Sunday, July 5, 2015

15 Mental Tips That Will Double Your Results at the Micros

15 Mental Tips That Will Double Your Results at the Micros
I say it all the time on this blog and elsewhere. Your results at the micros are largely based around how you think. The truth is that most players at these stakes are just starting out at poker and aren't very good yet.

A very simple TAG strategy plus a little bit of table selection and tilt control is easily enough to still get big results in today's games especially at the lowest stakes.

But most people defeat themselves mentally before they ever get a chance to see the success that is easily within their grasp. In this article I am going to list 15 mental tips for the micros that will get your thinking like the top winners do.

1. Embrace the Madness!


I used to tell people with a straight face that I have probably taken more bad beats than anyone in the history of poker. I don't think that this is true anymore. But the reason that I was able to make this outrageous claim was because at the time I had probably played more hands of poker at the lowest stakes than any one else in history.

You know, the stakes where you see some of the wackiest stuff on earth all the time.
  • Chase that gutshot!
  • Flush draw or straight draw? We be calling the whole way!
  • Middle pair? Bottom Pair? You crazy!? I can't fold that!
When this is the mentality of half the players that you are up against it should not be any surprise that you are going to take all kinds of crazy bad beats. It's just simple math.

However, at the same time, this is also the reason why the top winners at these stakes are able to sport such ludicrously high win rates. The math works the other way too. You see, most of the time when your opponents are chasing their ridiculous draws, they actually miss.

Our brains are hard-wired though to only focus on the few times that they hit. We conveniently forget about all of the times when our opponent ends up whiffing on whatever nonsense they were chasing and we end up winning the pot.

Yes, these kinds of players can be extremely frustrating to play against at times. But this is precisely why the micros are so profitable! You have to simply learn to embrace the madness.

2. The Money Doesn't Really Matter


One of the great things about the micros is that if you have a bad day then you lose a few movie tickets or a nice dinner for two. At high stakes if you have a bad day then you could lose a luxury vacation, a car or even a house.

The money doesn't really matter to most people at the micros. Everybody hates to lose but is it really worth losing your mind over $20? How about $50?

You are going to have losing days in poker. It doesn't matter how good you are. The sooner that you start distancing yourself from viewing the chips as "money", the better off that you will be. And at the micros, this is extremely easy, because the amounts involved are often trivial.

But more importantly, and no matter what limit you are playing, you should learn to view the chips for what they really are, big blinds or simply capital in your business. They are just a convenient way of keeping score like points in a video game.

When you put them back into your bank account, then you can start thinking about them as actual money again.

3. Setbacks Will Happen


Everybody has to deal with downswings in poker. This is basically a period during which you are consistently not making good hands and you are getting coolered and taking bad beats much more often than normal.

There is no rhyme or reason behind when a downswing occurs. The same goes for their length and intensity.

Unfortunately there are many people out there who could have been great players but they faced a period of intense bad luck at the very beginning of their poker career and it was too much for them to handle. This is especially difficult because they had no experience in dealing with it.

On the flip side, how many times have we heard about the high stakes players of today who hit a huge heater to start their career? A huge HU session versus some particular fish. Or they got lucky and hit a big score in a tournament to jump start their bankroll.

Variance (both good and bad) happens to everybody and there is no telling when it will occur. There is a never a good time for a downswing and we will always feel like the heater is simply something that we are owed.

It is better to just stop thinking about it so much. The randomness of variance in poker is never something that will be in your control.

4. Don't Pay Attention to Your EV Adjusted Winnings


Poker tracking programs such as Pokertracker 4 and Hold'em Manager 2 include a little stat called "EV adjusted winnings". This is basically supposed to tell you what your results would be if you had "normal luck".

There are so many problems with this idea that I don't even know where to begin. However, I don't want to get off on a tangent here.

The bottom line (and why I suggest that you remove this stat completely) is that it will never do anything good for your mentality at the tables. In fact it will only ever produce negative thoughts.

The reason why is that if the EV results are higher than your actual results, then you will use this as proof that you are cursed, it must be rigged etc. If the EV results are lower than your actual results though, then you will feel like you are just getting lucky and reality will eventually come crashing down.

Do yourself a favor and don't pay any attention to this stat at all. The only thing that actually matters are your real results.

5. You Have to Build the Pot For Them


Most micro stakes players are passive. That is, they don't really like to make aggressive actions unless they have a really strong hand. They would rather just limp along or call unless they have the nuts.

This is not the key to winning poker. But it is the Friday night home game mentality that most of us grew up with. And it is also the style of play that we often see in Hollywood depictions of the game.

So this leads many players at the micros into thinking that they have to slow-play their big hands. After all, they don't want to "scare them off" by betting too much!

The reality though is that many micro stakes players love to call if they have anything remotely decent. This is why you are doing yourself a huge disservice by not betting your good hands. I basically wrote an entire book about this very topic.

The biggest mental hurdle here is once again short-sighted thinking. It is focusing too much attention on the times that they folded and conveniently forgetting about all of the times when they called.

The key to changing this mentality is understanding that most of the time when they fold it is because they simply had nothing. There is no amount of slow-playing in the world that you can do to make somebody call when they have 7 high, no draw.

Micro stakes players love to call a lot. But they are not going to call you with two napkins! They have to have something. 

Most of the time in this game nobody really has anything good. So the next time you have aces, make a bet, they fold and you curse BlackRain79 for it please remember this:

You did the right thing. You didn't "scare them out". They just didn't have anything to pay you off with this time.

6. Just Play the Game


I learned how to win big at the micros largely by just playing the game. When I started playing online poker 10 years ago there were no websites like the one that you are reading right now, there were no modern books on the game, training video sites were not invented yet and forums were in their infancy.

So I basically just dove in and started playing millions and millions of hands. With a lot of self-study as well (poker session reviews and database reviews) I eventually learned from my mistakes and became a top winner.

Fast forward to today and I get emails from people telling me that they play NL2 and have been studying GTO poker math for a year. This is simply crazy.

