Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Interview With Small Stakes Crusher Kieran "KieHa" Harding

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

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

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

So without further ado!

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your travels.

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

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

When did you first get introduced to online poker?

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

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

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

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

No not at all lol.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Kieran Harding Pokerstars Pro

Kieran Harding iPoker Pro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can also follow me on Twitter.

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

Interview With Online Poker Player Kieran "KieHa" Harding

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Fixing Bad Habits in Micro Stakes Poker

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

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

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

Nit or LAG?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Playing Too Tight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Afraid to Bluff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can't Fold a "Good Hand"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Afraid to Move Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monkey Tilt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Playing in Bad Games

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because none of us do.

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

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

Bad habits at the micros

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Can You Win at Online Poker Without Using Math?

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

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

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

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

1. Poker Hand Odds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are several free equity calculators such as:

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

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

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

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

2. Poker Pot Odds

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

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

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

How Do You Calculate the Pot Odds?

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

Here is an example:

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

4 + 2 = 6

6 / 2 = 3

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

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

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

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

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

3. Poker Implied Odds

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Calculating Your Implied Odds

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

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

    There are a few reasons for this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Poker math for online poker

    Sunday, March 20, 2016

    Moving From NL5 to NL10: What to Expect

    Moving up from NL5 to NL10 online poker cash games
    Moving up the limits in today's micro stakes online cash games can sometimes be a daunting task. You will see new faces, more skilled opponents and bigger pots. It can therefore be a bit of an unnerving experience for some.

    However, if you know what to expect before making the move, it can make the transition a lot easier.

    Last time I wrote a guide on the differences between NL2 and NL5. It proved to be a fairly popular article so this week I am going to cover what you can expect when you make the move from NL5 to NL10.

    NL5 Versus NL10

    NL5 (2c/5c blinds) is typically the 2nd lowest limit cash game that you can play online and it usually has a $5 max buyin (100 big blinds). NL10 (5c/10c blinds) is typically the 3rd rung on the ladder in online poker cash games with a $10 max buyin.

    So unlike NL2, where you will encounter many complete online poker beginners, at both NL5 and NL10 you will typically find players who have "graduated" from a lower limit. Very few people will start their playing career at either of these stakes.

    So this means that you will find far less completely clueless fish playing 40% or more of their hands. Also, the regs at these stakes will have typically studied the game to some extent and therefore offer more than the "play tight" strategy that is the only thing that most NL2 regs know.

    However, as I discussed in the previous article in this series there is always a relative skill difference any time you move up the stakes in online cash games. The average NL10 reg will be a better poker player than the average NL5 reg.

    NL5 Regs Versus NL10 Regs

    With that said though, the relative skill difference that you will encounter between regs at NL5 and NL10 is not nearly as pronounced as it is between NL2 and NL5. The key difference though once again will be aggression.

    At NL10:
    • You will get 3Bet more often preflop
    • You will get 4Bet more often preflop
    • You will get floated more often postflop
    • You will get raised more often postflop
    • You will get barreled more often postflop
    In terms of actual HUD statistics you will find more regs approaching double digits in their Preflop 3Bet%. You will also see 4Bet Ratios of 2, 3 or even 4 more often.

    If these numbers sound like Greek to you then you might want to go check out my comprehensive article on HUD setup and stats for more information.

    With regards to postflop play NL10 regs will float or raise you more often than NL5 regs. This is because they understand the power of position in poker better and how to use it. So they will flat you in position preflop with a wider array of holdings as well.

    Lastly, NL10 regs will barrel you more often than their NL5 counterparts. This means that if you float them, they will fire another CBet on the turn more often and sometimes even a 3rd shell on the river either as a value bet or as a bluff.

    At NL10 you will encounter a lot more hyper aggressive regs who will be constantly trying to push you out of the pot at every stage of the hand.

    The answer to this (just like versus a maniac fish) is to simply call with a wider range and let them hang themselves. It is important to note though that regs are not fish and just because they are betting and raising like crazy against you in every hand does not necessarily mean that they are bluffing you every time.

