Monday, June 19, 2017

3 Mental Barriers That Are Holding You Back in Poker (and how to overcome them)

3 Mental Barriers That Are Holding You Back in Poker (and how to overcome them)

They say that fighting is 90% mental. Well then poker is about as close to 100% mental as you can get. Your success or failure is quite literally all in your head.

But for many poker players there are several mental barriers that hold them back from achieving the kind of success that they deserve in this game.

This is stuff like a lack of confidence in their abilities, putting higher stakes players on a pedestal and creating negative internal dialogue streams when the cards run bad on them.

And the reason that I can speak to these is because I have gone through each one of them myself. They are debilitating and if left unchecked they can sabotage your entire poker career.

So in this article I am going to provide you with some practical and actionable ways to start overcoming these 3 mental barriers that are holding you back at the poker tables.

1. Deep Confidence is Critical

Implementing your strategy at the poker tables (and ultimately turning a profit) is predicated on a deep sense of belief in your own abilities.

I simply do not know anybody who is a big winner, even at the lower stakes, who doesn't have a high opinion of their own poker skills.

Much like in other professional sports a healthy arrogance is actually a good thing. You should absolutely believe that you are the best player at the table each and every time that you sit down.

If you don't believe this, then find another table where you are!

Here's the thing. You probably know a lot more than you actually think about this game. At the lower stakes in particular, which I focus on in this blog, you will regularly encounter some of the worst poker players in the world.

Believe me when I say that your average player at stakes like NL2, NL5, NL10 (or $1/$2, $2/$5 live) is not very good. Even the so called "good regs" at these limits have massive and glaring leaks in their game.

In fact, they would get eaten alive in minutes if they stepped into any kind of a real poker game at higher limits.

So just by the fact that you are reading this blog tells me that you have more than a passing interest in getting better at poker. You may have read some books or watch training videos as well.

This means that you are probably far better than the majority of your competition at the lower stakes already. And yes, even if your results do not prove it yet.

It is always important to remember that it can take an insanely long time in poker for your true results to show themselves. Variance can be totally insane in this game.

I am talking 100k hands or more in some cases. This can amount to months of play online or even a year if you play live. Poker is the exact opposite of a get rich quick scheme.

But the only thing that is going to see your through it all is a rock solid belief in your own abilities. Keep putting in the hours studying poker and improving your game away from the tables.

However, also remember that your opponents at the lower stakes honestly aren't very good and you probably know a lot more about this game than most of them already.

Now go play like that and fear no one at these stakes!

2. High Stakes Pros Are Humans Too

Another mental barrier that a lot of lower stakes players have is putting higher stakes players on a pedestal and giving them an almost godlike status. As if they are super human geniuses or something.

Most sports out there require a lifetime of practice in order to be the best. They also require significant natural physical and mental talents as well.

It doesn't matter how many hours a day you shoot hoops, you probably aren't gonna learn how to nail a jump shot like Steph Curry any time soon. Similarly, no matter how much you work on your chess game, you probably aren't going to win a game against Magnus Carlsen...ever.

But in poker we see massive superstars come out of nowhere all the time in a much shorter period of time, often 5 years or less. And while they might have a little bit higher intelligence than the average person, they typically don't appear to be gifted in any major way.

Some recent names like Dan Colman and Fedor Holz are great examples of this. Both have won over 20 million dollars playing poker in just the past few years alone.
3 poker mental barriers
Dan Colman outlasted Daniel Negreanu to win the One Drop tournament for 15 Million Dollars
Image Courtesy: Las Vegas Review-Journal

Now yes, most if it came through big tournament wins. And did they run insanely good at many key moments along the way? Yes, and they wouldn't deny it themselves.

But both of these players are also often regarded by other pros as being some of the best players on the planet today. In other words, their luckbox helped them but their own skill level would have brought them significant success in this game on it's own.

There are countless other examples in the online poker world but the names and results are a lot less well known so I won't bother rattling them off here.

The real point here is that rising to the very top in poker does not require any kind of special godlike abilities. You can be the next huge name that everyone is talking about too if you want it bad enough.

While you should always be well bankrolled for any games that you are playing in, it is very important to aggressively take shots and move up the limits as well.

This is the only way to really get better. And you are going to have to learn how to beat the best in order to become the best anyways.

Dan Colman has stated in interviews on several occasions that he accelerated his learning big time by consistently challenging (and often losing against) some of the best heads up no limit players in the world online.

Secondly, if you want to reach the top in poker, then you need to fully devote yourself to it.
This means putting in way more hours to mastering this game than the average person is willing.

As I talked about in my recent 10 years as a poker pro post for my first several years all I did was eat, sleep and breathe this game. I literally did nothing else.

This is why I was able to create the kind of results at the lower limits that were well beyond what most people thought was possible.

In fact people used to ask me all the time at the poker tables if I even sleep or if I am some sort of a robot. I would usually reply in binary code "Affirmative, I Am Robot 01001101100."

But seriously, these were the best compliments that I could possibly receive. It meant that not only was I outworking everybody else but that people were actually noticing it too.

Put in mediocre effort and get mediocre results. Put in exceptional effort and get exceptional results.

3. Master Your Thoughts, Master the Game

Poker is a very simple game. In the long run everybody gets dealt the same amount of good hands and bad hands.

Anybody can play well when god-mode is activated. When you always have AA, a set or the nut straight everybody looks like a genius.

Real champions are made when you run your KK into AA for the 3rd time in a row, you get shown a higher flush once again and so on.

Most people create a series of negative inner thoughts when this kind of stuff happens. They convince themselves that it always happens to them, that they are cursed and the unluckiest poker player on earth.

You can see people ranting and raving about it on literally any poker forum or in any casino. This game can turn many otherwise completely rational and calm people into unhinged mouth-foaming crazies.

I know this because I have been driven to the edges of sanity by this game on countless occasions myself!

