Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Only Checklist You Need to Launch Your Poker Career

launch a successful poker career
Are you just getting started in poker? Is your head spinning yet from the seemingly endless amount of information out there that you supposedly "need to know" to be successful?

If so I can't blame you. It seems like there is some new math theory or software program that comes into fashion on a near weekly basis these days.

And then there are the countless books, strategy websites, strategy forums, video training sites, video courses, coaches, youtube channels, podcasts and twitch channels to choose from as well.

Where do you even start?

So let me just cut through all of the crap here for you. I have been beating the micro stakes online cash games for 10+ years now with some of the highest winrates in history.

I have also authored two of the most popular books ever written on these games and coached hundreds more to success, some of whom are even professionals now living here in Thailand and around the world.

In this article I am going to tell you exactly what you need to do in order to launch a successful poker career at the lower stakes. Let's get started!

1. Put on Your Hard Hat and Bring a Lunch

I gotta be honest, I am extremely selective about who I actually listen to when it comes to poker advice these days. It is really just a handful of online pros who I have known personally for many years.

And the biggest reason why is because I know for a fact that they are real grinders and true professionals.

They have played millions and millions of hands of poker like me. They know what it is like to grind a 12 hour session, get kicked in the teeth again and again, and then wake up the next day and do it all over again.

They have seen the absolute worst variance that this game can offer. Soul crushing downswings that can sometimes last for months that would bury 99% of other poker players.

And through all of this they have they not only survived but come out significantly ahead as well. Therefore, I know that they "get this game" on a deeper level. I actually interviewed two of them recently on my website here and here.

By contrast, most of the free poker "advice" that you will find on the internet these days (and sometimes even the paid advice as well) comes from people who frankly have no clue what it is like to actually grind.

I look them up sometimes and find out that their entire poker career spans the length of something like 200k hands. To put this in perspective, there were a few occasions in the past during my heaviest grinding days where I played more hands than this in a single month!

But even more important is the fact that 200k hands is not a big enough sample size to get past routine variance. In other words, their entire "winning" poker career could be a complete fluke.

I came across an infographic recently which sums this up perfectly:

poker variance over 200k hands
 - Infographic courtesy of www.boomtownbingo.com

As the graphic above shows, even a decent winning player (winrate of 2.5bb/100) has almost a 10% chance of showing a loss over 200k hands. And a marginal winner (winrate of 1.5bb/100) will show a loss over this sample an astonishing 21% of the time!

This is the real nature of variance in poker that I talk about endlessly on this blog. The long run is much, much longer than most people imagine. Poker is the exact opposite of a "get rich quick" scheme. Instead it requires incredible patience, sacrifice and dedication.

I don't say all this to scare you. I say all this to be real with you because I feel that very few of the so called "experts" out there have even played enough hands to understand this themselves.

The bottom line is that you can look at anybody who is successful in this game, live or online, and you will find one common trait, they have insane amounts of work ethic. It seems like they are always at the tables playing!

If you want to succeed in poker in a big way, then you need to be prepared to roll up your sleeves and go to work. It won't be easy and sometimes the results won't come for a long, long time.

2. Get a Good Poker Setup

The next thing that you need in order to grind all of those long hours at the tables is a good poker setup. What is a good poker setup you might ask?

Well, it doesn't have to be anything fancy. Several years ago before I took off to Thailand and to travel the world (follow me on Instagram for more on that), I used to have a powerful gaming desktop with dual 21" monitors in Canada.

I have since gone laptop only for the last 4 years. Most of the time I used a very high spec (i7, 8gig ram etc.) 15" HP. I recently traded that in for a much more travel friendly 13" MacBook Air.
launch a successful poker career
Central Bangkok, Thailand about to put in a session on my old 15" HP

But honestly you don't need any kind of high spec machine at all to play online poker. Any sort of computer that was made in the last 5 or 10 years will likely do the job.

You only need to invest in an expensive desktop or laptop if you do a lot of gaming or video editing on the side. Or you are in front of one all day like me and just need to have the best.

The bottom line is that online poker itself does not require a lot of resources. Don't go out spending thousands on a kickass rig if all you plan to do is surf the net and play a little poker on the side.

The most important part of a good setup for me is having a good chair for those long hours at the tables. So anytime that I have decided to stay put for a few months I will usually go out and buy the most expensive office chair I can find and then sell it when I leave.

A good mouse is also necessary. Relying on a trackpad during long sessions is going to probably end up causing some serious strain on your wrist in the long run. As a bit of a "pro-tip" I would advise against buying a really expensive fancy mouse.

The reason why is because a few of my past mice have been known to go airborne or get smashed into many pieces during a particularly bad run of cards. It doesn't feel so bad when it is just some cheap $20 Logitech mouse.

My advice for a poker setup, like with nearly everything else in this article, is that less is more and simplicity is key. Any kind of modern computer will do the job. Invest big in the chair.

And buy plenty of cheap mice :)

3. Play at Easy Poker Rooms

I talk about table selection endlessly on this blog because this is how you beat the game of poker, by playing against bad players.

Also, as the infographic above correctly points out, if you want to lower your variance (natural ups and downs of the game), then you need to increase your winrate. You don't increase your winrate by trying to outwit a bunch of other strong, solid regulars.

You increase your winrate by consistently playing in soft poker games against recreational players, who are much worse than you, and make tons of huge fundamental mistakes at the poker tables.

If you want to grind it out all day in the reg-infested Zoom tables on Pokerstars for instance be my guest. I don't care how much of a poker genius are, your opponents simply aren't making enough mistakes for you to ever create a big winrate.