Studying the game is not a bad thing, don't get me wrong. But as mentioned before, all you really need to beat the micros (especially the lower end) is a simple TAG strategy and the right mental approach.

You don't need to spend years studying complex poker math and high level game theory in order to beat NL2 or even NL25. You just need to log on to [poker site name here], find some fish and start playing the game.

7. There is No Such Thing as a Crying Call


One of the biggest breakthroughs that I ever had at the micros was when I learned where the fold button is.

So many people at these stakes will call down no matter what because "they have to". Because if he has it, "then it is just a cooler". No and no.

You don't have to do anything in poker and there is no such thing as a crying call, only a bad call.

If a passive opponent is getting aggressive especially on the later streets (turn and river), then it is very likely that they have exactly what they are representing. You can go ahead and call and keep getting shown the nuts.

Or, you can choose to change this way of thinking and make the "sick fold". The truth is that these folds will no longer seem sick to you once you get used to making them on a regular basis. And your win rate will love you for it.

8. AA and KK are Just One Pair


One of the most common reasons that micro stakes players cannot make the fold is because they get married to a big pair. When people complain about running bad one of the first things that they usually mention is how their aces got cracked [insert number of times in a row here].

A lot of people seem to think that just because they got dealt AA or KK that they have a license to print money. That is faulty thinking.

These two hands in particular are indeed the two best starting hands in the game. And yes they don't come around very often (about 220 to 1).

However, they are also just one pair. It is very important to remember this.

At the micros, where you are often dealing with large multi-way pots, your actual equity before seeing the flop could sometimes even be less than 50%.

15 Mental Tips That Will Double Your Results at the Micros
Equity with AA before the flop versus a couple random suited hands
Once again, if a passive player starts going nuts against you (especially on the turn or the river) your pocket rockets or your cowboys are probably dead in the water. Fold and thank me later.

9. Nobody Gets Rich at the Micros


I have written a few articles before on this blog about how much money you can make at the micros (this one for instance). These have now actually become some of the most popular posts in the history of this website.

This just goes to show how many people suffer from results oriented thinking. This is exactly the sort of thing that I actually tried to warn against in both of those articles!

Nobody gets rich at the micros.

The micros are where you should be focused on getting a solid grasp of the fundamentals and starting to think about how to outplay a few of the better thinking regs. They are not a place to plan your future retirement. They are not really a place where you should even be thinking about making a living.

If your expenses are extremely low though and you live in a country with a low cost of living then many people have and will continue to "go pro" at these stakes. I did it so I would be a hypocrite to blame others for doing the same.

But this should not be your primary motivation. If your main reason for getting into poker is to make money then your time would likely be better spent elsewhere.

The money does not come fast or easy in this game. Play poker because you love it. Work hard, study hard, and then and only then, will the money start to come.

10. Embrace the Grind


As mentioned success in poker does not come fast. In today's games it often takes most people a couple of years to start making really decent money. This is if you want to use proper bankroll management and learn the game the right way.

You will have many unsuccessful attempts at moving up along the way which will force you to move back down and grind back what you lost as well. It's boring, it sucks and there is definitely no get rich quick scheme here.

The real key to success and moving up the limits is a consistent work ethic. Most people operate better with a set schedule in place. So you should have specific times each day when you sit down and play. If you want to take a day or two off a week then that is up to you.

However, if climbing up the ranks and making some real money in this game is something that is a priority for you then you should ideally make some time to play every single day.

11. Don't Listen to the Know-It-Alls


You will see them at the tables. Turn the chat off. You will see them on the forums. Limit your time on forums. These are the people who think they know everything there is to know about the game and if you don't play "the right way" according to them, then they will let you know about it.

Pay them no attention. You need to develop your own style of play at the tables within a TAG or a LAG framework.

There are many ways to skin a cat at the micros. There is no correct CBet% or 3Bet% for instance. You will see big winners with widely varying ranges on both of these stats at all levels of the micros.

Simply put, do what works for you at the tables and don't listen to anybody who has a problem with it. There have been countless cases of successful innovators in poker who the know-it-alls made fun of. Within a few years they were copying them.

Results are the only thing that matters.

12. Play the Cards, Not the Player


While timing tells and betting patterns do exist in online poker for the most part you should just focus on playing your own cards especially at the lowest stakes. Most of your opponents are not thinking on any kind of deeper level and many of the regs are playing on a lot of tables at once.

When they fight back they aren't picking on you out of the blue. And when you can't get them to fold it is usually because they have something decent. Don't resort to FPS (fancy play syndrome) and try to emulate your favorite TV poker hero.

Your 9th level thinking will not work against a nitty 12 tabling reg at NL5. Nor will it work against a recreational player who won't fold bottom pair to save his life. They will just call you down anyways and you will become even more tilted.

Keep things simple at these stakes. Save the fancy stuff for higher limits.

13. Learn to Quit


One of the best things that you can do immediately for your win rate at the micros is to learn to recognize the signs of tilt and quit right away.

You have to learn to remove your ego and accept when it is simply not your day. Many people bury themselves in this game by continuing to play and chase losses while playing their C, D or F game.

This is something that took me an incredibly long time to learn and it might for you as well if you are an extremely competitive person.

But you have to remember that the game will always be there tomorrow. Your goal should always be to make sure that you are on your A game as much of the time as possible when at the tables.

So this is why the reverse is also true. Learn how to extend your sessions when things are going well and you are on top of your game. Don't get into the "protect your winnings" mentality because that is just as much of an illusion.

Make playing your best at all times your goal and the results will follow.

14. Focus on Hands Played and Rakeback Goals


If you look back through the crazy history of this blog for many years all I posted was how many hands I played that day along with my goals for the month and rakeback.

I realized that I cannot control the crazy variance that comes with this game on a day to day, week to week or even month to month level.

This is why I choose instead to focus on numbers and data which I do have control over. If I want to play 100k hands in a month then I can calculate how many hands a day that I have to play in order to achieve that goal.