    This is why it will be imperative once again that you wait until you have played a few sessions and built up some reasonable HUD data on the regs before making any big adjustments to them. There are still going to be many tight regs at NL10 who will have the nuts or close to it a lot of the time when they bet.

    You don't want to make the mistake of calling them down light. This is why it is important to collect a couple hundred hands on a reg before making a firm decision about what type of player they are.

    NL5 Fish Versus NL10 Fish

    Once again the differences between the recreational players at NL5 and at NL10 will be small. Fish are pretty much fish at any limit.

    They play the game for fun and they don't try to improve. Many see it almost like bingo or something anyways. They don't understand that poker is actually a game of skill where if you improve your technical knowledge, then your results will improve as well.

    Therefore, the fish at either of these limits will continue to play way too many hands, play way too passively and limp a lot. The answer to this is to isolate them frequently and value bet the crap out of them.

    The one main difference though between these two limits is that the recreational players will be harder to find. This is because there are simply less and less of them as you move up the limits.

    This is why it is increasingly important that you are paying attention to table selection by the time you reach NL10. Despite what the naysayers will tell you it is very possible to find 40%+ VPIP goofballs still at this stake.

    You will have to bounce around tables a lot more though, learn to play short-handed and even poker site select. If you choose to sit down at random tables or grind reg infested Zoom games then you will rarely encounter these types of players at NL10 and even at NL5 for that matter.

    Winrates Between NL5 and NL10

    So as expected when you are facing better skilled opponents and less recreational players your winrate will go down when you move from NL5 to NL10. The drop will not be as pronounced as between NL2 and NL5 though because the relative skill difference is not as big.

    However, you should definitely expect to see your winrate decrease by anywhere from 25% to 50%. This means that if you are a 5bb/100 winner at NL5 then your winrate might decrease to 4bb/100 or 3bb/100 at NL10.

    A decrease in winrate will mean more variance. This means that you will encounter lengthier and more intense downswings. 20 buyin downswings are definitely possible even for a good player at NL10 whereas this won't happen as often at NL5.

    This is why it is imperative that you are practicing good bankroll management by the time you get to NL10. I would suggest having 40 buyins for this limit. This means $400 in your bankroll.

    Making the Move from NL5 to NL10

    All of the same rules apply when moving up to any new limit.
    • Make sure that you are consistently beating your current limit for a reasonable winrate (2bb/100 or more) and over a reasonable sample size (20k hands minimum)
    • Make sure that you are adequately bankrolled
    • Make sure that you are feeling confident about your game and you are not currently in a downswing
    • Move up on a weekend or a high traffic time when the games are likely to be the best
    • Lower the number of tables at first and pay heavy attention to table selection
    • Don't get into big time reg wars until you have a good amount of HUD data on them
    Another key point to consider by NL10 is to avoid having the hyper aggressive reg on your left. As I mentioned before, this is one of the first stakes where you will start seeing some real aggro machines. You will also start seeing more legit LAG (loose and aggressive) regs.

    Many regs will also start to become more aware of when you are isolating a fish at NL10. Therefore they will correctly light 3Bet or 4Bet you back.

    This is why it is important by NL10 that you start paying attention not only to who is on your right but to who is on your left as well. Dealing with a hyper aggressive player, who you have little information about, and who has direct position on you, won't be a fun experience. It can also be tilt-inducing if the cards aren't falling your way.

    So in a situation like this it can often be a good idea to simply leave the table or rejoin in a different seat. NL10, much like NL5, is a very popular limit online and therefore there are many other tables to choose from.

    It is important not to let your ego get involved when you are out of position against an aggressive good reg. Even if you manage to win the battle you will still lose the war because the money does not come from players like this in poker.

    Final Thoughts

    Moving from NL5 to NL10 is a fairly big step along your journey up the micro stakes poker ladder. You will encounter tougher players and less fish. Also, the pots will be twice as large. While the money amounts are still small to most, they aren't completely insignificant either.

    However, with an understanding of the differences between the regs at each limit and a carefully planned strategy for moving up (and down), there is no reason why you can't make a seamless transition to this next limit.

    The bottom line is this:

    If you are winning right now with a reasonable winrate over a decent sample at NL5, then you will without question have success at NL10 as well.