There are a lot of other much easier poker rooms out there that have much softer games though. You want to look for people who play too many hands (VPIP of 40+), call too much, limp etc. You also want to look for weak regs who play straightforward and won't put you in difficult spots.

I don't think I have ever seen a live poker table at the lower stakes that didn't include at least one big fish and tons of weak regulars so that isn't even worth discussing. Literally ANY low stakes live table is worth playing at.

Here's the bottom line:

If you truly have no monetary goals in poker, then by all means go sit in games full of tough pros. Your learning curve will be much faster. There is no question about that.

In fact, if your goal is to be the very best heads up player in the world, then I would definitely sit in tough lineups and lose lots of money to strong players in order to learn faster.

But if you're like me, I play this game to make consistent money now, not to flex my ego or to try and earn the adoration of a bunch of nerds on the internet.

This is why I only play poker against people who are considerably worse than me.

4. Play an Extremely Boring ABC Tight and Aggressive Style

Once you start playing in soft games the only thing that you really need to do in order to win big is to play a tight and aggressive ABC style of poker.

Raise with your good hands and then bet them big and often. And for the love of god stop trying to bluff a bunch of calling stations!

That's pretty much all there is to it...seriously.

Ok if you want a bit more detailed explanation of what "Boring ABC TAG poker" means then go download my free strategy guide Massive Profit at the Micros here.

But for some people, this is literally impossible for them to believe. They feel an overwhelming urge to try and emulate what they saw Daniel Negreanu do on TV at a million dollar final table in their $10 game on the internet.

Go ahead, but it probably won't end well for you.

Patience and simplicity are the biggest keys to success at the lower stakes whether live or online. You don't beat a bunch of beginners and drunk recreational players with your 10th level thinking and range merging GTO bluffs.

I actually often just pretend that I am playing against a bunch of kids when I play these games. Would you try to teach a 7 year old College level algebra? Probably not right?

Here is the terrible truth about what winning poker at the lower limits actually looks like:
  • Often boring as hell
  • Extremely un-exciting
  • Requires tons of discipline
  • Requires tons of emotional control

If you fancy yourself more of an "action junkie," have trouble controlling your emotions, and cringe at the idea of self discipline, then poker might not be the right game for you.

5. Focus on the Mental Side of the Game

Where most micro stakes players struggle the most these days is not on the technical side of the game but on the mental side of it. Honestly, nearly all of them are complete fish in this area.

One of my favorite things to do in fact is to simply tilt the heck out of them. Once I get on the left of a low stakes reg I will just start raising the crap out of them or floating them every single hand.

They will often quickly lose their cool and start playing back at me based on pure emotion. Then it is just easy money.
How I picture a micro stakes reg when I 3Bet him for the 4th time in a row.

And also, as alluded to earlier, many players at the micros will lose their minds the second they hit a real downswing and just become complete spew machines at the tables.

This lack of emotional control is actually the #1 reason why they can't get to mid and high stakes. There is a myth out there that high stakes players are far superior technically. This is not really true. The technical gap is much smaller than you might think.

Where high stakes players excel way beyond small stakes players is in their ability to control their emotions at the poker tables when things don't go their way or somebody is trying to get under their skin.

Now unfortunately the amount of quality information out there about how to improve your emotional control at the tables is extremely lacking. And this is because so much of it is rooted in psychology and specific to the individual person.

Also, improving things like your tilt control, knowing when to leave the tables, and keeping your cool when somebody is trying to tilt you is something that you don't learn overnight. It is a process that takes time.

There are several lifestyle adjustments that you can make. I have talked about the importance of taking care of your mind and body several times on this blog before for instance.

Many poker players (even pros) still eat terrible food, sleep awful hours and never exercise. This is extremely negative EV for your life in general, let alone your ability to destress and manage your emotions better at the poker tables.

I personally swear by the gym. I know many other professional poker players here who feel the same. Lifting a bunch of heavy weights for an hour a few times a week does wonders for my stress levels, confidence, strength, physical experience and on and on.

Cardio, sports or hiking are great too. Just get out in the sunshine and do something!
Me a few months ago at a gym in Chiang Mai, Thailand
You can also try meditation, yoga, visualization, breathing strategies and a whole host of other ideas at the tables.

And I actually interviewed the #1 mental game coach in the world a little while back right here on my blog. You might want to check that out too.

But in the end I think that experience is simply more important than anything. You can study all the advanced technical theory you want and eat carrots and run 5 miles every day.

The only way to really learn how to handle this crazy game is through countless hours of painstaking trial and error at the poker tables.

At a certain point you will learn to just let go and relax a little bit more. It is just another bad beat, cooler, downswing. You've seen this all before and endured much worse. Yawn, next hand.

6. Track Your Results

Another thing that you need to do in order to launch your successful low stakes poker career is to keep track of your results.

Many people do not have accurate records of their poker results. This is totally crazy. And the old "I'm about break even" or a "I'm up a little bit" is simply not a good enough answer if you take this game seriously. Precise results are what is needed.

If you play online then the simple answer is to just use a program like Pokertracker 4 and import all of your hands as you play them. You can use the built in date filters to get your results for any time period in a matter of seconds.
pokertracker review hands and graph
Pokertracker is the ONLY must have piece of software for anyone who is serious about online poker.
If you play live then it is a little bit more complicated. But there are several free and paid apps that you can install on your phone to help you keep track of your winnings. Here is one for iOS and here is one for Android.