Something that you will eventually have to learn though is that this game doesn't care about your temper tantrums, your feelings and it doesn't owe you a thing either.

Each hand is an independent event and just because you have run your KK into AA 3 times in a row doesn't mean that it can't happen for the 4th time or even the 5th.

The odds of someone else having AA when you get KK are still the exact same every single time, around 3% at a 6 handed table and 4% in a full ring game.

It does not matter one bit what happened in previous hands. This is a new hand, and although it is extremely rare, that 3% or 4% chance will always be there.

The real point here though is that you cannot control any of this. If you play enough hands of poker then absolutely absurd statistical abnormalities will happen to you. The only thing that you can actually control is how you react to it.

Look, nobody is perfect. However, it is very important to constantly observe and monitor your inner thoughts at the poker tables when this happens.

Sit out an orbit or two if you need to and just passively and non-judgementally listen to what you are telling yourself. Eckhart Tolle suggests the exact same thing in one of my favorite books, The Power of Now.

If what you observe is a constant series of negative inner dialogue, then it is probably a good idea to step away from the poker tables and assess why it is that you are thinking like this.

Because this negative self talk often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for many people. Once they have convinced themselves that the whole world is conspiring against them, they start playing poorly, which creates bad results and only further reinforces their beliefs.

You can't possibly expect to achieve real success in poker until you learn to cut through all of the BS and start seeing the game in it's true form.

Each hand represents an opportunity for you to play your best poker. World class poker players don't let poor results in previous hands affect their play in the current hand.

Don't allow your own mind to sabotage your results in this game.

Final Thoughts

Poker is mental warfare. Those who consistently think better, tend to achieve better results. Most people put up all these mental barriers though that thwart their progress in a huge way. It is absolutely vital that you learn to free your mind from all of this nonsense that is holding you back.

Yes you are good enough to beat the lower limits at the very least. Yes you can even achieve phenomenal results in this game as well with the right amount of effort and a stronger will to succeed.

And finally, you can overcome the stream of negativity that destroys so many others in this game when the cards go bad on them.

You can learn to see each poker hand for what it is and stop poisoning your mind with negative inner self talk when the results don't go your way.

Because truthfully, no individual poker hand actually matters anyways. Neither does 10 hands, 100 hands or even 1000 hands.

We play this game for the longterm which means months, years and even decades of play. Only your results after this amount of time really matter.

Every time you sit down to play poker you have a choice about how you are going to react to all of the short term madness that can happen in this game. You can either let it bury you or make you stronger.

Let me know in the comments below what mental barriers hold you back at the poker tables. And make sure to grab a copy of my free poker ebook below for more on my complete strategy.

Lastly, if you found this article helpful, do me a quick favor and give it a "Like" or a "Tweet" below. Thanks!

Poker mental game mistakes

Sunday, June 4, 2017

10 Fatal Micro Limit Mistakes Standing Between You and Your First 1k Bankroll

micro stakes poker mistakes
Poker is not really that difficult of a game when you really break it down. This is especially the case at the micro stakes which have some of the worst players in the world.

So it is always a bit surprising to me why so many people have trouble beating even the very lowest limits online. By this I mean stakes like NL2, NL5 and NL10.

By the time you graduate from these limits you should be able to build up a 1k bankroll. This is a huge and important milestone that allows you to comfortably move up to higher stakes and start making some real money in this game.

I think the biggest reason why many people do not reach this level though is because of a few fundamental mistakes. They actually end up shooting themselves in the foot and sabotaging their own results in most cases.

So in this article I am going to discuss 10 fatal mistakes that I frequently see people making at the micros and how to fix them.

So let's get started!

1. Too Aggressive

5 or 10 years ago it used to be the exact opposite. Most people were way too passive. Now I regularly see people with stats at the lower limits that are frankly just way too aggressive.

By this I mean a 3Bet% of 10 or more, CBet% of 60% or 70% on all postflop streets and so on.

Basically what they have done is taken the totally true advice to "be aggressive" in poker overboard. Way, way overboard.

Sure, this kind of maniacal aggression is going to give you a spectacular red line. But having great non-showdown winnings is NOT the key to success at these stakes.

You can't run over a bunch of calling station regs and fun players. These players do not like to fold so your betting/raising range still needs to be for value a large amount of the time.

If you find yourself trying to win every pot at these stakes then you are very likely hurting your results in a big way. Patience and understanding when to give up is one of the biggest lessons to learn at the micros.

2. Play Machines

Many people these days also get far too wrapped up in trying to outplay the other regs, especially the aggressive ones that give them the most trouble.

This is a serious mistake because these are the players who are likely to be the most skilled. Therefore, even if you do manage to outplay them, your edge is going to be very small.

Put more precisely, these aren't the players who you make the money off of in this game. The bad regs and the recreational players will be where the large majority of your profits come from.

So don't be a play machine with the better regs. Yes, they can be annoying with their constant 3Bets etc. If they get on your direct left, just leave the table. There are so many other tables to choose from at these limits.

Keep your focus squarely on the players who you have a huge edge against, the bad regs and the recs in particular. Don't waste your time fighting ego wars with the best players at the table.

3. Shark Tank

And speaking of good poker players this is probably one of the biggest reasons why many people fail to ever get their first 1k bankroll and move up.

That is, they only play with the solid regs!

They neglect table selection so much that they almost always play in the worst games available at these limits. This is an absolutely fatal blow to your poker win-rate.

As I talk about all the time on this blog and elsewhere, game selection is arguably one of the most important keys to success in poker these days no matter what stakes that you play.

This means playing at the right poker sites and the right tables. It also means getting the right seat against the fun players as well (on their left).

Check out my comprehensive guide to game selection for much more on all of this.

4. Tilt Too Easily

Tilt is another huge mistake that hurts countless micro limit poker players. What I mean by this is that they allow routine variance to affect them more than it should. This translates into poor play at the poker tables.