The same goes for rakeback which is basically money at the end of the day. If you want to achieve a rakeback goal then find out what it takes to get there and go make it happen.

Don't waste your time focusing on what you don't control, monetary goals. Sometimes you will be pleasantly surprised. Sometimes you will be disappointed. There is no point in stressing over it.

15. Have Fun


We all started playing poker for fun. Well, most of us anyways. It should always remain that way. The day that poker becomes an endless grind for you and there is no pleasure in it is the day that you should take a break and consider your future with the game.

The people who have the most success in poker are typically the ones who seem to always be at the tables. They are there because they love to play. And if you love something then you will be much more motivated to improve.

Always keep it lighthearted especially when fighting your way through the madness that is the micros. You will win some, you will lose some. Work hard on your game but always remember that it is just that, a game.

Follow your passion for it and the results and the money will follow.

I hope this article was useful for some of you guys out there. Let me know in the comments below what you think. What mental advice do you have for the micros?

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15 Mental Tips That Will Double Your Results at the Micros

Saturday, June 27, 2015

How to Play Optimally Against Unknown Opponents

Playing against an unknown opponent in poker
Something that a lot of people struggle with in poker is how to play against unknown opponents. This is especially the case for people who play Zoom because the player pools are often large and therefore you rarely see the same people.

Unknown opponents are difficult to play against for anybody though because by definition we don't know anything about them. If you are using a HUD then you will have 10 or less hands on them. This is not a useful sample size for any statistic.

However, I do think that there are some baseline strategies that can be effective at the micros in particular when dealing with unknown opponents. I am going to discuss them in this article.

Do Not Give Unknowns Too Much Credit 


The first thing that I always suggest is to never give anyone at the micros too much credit especially when you know nothing about them. Most people at the micros (especially the lower end) have several large and glaring leaks in their game. This is why I always take a "wait and see approach" before giving anyone credit for being more than another mediocre reg or recreational player.

However, this does not mean that we should assume that they are maniacs and make huge call downs with weak hands. Nor does this mean that we should value bet them insanely wide like we would versus a typical rec player fish.

It simply means that we should assume that they are the typical break even or slightly losing weak/tight opponent that you see everywhere in today's games. We should never assume that they are thinking about the game on any kind of deep level but they aren't completely clueless either.

We can probably expect to get a street or two of value with our big hands depending on what they have and we can also get away with a few bluffs here and there. On the flip side, when they apply a lot of pressure or fight back in a big way we can usually expect them to have what they are representing.

Play ABC Versus Unknown Opponents


Now the standard advice has always been to play ABC versus players who we have no information on. What is ABC poker?

ABC poker is a bare-bones TAG approach to the micros where we:
  • Play a fairly tight and position based game
  • Be fairly aggressive and in control of hands most of the time
  • Be able to fold good hands versus big pressure from a passive opponent
I can't really argue with any of this advice.

I mean, it obviously makes sense. You should always have a reason for everything that you do in poker. And of course when we don't know anything about our opponent then it is hard to have one.

So I don't think that you can go wrong with this strategy and I think that it should certainly form the foundation of your approach to playing against unknown opponents. However, I do think that there are some tweaks that we can make which will get us playing closer to optimal.

Play More Aggressively That Normal Against Unknown Opponents


Unknown opponent in poker
An idea that I discuss frequently in Modern Small Stakes is something that I call the "first encounter theory". This basically suggests that we are likely to get more respect from somebody when there is no history and no information. 

So for instance if I have never played against somebody before (I am assuming that they have no information on me either by the way), then I might take a hand like 55 or A9 and make a 4Bet with it instead of flatting or folding. 

Why? 

Because I think that a typical weak/passive player at the micros is likely to give me credit the first time and move on. In fact I think that they will fold all sorts of better hands and only continue if they happen to have the nuts. This is a huge win for me of course.

Important Caveats


1) Adjust Fast

It is important to mention that I will adjust and show up with a much stronger hand the next time that I 4Bet them. This is because I expect them to give me much less credit. Micro stakes players typically give too much credit the first time but too little the second or the third.

The same idea goes for postflop situations as well. I might be more inclined to make that turn raise or river bet as a bluff with a weak hand. I might 3Bet the flop with a draw more often and so on. But only the first time. Next time I will have the goods. 

2) Never Against Recs

Another extremely important point is that I will never do anything like this if I have noticed any of the signs that they are a bad poker player. These include:

  • Limping
  • Posting a blind OOP
  • Buying in for less than 100bb 
  • Not using the auto rebuy feature
  • Making ridiculously small bets postflop
  • One tabling

And so on. Recreational players are of course well renowned for their prolific ability to hit the call button. We don't want to be 4Betting them with small pairs and weak aces.

Induce Bluffs and Make the Call


Something else that you should be doing versus unknowns is inducing a bluff and then making the call. The reason why is because we don't really have enough information to triple barrel them for value with a hand like TPTK for instance. However we also can't rule out the fact that they might be capable of making some silly bluff on the end either.

I just discussed how we should be bluffing them a little bit wider at first. It is safe to assume that especially given the right circumstance, they might be thinking the same thing as well. Somebody sent me a hand the other day which I think perfectly illustrates this situation.


NL10 6max (Stacks are 100bb Effective):

Hero opens to 30c from MP with A♦J♣
Villain #1 (unknown) calls from the BTN
Villain #2 (unknown) calls from the SB

The flop comes,

7♠J♠9♥

Villain #2 checks
Hero CBets
Villain #1 calls
Villain #2 folds

The turn comes,

2♣

Hero CBets
Villain #1 calls

The river comes,

9♦

Hero checks,
Villain #1 bets
Hero???

All bet sizes throughout this hand were roughly 75% of the pot. So hero was facing a bet of about 35bbs (or 1/3 of a stack) on the river into a pot of nearly 50bb. 

The person who sent me this hand ended up folding. I think he played it perfectly up until the river including his check. However I would have called the bet instead of folding.