You can also set up a simple little spreadsheet in Excel (or Numbers) and keep track of your results from there. You just have to make sure that you diligently enter the results after every session.

And finally, if you are against any kind of fancy new technology and you are reading this blog post right now on your Commodore 64, then a good old fashioned pen and paper will still do the trick as well!

Whatever you do, just make sure that you start keeping accurate records of your poker results from now on. Because if you don't know where you actually stand what is the point in even playing the game?

7. Have the Right Bankroll to Play!

In an age when 20 buyin downswings at the lower stakes are completely standard (see the infographic above once again), bankroll management is something that you need to take seriously.

I often suggest a minimum of 30 buyins these days but 40 might be better in many cases. What does this actually mean?

It means that if you play the lowest stakes game online, NL2, which has a max buyin of $2, that you have 40 times this, or $80, in your bankroll.

Now if you are not a winning poker player, then there is no bankroll management strategy on planet earth that can help you.

But if you are able to turn even a very small winrate at your current limit, then you should make sure that you are always properly rolled. And you should move up when you have 40 buyins for the next limit.

However, should you hit the killer downswing, you should also move down long before you ever lose 20 or 30 buyins. Often the very best thing that you can do during a bad downswing is to simply lower the stakes.

Here is a nice visual of the entire process that might help:

 - Infographic courtesy of www.cardrunners.com/blog/JimmyRare

30 buyins for each limit, as the author of this infographic suggests, is fine as well. The crucial part are the numbers in red. You must move down if you fall to 25 buyins.

If things do not go well at first (which will be inevitable on some occasions) remember not to get your ego involved in this game. Moving down is not a sign of weakness.

This is an intelligent decision to increase your edge and therefore give yourself a better chance of simply posting a win in order to help rebuild your confidence.

Playing for less money will also protect you from losing your money so fast if you are tilting badly.

If you take poker seriously then you must play within your bankroll at all times. Do things the right way from the start and deposit a proper amount for whatever stake you intend to play.

8. Study a Few Select and Trusted Resources

As I said at the top, there is a unbelievable amount of free (and paid) poker advice out there on the internet these days. Some of it is good, some of it is bad.

I would really just take one or two select resources that you trust, whether that is a training site, a book, a forum, a twitch channel or a strategy website like this one and learn from that person or set of ideas.
Massive Profit at the Micros BlackRain79

If you don't even know where to begin at all I would suggest picking up a copy of my free ebook Massive Profit at the Micros.

It will give you all of the basic strategy that you need to get started at the lower stakes. Since it is only 25 pages you can plow through it in 15 minutes and the price is pretty unbeatable at...free.

You can download your copy here.

Now here is what not to do. The worst thing that you can do is start overloading yourself by trying to keep up with every new theory and idea that gets put out there and buying every new book, piece of software, joining every training site, watching Twitch streams all day etc.

If you do this I can almost guarantee that you will end up like some of these angry know-it-all nerds that you see all the time on forums whose post count exceeds their lifetime earnings.

You don't get paid to study the game. You don't get paid to talk about the game. And you don't get paid to watch the game.

None of these are terrible things. It is good to expand your knowledge. And you should definitely take advantage of some of the many resources out there to improve your game.

But keep it limited to a few trusted sources. Because the real money comes from taking that knowledge and applying it at the poker tables.

Final Thoughts

I hope that this "checklist" will be helpful to some newer poker players out there. Because frankly there is just so much information and noise out there these days that it is easy to get overwhelmed and lost in it.

We can forget that this is actually a very simple game against very simple opponents. It doesn't take any kind of superhuman ability to smash the small stakes games today if you pay attention to important stuff like table selection, emotional control, bankroll management and apply a simply TAG strategy.

I know this because I am around it all the time. There are huge numbers of online pros living out here in Southeast Asia. I meet them all the time and several are close friends now as well. I have also played this game for a living for many years myself.

And these are actual professionals that I am talking about. People whose sole existence is funded by playing a silly little card game on the internet. There are countless more out there who just play poker as a profitable hobby on the side.

Look, the bottom line is this. Most people will lose at poker in the end. This is the way that it is and the way that it has to be.

But there is always going to be a small but still significant group out there who consistently win at this game also. If you keep things simple and work hard, then there is no reason why this can't be you as well.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below! I want you to let me know specifically what actions steps YOU are going to start taking to change your results at the tables.

The only checklist you need to launch a profitable poker career

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

When to Leave the Poker Table in a Cash Game

quitting a poker session
When should you leave the table in a cash game? This is a question that I get asked all the time. I think the reason why is because a lot of people suffer from what is sometimes referred to as "winner's tilt."

This is a feeling that you get when you have been winning a lot and you have a fear of losing it all back. This can cause you to play more cautiously and miss out on tons of profitable situations. Many people will even decide to quit early in order to "book a win."

This is actually a highly counter productive way to play the game though and locking up a win is not a good reason to leave the poker table. In fact, it can almost be as damaging to your winrate as tilt itself.

In this article I am going to show you how to structure and plan your poker sessions instead and provide you with some real reasons for when to leave the table.

Results Should Never Influence When You Leave the Table

One of the biggest hurdles that you need to overcome on the way to becoming an elite poker player is the idea that your results in any particular session actually matter.

Because they don't. At all.

This is why I actually suggest not even looking at your results at all during your session if you are playing online. But I digress and that is a topic for another article.

The main point here is that no matter how good or bad your results are in an individual poker session, they will have very little impact on your long term real poker results.

A commonly accepted number that gets thrown around in order to make solid conclusions about your long term winrate is 100k hands.