They end up throwing away literally all of their profit by playing too many hands, making wild tilt inspired bluffs, and bad call downs every time the cards go sour on them.

One of the biggest differences between high stakes poker players and low stakes poker players really just comes down to the ability to control their emotions better in the heat of the moment.

Bad beats and coolers are going to happen in this game. And sometimes you will catch several in a row and this can even last for weeks or months sometimes.

If tilt is a major problem for you, it is important to create strategies to control your emotions better at the poker tables and set clear rules for when to quit if you are running terrible.

5. Missing Value Bets

Missing value bets (especially on the river) is an absolutely huge mistake and can literally be the difference between a winning and a losing poker player.

Like I mentioned before, many players at these stakes (even some regs) are calling stations. This means that they have a hard time folding anything. They are also often deeply suspicious that everyone is always bluffing them.

So you should of course be ramming and jamming your big hands down their throats like I talk about at length in my first book, Crushing the Microstakes.

But you should also be getting thin value with all sorts of other hands like:
  • Middle pair
  • Bottom pair
  • Ace high

Yes, you can even bet ace high for value on some boards against the fun players in particular and get paid off at these limits!

If you have any kind of a hand on the end, before hitting that check button always ask yourself if there is any way that this person can call you.

And maybe you only bet 30% of the pot. It doesn't have to be huge. In fact it should be small if you don't think that they have much of a hand.

These little value bets can add up in a huge way! Don't pass them over like so many others do at these stakes.

6. Playing Too Robotic

Poker is a game that is played between people. And no two poker tables are the same. Therefore, a different strategy is always required depending on who is seated there.

This is why following some chart or cookie cutter strategy for what hands to play, when to bet, raise etc. can only take you so far in this game.

As I will be discussing in much more detail in my forthcoming new book, you need to be creating custom ranges in all situations. Your preflop opening ranges are one of them.

What I mean by this is that you need to check what types of players are left to act before choosing which hands to raise with. There is a different strategy required if it is good regs, bad regs or recs.

Many people do not do this. So for instance they will steal way too much against the strong regs who in turn will simply 3Bet the crap out of them.

This is a huge waste of money that could have been avoided by recognizing who is left to act and increasing their open raise standards instead.

It is ok to play according to a set plan, charts etc. especially when you are first starting out in poker. It makes things much easier.

But if you want to take your game to the next level then you need to make sure that you are making adjustments based on who is actually seated at the table.

7. Rakeback and Bonuses

One of the primary ways that I used to grow my bankroll early on in my poker career was to take advantage of rakeback and deposit bonuses in particular.

Most people know that the rake is notoriously high at the micros in relation to your table winnings. This means that you should make sure that you are shopping around for the best rakeback and bonus deals.

Every site has a different system in place. Some sites offer high rakeback but you have to play a lot in order to get the real rewards. This is why it is important to read the fine print.

Bonuses can be even more helpful at these limits though. Many sites will offer first time deposit bonuses of $500, $1000 or even more.

Once again though, it is very important to check the fine print. Find out exactly what you need to do in order to clear it. Calculate how much you plan to play and at what stakes and then you can figure out if it works for you.

I have already made a list of not only some of the softest poker rooms on the internet but those which offer some of the best bonuses as well. You can find that here.

8. Missing the Great Play

If we are talking about pure poker strategy, then there is pretty much always one clear best play available in every situation. I call this the great play. 

Then there are a bunch of 2nd and 3rd best decisions available after this. The main difference between the biggest winners and everybody else is that they find (and make) the great play much more consistently.

The idea is this. In key situations at the poker tables you should consider the effectiveness of every option, not just the first one that comes to your mind.

Many newer players for instance will always re-raise preflop with a strong hand like QQ because they have the 3rd best hand in the game after all.

But while this is often the mathematically correct play, it is not always the great play. And what this ultimately means is that it is not the most profitable play.

Versus an opponent who folds to 3Bets way too much for instance, it is a better idea to just flat with a hand as strong as this. This is because there is much more long term expected value (EV) in seeing a flop versus a weaker hand than by just forcing them to fold preflop.

When important hands arise, always consider all of your options. Sometimes the best play is not always the obvious one.

9. Session Review

It is really vital that newer players in particular regularly review their poker sessions. Because how can you expect to learn from your mistakes if you don't even know what they are in the first place?

The great thing about modern tracking programs like Pokertracker or Hold'em Manager is that you can review all your hands and also filter for the exact profitability of any situation as well.

This means that you can drill down to a situation as specific as AK out of position facing a raise. You can then see if you are winning or losing in this spot. If you are losing, then you can review all hands in this spot and find ways to fix your leaks and improve.

During the early stages of my poker career this is how I made most of my progress. Not only did I review my key hands after each session, but if I felt like I was having trouble in a particular spot, then I would filter for it and analyze it until I found the answer.

10. Cashing Out Too Much

The last mistake that micro stakes players make is cashing out too much. I know because I used to do this way too much myself!

It really is pretty simple after all. How can you expect to grow your bankroll to one thousand dollars and beyond if you are taking out a couple hundred or more every few weeks?

The answer is that unless you are some kind of phenom who crushes the games beyond belief, you can't. You will constantly remain at the lower limits until you stop withdrawing from your bankroll so much.

This is why I always suggest separating your life bankroll from your poker bankroll. Unless you are a professional (which in most cases you shouldn't be at NL2, NL5 or NL10), then you should basically never touch your poker funds.

Once you get established at higher limits, then you can begin taking out small amounts to reward yourself or pay bills. But as long as you are at one of the bottom three limits, it is by far the best policy to simply never touch your bankroll and just let it grow.

Final Thoughts

Moving up the micro stakes ladder and beyond is not a walk in the park in today's games. But it isn't impossibly difficult either.

For most people though, they are actually their own worst enemies. That is, they continually make fundamental mistakes at the poker tables which prevent them from achieving the success which is easily within their grasp.