The reason why is because I think that in a situation like this an unknown opponent can have quite a few bluffs in his range and even a silly "value bet" with a worse made hand from time to time. The texture of the board is really important here. There are a lot of missed straight and flush draws and very few big value hands besides 9x or a flopped monster that he could have.

If you remember at the top of this article I said that we should not give unknowns too much credit. This is a perfect example of that. I think checking the river here is good. It is a little bit unreasonable to expect that we can get three streets of value here against anyone who isn't a huge fish.  

However, when we do check here with a hand as strong as we have (TPTK) and we are up against an unknown on a board with a lot of missed draws then we do need to realize that we are inducing a lot of bluffs here. For this reason it is important to go ahead and make the call. 

Final Thoughts


I hope that this article helped provide some guidance to you in playing against unknown opponents. Honestly though, there just isn't any super secret top strategy out there that I or anyone else can give you to crush these types of players. We don't know anything about them and therefore it is impossible to know what the highest EV line is much of the time. 

This is why I suggest that you always assume that they are the typical micro stakes opponent, fairly tight and weak/passive. We can probably get away with opening up our bluffing range at first against these players.

At the same time it is reasonable to assume that some of them might be thinking the exact same thing. Therefore on boards that include a lot of missed draws where we beat everything except a huge hand we should be willing to make a big call sometimes. 

In general though, you really should just be playing ABC poker against these players most of the time. When you don't have any history or HUD stats to refer to then you don't have a strong reason to take a non-standard line.

If you choose to make some play against them then you are really just guessing. This is not something that we ever want to be doing in this game.

Let me know in the comments what types of strategies you use against unknown opponents. Do you think it is a good idea to try and bluff them as I suggest in this article?

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blackrain79 - micro stakes strategy

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Complete Guide to Bankroll Management at the Micros

The Complete Guide to Bankroll Management at the Micros
A key factor in successfully moving up the stakes these days is utilizing proper bankroll management. The reason why is pretty simple. You can't win if you go broke! Poker is inherently a game full of ups and downs and you need to have a suitable bankroll in order to withstand the fluctuations.

But what a "proper" bankroll management strategy is can differ depending on who you talk to. And furthermore some people also fail to take into account the real nature of variance in today's micro stakes cash games. So since I have never covered this topic in any depth on this website before I wanted to give you my thoughts on bankroll management especially as it relates to the micros.

The first thing that I need to point out here though is that I will be assuming that you are a winning poker player throughout this article. That is, you have a bb/100 (big blinds won per 100 hands) that is a positive number. If your bb/100 is currently a negative number then there is no bankroll management strategy on earth that will work out well for you.

There are several resources available on my website to help you achieve a positive win rate. On the "Start Here" tab above there are a dozen articles in the beginner's section designed to get you winning now. Also, my first book "Crushing the Microstakes" was written specifically to plug the holes and get you winning at the lowest stakes right away. 

Assuming that you are a winning player though, what kind of bankroll management strategy should you utilize when climbing up through the micros? Well I think that the answer depends on several different factors including your poker ability, experience and goals in the game. 

New to Online Poker, Marginal Win Rate


I think that if you are new to online poker and have a small win rate then you should employ a fairly conservative bankroll management strategy. By new to online poker I mean that you only started dabbling with it in the past year or two and your win rate is just above break even (i..e., 1bb/100 or 2bb/100). 

If you fall into this category then it is pretty likely that you are going to face some big variance even at the very lowest stakes. While we normally associate 20+ buyin downswings with limits such as NL25 and higher where the play becomes more "serious" the truth is that if you are only winning at 1bb/100 at NL2 or NL5 then you can go on lengthy periods of losing as well. 

There is a direct relationship between your win rate and the level of variance that you will face.
  • The lower your win rate the more losing sessions you will have
  • The higher your win rate the less losing sessions you will have
This is why I think that the traditional advice that you might have heard on forums that 20 buyins is enough simply doesn't work for everybody at the micros anymore. If you only have 20 buyins in your bankroll and you hit a 20 buyin downswing then guess what? 

Yup, your entire bankroll is gone. 

The games have tightened up in recent years even at stakes as low as NL2, NL5 and NL10. Some of the really crazy win rates of the past like 20bb/100 and higher just aren't that realistic anymore unless you really know what you are doing or you are a hardcore "bumhunter" who only plays a handful of tables. This means that downswings of a considerable length are much more commonplace now even in the very smallest games on the internet.

Furthermore, most of the people who are just scraping by at the lowest stakes typically have a lot of fundamental issues to address in their game. It is best therefore for them to slowly move up and learn how to plug their leaks along the way. 

There is simply no rush. 

It makes much more sense to take a year or even two years to make it to NL100 than to rush yourself there in a few months without developing a really solid grasp of the fundamentals. The reason why is that by the time you get to a level like this if you don't have a solid understanding of the basics then the regs will expose your leaks and you will probably end up having to move back down and retool. 

40 Buyins is the New 20 Buyins


So my bankroll management recommendation for a relatively new player with a marginally positive win rate is:

40 buyins per limit. 

Yes, even at NL2, 40 buyins. 

What is a buyin? A buyin is 100 big blinds which is the maximum amount that you can put on the table in most online cash games. So these would be my bankroll recommendations per limit:

NL2: $80
NL5: $200
NL10: $400
NL25: $1000
NL50: $2000
NL100: $4000

So what this means in practice is that you do not move up to the next limit until you have these amounts in your bankroll. If you have never played online poker before for real money then I would suggest depositing $100 to start so that you are more than adequately rolled for the NL2 games. You should then move up to NL5 when your bankroll hits $200.

These amounts might seem excessive to some but once again for those people who are only winning at a very marginal amount (i.e., 1bb/100 or 2bb/100) the variance even at the lowest stakes can be considerable. If things go really bad and they hit a 20 buyin downswing then under my advice they will now end up losing half of their bankroll rather than the whole thing. 

Now I would certainly recommend moving down well before losing half of your bankroll. But this brings me to the other main point of why I suggest a fairly conservative bankroll management strategy for this group of players. This is because of the psychological component of the game.