Yes, 100,000.

Having run either way above EV or way below EV on many occasions for stretches of this length myself, I would agree that you need at least this amount of hands to even begin making any firm conclusions about your results.

How many hands did you play in your last poker session? 500? 1000? Even if you are a heavy online grinder it is probably no more than a few thousand. If you play live the number might only be 200 hands.

I think the point is probably pretty clear by now. Your results in a single poker session really just don't matter at all. Therefore, choosing when to quit playing because of them makes no sense.

You Should Always Quit Your Poker Session if you are on Tilt

There is one factor that should absolutely force you to quit though. This is when you are on tilt.

Even though today's results are not indicative of your long term winrate, if you are having a particularly bad losing session, you can start playing based off of emotion and anger which can have a massively negative effect on your ability to play well.

Even though tilt is essentially irrational, this is something that happens to every poker player at some point or another. Elite players just manage to control it better.

If you find yourself doing things like:
  • Playing more hands than normal preflop
  • Making more bluffs for no particular reason either preflop or postflop
  • Having a hopeless feeling of being beat in every hand
  • Making bad calls on the river when you know you should fold

Then there is a good chance that you are on tilt. You should quit your session immediately if this is the case.

Trying to "play through it" is typically a bad idea for most people and just turns into more losses because you aren't thinking clearly and you are playing your C, D or even F-game at the tables.

Here is the bottom line: If you think you are on tilt, then you probably are.

Quit immediately. The games will always be there when you return tomorrow.

Plan Your Poker Sessions

So, assuming you are not on tilt, what factors should actually go into your decision to leave a poker table then? Well, this is where pre-planning comes in.

There are two reasons why you should leave the table:
  • Time Limit
  • Number of Hands

Before you start your poker session you should set a specific amount of time that you are going to play for or a specific number of hands.

Now of course everybody has different abilities when it comes to how long they can stay focused and motivated as well at the poker tables.

So there are no clear-cut rules that you should play x amount of time. This is something that you have to decide for yourself.

For me personally, I typically set time limits for when I quit. I prefer shorter sessions in order to keep my mind fresh and keep me focused on playing my A-game at all times.

So I typically never play more than 2 hours in a row. Often as well, I will sit out at the 1 hour mark for 5 minutes and simply go walk around for awhile and use the washroom.

You can also set the length of your sessions by the number of hands played though too. Back when I used to be a heavy rakeback grinder I would often use this method.

The reason why is because I knew that I had to play 3k hands for instance in order to collect enough points to clear the next bonus or to stay on track to hit Supernova on Pokerstars. So my sole focus for that day would be to play 3k hands (or more if I wanted to get ahead of pace).

If you use a tracking program like Pokertracker, then it already keeps track of the number of hands you have played for you. Most poker sites will also show the number of hands that you have played as well near the chat box.

If you play live, then knowing how many hands you have played will obviously be more difficult. In that case I would just set out to play for a specific amount of time.

Never Leave a Really Good Game

Now with all of that planning talk out of the way, I need to completely contradict myself for a second here and say that sometimes you need to throw all of that right out the window.

There is one particular time when this is the case. This is when you are in a really good game. What do I mean by "a really good game?"

I mean a table with a recreational player (or even a reg) who is clearly on tilt and has been losing a lot. Also, you have a good seat versus them (i.e. they are on your right).

You can look down on it, call it predatory or whatever you want, but as the poker legend Doyle Brunson sagely reminds us:
"Poker is war. People pretend it is a game."

I have often found myself sticking around for hours on end after I planned to quit my poker session because I was in a situation where I had the jesus seat on a fish who was spewing badly.

And I usually end up being glad that I did stick around because these are the sessions that have produced some of my biggest wins.

In today's games, both live and online, having terrible players spewing everywhere is not the norm anymore. You often have to search just to find the bad players, let alone find one who is on tilt and giving away their money.

So this is why I think it is critical to take advantage of these situations when they occur. You can even tighten up and just play like a nit if you want in order to lower your variance.

Just don't leave the table. These opportunities do not come around that often. If you leave, some other reg will just end up taking your seat and busting the rec player.

The Fear of Playing Deep Stacked

One last point that I want to address is playing deep stacked. I know that this can be a major concern for some when they have been winning a lot. This is something that happens a lot especially if you play a fast-fold game like Zoom poker.

And the reason why it makes some people anxious is because they are not used to playing deep stacked and you can potentially lose a lot (or win a lot) with just one single decision.

I actually see this as a good thing though. Since I only sit in poker games where I know that I am the best player, playing deep stacked just gives me more ways to use my skill advantage.

However, I definitely understand the anxiety that can go along with playing deep especially if you are on a short bankroll or moving up to a new stake.

The problem though is that leaving the table and coming back with a smaller buyin, often referred to as "ratholing," "going south" or a "hit and run," is widely frowned upon in the poker community and often quite simply against the rules as well, especially in live poker.

Most online poker sites in fact have a rathole timer. This means that if you leave a table while stacked up (for instance you bought in for 100 big blinds but now have 200 big blinds), then you will be forced to sit again with 200 big blinds for x number of hours.

Now of course with online poker there are often plenty of other tables for you to join. If you are really that concerned about playing with a deep stack, then just quit and join another table.

But overall, I think the best strategy is just to make sure that you are using proper bankroll management and then it should not matter.

Also, you should understand that just because you are deep with someone else doesn't necessarily mean that you are somehow risking a lot more.