Hopefully a few of the ideas in this article will help you plug some of these leaks, make your first 1k at the micros, and move beyond!

Let me know in the comments below what you think are the biggest mistakes that low limit poker players make.

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

If you found this article helpful, do me a favor and give it a "Like" or a "Tweet" below. Thanks!

microstakes poker mistakes

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Best Time to Play Poker (A Data Driven Answer)

What is the best time to play poker?
A question that I get asked a lot is what is the best time to play poker. More specifically the right time of the day and the best days of the week.

And this is an important question because in my experience there definitely are certain times when the games are simply better (i.e. more fish). Therefore if you play more during these times, this will undoubtedly have a positive impact on your win-rate.

In this article I am going to tell you what the best times to play poker are as well as the top days of the week and months of the year as well.

1. Play More When Most People Play Poker

First things first in order to determine what the best hours of the day to play are, all you really have to do is look at where the majority of poker players come from.

It is just a simple fact that the more people who are online and playing poker, the better chance that you will have of finding the recreational players.

These are the people who play the game for fun, also called the fish. They don't really care about improving, they lose their money at lightning speed and they bankroll the entire industry.

If you want to know how to spot the fish easier make sure to check out my article on the top 5 signs of bad poker players. 

While people like to debate about which country has the worst poker players the truth is that you have good players and bad players in every part of the world. So your best bet to find more of the bad ones is to simply log on when most people are playing.

So where do most online poker players come from?

Well, since most poker sites are private companies and don't release this kind of data, it can be difficult to know for sure.

However, my website (the one that you are reading right now) receives a large amount of traffic from all over the world from people looking to improve their poker game at the micro stakes.

So by reviewing my Google Analytics data this gives a pretty good indication of where most online poker players come from.

Here is a snapshot of the top 10 countries to visit this website in the past year:

The right time to play poker

With the U.S., Canada and Brazil all in the top 5 this represents a significant chunk of poker players who all come from similar timezones. They also represent about 25% of my overall traffic.

However, the U.K. and European countries actually make up a substantially bigger portion of my overall traffic and the online poker industry as a whole these days.

In fact, if I had included the top 25 or top 50 traffic sources to this website you would see a lot more European timezone countries.

So what is missing from this list? Well that's easy, Asia. There is only one country in the top 10 (Australia) that is in the Asian timezones.

Since I live in Asia myself, I also know for a fact that online poker traffic is the absolute worst during the prime-time hours here. This is why I tend to play super early in the morning or very late at night.

So the key takeaway is this:

If you want to play online poker when there is the most traffic then I would suggest playing when it is late afternoon and evening in Europe. This is the best time to play.

Prime-time hours in the North American timezones are not quite as good but they are decent overall. Avoid prime-time hours in Asia, it's the nut low time to play poker.

2. Play Less on Weekdays, More on the Weekends

My second tip on the best times to play poker is to play more on the weekends. And seriously, it isn't even close.

The absolute worst thing you can do is sit down on a Monday or Tuesday and expect there to be tons of great action going on.

The reason why is simple. People aren't in a gambling mood on these days of the week. They are back at work, they are in "get stuff done" mode. They aren't kicking back, having a few, and trying their hand at a little online poker.

The weekends are a whole different story. I have literally made a career out of ditching my friends on many Friday and Saturday nights in order to chase the maniacs around. Often they will play deep into the night and the games can get very crazy.

I would not be surprised if my win-rate is at least a full point or two higher when playing on a Saturday night compared to a Monday morning.

So the key takeaway here is to try and play the most on the weekends if possible. This is when most people are off from work and playing online poker.

This is also when they are more likely to be in a gambling mood and therefore the action tends to be a lot better in both cash games and tournaments.

3. Play More During the Holidays and Start of the Year

Online poker also has reasonably well defined seasonal trends in regards to how many people are playing. There are good times of the year to play poker and not as good.

The best time of the year to play online poker in my experience is always during the holidays and the first couple months of the year. The data clearly supports this as well.

As PocketFives reports there is a 20% drop in online poker traffic during the summer months compared to the winter months.
What is the Best Time to Play Poker?
And the reasons for this are pretty simple. Most people playing online poker come from North America or Europe. The weather is typically pretty bad during the winter months so people are more likely to log onto a poker site and get their gamble on.

In the summer months though the weather is great in these countries. Being from Canada I know that you look forward to July, August and September in particular all year. The last thing most people want to do during these months is be cooped up indoors all day playing some card game.

The other thing that I have noticed is that the action tends to get a lot better around the holidays as well, particularly Christmas and New Years.

A lot of people have time off from work during these periods. They are also in spend money mode and they are in a festive mood and ready to gamble as well.

The early months of the year are when gyms around the world do some of their best business of the year. And the same is true for online poker.

The reason why is all the New Years resolutioners who have made their plans to start getting into shape or beating online poker.

So if you want to enjoy the highest amount of traffic and game selection in online poker the first few months of the year are also a great time to play more.

Final Thoughts

The best time to play poker is something that people have long debated. The truth though is that it will only have a marginal impact on your chances of success in poker.

In fact, if you play at the micros (NL50 and below online) where there are almost always plenty of tables available, it really doesn't matter that much when you choose to play. There are always good games going on.

Things like having the right strategy and knowing how to control your emotions when the cards turn against you are actually far more important to your poker results.

However, you can give yourself a small advantage by focusing more on playing poker at the right times. This is especially the case as you move up and play higher stakes where less games are running.

If you want to improve your chances of succeeding in poker even more, then you should also play at the right poker sites which have the most fish.

Let me know in the comments below what you think is the best time to play poker.

If you found this article helpful, do me a favor and give it a "Like" or a "Tweet" below. Thanks!

Best times to play poker

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Best Strategy For a Small Poker Bankroll

The best way to grow a small poker bankroll
Something that people ask me all the time is what to do with a small poker bankroll. They might only have $100, $50 or sometimes as little as $10!