Psychologically it is just far easier to deal with the standard ups and downs of poker when you know that even a really bad day can still only make a small dent in your bankroll. Variance is indeed one of the most difficult things for newer struggling players to deal with. So I suggest having a big cushion and therefore the mental strain of a bad stretch should be diminished. 

Some people might argue by saying who cares, just reload. I don't really agree with this philosophy though. I personally have never gone "broke" as in having to refund my online bankroll because there was $0 in it. I think that psychologically this is damaging for a winning player. A winning player by definition should only be taking money out, not putting it in. 

So if you are just getting started with the online game and managing to squeak out a small win rate for now, my advice is so keep a large bankroll (40 buyins per limit) and take your time. Do it the right way instead of rushing yourself and paying the consequences for it later. 

Experienced Poker Player, Big Win Rate


If I was to start over at NL2 I would not bother having 40 buyins. I would probably go with half of that. The reason why is because I have been playing online poker for 10 years and I know that I can absolutely crush this game. Also, I utilize a style of play these days that is heavy on game selection and a limited table count which also ensures a large win rate.

What this essentially means is that my downswings are relatively small, typically never any more than 5 or 10 buyins at the lowest limits. Also, I have dealt with massive downswings on many occasions in the past so even if I do hit a big one it isn't going to psychologically devastate me or cause me to tilt hard. 

If you fit into this same category then you can probably make due with a much more liberal bankroll management strategy as well. Often it is better to simply move up to the bigger stakes games faster and not bother wasting your time at the very lowest limits which you can easily crush. 

Lastly, if you are like me and regularly play at a lot of different sites then busting a bankroll on one of them is not the end of the world. Often I will simply deposit on a site because I see a good game that I want to get into. Even if things don't go well and I bust my shoestring bankroll there it is only a small part of my overall online bankroll which is spread across many different sites. 

So for a solid experienced player looking to take shots and move up fast these are the bankroll requirements that I would suggest at the micros:

NL2: $40
NL5: $100
NL10: $200
NL25: $500
NL50: $1000
NL100: $2000

So basically this would be the traditional advice of 20 buyins that many people still advocate for the micros these days. I think these amounts are fine but only for highly experienced and solid players. I think that in today's tougher online poker environment most people who are relatively new to the game should exercise a much more conservative approach of 40 per limit.

Run It Up!


Honestly though, all of this bankroll talk depends on your goals as well regardless of whether you are a solid experienced winner or a newcomer looking to make a quick splash. While I would suggest the slow and steady approach in most circumstances not everyone is wired this way. And also, sometimes the game itself dictates that it is more +EV to jump up the stakes quicker. 

For instance if I see a massive whale sitting on some site at NL200 I am not going to move $4000 there just to sit down and play with him. I will probably just stick $1000 on there and have a go at it. 

The reason why I think this approach is fine is because my intentions are very clear here. It is simply to play against this one huge whale and maybe run up my bankroll quickly. I would look at this like a 5 buyin "shot" more than anything. If the fish gets lucky and felts me well then that is life. I am risking just a small portion of my overall bankroll though. It was a calculated risk that just didn't work out this time.

Once again, this sort of ultra aggressive bankroll management is not something that I would suggest for the vast majority of you who are reading this article. It is an option though for a specific type of experienced player who is looking to take a calculated risk to play in a good game. 

Conclusion


I hope that this article helped give you a better idea of what a proper bankroll management strategy looks like at the micros. For the large majority of people I suggest a pretty conservative 40 buyin approach these days. It might seem like a lot to some but I believe that it is better to move up slowly and confidently and make sure that you fully absorb all of the fundamentals along the way. 

For a few other people out there, especially experienced players who game select and move around various sites a lot, they can get away with some lower requirements depending on their goals. 

At the end of the day it is up to you what bankroll management strategy you choose to utilize. I think that you should always err on the side of being too conservative though if you can. A lot of people vastly under-estimate the amount of variance in today's games especially at the very lowest limits. These games are not always the complete joke that they were in the past and downswings of a somewhat considerable length can even occur for top winners. 

Always remember that poker is a long term game. The games will always be there tomorrow. If I was coming up in this game again I would rather spend the time paying my dues and doing it right the first time. 

Let me know your thoughts on bankroll management in the comments below. What kind of strategy do you use? If you enjoyed this article please "Like" or "Tweet" it below!

blackrain79 - micro stakes strategy

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Which Poker Site Should You Play At?

Which poker site should you play at?
A question that people ask me all the time is what is the best poker site to play at. Sadly though, I often feel like my response leaves them feeling a bit unsatisfied. The reason why is that there are so many different factors that go into deciding which poker room is best for you.

It seems that many people are focused solely on game quality these days. Fair enough, the games are not easy in today's online poker environment. But there are many other equally as important factors that should also weigh into your decision such as software, cashout speed, customer service, game type availability, traffic, rakeback and more.

I am going to be up front with you though. I am not going to tell you where you should go play online poker in this article. I don't do that on this website.

There are a thousand other sites out there who will happily refer you to a poker room through their affiliate link. Unfortunately though the vast majority of them do a poor job in providing you with detailed and up to date information on many of the important topics that I just listed above.

So that is why I wrote this article.

I am going to discuss all of the factors that I think are important when choosing which poker site to play at. I will also give you suggestions on how you can research many of them for yourself. Hopefully then you will be able to make an informed decision on which poker room is best for you.

Software


Personally, there are some poker rooms that I simply cannot play on because their software is just so bad. It literally puts me on tilt.

The right buttons need to be in the right places, the right options need to be available and their software team should be receptive to player feedback.

There is one particularly massive poker room out there which does all of these things right and it is one of the biggest reasons why they dominate the industry to this day. They provide a smooth and near flawless playing experience.

They are also continually making tweaks to their software and various options based off of customer feedback as well. This is often why there is a new update that you need to install seemingly every other week.

