the only way that will lead to sustained success in this game.

---

BR79: Here are Kieran's results (from his blog, linked below) for this year at NL25 and NL50 in the first graph and NL100 in the second one.

Kieran Harding Pokerstars Pro

Kieran Harding iPoker Pro


What is it like living in Thailand and playing online poker?


Life is good here. There are so many reasons that I love this country: the weather, the food, the beautiful nature and above all the people.

Most people here work hard to get by and have a much harder life than people in Germany, yet they seem to be a lot happier in general. Thai people are incredibly friendly and good natured, especially the ones in the north like here in Chiang Mai. I am very happy here and I don’t see myself living anywhere else anytime soon.

Playing poker for a living is definitely stressful at times. Dealing with downswings can be very tough, especially if they last for weeks or months at a time. Also just the day to day grind definitely takes its toll after a while. Grinding for 5+ hours a day is not easy, especially when you’re running bad. It’s definitely true what they say, poker really is the hardest way to make an easy living.

All that being said though, poker can give you a kind of freedom that few other professions are able to offer. You can set your own time schedule. You don’t have to deal with bosses or co-workers. Even most internet jobs like drop shipping require interactions with suppliers and customers. In poker it’s just you and the game.

Then of course there’s the big advantage of being a location independent digital nomad. You can do your job from (almost) anywhere that has an internet connection, and maybe a comfortable chair. And you can travel around and explore the world while you’re working.

At the end of the day poker is also still a game and a very complex and mentally challenging one at that. I definitely still have a big passion for the game and most days when I wake up all I wanna do is just play poker all day!


Do you have any advice for people who are just starting out in poker or struggling at the lower stakes?


Read Crushing the Microstakes lol. Seriously though, if you have any trouble beating the lower stakes, then this book is definitely the best guide to set you on the right path.

Other things I would recommend are just keeping things simple at first. Play strong starting hands and bet them aggressively for value. Steal a lot from late position if it is folded to you. C-bet dry boards and give up on really wet ones unless you hit something. Just make sure you develop a strong fundamental game before you worry about more advanced concepts.

Another important thing is to find games you can beat. Some players might argue that you only improve when playing against better players but I simply don’t agree with that. If you’re a losing player in a game it will create a lot of frustration and mess with your motivation to get better. Make sure you always have weaker players at your tables and that poker is fun. Everything is easier when you enjoy what you’re doing.

Finally, don’t force yourself to play too many tables. I know it feels like a waste of time to only play 4 or 6 tables at NL2 because you can’t make any real money. That is not the point though. If you’re struggling at the micros your only job is to improve your game. Don’t worry about the money, that stuff will take care of itself if you focus on improving. Play an amount of tables that will allow you to think about your decisions and give you the opportunity to learn.

If you exercise good bankroll management and make learning the game your priority then there should be no reason why you can’t move out of the micros and make a very decent side income or even turn poker into a career one day.


I understand that you are coaching now as well? Can you tell us a bit about that?


I recently started coaching others and I really enjoy it. Talking about the game I love and helping players improve is an incredibly rewarding experience. I remember how much coaching helped me when I was struggling so it’s nice to be able to help other players in the same way.

I coach players at limits of NL25 and below, both 6-max and full ring. One method is doing a live Skype session where I will watch the student play and discuss the hands with them.

Another method is going over some marked hands in their database (Pokertracker or Hold'em Manager) and analyzing their stats to find out what parts of their game need the most work.

Lastly, students can also send me a video of themselves playing a session and I will record my thoughts on their play and send it back to them.

I’m also available on Skype every day for questions from my students and I will do my best so that they get the maximum value out of our sessions.


Do you have a blog or any social media where the readers can follow you and contact you?


Yeah, I just launched my own blog at www.kiehapoker.com. I will be writing about my life as a poker player in Thailand and posting strategy articles to help people improve. There is also more information about my coaching and I’ll keep posting updates on my results on a regular basis.

You can also follow me on Twitter.


Final Thoughts


I want to thank Kieran for coming on my blog here to share his story and tips for moving up the stakes at the micros. I agree with basically everything he said above and I think his advice is spot on.

I have seen his progression over the years and I have no doubt that he is probably a better poker player than me now anyways (although he won't admit it haha). If you have any questions for Kieran please leave them in the comments below.