Well first of all, I don't really recommend playing with a critically short bankroll like $10 or $20. However, I do understand that some people either cannot or do not want to deposit more.

Also some people might have gotten their micro sized bankroll by winning a freeroll and just want to see what they can do with it. I did something similar many years ago to start my poker career - I sold play money chips.

So in this article I am going to provide you with the best games and strategies to grow your small poker bankroll.

1. You Must Play Tight

First things first, with a tiny poker bankroll of $10 or $20 you are simply going to be short no matter what game type you choose or what limits you start at.

When I say short what I mean is that the size of your bankroll is inadequate for the games that you are playing in. In plain language this means that your risk of ruin (chances of losing it all) are much higher than if you were to use proper bankroll management.

So therefore, your hands are really tied in many ways no matter what you do.

The best way to make the best of this bad situation though is to play tight. And by tight I mean incredibly tight, like a complete nit!

I would only play extremely strong hands such as:

  • AA, KK, QQ, JJ, TT, 99, 88, 77, 66
  • AK, AQ, AJ
  • KQ, KJ

You get the idea. This will give you the best chance of getting your money in good and growing your bankroll.

If you choose to play all sorts of speculative hands like suited aces and suited connectors, you are essentially gambling with money that you cannot afford to lose.

2. You Must Be Very Selective About What Games You Play

Secondly, you are going to have to be very choosy about which games you decide to play in. I preach about the importance of table selection in today's games all the time on this blog.

Well, if you are on a critically low poker bankroll and don't want to lose it all, then you have no choice but to start heeding this advice.

When I say be selective about which games you play in, I mean that there is ALWAYS at least one fish seated at the table no matter what. If there isn't, then you leave.

What this does is ensure that there is always at least one soft spot at the table who is giving his money away. You will be able to regularly get in pots with them while having big advantage (odds in your favor) especially if you follow the advice above to play extremely tight.

Consistently getting your money in good is exactly what you need when you are on a small poker bankroll. You can't afford to play against good regulars all the time because they simply won't put themselves in positions where you have a huge advantage very often.

This means that the edges are a lot smaller and your variance (swings) will increase dramatically. These are two things that you need to avoid with a limited amount of poker funds.

One of the best ways to play against bad players on a consistent basis is to simply play at the softest poker rooms online.

3. You Should Play Cash Games or Sit And Go's

The next thing that you have to decide is which game type to play in, cash games, sit and go's or tournaments.

While this is largely a personal thing, and there are many pros and cons to each, on a small bankroll I would suggest playing either cash games or sit and go's.

In other words don't even think about playing tournaments!

The reason why cash games and sit and go's are preferable is because they have relatively low variance compared to tournaments.

What I mean by this is that you will "book a win" much more often in them. This is exactly the kind of thing that you need when your poker funds are in short supply.

Furthermore, it is much easier to table select and only play against bad players in cash games or sit and go's. In large tournaments you are at the mercy of whatever table you get randomly seated at.

4. You Should Play at the Very Lowest Stakes

This should almost go without saying but when you are on a short poker bankroll, then it is imperative that you play at the very lowest stakes offered.

Most online poker sites have cash games and sit and go's with buyins as low as $1. If your bankroll is $20, then this gives you a reasonable chance at overcoming basic variance and building up your bankroll.

Even though I would never suggest this normally, if you have limited poker funds I would recommend buying in for the minimum on the cash game tables. This will help protect your fledgling bankroll and give you more chances to succeed.

With limited funds I would also suggest leaving when you double up. When your poker bankroll is at such low levels, you never want to be playing deep stacked if you don't have to.

Most online poker sites have a large number of tables to choose from at the micro stakes. Once you manage to double up your initial buyin, leave the table and go join another one.

5. You Should Slowly Build Your Bankroll

Everybody has to start somewhere in poker. For me that was $60 from selling play money chips. I took that to the very lowest stakes cash games, 1c/2c blinds, and very slowly climbed up the limits.

From this tiny initial amount I have since made over 6 figures playing this game and even turned it into a full time career as I talked about in my last blog post.

So even though a micro sized bankroll is by no means ideal, it is workable if you are ready to start from the bottom and take it very slow.

Most people make the mistake of catching a few winning sessions and then immediately raising the stakes. This is a serious mistake because it was probably just variance that made them win in the first place.

You should stay at the very lowest stakes until you are well bankrolled for the next limit which means at least 30 buyins. So for instance, the next stake for cash games on a lot of poker sites after 1c/2c is 2c/5c.

You should have at least 30 full buyins (a full buyin means 100 big blinds) for this game before you even think about playing it. This means $150 in your bankroll ($5 x 30 = $150).

It is imperative that if you manage to survive and grow your bankroll, that you don't make the same mistake again by playing short at the next limit.

Final Thoughts

Playing on a small poker bankroll is never an ideal situation to be in no matter what stakes or game type you choose. This is why the best thing that you can do is simply deposit a proper amount to begin with.

But I understand that this is not an option for everybody and I myself started in a similar situation.

You can help your chances considerably though by playing very tight, being extremely selective about which games you join, playing cash games or sit and go's and starting at the very lowest stakes.

If you manage to survive the early going then the sky is the limit as to where you can go. Just remember to take it slow and use good bankroll management at all times in the future.

If you want to learn the strategies that I used to grow $60 into a massive poker bankroll and career, make sure to pick up a copy of my free ebook.

Let me know your thoughts on playing with a limited poker bankroll in the comments below.

If you found this article helpful, do me a favor and give it a "Like" or a "Tweet" below. Thanks!

The best strategy for a small poker bankroll

Monday, May 1, 2017

10 Years as a Poker Pro: This is What I Have Learned

10 year poker pro this is what I have learned
On a cold morning in April of 2007 I walked into an office building in Vancouver, Canada and told my boss that I was done. I was tired of being overworked and underpaid.