But many other poker rooms are catching on and have made decent improvements to their software in recent years as well. Most major poker rooms in fact now also have a dedicated discussion thread in the 2+2 internet poker forum where reps are available to answer your questions.

Here are the links to a few of them:

Pokerstars
Bovada
Merge
Unibet
888
Partypoker
America's Cardroom

You could of course always just email the site directly with any software related questions or feedback as well.

How to Research and Test This For Yourself:

The bottom line here though is that you are simply going to have to play on the site yourself in order to know whether you like the software or not. Does the slider bar tilt you? Does your HUD work properly with the site? Are you able to stack, tile or cascade the tables and save the layout? How about note taking, preset bet sizing, network latency, table customization, lobby customization and so on?

You don't need to make a deposit in order to test all of this for yourself. Simply download the poker room software and spend 10 minutes playing the play money games. Test your HUD and any software aids that you might use for compatibility issues.

Software can make or break a poker site for me. Ask yourself if the playing experience is right for you.

Cash Outs and Customer Service 


Which poker room should you play at?I don't like to beat around the bush.

I play poker to make money. Period.

And so therefore, when I make a cashout I don't want to have to wait weeks or months in order to have access to the funds. We all know that every poker room on earth will accept your deposit with amazing speed but they are not all so quick to the task when you want to make a withdrawal.

Another important issue is customer service. I don't need to use it very often but there are a variety of reasons why I might need some help with something from time to time (such as a cashout). I expect a reasonably prompt reply. I also expect an answer from a human being unless it is an extremely common question or a link will suffice.

How to Research and Test This For Yourself:

Make sure you monitor the 2+2 internet poker forum once again for information regarding cashouts. This is often the single best place to find out if a site is having issues processing them quickly.

Regarding customer service, just send the poker site an email. Ask them point blank why you should play at their card room. Ask them what gives them the edge over their competition. You will often be able to see very clearly by the speed and thoroughness of their reply how much they value you as a potential customer.

Always remember that you are the customer when dealing with a poker room. You pay rake to play there and they profit from you. But in today's online poker environment you have all the power.

They need you way more than you need them.

Poker sites need to know that providing cashouts and quality customer service in a reasonably efficient manner is expected at all times. Otherwise we will go and give our business to their competition.

Traffic and Game Type Availability


Another key factor when deciding which poker room to play at is the traffic and the games and limits that they spread. It doesn't matter how great the site's software and customer service is, if there isn't much action in the games and stakes that you play in then obviously this is going to be a major problem.

Now once again one particular poker site out there absolutely steamrolls it's competition in this regard. However, on many of the other smaller but still major sites there is definitely enough traffic in the prime time American and European hours to find plenty of action available. And as I have suggested before, for increased game selection you can always just play on multiple sites at once.

How to Research and Test This For Yourself:

Pokerscout.com has long been an excellent resource for up to date information on traffic at all major online poker sites. But what makes their analysis even more useful is the "Games in Progress" report when you click on a particular poker room.

They provide you with up to the minute information on what game types are offered and how many people are currently playing them. You can break it down even further and find out how many people are playing at your particular stakes as well.

Game Quality


Online poker site
Alright, let's get right into it.

Game quality is clearly a huge issue with the current environment in online poker. Everybody wants to go play where the fish are of course. I have beat the drum to death:

There is no strategy on earth that is better for your winrate than consistently playing with bad poker players.

Now it obviously goes without saying that the more people there are playing at a poker room, the more potential recreational players that there should be. Clearly Pokerstars once again obliterates it's competition in this regard.

However, that particular poker room has also notoriously been known as a "tough site." By this people mean that the typical skillset of your opponents on Pokerstars is higher on average than many other poker rooms. I don't really want to get into a big discussion about that topic here because it is difficult to quantify no matter which side of the debate you fall on.

Speaking in more general terms though I do not believe that the game quality differences (at least among the major online poker rooms) are anywhere near as pronounced as some people make them out to be. If you practice good table selection (I wrote the "ultimate guide" on it) then there are plenty of recreational players to be found at any major poker site.

I will say that there is probably still some truth to the age old idea that a poker room with a sports book or casino attached may have a bit looser action.

And also, at least in recent years, I have seen some of the best action ironically on the sites that are restricted to certain countries only. This is probably due to the fact that these poker rooms have typically made a deal with the government and therefore recreational players view the site as more legitimate and safe.

How to Research and Test This For Yourself:

The bottom line though is that you are going to have to go out and find the loose action for yourself. In an era where recreational players are less common when somebody finds a soft site or game online obviously they are going to keep quiet about it.

Since I am a huge proponent of game selection I actually do spend quite a bit of time researching game quality for myself. In fact I probably have 50 different poker clients downloaded on my computer. I am always looking for soft games and no I am not going to tell you if I find one. That's your job :)

You don't have to make a deposit or even play on a poker site in order to check out what the games are like. I will often just open a handful of tables on poker room X and spend a few minutes observing the action. I will be specifically looking for the top signs of bad poker players. This includes stuff like limping, posting blinds OOP, severely under betting the pot and so on.

Some sites will actually allow you to run a HUD and collect data as an observer for a few orbits as well. It only takes 10 or 20 hands for the VPIP data to converge close to it's true value. If you see a bunch of 40+ VPIPs on multiple tables then chances are that the action is pretty good at that site.

Rakeback


Texas holdem online poker
Rakeback should be a huge consideration for anyone who is a heavy grinder or tends to stick to one site primarily. If you are like me and bounce around and game select a lot then this will be of less importance.

Every poker room has a different approach to rakeback. Some of them make you jump through hoops by collecting points and then buying cash rewards through some sort of VIP program. On the other hand many other sites will simply offer you a flat rate rakeback percentage and deposit what you are owed right into your bankroll on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis.

As a general rule of thumb:

The flat rate percentage rakeback sites will typically be better for low limit and low volume players. However, the VIP rakeback program sites will typically offer more value for heavy grinders and those who play a bit higher stakes.