    Moving up in stakes is never easy though and it might take you several attempts before you succeed. This happens to everybody due to short term variance and sometimes tilt. Having to move back down for awhile is nothing to be ashamed of.

    Once you do finally stick at NL10 though you will adjust to the new regs and wonder what all the fuss was about in the first place. You will also be just one step away from getting to this first limit in online poker cash games where you can make some decent money which is NL25.

    Let me know in the comments below what your experience has been like in moving from NL5 to NL10. Do you have any tips for making the transition easier?

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

    Moving up the stakes in poker

    Monday, March 7, 2016

    Moving From NL2 to NL5: What to Expect

    The differences between NL2 and NL5 online poker cash games
    A question that I see very frequently on poker forums and in my inbox concerns the differences between NL2 and NL5 online cash games. Unfortunately there is a lot of bad advice out there on this topic though.

    They are not the same game. Not even close.

    As somebody with arguably the most experience in history at these two limits (this isn't really a brag lol), I am going to try and provide a comprehensive answer in this article.

    NL2 Versus NL5

    NL2 is the lowest stake available to play no limit hold'em cash on most major online poker rooms. The blinds are 1c/2c and the max buyin is typically $2 (100 big blinds).

    This is the level therefore that a large amount of people begin playing at. So you get a ton of people coming over from play money, live poker or even those who are completely new to the game in general.

    The same cannot be said for NL5. This is typically the 2nd lowest stake available at online poker rooms with blinds of 2c/5c. The max buyin once again is often 100 big blinds ($5).

    A much larger percentage of the people that play NL5 have "graduated" from NL2. There are very few people who are complete beginners at this stake. If someone were inclined to skip a few stakes (which I do not recommend) they would probably start much higher than this where it feels more like "real money."

    So most of the regs (regulars) who you will encounter at NL5 come from that small subset of players who have actually beaten NL2 over a decent sample. They have probably therefore studied the game a bit and aren't total beginners.

    Huge Relative Skill Difference

    So this is why I believe that the relative skill difference between NL2 and NL5 is actually among the largest that you will find between any two stakes in online poker.

    This is not to say that either of these games are overly difficult. With the right strategy, table selection and tilt control both of these games are still extremely easy to beat.

    But for somebody who is fairly new to playing online poker they will problem notice a big jump in skill level. What do I mean by this?
    • You will get 3Bet more often preflop
    • You will get 4Bet more often preflop
    • You will get floated more often postflop
    • You will get raised more often postflop
    • You will get barreled more often postflop
    Basically you will notice a marked shift in aggression both pre and postflop between the two stakes. The answer is not to start bluffing the crap out of every reg yourself. This is actually a huge mistake that a lot of people (including myself) make when moving up.

    You should instead just keep doing the same things that brought you success at NL2. After you have played several sessions at NL5 and collected some HUD stats on the regs, then you can start exploiting their specific weaknesses based off of what the data is telling you.

    NL2 Regs Versus NL5 Regs

    At NL2 you will still find a huge amount of regs whose only real strategy at the tables is to "play tight." They will have little to no creativity in their game. They will often have the nuts when they make a bet or raise at any stage of a hand.

    Nearly all regs at NL2 are what are often referred to as "bad regs." This is because they are very easily exploited. For a complete breakdown of all of the different types of regs that you will encounter at the micros check out this article of mine.

    Regs at NL2 also typically have very little experience with the long run in poker. Even if they have played live for years they will still have issues due to how slow the cards are dealt compared to online.

    Therefore, they are much more likely to tilt hard when things aren't going their way. They will also have a lot more superstitions (favorite hand, bad beat stories etc.) as they are less likely to view the game in a detached business-like manner.

    This doesn't mean that all NL5 regs on the other hand are world class professionals. Far from it. Most of them are just learning the game as well. They will also tilt hard on occasion.

    But by and large they will have a broader understanding of how the game works on a fundamental level including basic concepts such as position, initiative and tilt control.

    NL2 Fish Versus NL5 Fish

    There really isn't a ton to say here. Fish are pretty much fish at any limit. They play the game purely for recreation. They don't try to learn or improve.