Even though I was a recent college graduate I was working long hours in a small company for a laughably low salary.

But more importantly I was spending all of my energy in life to help build somebody else's dream. To build their company, their business.

I promised myself never again.

I knew that the only way I was ever going to become successful, free and ultimately happy in life is if I found a way to work for myself.

Fortunately I had been playing online poker for awhile by that point. In fact, in the previous year I had rapidly climbed up the lower limits and built a low 5 figure bankroll.

On most days I would come home after working all day, play poker for a few hours online, and make twice what I made all day at my soul sucking job.

I also had about 6 months living expenses saved up in the bank. So the decision to quit my job and become a full time poker pro was actually a pretty simple one in my mind.

My friends (college educated and open minded) were mostly encouraging but I don't think they really understood it still. Game of luck right?

On the other hand, some members of my conservative Christian family actually told me that I was throwing my life away and that I should "go get help" instead.

Yikes. Talk about harsh!

Even though I knew it was just ignorance, these words lit a fire under me to succeed in this game more than anything else on earth. 

Ten year poker pro lessons I have learned

As I type this in April of 2017 I have just surpassed 10 years in this game, much of it as a full time professional poker player. I am known for having some of the highest winnings in the history of online poker at the lower limits.

In recent years I have also developed a large side business teaching the game as a multiple time author, video producer, coach, blogger and freelance writer for some of the biggest poker sites in the world.

And lastly, it was exactly 5 years ago that I made the arguably even crazier decision to sell everything that I own and hop on a 17 hour one way flight from Vancouver to Bangkok, Thailand.

In this article I am going to discuss 10 of the biggest poker and life lessons that I have learned during the past decade as an online poker pro and citizen of the world.

1. Treat Poker Like a Business

One of the first things I had to learn was that if I was ever going to really make it in this game, then I had to stop screwing around.

This meant that I had to stop playing whenever "I feel like it," playing while drinking, tilted, tired and so on.

In short, I had to learn how to approach this game like a professional would. Which really means to treat this game as if I am running a business.

Because as a professional poker player you are essentially the CEO of a small business. You alone are responsible for all decisions. And you alone are also responsible for all of your profits and all of your losses as well.

So I had to develop a "sink or swim" mentality because I knew that nobody was going to be there to hold my hand when things go horribly wrong at the poker tables for weeks or even months on end.

And my bills won't get paid just because I show up like at a regular job either. I simply had to win. I had to succeed. Losing was not an option.

This is the kind of pressure that comes when you turn this game from a hobby into a job. And you can't truly know what it is like until you take the plunge for yourself.

You can either thrive under this kind of pressure or let it bury you. I knew which path I was going to take.

So I got a consistent playing schedule which basically meant every waking moment of my life for the first several years. And I made time for regular study as well.

As they might say, I was completely "all-in" with poker. My entire life revolved around it for years.

I also made sure that I was always ready to play my A-game every time I sat down. This meant regular exercise as well as eating and sleeping right.

But perhaps most important of all, this is also when I learned how to finally deal with some of my tilt problems. Specifically, I learned how to quit when I knew that it just wasn't my day.

Because after all, as a pro I didn't have the luxury to get all frustrated and throw away a bunch of money like most people do.

I had bills to pay.

2. Don't Get Too High And Don't Get Too Low

Being Canadian I am naturally a huge ice hockey fan and I have played the game for most of my life as well.

In order to win the sport's ultimate prize, the Stanley Cup, you have to endure a two month long mentally and physically exhausting playoff grind.

A common cliche that you often hear players say is:

"Don't get too high when you win and don't get too low when you lose."

I think this is an incredibly important lesson to learn for poker as well. This is because the nature of the game is that you are on a never-ending rollercoaster.

It doesn't matter if your name is Phil Ivey or Daniel Negreanu, you are going to have losing days, weeks and sometimes even losing months in this crazy game.

But you will also win huge sometimes as well for extended periods. I will never forget when I won my first tournament or hit my first massive heater at the cash game tables for instance.

It is very important that you learn to take it all in stride though. Because neither the huge heaters nor the massive downswings are real.

These are the outliers. They are not normal. You aren't that good and you aren't that bad. This is just variance running it's course.

Don't get too high when the money is falling out of the sky and don't get too low when you can't win a hand to save your life.

3. Always Be Evolving

The game of poker (both online and live) is always changing. When I first started playing 10+ years ago a 3Bet literally meant AA or KK only. Crazy right?

After that came the 3Bet light era. Then came the 4Bet light era.

You were called a "donkey" 10 years ago if you called too much. These days most good players know that calling down wide is actually the correct play versus many highly aggressive regs.

What I learned in 10 years as a professional poker player

You have to constantly evolve in this game and stay on top of the way that it is currently being played in order to succeed.

Here is an example:

Many, many years ago I started experimenting with 8x and 10x preflop raise amounts with my premium hands at the lower limits online.

I noticed that the traditional advice to make it 3x was getting way too many callers. So I went against the advice of everybody at the time and started doing it my way instead.

Nobody seemed to have any clue what I was doing for years. And this strategy helped me create some of the highest winrates ever recorded in these games.

But then very slowly people started figuring it out. Then I also wrote a book which details exactly how and when to do these over-raises.

Suffice it to say, before too long every NL2 and NL5 reg was using my strategy and it therefore became ineffective.

So now I basically never do these over-raises anymore and I also made edits in the book several years ago as well. The times have changed and different preflop raising strategies are now more effective at the micros.

This is a perfect example of why you need to always be evolving.

The great thing about poker though is that there is always a counter to every strategy. If you are constantly on top of the latest trends, or better yet inventing them, then the money will always keep flowing in.

This is why I have been such a big proponent of studying the game in Pokertracker over the years. This is where I am constantly researching my opponents and finding the best strategies to beat them.