The chances of both entire stacks going in the middle are extremely low because most competent players understand that you need an absolute monster hand in order to ship 200 big blinds in the middle for instance.

The great thing is that most fish don't understand this though.

So playing deep stacked with a recreational player is actually a hugely profitable situation. You can potentially get all 200 big blinds in the middle with your set versus their top pair and be a virtual lock to win a monster pot.

I don't think I even need to tell you how good this kind of thing is for your winrate!

Final Thoughts

When to leave the poker table in a cash game is not always an obvious thing. This is why it is important to have a plan before you even start your session. You should either plan to play for a certain amount of time or a certain number of hands.

But you should also never voluntarily get up from a really good game where you have a fish on tilt on your right. You could potentially get a few easy stacks in a situation like this. This is like rocket fuel for your winrate.

The most important rule though is to never let your results in any particular session influence your decision to quit. This is because they are meaningless in the grand scheme of things.

Always think of poker as one long continuous game. You are going to post the blinds again in your very next session and this is simply a continuation of the current session.

Quitting now because you happen to be winning over a meaningless sample of hands will have absolutely no effect on what is going to happen in the future.

There are only three things that you should be focusing on when playing this game. Implementing a solid poker strategy, controlling your emotions and table selecting.

If you do these 3 things on a consistent basis, then your results will take care of themselves in the end.

Let me know in the comments below how you decide when to leave the poker table in a cash game.

when to leave the poker table in a cash game

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

How to Deal With River Suckouts

dealing with river suckouts and bad beats
Did that fish just hit his lucky 3 outer against you again? Are you tired of all the river suckouts? How many times will these BS sites like Jokerstars keep rewarding them for their bad play!

These are just a few of the battlecries that you regularly hear from people who don't quite get how this game works yet.

Poker is a game that regularly turns what appear to be rational human beings into complete lunatics. Go to Google right now and type in "river suckouts" or "jokerstars" and see for yourself.

This really isn't a bad thing overall though. It is in fact direct evidence, exhibit A, as to why poker will always be so profitable. There is a certain segment of the population that just can't handle this game. Yet they keep playing anyways. The very definition is insanity.

This doesn't have to be you though! Even if all the river suckouts have you close to entering the loony bin, in this article I am going to explain why they happen and how to deal with them better.

Poker is a Cruel Hearted Bitch

The real core of the problem lies in expecting poker to be "fair" or that after a certain while it "owes" you something. Much like everything else in life, this clearly just isn't the case.

Poker is simply a game of mathematics and odds. It is a cold hard bitch who does not care about you or your feelings.

Anyone who has ever been through a lengthy downswing will know this. I have been through several that lasted over 100k hands myself. This is the equivalent of a month or two of regular play online or a year for somebody who plays live, where I literally could not win a hand to save my life.

I am not going to lie, I was close to losing my mind on all of those occasions. And the biggest reason why was because I could not accept the fact that the bad beats, suckouts and coolers really could keep continuing for weeks or even months on end.

I felt like after running bad for awhile that I had paid my dues. Haha, funny joke poker gods! Now give me what I am owed. Give me the higher set or the aces over kings for once. Let me hit a flush draw once in awhile instead of it always being them.

But of course this simply isn't the way that the game works. That fish who has been getting lucky against you all night will still hit his gutshot straight draw against you by the river exactly 16.4% of the time over the long run.

To put it another way, this is roughly 1 out of every 6 times. Let's be real, there is nothing really that amazing about an event happening 1 out of 6 times is there?

It is going to happen of course. And it can and will happen several times in a row on rare occasion. So why do so many people lose their minds when stuff like this occurs?

Our mistake is thinking about our recent history of bad luck against a particular player or even just our recent bad luck in general. And then thinking that somehow that history has some impact on the present hand.

Which of course it does not.

Poker does not owe you anything. Poker has no past and no future, only a present. Poker is cold hard statistics and odds and that is it.

Suckouts are Actually a Good Thing (Really)

Obviously nobody likes to lose a pot when they had the best hand or the best odds to win. But suckouts are an inevitable part of this game and they are actually a good sign as well.

I recently interviewed mental game expert Jared Tendler here on my blog and I think he put it best:
"They’re unavoidable [suckouts/bad beats] and frankly they’re evidence of quality play. If you’re not taking bad beats, it means you’re not playing well enough to be a favorite."

And I would actually take this one step further by pointing out that frequent suckouts are also evidence that you are playing in good games.

As I mention all the time on this blog, if you are not playing in soft games against bad players, there is simply no way that you are going to win big in this game. 

When you are on the receiving end of lots of bad beats and suckouts, then this is the surest sign of all that you are playing against the right kind of opponents. 

Change the Language of the Game

The very language that we use in this game is often at the heart of why we have so much trouble accepting losses when we had the best hand as well.

Just think about terms like:

  • Suckout
  • Setup
  • Bad Beat

All of these phrases are pejorative in meaning. They make it sound as if somebody has personally harmed us or if the game itself is conspiring against us to fail.

And so therefore these phrases tend to just reinforce the negative ways of thinking that we all have when things go bad for a really long time at the poker tables.

They also aren't an accurate depiction of reality. Nobody "sucked out" on you. They just hit their mathematical equity in the hand.

You were not "set up" to fail when you ran your trips into a full house. Actually this is just a common occurrence in poker. Situations like this are often the very reason why we play big pots and everyone will get their fair share of being on the winning and losing side in the long run.

And finally, nobody "bad beat" you. Seriously, who came up with these bizarre terms in the first place?