Also, I will be keeping an eye on his blog and when people ask me about coaching (I don't coach anymore), he is one of the people that I recommend. Once again, you can find out more about getting coaching from Kieran here.

Lastly, let me know in the comments if you guys like seeing interviews like this one. I plan to do another one soon with a certain SuperNova Elite Sit & Go beast who I also met here in Thailand. That is, if he ever gets back to me with the answers to the questions...ahem!


If you found this article helpful then do me a favor and "Like" or "Tweet" it below!

Interview With Online Poker Player Kieran "KieHa" Harding

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Fixing Bad Habits in Micro Stakes Poker

Fixing Bad Habits in Micro Stakes Poker
Bad habits are one of the biggest problems that hold people back in micro stakes cash games. Nobody starts out as a perfect poker player. In fact such a thing doesn't exist even among world class pros.

My education in poker was (and still is) largely about making adjustments from the bad habits that I had either developed naturally or that I learned from somewhere else.

In this article I am going to discuss some of the worst bad habits that I had when I was starting out in poker and how I went about fixing them.


Nit or LAG?


The first thing that I want to mention before I get started is that I think most people broadly fit into one of two categories when they start playing poker.

In one corner we have the Nits. These are people who naturally play really tight, will only bet with the nuts, will rarely bluff and need 180 buyins before moving up to the next limit. Playing it safe is the key for them.

On the other hand we have the LAGs as I will call them. These are people who are naturally very loose, love to bluff and have absolutely zero regard for bankroll management. These people are action junkies and they love to gamble!

A recent podcast interview with the tournament poker phenom Dan Colman perhaps best illustrates the LAG approach. This guy cut his teeth in poker at the very highest limits and has crazy amounts of gamble in him.

And I would have to actually nominate myself as one of the best examples of a Nit given my well known crazy amount of play (and winnings) at the very lowest stakes online.

Most people fall somewhere between these two extremes. However, the reason for this discussion is to point out that Nits and LAGs will naturally develop different bad habits. Since I was (and still am) a Nit for life, I will be discussing bad habits mostly from the Nit perspective in this article.


Playing Too Tight


So obviously the first problem that all natural Nits like me are going to suffer from is playing too tight. I was a terrible Nit when I first started out. I would only play if I had a big ace, good broadway or a pair. In other words I was a preflop folding machine.

Now this approach can still be profitable in today's games but only at the very lowest limit (NL2). However even then, your winrate will be small and you will be giving up a ton of EV.

If you currently play way too tight like I did in the beginning, the answer is not to start raising every suited connector and 3Betting J9 in your next session. It has to be a gradual progression to playing more hands.

The first thing that you should focus on is playing more hands when you are in position. This will make it far easier for you to get used to playing lower strength hands. It will also make it much easier for you to turn a profit since all the money gravitates towards the button in poker.

Secondly, as I mentioned above, it is much better to gradually open up your game. So if you currently only open A9 or better for instance from late position, just try adding A8 next time. When you get comfortable with that, add A7 and so on.

In time you can start to open up a bit from other positions as well but it should not be by too much. As I mention in both of my books I think you should be playing at least 3 times as many hands from late position as from early position. And you should be relatively tight from the blinds as well.

And this isn't just the Nit in me suggesting this. I say this because this is the way that the game works. If you look in your Pokertracker or HEM database and check your winnings by position, then you will see exactly what I mean.

As you move up the stakes to NL25 and higher you will want to start balancing your range more from all positions. But at NL10 and below where most of your opponents are paying no attention to this, I would just abuse the hell out of the most profitable seats (LP for sure and MP to a lesser extent) and stay reasonably tight in the less profitable ones (EP and the blinds).


Afraid to Bluff


It took me the longest time just to get used to stealing the blinds with anything that wasn't a broadway, pair or a premium hand! CBetting as a bluff? Double barreling? These concepts were crazy to me when I first started out as well.

But in today's games if you don't get used to betting from time to time when you don't have much of anything, then your winrate will suffer in a big way.

And I am not talking about running triple barrel bluffs with 5 high here. This is still largely suicide in a lot of small stakes cash games given the amount of bad players who will call you down light.