4. Information is Key

I was that guy who refused to use a HUD (heads up display) for the longest time. In fact, I played the first 4 million hands of my poker career without using one!

If you play at the micros where there are thousands and thousands of different players and you multi-table at all, it is simply -EV to not have data on them available.

The benefits of using a HUD at the lower stakes online are too numerous to name here. You are simply using the data that you already have to help you make better decisions in real time and therefore increase your win-rate.

You won't have to try and mentally keep track of hundreds or thousands of different players spread across multiple tables and sites anymore.

This is not even to mention the ability to study my own game (and that of my opponents as well). And also to run filters and check the profitability of any play.

This is exactly what I mean when I talk about "studying poker." This is how I have come up with many of the strategies that I have used over the years to crush my opposition at the micros.

If you need help setting up your HUD, the most popular article in the history of my website covers this topic in massive detail. You can even download my custom HUD for free and use it yourself.

You can find it all here.

Bottom line: If you take online poker seriously, information is your friend. Use a HUD.

5. Time Management is Essential

When you first start to truly work for yourself it is an incredible feeling. The world is yours. The freedom seems endless!

But this can be a dangerous thing as well.

When there is suddenly no boss hanging over you telling you what to do, it can become very easy to get lazy, procrastinate and put off getting work done.

If you ever plan to set up your own business (poker or otherwise), then you need to develop a work ethic that comes from within. You need to learn how to act like a professional even when there is nobody there to tell you to.

How to be a professional poker player

Most poker players who I know play every single day. You heard that right: they don't take days off.

After all the games run 24/7, 365. You don't need to stop for some artificial "weekend" like in a regular job. In fact often the best poker games to play in are on the weekends!

I don't exactly play every minute of every day like I used to. Between this website, other projects and traveling my time is much more limited.

But in my first several years cutting my teeth as a pro in this game, I basically did very little else besides play poker. And the biggest key to my work ethic was time management.

The internet is the largest marketplace in human history with opportunities to succeed everywhere online (poker is just one way). Yet most people spend their time watching cat videos on Youtube or arguing about politics on Facebook!

I learned very early on that I had to manage my time better if I was going to succeed in poker.

Things like social media, forums, reddit, youtube and so on are simply not helping me achieve my goals online. Therefore, I place a very low priority on them. I will spend 5 or 10 minutes at the very end of the day on them if I have time.

It is very important that if you are chasing any kind of a dream that you learn how to prioritize your time. Focus on taking massive action on the things that actually move the needle towards achieving your goals.

6. No Such Thing as a "Standard Play"

Show me somebody who makes the "standard play" all the time and I will show you a breakeven poker player or a small winner at best.

Elite winners, the people who truly crush the games, don't blindly follow the advice to make X, Y or Z play because...everybody else does it.

Trying to copy the strategy that every other mediocre poker player out there uses is the surest way to get the exact same results as them.

On the contrary, every big winner that I know challenges the conventional wisdom at every opportunity. They are always considering if there is a better way to play each hand.

This doesn't mean that they don't ultimately decide that the conventional wisdom was in fact the right play all along. A lot of the time it actually is!

But they test the validity of each play first in order to know for sure almost like a scientist would.

I have done this for years with in depth database reviews and split testing in Pokertracker. I put every assertion to the test. The raw data over a large sample never lies.

A perfect example of this many years ago that I will never forget was from a well known mid-stakes cash game player on Stars who went by the name "Kelisitaan."

He challenged the common wisdom of the time that your opening raise had to be around 3x (just like I did at the lower stakes).

He played an incredibly LAG style and decided that a mini-raise open (from any position) would actually suit his play style better. I remember him being ridiculed for it and called a fish non-stop.

But once these games were tracked people started to realize that he was actually one of the biggest winners of all-time in them. Clearly his "fishy" strategy was working out pretty well!

Just like in my case, they all started copying his strategy eventually and now the mini-raise open is the new "standard play" in most mid and high stakes cash games.

7. Change Everything

This might sound crazy but one of the best things that I ever did for my poker career was to change everything and move halfway around the world.

The reason why is that nothing forces you to act like a professional faster than being completely on your own in a totally foreign environment.

When success is your only option, you are much more likely to stop making excuses and simply go make it happen. After all it is very, very simple: win or go home.

And when you get used to living in paradise, the latter doesn't seem like such a great idea.

Poker Pros in Thailand
Me recently in Koh Samui, Thailand

Another thing is that there are thousands of other poker and non-poker online professionals out here in a place like Southeast Asia who are in the exact same position.

This makes it much easier to make friends with other highly driven and successful people. When you surround yourself with the right people, this tends to have a positive impact on your results as well.

In fact last year I actually interviewed two friends of mine who I met here in Thailand. Both are highly successful online poker pros. You can find those interviews here and here.

Lastly, playing poker professionally (or even doing business online) removes the need to be in one physical location. All you really need is a laptop and an internet connection.

So assuming you come from a Western country, this means that you can set up shop in any number of countries around the world that have a much lower cost of living and often better weather as well.

When you suddenly only need a fraction of the income to live the exact same quality of life, this makes it a lot easier to make it as a poker player or build your business online.

Example: Renting an apartment in London, England versus Saigon, Vietnam (source)

Making it as as poker pro online poker

8. Invest in Yourself: Travel

There really is so much more to it than just physically changing your surroundings and living cheaper though.

While it might sound cliche to say, one of the best things that I ever did in my life was to leave my tiny little bubble in Vancouver and go see the world.

And yes, the only regret I have is that I did not do it earlier!

Travel is essential in my opinion. It opens up your mind. It is exhilarating. It is scary. It forces you to grow as a person. And it gives you a much broader and deeper perspective on this world that we live in.

If you can fund it through poker or some other online business, awesome. But had I known the benefits of travel at an earlier age, I would have gladly gone into debt to finance it.