The other person simply had a certain amount of outs (cards that would allow them to win the hand) and this translates into a mathematical percentage. Their mathematical percentage to win happened to come through in this particular instance.

Keeping Your Sanity When You Seem to Run Bad Forever

Now of course no matter how many exercises in logic, mathematical analysis or semantics that I write about here will not change the fact that poker is an absolutely brutal game sometimes.

I was just reading the "rumours" that Tom "durrrr" Dwan may have lost a 20 million dollar pot earlier this year in Macau by running middle set into top set and is now teetering on the brink of busto.

This makes me sad if true although I am sure he will rebound. He is a great player and someone who inspired me a lot back in day.

Poker really has no heart and no soul. And what's even worse, nobody else cares about your results either. Nobody wants to hear your bad beat stories and nobody is going to hold your hand when you hit that soul crushing downswing.

This is a seriously cutthroat business and one of the most individual (selfish perhaps even) pursuits you can be involved in.

I personally see this as a positive though. I have never really been a fan of team sports or working for somebody else. I would much rather get all the glory for my wins and take all of the blame for my losses.

So I see poker more as a personal challenge than anything else. And since poker is a game played against other people I see it as an opportunity to make better decisions and react better to adversity than everybody else.

As the mental game expert Tommy Angelo famously stated, this "reciprocality" is indeed the cause of all profit in poker.

Poker is the Greatest Life Coach You Will Ever Have

After more than 10 years in this game I still have a deep passion and respect for it. And this is not because of all the money I have made playing poker or the writing career that has also flourished because of it.

No, it is because this game taught me many powerful life lessons at a relatively young age. Especially when I went pro for the first time fresh out of university at the age of 24. I had to learn things like work ethic, emotional control, self discipline and perseverance on the fly.

When you rely on this game to pay the bills you tend to learn stuff like this real fast or else you starve. You stop all the complaining and making excuses and you just grind hard every day. You hustle and you succeed.

And frankly if you can build the mental fortitude to handle this crazy game over the long run, then you will probably be successful in many other areas of life as well.

Embrace the madness and the adversity that poker will bring your way. You will get mad and you will get frustrated at times. Don't even bother trying to be perfect. Take time off if you need it. The game will always be there when you return.

However, see poker as more of a personal challenge to better yourself and react better than the next guy. Control the things that you can control and let other people lose their minds while you quietly rake in their chips.

Let me know in the comments below how you handle bad beats, river suckouts, coolers and the like in this game. Do you have any tips on how to keep your wits about you when things go bad?

Lastly, if you are new here make sure to check out my Start Here Page (and my free newsletter below) for all of my best strategy advice on how to start crushing the micros!

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

How to Play Against Highly Aggressive Poker Players

play against highly aggressive poker players
Years ago when I first started playing poker online at the micros all of the regular players that you would encounter each day were extremely passive and tight. So much so that any time they 3Bet you or raised you after the flop you could be sure that they had aces or a set.

But times have changed and even at very lowest stakes now you will sometimes encounter very aggressive players. They will 3Bet you light and raise you and float you with all sorts of hands after the flop as well.

Since most of the time in poker nobody has anything very good, this aggressive strategy that they use is highly effective and difficult to combat. However, thefre are still several adjustments that you can make to play effectively against these kinds of players.

In this article I am going to discuss some of the key ways to beat the aggressive regulars in small stakes cash games.

Don't Get Into Reg Wars

One of the most annoying things in poker is having a highly aggressive reg on your direct left. This is because they can just 3Bet the crap out of you every time you raise a hand and basically make your life suck.

This is such a frustrating spot to be in that sometimes I will just leave the table or rejoin in another seat. But more often than not I am at the table for a reason (i.e. there is a fish on my right). So therefore, I don't really want to leave.

So if you choose to stay at the table how do you deal with the aggressive troublemaker on your left without losing your mind?

Well let's first talk about what most people do.

Most people let their ego get involved and they start 4Betting and 5Betting the aggressive player light with all sorts of ridiculous hands. They will also start calling 3Bets out of position and floating and raising postflop with weak hands.

Both of these strategies are doomed to failure and here is why.

When somebody has direct position on you in poker, you are always fighting an uphill battle. This is like voluntarily choosing to fight someone with both of your arms tied behind your back.

The aggressive regular on your left is always going to have a big advantage over you in each hand because he gets to act last on every street. In other words, he gets to see what you do first before making his decision.

You on the other hand will make all of your decisions in the dark with zero knowledge of how your opponent will react. This is a massive handicap to overcome.

Furthermore, you are choosing to focus your attention on another regular who is probably somewhat close to you in skill level meaning that your overall edge is minimal.

And at the same time this takes away your focus from the entire reason that you are at the table in the first place, the fish!

Talk about a disaster.

So for all of these reasons it is important to keep your cool in these situations and avoid getting in the proverbial "reg war." Even if you win the battle, you will still lose the war.

Tighten Up Your Opening Range and Widen Your 4Betting Range

The smart approach is to instead recognize that this guy is going to 3Bet you light a lot and simply tighten up. This is not to be viewed as a sign of weakness.

This is simply assessing the situation as it is and taking the appropriate response. And this applies the most around the button because this is where the aggressive player is most likely to 3Bet you a lot.

So instead of opening with your typical 30%-40% steal range get rid of a lot of the weaker speculative hands, especially stuff with no high card strength like some of the suited connectors and all off-suit connectors (i.e. 54, 65, 76, 98, JT).

Get rid of a lot of the dominated broadways and crappy aces and kings as well. By this I mean hands like: QT, KT, A8, K9.