What I am talking about is stealing the blinds with 30-40% of hands, CBetting the flop 60-70% of the time and double barreling 50% of the time. These are rough numbers that require adjustments as you move up but I think you get the idea. You need to be betting a fair bit when you don't have much of anything.

Now of course it is still smart to have some equity. If it is folded to you on the button and you have 83o, you should definitely just fold unless both of the blinds are epic scale Nits.

And likewise postflop, you don't want to be blindly barreling no pair/no draw hands into the many calling stations at these limits. You should have some equity, a favorable board texture, and most importantly, an opponent who will fold!

I talked about how to find these types of players and exploit them in a recent article that I wrote for PokerNews.com.

The bottom line is that you can't be afraid to bluff a little bit at the micros. This is something that becomes increasingly important as you move up to mid and high stakes.

It is also a gradual progression much like playing more hands. Focus on the player type first and foremost and ask yourself if you can get this player to fold by stealing the blinds a bit wider or CBetting or double barreling with a bit higher frequency.

After you start to understand the situations and players who can be moved off of their hands then it will all become second nature. In fact, it won't even seem like "bluffing" anymore.


Can't Fold a "Good Hand"


This bad habit probably applies to both Nits and LAGs. And so many people at the lower limits (including myself before I fixed it) suffer from it greatly as well.

This is the idea that you can't fold a good hand like top pair. Or you have to make that "crying call" because you have an over-pair. As I have stated before, I do not believe that there is any such thing as a crying call in poker, just bad calls.

I talk about the lines that people take all the time on this blog and elsewhere. And these typically tell the story at the micros. Most players at these stakes are simply not capable for instance of calling you preflop, flatting your CBet and then raising your double barrel without the nuts.

This line is literally them screaming at you with a bullhorn that they have at least a two pair hand. Therefore, you can fold your AA and say thanks to them for saving you money. Or you can call down, let them show you the nuts, and give away your money.

Making the correct fold with a strong hand like AA (or TPTK) is one of the hardest things to learn and it literally took me years. But once you understand how basic and robot-like most people play at these limits, you will realize that in certain spots when they are showing aggression, their hand is literally face-up. Turn and river raises are almost always two such instances of that.

You can simply filter in your database for all the times where you got raised on these streets and you continued in the hand. You will see just how much money you are losing.

For me it took getting stacked probably 100's of times before I decided to change this bad habit of mine. Who likes folding aces after all? Exactly nobody.

But once you realize that there are certain situations like this where you are clearly behind, you can decide to change. Of course many don't change and that is the difference between winners and losers.


Afraid to Move Up


This was and still is to a certain degree a huge issue for me and many Nits. We fear moving up and require way too many buyins before we take a shot at the next higher stake.

In some ways this is a good thing. I for instance have never gone broke (as in having 0$ in all my poker accounts) in 10 years of playing online poker. Dan Colman (mentioned before) on the other hand has gone broke countless times by his own admission. However, he has made 10 million+ dollars playing this game and I definitely have not.

So there has to be some in between here. I already wrote a guide on bankroll management for the micros. In that article I suggest that 30 or 40 buyins should be enough for most people at these limits. If you find yourself with 50 or 100 buyins for the next level, then it is time to stop being such a Nit.

You are definitely holding yourself back by being too conservative in your bankroll management strategy. The facts are that all of the real money in this game is made at mid and high stakes.

I only talk about the micros on this blog and in my books and videos etc. But my intention is to help get you out of the micros. That really should be your goal in this game if making a lot of money is a priority for you.

So this means that you will need to take shots more often at higher stakes games. And with this of course will come failure. Moving up is never easy and everybody fails at some point (sometimes multiple times) before sticking at the new limit.

But unless you want to trade nickels at NL5 for the rest of your life, it is necessary that you break out of your Super Nit shell and take shots at the next limit a little more often.

You never know, you might just succeed! In fact if you are already winning at your current limit then I can all but guarantee that you will win at the higher one as well, in the long run.


Monkey Tilt


This bad habit once again applies to both Nits and LAGs. It doesn't matter how good you are at this game, you will have days where your AA gets "cracked" 6 times.

You will have days where every flush runs into a higher one, heck you can't even win with a full house! And sometimes these days will turn into weeks of this same sh crap over and over and over again.