How to Research and Test This For Yourself:

This is another one of those things that you are going to have to do a little bit of legwork on in order to find real information. Many affiliate websites will promote various poker rooms with flashy offers of "rakeback up to 75%!" The "up to" part tells you that it is a VIP rakeback program because it is variable and dependent on what level or status you attain.

But how many people actually receive 75% rakeback? Usually very few.

So you will need to go to the poker room's website and review their VIP program for yourself. You should pay attention specifically to what the rules are for earning points and calculate what level and rewards that you are likely to achieve depending on the stakes and volume that you play.

Thankfully though, somebody else on some website or forum has often done all of the math on this topic for you already. So for instance if you wanted to know what the actual rakeback percentage is for attaining goldstar on Pokerstars you could type this into google:

Pokerstars rakeback percentage














As you can see above the top three results all look like they would be very useful for finding this information. You can even see an actual percentage (up to 26%) in the blurb for the top result.

With the flat rate rakeback program sites it is obviously a lot easier. Most affiliate websites will have all of the numbers listed for you. You could find this information by going to the poker room's website or through a quick google search as well.

Sign Up Bonus


Most poker rooms and affiliate websites will focus heavily on the sign up bonus in their marketing. The reason why is because flashy sign up bonuses like "200% up to $1000!" work very well especially on inexperienced poker players. They see the big number and they think that this is basically free money that they get for signing up.

The reality is often quite different.

What you are typically not told is that you need to be playing at reasonably decent stakes in order to rake enough for the bonus to get released. Also, there is often an expiration date as well which means that you need to play regularly on that site in order to take full advantage of it.

How to Research and Test This For Yourself:

It is not difficult at all to find out what the sign up bonus is at any poker room. Go to any affiliate website or even the poker room itself and it is likely to be the first thing that you see. As mentioned, they do this for a reason.

However, there is also a reason why I put this topic near the end of this article. This is because the sign up bonus should actually be fairly low on your priority list when deciding which poker site to play at. As I just mentioned, you need to read the fine print on the poker room's website in order to find out how useful the bonus will actually be for you given the games and volume that you play.

And also of course, the sign up bonus is just a one time thing. Once it is released or expired then there is no further value to you.

USA Friendly


USA friendly poker sites
Last but certainly not least for those of you wanting to play online poker in America is the issue of whether the poker room is USA friendly or not.

How to Research and Test This For Yourself:

Most affiliate websites will list this information for you. Or once again, just go to pokerscout.com. All of the sites with a green check mark beside them allow real money play from within the United States.

Final Thoughts


I hope that this article helped provide some guidance to you in what to look for when deciding which poker site to play at. It can be a bit of a jungle out there.

A lot of poker websites that promote poker rooms don't always have your best interests in mind because of the financial incentive that they get by referring you. They are likely to simply promote the poker rooms which offer them the best commission regardless of whether or not it is a quality site.

The information that they provide is also typically very subpar. Simply saying it's "good" or "high" about something like the software or game quality is just silly at best and insulting to your intelligence at worst.

As for the poker rooms themselves, well of course they will say anything to get you to sign up and deposit.

So if you want to find out which poker room is best for you then you will often need to spend a little bit of time researching some of the topics that I mentioned above for yourself. Look for the poker site that caters to your specific needs and expectations and scores high in all of the areas that are most important to you.

Let me know in the comments what you look for when deciding which poker room to play at. Do you have a favorite site? If you enjoyed this article please "Like" or "Tweet" it below!
blackrain79 - micro stakes strategy

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Longevity in Poker: The True Measure of Success


poker longevity
I used to watch a lot of poker on TV. I will never forget a particular hand in the 2008 National Heads Up Poker Championship. A young and mostly unheard of kid "from the internet" named Tom Dwan sat down to play against a giant of the live game with an ego just as big in Phil Hellmuth.

Both players got all the money in early with Phil holding aces and Tom holding tens. Tom managed to nail his two outer on the turn and you just knew that the sh crap was going to hit the fan! Even though this is a completely standard cooler in heads up poker and two outers happen all the time, a big lecture was coming for sure. Things got a little heated as Phil patronizingly let Tom know how bad he thought his play was. Tom in turn challenged Phil to heads up for any stakes, any time.

Ironically, they actually played each other again the very next year in the exact same tournament. This time Phil knocked out Tom on a cooler however. In a complete reversal Phil had nothing but praises for his opponent this time calling him "the best under 30 player in the world" and "maybe the best all around player in the world."

The most interesting point in the original 2008 exchange for me though was when Phil famously said the following to Tom:

"We'll see if you're even around in 5 years."

Well, it has been 7 years now and Tom Dwan is still a pretty big deal in poker. However, this doesn't diminish what Phil said back then. What he was implying is absolutely true. That is:

Longevity is the true measure of success in poker. 

I have been around in this game myself now for over ten years. Even though most of my play has been at the micros I am a big fan of the game as well. I love to railtard me some high stakes action with the best of them!

Over the years I have seen countless names and faces come and go at my stakes and those above it, both online and live. You constantly hear about some guy who is ripping up the tournament scene or killing the cash games. But fast forward a few years down the road and nobody has heard of him.

So what happened?

Variance is a Beast


everybody will eventually run worse than they thought was possible
The true nature of variance is something that eventually sinks it's teeth into most poker players. Most people vastly under-estimate it's impact even if they are well past the beginner's stage of complaining about a few bad beats. Eventually a downswing comes along that is too big for them to handle. They proceed to decimate their bankroll with tilt and sometimes even throw in the towel for good.

But even for the few who manage to come to terms with variance (relatively speaking) there is still a bigger obstacle yet. This is the will to truly survive in this game in the long term. There are huge changes that happen in this industry and within the game itself every single year that we have absolutely no control over.

Think of all the American professional online poker players who woke up one April morning a few years ago to find out that they could no longer play in their own country anymore. Think of all the people who had funds in limbo (their entire bankroll in some cases) under the disastrous and criminal former Full Tilt ownership group. Think of the massive changes that have taken place in the way that the online game is played even though it has only been in existence for slightly more than a decade. So many people have refused to evolve and they ended up getting left behind.