"The world is a book, and those who do not travel only read one page"

       -- St. Augustine

Poker pro travel the world
Working from the highest point in Seoul, South Korea

Professional poker and travel
Boracay, The Philippines aka absolute paradise

Lessons learned in ten years as a poker pro
The ancient ruins of Sukhothai, Thailand

At the end of your life experiences such as travel are what you are truly going to remember. In fact it has been proven again and again that people who spend money on experiences instead of things are a lot happier overall.

I don't travel non-stop like some people do. I need somewhere to call home sometimes. This is why I usually spend at least 6 months a year in Thailand where I have a long term condo, gym membership, plenty of friends etc.

But I also make sure to take off and explore some new destinations for at least a few months every year as well. It is always awesome and I never regret it.

Already got plans for Australia and New Zealand later this year!

Check out my massive article on poker and travel to find out how I utilize the power of technology, Airbnb and cheap airlines in order to see the world and keep my costs down.

9. Don't Be a Hero: Get the Easy Money

One of the very biggest reasons why I have been able to make it 10 years as a poker pro is this:

I only play in good games.

As a professional poker player my goal at the tables is very clear and unambiguous: make money and pay the bills.

The easiest way to do this (by far) is to consistently play against bad poker players.

These are the players who make huge fundamental mistakes and ultimately give away their money in the long run. They are where the "easy money" is at in this game.

So for this reason I am a huge advocate of game selection.

For starters, I only play at soft poker sites. But furthermore, I also make sure that there is always at least one fish (VPIP = 40%+) in any game that I choose to play in. And once they manage to bust, I am out of there.

Many people choose to ignore this critical skill in today's games and battle it out in tough lineups instead. There is simply no strategy on earth that can allow you to "crush" these games. Your opponents just aren't making enough mistakes for this to ever happen.

To be fair, some people don't want to put in the effort of having money on a bunch of different sites, constantly scouting and moving to different tables, chasing fish around and so on.

They just want to sit down and play. I get that and I totally understand it as well.

As a professional though, I know that I have to be better than that. This approach simply does not cut it if you want to win big in today's games.

Game selection is simply part of the job.

10. Poker's End Boss: Variance

The biggest obstacle that I had to overcome in order to make it as a poker pro was variance. This essentially refers to the endless ups and downs that happen all of the time as long as you choose to play this game.

Getting past basic variance (i.e. getting your "true" results) in poker typically requires months of play or hundreds of thousands of hands.

I have even seen a few cases where somebody ran significantly below or above EV over a million hand sample. Who knows how far the rabbit hole can really go!

Here's the thing:

Playing insane amounts of poker for over a decade now has taught me that completely unbelievably shit will happen in this game and it can continue for days, weeks or even months on end.

Being a professional poker player
In fact, there have been many times in my poker career where I literally just had to suspend all logic and simply trust in the fact that I apparently used to be a winning poker player.

Sometimes I would actually just pin my graphs on the wall or use them as my desktop wallpaper just to remind myself of a previous reality when I used to win at poker.

This game simply won't even seem real at times and you have to be willing to keep getting up again and again and making the same good decisions even when the results continue to be terrible.

Downswings in today's games at the lower limits of 50k, 100k or even 200k hands are not only possible but they are also now completely normal as well.

When 5bb/100 or 10bb/100 is often what is considered the absolute best win-rate possible in many small stakes games these days, this is just the simple math.

There have been countless poker players, even potentially great ones, who have cracked under the mighty pressure of variance. I would be lying if I said that I haven't been close to throwing in the towel completely several times over the years myself.

Overcoming variance (downswings specifically) is without a doubt the hardest psychological hurdle to get past in this game. Variance is truly poker's end boss.

Poker pro for ten years

In no other job that I know of can you show up each day, work hard, do all the right things, and go home with a negative paycheck for sometimes weeks or even months on end.

Sorry to tell you but even after 10 years in this game, I definitely don't have all the answers. I haven't figured it all out.

But I do think that massive amounts of experience playing this game has allowed me to find a bit more perspective in the constant ups and downs.

I am less likely to lose my mind over a few bad beats like some newer players will for instance. Also, I feel like I am much better now at recognizing the signs of tilt and simply quitting before any real damage can be done.

You overcome variance in this game by continuing to make the right decisions again and again and again over a very long period of time.

This is how winning is done. There is no magical way around it.

Final Thoughts

It is difficult to sum up 10 years in this crazy game in a short article. I really could have written another entire book about it.

Poker has taught me so much about life and about people. It has taught me how to grow up and be a man, persevere no matter what and learn how to take criticism in stride.

I never planned to go down this path and I could still easily be somewhere completely different in 10 years from now. But ultimately the decision to pursue this game professionally was a very good one for me overall.

Most importantly it has allowed me to work for myself and create both time and location freedom, two things which I think are more important than anything else on earth.

With all of that said, I do want to make it very clear that this article was only about my personal experience in this game.

Poker is a lot tougher these days than when I first started. And even under the best of conditions most people do not win in this game over the short term, let alone for 10 years.

After all, if being a professional poker player were so easy, everybody would be doing it. The truth is that it is one of the most stressful and demanding jobs that you possibly do at times.

But I am not here to crush anyone's dreams either. If you have a deep passion for this game, and you are ready to put in the work, then there is no reason why you can't achieve your version of success with it.

Whatever your goals are in poker, I wish you the best. And if you made it this far I just want to say thanks for reading my story.

And above all, thank you so much for all of the incredible support and encouragement from my longtime readers on here. I could have never achieved this milestone without you.

Lastly, if you are new here, make sure to pick up a copy of my free poker ebook Massive Profit at the Micros to learn more about my poker story over the last 10 years and the strategies that I use to crush the micros.

*Let me know in the comments below what your journey in poker has been like so far.

**This post took a very long time to write. If you found it helpful or inspiring in any way, please consider giving it a "Like" or a "Tweet" below. Thanks!

10 years as a poker and what I have learned