Monday, August 31, 2015

How to Become the Best Micro Stakes Poker Player in the World

How to Become the Best Micro Stakes Poker Player in the World
Becoming the best micro stakes poker player in the world is a little bit of beat and a brag. You make more nickels, dimes and dollars than anybody else but you aren't likely to get rich this way. At one point in time I probably held this title thanks to an infamous website publishing everybody's results whether they liked it or not.

I learned very quickly that everybody and their dog was now going to have an opinion about my poker career (again whether I liked it or not) as well. Due to my results, my profile on that website was getting the same kind of views and comments as Phil Ivey and Tom Dwan for awhile.

I quickly got sick of listening to every anonymous person on the internet telling me what I should and shouldn't be doing with my poker career. And I also got tired of dealing with the little hater kiddies who followed my every move and relished in every downswing that I went through.

Yes, there really are people on the internet who have this much time on their hands.

So this is a large part of the reason why I started this website blackrain79.com. No more anonymous comments and I could have the discussion about my poker career and views about the game on my terms.

And this really ties into what you have to do if you want to be the best in poker as well. You have to simply stop caring what (almost all) other people think.


Most People Lose at Poker


The simple fact of the matter is that the large majority of people who play this game will lose in the long run. But even in the face of this undeniable fact most people think that they are "around break even" or it's just a run of bad luck that is keeping them down.

Poker is much like driving. Most people tend to rate their own abilities much higher than they actually are.

And because of this everybody will also have an opinion about you, how you play, the correct move and so on. They will in fact argue until they are blue in the face about it in places like internet poker forums, the poker table chat box or even just in a chance encounter at a social event.


You Have Got to Learn to Tune The Noise Out


You will eventually drive yourself nuts if you listen to all of these people. You will also waste an incredible amount of time that could have been better spent actually playing and profiting at the game. You can go to poker forums and see people with 10k+ posts in the space of a few years.

They barely even play the game. Getting their point across about some poker hand/theory on the internet to a bunch of random strangers is actually more important to them than playing the game itself!

I would suggest not wasting your time in these places at all. Close the poker chat box, stop wasting your time on poker forums. If you want to discuss the game a bit and get some feedback on your play then finding a small circle of committed winning players and forming a Skype group for instance is a much better idea.


Pick a Few Training Materials and Ignore Everything Else


The same thing goes for poker training materials. There is an absolute massive amount of information out there in the form of video training sites, books, coaches and so on.

Pick one and ignore everything else.

If you try to join every training site, read every book and hire 10 different coaches the only thing that you are going to achieve is a lot of confusion and information overload.

Find an educational resource that you have heard good things about and just focus all of your attention on studying that one thing. The truth is that you don't need to know everything on earth about poker theory in order to beat the micros.

Heck, I can assure you that you don't even need to be some super genius to become the best micro stakes poker player in the world!


Your Success or Failure in Poker is 100% on You


Most people don't even give themselves a chance to succeed in this game. I have said it many, many times on this blog. The one thing that separates nearly all of the elite players from everybody else is this:

They always seem to be at the tables playing the actual game!

They aren't on poker forums getting in flame wars and wasting their time arguing about another close decision. They aren't wasting their time listening to losing poker players whine in the chat box. They aren't reading 28 poker books, joining every training site and looking for that next messiah coach.

No, they are at the tables putting in the work. They are playing millions and millions of hands and learning from their own mistakes.

They probably spent some time in the beginning learning a basic strategy for success and then they built their own game around that.


Do Something Totally Different and Don't Apologize to Anybody About It


That last point really is the most important one.

After you have learned a basic strategy in order to beat the stakes that you play you need to inject your own personality into your game. You need to do things because you think they are right even if everybody else thinks that it is wrong.

Years ago when I used to 24 table the micros all day long I noticed that every time I would raise with my big pairs and big aces the entire table would call me (the good ole' days of online poker).

So I just said screw it, I will make it 10 times the big blind every time then.

People laughed at me and told me how terrible I play at the poker tables and on the poker forums again and again. And yet oddly enough just a few short years later you couldn't sit at an NL2 or NL5 game on Pokerstars without everybody copying my strategy.

They copied it so much in fact that you can't get away with this anymore because literally everybody knows what it means now.

There used to be a famous mid stakes poker player on Stars back in the day as well who did something similar. He would mini-raise open with literally all of his hands preflop. Again, they made fun of him endlessly on poker forums and at the tables. Now the mini-raise is a standard open in many of these games.

The Bottom Line:

Learn some basic strategy and keep updating your knowledge periodically as you rise up the ranks as well. But once you have this foundation learn to play the game your way. Don't listen to the masses of losing players or those too busy talking about the game to actually play it.

The people who are the biggest winners in poker are almost always ahead of the curve in some way. They do things a little bit differently than everyone else.