On the flip side you also want to open up your 4Betting range. Since we know that the aggressive reg is going to 3Bet us with all sorts of broadways, pairs, suited connectors and suited aces we know that a lot of the time he will not be able to continue versus a 4Bet.

So if you typically only 4Bet with hands such as AA, KK, QQ, JJ and AK, then start adding in TT, 99 and AQ for instance. Add a bluff or two in there on occasion as well with a suited ace blocker hand like A3 or A5.

You should also flat the 3Bet out of position from time to time with a decently strong range in order to balance your range.

Now I know that I consistently advise against flatting 3Bets (and even opening raises) out of position in both of my books, my blog posts and videos. And if you play at stakes of NL10 or lower (or are new to the game in general), then I think this is perfectly fine.

However, once you get to stakes such as NL25 and higher where the regs start to get a lot better, you can't only 4Bet or fold when out of position or they will exploit this. So you should start to develop a bit of a flatting range with reasonably strong hands out of position as you move up the limits.

How Should You Play a 4Bet Pot Postflop?

So obviously the aggressive player is not going to lay down and die every time we 4Bet him. Sometimes he will flat. Also, as just mentioned, sometimes we will just flat the 3Bet ourselves at higher limits.

So how should we continue postflop in these situations? Well, let's talk about what we should do as the preflop aggressor first.

The thing about a 4Bet pot (assuming 100bb stacks to start the hand) is that there really isn't a lot of room to manoeuvre. By this I mean that the stacks will be very shallow.

A typical raise progression before the flop will look something like this:

  • 3bb open > 10bb 3Bet > 22bb 4Bet

So by the time you see a flop in a 4Bet pot you will already have close to 1/4 of your stack in the middle.

Since the actual pot size is going to be close to 50bb then (assuming just one opponent), if you make a CBet you will have nearly half of your stack in the middle.

So what this basically does is create a situation where if you have an overpair, hit top pair or a good draw there is almost no way that we are folding.

I will probably just CBet and look to get it in with any made hand. With a draw it is a little bit different because I don't want to call it off. So often this is a good spot to try and check/raise the flop all in to put the pressure back on them.

How Should You Play a 3Bet Pot Out of Position Postflop

Playing a 3Bet pot out of position postflop is a difficult situation to be in. Most of the time you will miss the flop and be first to act in a bloated pot.

This is why I specifically advise against getting into a spot like this so often for newer poker players at the lower limits.

However, once we got ourselves in this mess what do we do now?

Well, if there is one thing that highly aggressive poker players like to do it is to be aggressive of course. So if we check, then we can probably expect to face a CBet a large amount of the time.

Now a 3Bet pot is totally different from a 4Bet pot. We don't have nearly as much of our stack in the middle and therefore we can still get away from plenty of hands if we think that we might be behind.

However, we do still need to fight for plenty of pots or else calling preflop out of position will be a disaster for our non-showdown winnings (red line) and therefore our overall winnings as well.

This is exactly where most people go wrong.

So you will need to mix in a whole array of different lines such as:
  • Check/call
  • Check/raise
  • Donk Bet

Now when to do each of these is a vast topic that can't possibly be covered in a little blog post like this. However, a lot of it will have to do with how the aggressive reg reacts to these various lines.

This is why I am such a big proponent of having a good HUD setup so that you already have data right in front of you on how your opponent is likely to react.

But in general you should just be mixing up your play here with all sorts of hands from top pairs, middle pairs to draws and even semi-bluffs and total air on occasion.

Versus an extremely over-aggressive reg (high 3Bet%, high flop CBet, high turn CBet), you can absolutely destroy them with a turn check/raise all in line here that includes plenty of value hands and strong draws.

Of course let me be clear that you should also simply fold to the CBet on the flop a fair amount of the time as well. Fighting for every single pot out of position against a competent reg will not be good for your winrate.

Final Thoughts

Dealing with a highly aggressive poker player on your left is never an easy thing to handle. In fact it just plain sucks no matter how you cut it.

Getting your ego involved though and fighting fire with fire will usually be a mistake for the simple reason that you are always fighting an uphill battle.

Don't get me wrong, it is definitely a good idea to mess with the regs. In fact I do it all the time, such as when I try to intentionally tilt them.

Don't go to war on their soil though. Counter their aggression with more aggression (or just flat the heck out of them) when you are the one in position.

When you are out of position though the only thing that you can do is tighten up. However, you can also expand your 4Betting range and even flat out of position a bit wider as well if you play at higher stakes.

Let me know in the comments below what you do when there is an aggressive reg on your left at the poker tables. Do you have any tips on how to handle them?

If you found this article helpful, then do me a quick favor and click the "Like" or "Tweet" button below. Thanks!

how to play against highly aggressive poker players

Monday, September 19, 2016

How to Know When You Should Fold an Overpair

how to know when you should fold your overpair
One of the hardest things for new and experienced players alike to do in poker is to fold an overpair. After all, you wait so long to finally get dealt your aces or kings. Nobody likes to fold them.

But of course sometimes this is the right thing to do. I am sure that you can remember many times where you stuck around only to see your opponent flip over trips or two pair.

It probably seemed fairly obvious after the fact didn't it? But for some reason you just couldn't find the fold button.

In this article I am going to discuss the top 3 situations where it is correct to fold an overpair in poker and how to discipline yourself to make the right decision.

When Your Double Barrel Gets Raised

The first (and in some ways the easiest spot) where you should consider folding your overpair is on the turn when your double barrel gets raised.