    As you move up the stakes though you will typically notice a significant increase in the aggression levels of the recreational players. Their aggression is still almost always misplaced and devoid of all logic but an aggressive player is always going to be more challenging to play against than a passive donk.

    I actually just recently wrote about how to play optimally against the aggro donks. So you can go check out that article for more strategy advice versus these types of players.

    By and large though, most of the fish who you will encounter at NL5 will be the exact same as the ones who you encountered at NL2. They will be playing far too many hands, limping a lot and calling way too much postflop.

    So all of the same rules apply. Get in lots of pots versus them and value bet them to death.

    Winrates Between NL2 and NL5

    One of the most popular articles in the history of my website is all about winrates. Everybody wants to know what a "good winrate" is!

    As I speculate in that article, you can expect your winrate to pretty much be cut in half when you move from NL2 to NL5. This has certainly been my experience.

    So if you are currently winning at 6bb/100 for instance at NL2, then you should probably expect that to be reduced to 3bb/100 at NL5. I don't think that there are any other two levels in online poker where you can expect this big of a decrease in your winrate.

    And the reason why just goes back to everything that I have talked about thus far. NL2 is still largely a joke with tons of brand new players. I have long called it "the circus."

    At NL5 though, while there are still plenty of fish, there are far less truly awful regs. Since regs will be by far your most common opponent in either game, this will affect your winrate in a big way.

    It is important to note once again though that this discussion is entirely relative. If you currently crush NL25 for instance, then the vast majority of NL5 regs will be complete fish to you. If you beat NL100, then most NL25 regs will seem easily exploitable. And so on.

    Everything is relative in poker.

    Bankroll Differences Between NL2 and NL5

    Something else that often gets overlooked between NL2 and NL5 is the difference between the blinds. NL5 is a 2.5x bigger game than NL2 whereas the difference is just 2x between most other stakes in online poker.

    So what this really means is that for somebody who is used to playing NL2, the size of the pots at NL5 will probably seem quite a bit bigger at first. Even though the money in either game is still largely insignificant for most, it can be intimidating at first.

    So this is why it is so crucial that you employ a proper bankroll management strategy. And it is also important that you take controlled shots when moving up.

    This means that you set a certain amount of buyins aside that you are prepared to lose before moving back down to NL2 to rebuild. Of course the plan is to hopefully stick at NL5 the first time so that you never have to do this. But short term variance can sometimes get in the way.

    When to Make the Move

    Beyond bankroll there are a few other factors to consider before making the jump between NL2 and NL5. The first is a history of success at NL2.

    You might say "well duh" to this point but many people make the mistake of moving up way too quickly. I would suggest playing a minimum of 20k hands at any limit before coming to any sort of conclusions about your winrate there.

    Just because you had a couple of winning sessions at NL2 does not mean that you have crushed the game beyond belief. It could mean that, but more than likely you were running good as well and therefore short term variance played a role.

    There is absolutely no rush when moving up. The games aren't going anywhere. Put in some real time there (at least a week or two of consistent play) to make sure that you are definitely beating NL2.

    Lastly, and again this might sound like a "well duh" point, but only move up when you are playing well and feeling confident. Moving up when you are in a downswing (i.e., losing a ton) is about the worst thing that you can possibly do.

    Moving up because you are sick of the NL2 donks who never "respect your raises" is also just as silly. The answer to a lack of success against the worst players in the world at NL2 is not to move up and play against better opponents.


    The differences between NL2 and NL5 online cash games are much larger than most people think. This is probably the biggest relative skill difference in all of online poker. However, for any seasoned grinder with a solid grasp of the fundamentals and a little bit of tilt control, both games are still very easy.

    If you are fairly new to the online poker world though, and are currently trying to make the jump between these two limits, then I hope this article helped shined a bit of light on what to look out for.

    If you want more on the differences between these two stakes, and how to crush them,  I actually wrote an entire book about it.

    If you have any questions or comments about making the jump from NL2 to NL5 please leave them in the comments below. What has your experience been like?

    If you found this article helpful then please do me a big favor and share it with your friends on Facebook and Twitter below!

    How to get a tell on your opponent in poker.