Expect some pushback. The crabs in the bucket won't like you for it. It's not "standard" after all. But if you find that what you are doing works then ignore them and keep doing it.


Conclusion


I hope that this short piece helped inspire a few of you out there. There really is no reason why you can't get whatever you want from this game.

You won't get there by sitting around obsessing over every new poker theory and listening to every opinion though. That is a sure-fire recipe for failure in fact.

Cut through all of the nonsense and tune 95% of people out. Listen to a select few authoritative resources or friends who you trust and believe in.

Then go put what you have learned into practice at the tables, develop your own distinct style of play and don't be afraid to experiment.

Furthermore, be known as the poker "doer" and not the poker "talker" by consistently putting in the hours at the tables and keeping the chit chat to a minimum.

This really is the only way to real success in this game. Who knows, you might even become known as the best micro stakes player in the world some day :p

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How to Become the Best Micro Stakes Player in the World

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Flop Strategies Versus Bad Poker Players Who Do Not Like to Fold

Flop Strategies Versus Bad Poker Players Who Do Not Like to Fold
When to CBet the flop and when to lay off is something that a lot of people at the micros struggle with. I get questions about it all the time. The reason why is that you have so many fish who don't fold and even regs who don't like to fold at these stakes.

This creates a lot of problems since most of the time you are going to miss the flop or only catch a small piece of it. It can be very frustrating to keep making a CBet in these scenarios only to be called or raised again and again. 

So in this article I am going to talk about how to approach flop situations as the preflop raiser versus calling stations. I will discuss when you should bet and when you should just give up. I will also have plenty of example hands at the end to make this all more clear.


Make a Flop CBet 75% of the Time (Under Normal Conditions)


Any of you who have followed my work (blog posts, books, videos etc.) know that I toss this number out there a lot. Make a CBet 75% of the time.

The reason why is that people like concrete numbers to go by and I think that in a typical micro stakes cash game which has a lot of tight/passive regs this will be close to optimal.

It is important to remember that you only need to get somebody to fold about 1/3 of the time in order to break even when you are only CBetting 2/3 of the pot . Basically everybody (even most fish) fold this often.

But of course every situation is different in poker and so this number is only just a guideline. As I just mentioned, some games at the micros (especially NL2 and NL5) include a lot of these no-fold'em players. They will call you down with two napkins.

Would it be a good idea to fire a CBet against them 3/4 of the time? Probably not. 


Make a Flop CBet 60% of the Time (Against Players Who Don't Like to Fold)


So my flop CBet is indeed a fair bit lower at these stakes (NL2 and NL5 in particular). I tend to fire a continuation bet about 60% of the time. Again, this is just a rough number because people like numbers. Don't take it too literally.

But overall I will certainly be more selective in deciding when and who I CBet against at these stakes. You always have to be adjusting to the game conditions in poker.

This one is really simple. If they aren't going to fold very often, then I won't waste my time (and money) firing endless CBets into them. I will make sure that I have something. 

Keep in mind that at these stakes you will have more "family pots" as well. Once one person calls it often creates a domino effect where everyone and their dog wants in. It is of course much more difficult to get folds versus multiple players. So I will have to be even more selective in these situations.

Not all games at the micros are like this though.

If I notice that I am at a table full of nits who can't wait to fold to my CBets then I might be firing a bet 80% or even 90% of the time. 


Perceived Range


Before I get into some specific examples though let me talk a bit about some CBetting basics to make sure that we are all on the same page. If you have read my first book then you know that I talk about something called a "perceived range" quite a bit.

This is the the range of cards that you are "supposed to have" when you raise preflop. This would typically include big pairs, big aces and broadways. Hands like:
  • AA, KK, QQ, JJ and TT
  • AK, AQ and AJ
  • KQ, KJ and QJ
But of course if you follow my advice then you will have plenty of other speculative but still reasonably decent hands in your raising range as well such as:
  • 22-99
  • JTs, 98s, 87s
  • ATs, A9s, A8s
And many, many more hands especially as you get closer to the button. 

So this perceived range of only having big cards isn't exactly true most of the time. However, this is what we should expect our opponent to believe. And that is the only thing that matters.

This does of course assume that they are indeed thinking about this sort of thing. Most fish won't but most regs will. 


Good Flops to CBet


So given this perceived range (where basically we get too much credit) it will make sense for us to CBet most flops. The reason why is that our perceived range hits a lot of flops hard or it may be assumed that we have a big pair which didn't need to improve anyways.