This will be enough to drive anyone crazy. Poker is a highly emotional game and when combined with the speed at which online poker is dealt, the results can be disastrous for some if things are not going their way.

I tilted like crazy early on in my poker career. I made all the classic mistakes of turning into a LAG, rage typing, jumping stakes and playing ridiculously long sessions when I was in nowhere near my best state of mind.

I threw away countless buyins (money) through both minor and major forms of tilt for years. The problem though is that if you ever want to make it in this game, you obviously can't do this. I had to make some changes in a big way and that is exactly what I did.

Number one, I actually just stepped away from the game (at least on a full time basis) for a year. When you have a "real job" the ups and downs don't affect you as much because you don't rely on poker to pay the rent.

Secondly, I started really focusing on the long run. Even through all of my crazy tilt sessions I was still somehow a big winner over my entire poker career up until that point. I put my career graph as my desktop wallpaper and any time things started going badly I would sit out for a bit, take a few deep breaths and look at that graph (reality).

Lastly, once I finally got it through my thick skull (after years) that the long run is the only thing that matters in this game, I just stopped looking at my results altogether, at least on a daily basis. Sometimes to this day, I go weeks without looking at my results.

Why? Because they don't matter. I am always properly bankrolled and playing in games that I know I can beat. So why should I get all upset that I happened to lose 5 buyins today. Or get a false sense of happiness because I happened to win 5 buyins?

I know that I will win in the end. I don't care about the details of how I got there.

Monkey tilt has been the death of so many promising poker careers. You need to take the steps that will help you be more relaxed at the poker tables and focus on the only thing that matters, the long run.

This means focusing on the only thing that you actually can control in this crazy game which is making the best poker decision in each hand. The results will take care of themselves.


Playing in Bad Games


This last one applies to both LAGs and Nits as well. It took me a long time to accept the fact that I had to table select if I wanted to win big even at the very lowest stakes.

I started playing in an era where I could load up 24 random tables at NL25 on PokerStars and expect there to be at least one huge fish on every one of them. This is just nowhere near the case today even at much lower stakes.

About 5 years ago I made the conscious effort to start dramatically reducing the number of tables that I play at in an effort to spend way more time focusing on who is actually sitting at my tables.

My ego held me back for years in this regard and I think this is the case with many others still today. I had to accept the fact that I am simply not going to "crush" a table full of regs even at very low stakes. They simply do not make enough fundamental mistakes in order for this to happen.

If you want to win big at the micros (or at any stakes for that matter) then you need to get off the Zoom tables and start hunting the bad poker players. Learn how to play short handed as they often hang out on these tables. And site select and play as many formats as you can as well.

A commitment to always playing with bad poker players is the only way to "crush" today's games no matter what limit you are playing.


Final Thoughts


Everybody has bad habits at the poker tables, even world class pros. The real key to moving forward in this game is constantly trying to recognize them and fix them.

The reason why so many people fail to achieve their goals and dreams in this game is because they keep making the same mistakes over and over again for years on end.

Nearly all of my biggest breakthrough moments in poker have come when I consciously made the decision to stop being such a stubborn idiot and do something differently.

Ego is a very real thing in poker. Much like driving a vehicle, everybody thinks they are good at this game. But when 3 out of 4 people lose at poker in the long run, this is obviously not the case.

Don't allow bad habits to stop you from achieving the goals that you have in this game. Always remain flexible to the idea that there might be a better way to do something.

The best poker players in the world are chameleons. They know how to adapt under any circumstances. They don't cling to beliefs that there is only one right way to play a hand or that they have everything figured out in this game.

Because none of us do.

Poker is a lifelong journey that humbles us all at times. Take it all in stride, learn to pivot when necessary and you will have the most success.

If you found this article helpful then do me a favor and "Like" or "Tweet" it below!

Bad habits at the micros

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Can You Win at Online Poker Without Using Math?

Do you need to know math to beat online poker?
A very common question that I see is how much math do you need to know in order to beat online poker. Well, as usual in this game the answer is not so straightforward. But it is usually less than what most people think.

You do certainly need to know some math in order to win at poker whether it is online or live. Poker after all is a game which is based on percentages and odds.