A double barrel is when you raise preflop, bet the flop and then bet the turn as well.

One of the key things to remember about most players at the lower stakes is that they are passive. If you use a HUD such as Pokertracker the AF (total aggression factor) will tell you this.

Many players at the micros will have an AF of 1 or 2 which means that they are basically only making strong aggressive plays when they have a big hand.

When somebody raises your double barrel this is a very strong aggressive play.

The reason why is because it says that "I want to play for stacks." When somebody raises your double barrel they will typically have about half of their stack already in the middle. Therefore, it is pretty unlikely that they are going to fold their hand.

Passive players just do not put this amount of their stack in the middle especially as the aggressor without a very strong hand.

There might be a few maniacs and loose aggressive regs who are capable of raising the turn as a bluff or with a balanced range at the micros. But these players are extremely rare and it will be very obvious from their HUD stats.

Against the overwhelming majority of players at the lower stakes (at least 95% of them), the correct play is to fold your overpair when your double barrel gets raised.

If you continue, you will get shown a set, trips or two pair a huge amount of the time.

Folding an Overpair in a Multi-Way Pot

Another situation where you need to consider folding your overpair is in multi-way pots. And at the lower stakes these are going to happen a lot.

You can try using over-raises in some exceptionally crazy games but the bottom line is that sometimes you are going to be in a big family pot with your aces no matter what.

It is important to understand that in a situation like this there is a significant chance that one of them will hit something strong after the flop.

You may have had the best or the second best hand in poker before the flop but after the flop your hand is still only just one pair.

Your opponents are going to be in their with all sorts of small pairs, middle pairs, suited connectors and suited aces. Therefore, the boards that you really want to be careful of the most are highly coordinated and wet with low or middle cards.

For example:

  • 2♥4♥5♣
  • 6♦7♠8♠

On boards like this there are tons of flopped straights, two-pairs, pair + draw and sets that could already have you crushed or be a statistical favourite against you.

You should still go ahead and make your CBet on these boards because you don't want to just give them a free card to hit their flush, straight or some silly two-pair.

However, if somebody starts giving you big action by raising, then you should really consider backing down.

It is important to keep the action in the hand in mind as well.

Often a big clue that people miss is who somebody raises. Are they only raising you or are their several other people left to act as well?

Ask yourself how likely it is that a passive player will raise the entire table with a weak hand in a situation like this. I think you already know the answer.

No Reads and No History

The last set of clues that I look for when considering if I should fold my overpair are the history that I have with this person and any reads that I may have gathered in the past.

If you encounter a player at the micros who is sophisticated enough to be able to bluff-raise or semi-bluff raise your double barrel for instance, they are much more likely to do it when there is significant history.

When they don't know anything about you, then they have no way of knowing whether you will fold or not. But if they have a history of tight play versus you for example, then maybe they will think that they can get away with it.

This is why if you read this blog a lot I actually suggest that you do the exact opposite. That is, make some crazy bluffs when there is no history at all because they will be less likely to suspect it.

I think this should be a vital component of any Zoom poker strategy in particular due to the limited information in that format.

The other thing that I am looking for is any history of making wild plays against anybody, not just me.

While I don't really bother taking notes much when playing at the micros online because there are simply too many players, if I have some downtime and I see a reg show up with a crazy hand I will sometimes make a note.

Also, if you are playing live or on just a handful of tables online then you should always be making at least a mental note of what the other players are doing anyways.

So to sum up, if there is very little history and I have never seen my opponent make any crazy out of character plays in the past, then I will be more willing to give them credit and possibly fold my overpair.

How Do You Discipline Yourself to Make the Right Fold?

So now for the million dollar question. Even knowing all of the above, how do you hit the fold button in the heat of the moment with your aces, kings, queens etc?

Well I am sorry to be anti-climactic but there is no magic pill or math formula in order to make yourself do this. Much like keeping yourself off of tilt, the real key is experience and some good old fashioned self control.

By experience I mean getting shown the trips, two pair or straight enough times that you are finally sick of it. If you want actual proof then you can simply run a bunch of filters in Pokertracker like I discuss in this post and go see the raw brutal evidence yourself.

You can even pull up your graph for when you decide to continue on in the hand after your double barrel gets raised. I gotta warn you though, it won't be pretty!

The second way that you will learn to find the fold button is by learning to take your time in important spots like this and recognize the scenario in front of you.

The nit just raised your double barrel! You know that he hit his set.

You can either pay him off like every other mediocre player out there or you can exercise some self control and logical decision making to make the right choice here.

With enough experience it will become like second nature. You won't "have to see it." Because you "already know it." Just make the fold and move on.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully this article helped you to understand a few of the scenarios where it correct to fold your overpair.

It never really gets easy. Nobody likes folding an overpair. But once you learn to recognize the common spots you will hopefully learn to start finding the fold button a little bit more often.

And if nothing else, the experience of getting shown the nuts again and again should help you learn how to exercise more self control eventually and make the right fold.

I just want to quickly end by letting it be clear that there is no way that you are going to make the right fold every time. Nobody plays perfect poker. It is important not to beat yourself up about making the wrong decision sometimes.

Sometimes you are just going to get stacked and that is ok. The purpose of this article was to help you move the chains just a little bit and start making some of the more obvious folds such as against the nit who raises you on the turn.

Let me know in the comments below what the main situations are where you have a problem folding an overpair. Do you have any advice on how to get away from overpairs?

*New Here?* If you are new here and enjoyed this article, then make sure to check out my "Start Here" Page for all of my best micro stakes strategy articles.

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