This is not even to mention personal life issues that can happen to anyone such as a divorce, death in the family or a major illness. Poker is a game that requires a high degree of focus and emotional control so events like these can affect a poker player's ability to do his/her job much more than the average person.

Built to Last


been around in poker for a long time
There are so many ups and downs in the career of a professional or semi-professional poker player. And sometimes in the case of big changes in the industry or government meddling they don't have any control over it at all. This is why it takes an incredibly resilient person to survive in the long run in this game. Talent alone is simply not enough.

In my opinion what really separates the few who last for 5 years, 10 years or more is a deep passion and respect for the game.

I am not going to lie. I have almost quit poker several times myself. About 5 years into my poker career I had to ask myself many times what I am even doing in this game. Even though I have had more success than failure in my few shots at mid and high stakes I knew early on that the stress of playing at those limits day in and day out was not for me.

On the flip side, I could continue mass multi-tabling the micros for crazy win rates every day. However, no matter how good you are at these stakes there is only so much money that you can make. I had to ask myself if my time was perhaps better spent elsewhere. I had to ask myself if I still really wanted this.

A few things kept me in the game though.

1. Quitting Poker Meant Getting a "Real Job."


Yikes...who wants one of those?

One of the biggest reasons that I got into this game in the first place was the ability to be my own boss. With online poker I can work when I want and where I want. I was simply not willing to give this up. I would much rather sit around 24 tabling the micros all day for a pretty meager salary by Western standards than go work a 9-5 again for someone else.

You would have to rip the mouse from my cold dead hands...

2. I Found a New Purpose in This Game.


It was around this same time (4 or 5 years ago) that I first started writing this blog as an educational resource for a large audience. For years before it had simply been a personal journal of my ups and downs at the micros and a way to keep track of my goals. In fact for the first 3 years of this blog's existence I purposely never mentioned my screen name even once. I was not looking to be found. I was not looking for an audience.

But then as many people know, around this time a certain infamous website started publishing the results of all online poker players whether they liked it or not. Due to my exploits at the micros, which people could now plainly see, I gained a bit of a following (and even some haters too) almost overnight. I never asked for any of this of course but I figured that I may as well use it in a positive way.

I quickly found out that I actually enjoyed writing about the game and teaching it to others. The nature of the stakes that I am mostly talking about here (NL2, NL5, NL10 etc.) means that a lot of the people who are reading what I say are pretty new to the game. Many of them in fact have never had any success in poker before at all. So it is incredibly satisfying to receive an email or a blog comment for instance where somebody tells you that something you said turned their results around.

I eventually went on to get involved as an instructor at a major training site, offer private coaching and even write two books on the game. All of this definitely re-invigorated my passion for poker because it allowed me to do something that I enjoy (teaching the game) and create another income source as well.

Pro Tip: One of the biggest keys to longevity in poker is not getting burnt out. When all you do is grind all day every day for years like I did then you are just asking for that to happen. This is why when I meet professional poker players these days I often suggest that they branch out more. If you have been around in this game for 5 or more years and had even mediocre success then chances are good that you know a thing or two (i.e., you know way more than 90% of people out there!). And therefore, the chances are also good that somebody out there would like to hear what you have to say and will even pay you for it as well.

3. I Moved to the Other Side of the World


the test of time in poker
With the whole being my own boss thing I have always understood the "play when I want" part but for the longest time I failed to grasp the "play where I want" part as well. So I finally made the decision to relocate in 2012.

Being from Canada I wanted to go somewhere that is warm, has a low cost of living and I wanted it to be exotic as well. In the poker forums it seemed that everybody was talking about Thailand all the time. And this country also got big check marks in all three of my categories. So a little over 3 years ago I booked a one way ticket from Vancouver to Bangkok.

I soon found out that there is a big huge world out there. I had existed only in a tiny little bubble up until that point. After crossing an ocean I landed in a completely foreign land that was shocking to the senses in every respect. I also landed in a country that is the number one destination on earth for migrant online poker players. Therefore I was quickly able to find plenty of people who "speak my language."

But perhaps most importantly of all for me as a micro stakes pro is that everything was suddenly half the price, a third the price or even less in some cases. I was able to drastically cut my expenses overnight and therefore live a much higher quality of life on the same amount of money. My only regret is that I hadn't thought of doing something like this sooner.

4. I Have a Deep Passion and Respect for the Game of Poker


But as I said before, the biggest reason why people stay in this game over the long haul is a deep passion and respect for the game of poker. This is what has always carried me through all of the ups and downs of my career. I was absolutely obsessed with the game for the first few years and I still am to a certain extent.

I love discussing hands, I love playing the game, I love writing about the game, heck I even still watch poker on TV from time to time! If you truly love what you do then it will always be a pleasure to work at it each day.

Conclusion


Phil Hellmuth was right.

As easy as it is to poke fun at the TV poker pros for their antics (and lack of skill in some cases) many of these guys have indeed withstood the test of time. And this is very much a skill in and of itself. Perhaps the hardest one of all to master.

Being a professional poker player is literally one of the hardest jobs that you can pick to do. Many have tried and very few have truly succeeded in the long run.

But what I do know for sure is that if you don't have a true passion for poker then there is no point in even trying. This game will run you through the ringer, chew you up, spit you out and then do it all over again. You have to be almost sick in the head to some degree to keep going through some of the insane crap that long term variance will throw your way.

And of course this is not even to mention the state of the industry itself, the ever-changing nature of the games and governments trying to mandate what we can and cannot do in the privacy of our own homes.

But if at the end of the day you truly have a deep passion and love for this game and this is really what you want to do, then my advice is to go for it. And don't hold back.

Because maybe just maybe...we'll see you around in 5 years! :)

Let me know in the comments below what you think about longevity in poker. How long have you been around in this game? Do you think it is a good measure of success? If you enjoyed this article please "Like" or "Tweet" it below!

blackrain79 - micro stakes strategy