However, you certainly do not need a PHD in mathematics or a deep understanding of game theory in order to beat the lowest stakes. In fact overthinking the math at these limits is a very common problem that holds many people back.

In this article I am going to provide an overview of the 3 types of basic math that you need to know in order to beat the micro stakes cash games online.


1. Poker Hand Odds


The first and most important type of basic math that you need to know is hand odds. This does not actually require you to do any difficult calculations.

I mean you certainly can and should learn how to count your outs (the cards remaining in the deck that will give you the winning hand). And you should also know how to divide this number by the amount of unseen cards remaining in the deck in order to get your exact odds of making the winning hand.

If this is something that interests you, then there are literally hundreds of articles already on the internet (and even entire books) which cover this topic in detail.

But if you read this blog regularly and know my approach to the game, then you will know that I am all about keeping things simple, and more importantly practical, at the poker tables.

We don't need absolute precision when playing 4, 8 or 12 tables online. In fact, we don't have time for it anyways.

All you need to be able to do is roughly calculate your hand odds (also called equity in the pot) versus your opponent's likely range. And the best way to do this is to memorize the odds in several common situations.


What do I mean by common situations? I mean stuff like:
  • A pair preflop versus a higher pair (roughly 20% equity)
  • A pair preflop versus two overs (roughly 50% equity)
  • A flush draw on the flop versus top pair (roughly 35% equity)
  • A straight draw on the flop versus top pair (roughly 30% equity)
And so on. 

You should memorize all of the percentages in common situations like these with one card to come on the turn as well.

In fact an even easier way to calculate all of this on the flop is to simply know that a draw becomes a coinflip at about 13 or 14 outs.

So for instance in the example below the player holding 76 (who has 14 outs) is actually a slight favorite to win the hand with two cards to come.

Do you need to know math to beat the micros?
If you are counting at home that is 9 outs for the flush draw, 3 sixes for two pair and 2 sevens for trips.




This is why it is a good idea to play your monster draws like this very aggressively. You will often get your opponent to fold and take down the pot uncontested. And even if you get called you will still have 50% equity in the pot (at least on the flop).


Quick Reference For Common Postflop Scenarios:
  • Gutshot Straight Draw = 4 outs
  • Open Ended Straight Draw = 8 outs
  • Flush Draw = 9 outs
  • Gutshot Straight Draw + Two Overcards = 10 outs
  • Flush Draw + One Overcard = 12 outs
  • Open Ended Straight Draw + Pair = 13 outs
  • Flush Draw + Pair = 14 outs
  • Flush Draw + Two Overcards = 15 outs


How Do You Memorize Your Equity in All of These Situations on the Flop and Turn?

Well again, you could pull out your calculator or pencil and paper and start counting outs and dividing. But this is 2016 and there are far easier ways.

There are several free equity calculators such as:

  • Pokerstove (I put this link up since this classic little program is no longer supported) 
  • Equilab (Has a few more bells and whistles than Pokerstove)

Simply plug in the cards and the board and instantly get the exact percentages.

I have spent countless hours over the years fiddling with these programs and entering in different scenarios. This is why all of the common spots like those listed above are simply committed to my memory now and I never even have to think about them at the poker table.

It should be noted that if you are using a HUD (yes, you should be using one if you take online poker seriously), then you can also simply just use the equity calculator which is already built right into these programs.


2. Poker Pot Odds


The next type of basic math that you should know is pot odds. You have probably heard this term before and it simply refers to the price that you are getting (or giving somebody else) to call.

Once again, a lot of people massively overthink this in poker. We don't need exact percentages. We don't have time for that in the fast paced environment of online poker anyways.

All you need to do is be able to roughly calculate the pot odds with some very simple addition and division.


How Do You Calculate the Pot Odds?

In order to calculate the pot odds all you need to do is look at the pot size and the current bet. You add them together and then divide by the bet.


Here is an example:

The pot is $4 and your opponent has bet $2.

4 + 2 = 6

6 / 2 = 3

Your pot odds in this situation are therefore 3 to 1. Now what does this number actually mean though you might be asking?

Well as mentioned it means that the price that you are getting on the pot is 3 to 1 (risking $2 in order to win $6). But in more practical terms this number is most useful when you compare it to your hand odds.

Your hand odds should always be equal to or better than your pot odds.

So therefore, in order to continue in this hand you should be at most a 3 to 1 dog to make the best hand. This means that you should have a minimum of 25% equity in the pot.


Pots Odds Versus Hand Odds
  • If your odds of making your hand are better than your pot odds, then you should definitely continue in the hand (this could mean calling or raising).
  • If your odds of making your hand are worse than your pot odds though, then you should either fold or possibly consider semi-bluff raising. Calling will not be mathematically profitable for you.
Although if you have the right implied odds, this is not always the case.


3. Poker Implied Odds


The last type of basic poker math that you need to know is implied odds. Implied odds are basically the money that you might stand to win in addition to what is currently in the pot, should you make your hand.

We must always remember that this is No Limit Hold'em, not Limit Hold'em. You should always be thinking about the stack sizes and what you could win if you manage to make your hand.

The classic case is when you have a small pair or some other speculative hand preflop versus a tight player who very likely has a strong hand like Aces or Kings. Your implied odds could be very high in a situation like this.


But this is only the case if two conditions are true:
  • Your opponent is likely to have trouble folding his/her hand
  • You and your opponent are both sufficiently deep stacked

    Now implied odds are not really something that you can calculate quite as easily as hand odds or pot odds. In fact most of the time I am just making a mental note of how much equity I have and how much I think that I can win if I hit my gin card.

    If the stacks are sufficiently deep and you think that your opponent will payoff like a slot machine when you hit, then there is nothing wrong with continuing on in the hand even though your hand odds are worse than your pot odds.


    Calculating Your Implied Odds

    Preflop, you can actually put a number on your implied odds when set-mining for instance. I like to have at least 15 to 1 on my call. By this I mean that my opponent has at least 15x the raise that I am calling left in his/her stack. This typically means about 50bb.

    The reason why I want so much is that even though I am only about 8.5 to 1 against to hit my set, I won't always get paid off.


    There are a few reasons for this:

    My opponent might only have two missed overs like AK on a 369 flop for instance. I probably won't be getting much out of him here unless he happens to hit his 6 outer on the turn or river. Even then, there is no guarantee that he goes broke with it.

    It is important to remember that even when a tight player raises there are a lot more combinations of hands like AK or AQ than there are of AA, KK, QQ or JJ.

    Secondly, even if my opponent does have a strong overpair, when I hit my set he might be good enough to fold it without losing too much. Not every reg these days goes broke just because they have Aces.

    And lastly, it is important to remember that even when we hit our set (or two pair etc.) we will still lose the hand on occasion when they catch a higher two pair, a higher set or a running flush.

    So for all of these reasons, when I am considering flatting preflop with a small pair or some other speculative hand, I typically want my opponent to have at least 50bb but preferably 100bb.

    If I am out of position I will want them to have even more stack behind, perhaps 75bb. This is because it is much more difficult to extract (i.e., win a big pot) when you have to act first on every single street.


    Final Thoughts


    So can you win at online poker without knowing any poker math? I suppose it is possible in some really soft micro stakes games but even then you would be giving up a lot of EV.

    Poker is a game that is based on mathematics and therefore you should definitely have a solid understanding of the basics (i.e., hand odds, pot odds and implied odds).

    But as you probably noticed above the actual math that is involved here is something that most 10 year olds could handle. And a lot of the odds and percentages can simply be put to memory so that eventually you don't really even need to think about them.

    I have talked about the overthinking and the over-complicating of the game that holds back so many people at the micros many times on this blog. Poker math is one of the biggest areas where this shows up.

    You don't need to be a math genius in order to beat the mostly beginner level players at stakes like NL2 and NL5 online. You don't need to be perfect when doing basic calculations like hand odds or pot odds either. If you are off by a few percent, it will make very little difference to your long term winrate.

    And the latest craze, applying game theory to these stakes is simply absurd and even potentially harmful for your winrate. You should be using an exploitative strategy, like I discuss in both of my books, against players who typically have massive leaks in their game.

    As I always suggest on this blog and everywhere, keep things as simple as possible at the micros and profit the most. This approach has always worked the best for me anyways.


    If you found this article helpful then do me a favor and "Like" or "Tweet" it below!

    Poker math for online poker