These are the types of flops that I am talking about:
  • Single Broadway (A82)
  • Double Broadway ( AK4)
  • Triple Broadway (AKJ)
  • Paired (TT3)
  • Raggedy (952)
  • Bingo (777)

Calling Range


The only boards where we should be a little bit hesitant to fire the CBet are the ones with a lot of middle cards such as:
  • 986
  • 875
Boards like this hit the range of a lot of the types of hands that they will be calling us with preflop such as:
  • Suited connectors
  • Suited aces
  • Middle pairs
  • Small pairs
The caller will usually have a few more suited cards in their range as well which means that a flush draw on the board probably hits their range a little harder than ours.

This calling range is generalizing a bit once again. They will have some sort of ace or be slowplaying a big pair from time to time for instance when they call us preflop.

However, these types of middle card flops hit a lot of hands and we should also expect them to have a lot of these types of cards in their hand as well.


Flop CBetting 101
Flop Strategies Versus Bad Poker Players Who Do Not Like to Fold


So to sum up here is some of the general theory surrounding flop CBetting. 

1) The preflop raiser is thought to have a lot of big cards and big pairs and therefore should CBet on most flops. 

2) The preflop caller is thought to have more drawing hands and middle cards and therefore will probably continue more often on boards which hit this range. 

3) As mentioned above, the situation changes quite a bit when facing several opponents. We can't rely so much on our perceived range in order to get folds. There is simply a much higher chance that somebody has something and therefore we should have actually hit the board in some meaningful way when CBetting. 

4) Lastly, position does matter. We should be more inclined to make a CBet when in position. Poker is always so much easier (and more profitable) when we get to act last. However, it shouldn't be a massive difference. Whether or not you think that you can get your opponent(s) to fold a decent amount of the time should be the over-riding concern.


Versus the Low Fold to CBet Fish or Reg


All of this is great in theory. But as mentioned above there will be times especially at the lowest stakes when we know that we are up against a fish or a reg who does not like to fold to flop CBets.

They will typically have a fold to flop CBet of 50% or less on your HUD. 

Now it is important to make a clear distinction between the type of player who is only sticky on flops with the type of player who doesn't fold on any street.

For instance, if you see a player like this: 
  • Low fold to flop CBet% (~40%)
  • High fold to turn CBet% (~70%)
Then you should absolutely make a CBet and then fire again on the turn. This is a very profitable situation.

However, if you see a player like this:
  • Low fold to flop CBet% (~40%)
  • Low fold to turn CBet% (~30%)
Then it would be a big mistake to try and barrel this player off of their hand. It will be very bad for your win rate to keep firing with air versus a player like this. 

The WTSD% (went to showdown) stat will help a lot here as well. The players who you can get to fold will typically be in the low 20's and the players who won't fold will be in the high 20's.

Let's look at a few examples now in order to add some clarity to this discussion.

Here is a quick legend:

EP = Early position
MP = Middle position
LP = Late position
IP = In position
OOP = Out of position

Assume these two things in all of the following examples as well:

  • All stacks are 100bb to start the hand
  • All opponents have a low fold to flop CBet% (50% of less)

Example #1 


Hero raises with 5♣5♦ in EP and a fish calls in the blinds

The flop comes:

A♦K♥4♠

The fish checks
Hero???

Hero should CBet here even if the fish has a low fold to flop CBet%. There is definitely no fist pumping going on though. 

Oftentimes in poker when there is no clearly most profitable decision it is best to just choose the one that sucks the least.

And that is the case here. 

Even though we don't expect to take it down a lot with a flop CBet we can probably still at least break even. Our opponent has already checked to us which indicates some weakness and this flop hits our perceived range hard. 

The other option is checking back and allowing the fish to hit his overcards or complete some ridiculous draw for free. It is difficult to see any benefit for us in this. Therefore, I would rather just try and take down the pot on the flop. 

Since this spot is pretty close if I was OOP in this hand it would be enough to change my decision some of the time. I would indeed just check and give up more often. The fact that it is very difficult for my hand to improve plays a role in this decision as well.


Example #2 


Hero raises with A♥J♥ in MP and a reg calls on the button

The flop comes:

K♠T♥3♣

Hero???

I think this is a spot where once again we should CBet even versus a player who does not like to fold. We once again caught a board that is very good for our perceived range. 

It should also be noted that we have a lot more outs if called this time with potentially two live over cards, a gutshot to the nuts and the backdoor nut flush draw.

Just keep things simple and make your standard CBet in a spot like this especially against a reg. Regs will also be more likely to pull one off on the flop but give up on the turn if you continue with the aggression.


Example #3


Hero raises with 2♠2♥ in MP and gets called by a fish in the CO

The flop comes:

9♦8♦6♣

Hero???

This is the classic spot where there is no way on earth that I am going to waste a CBet. Let's look at all of the odds that are stacked against us here:
  • Opponent is a calling station fish
  • The board hits his range hard (middle cards and a potential flush draw)
  • We have very few ways to improve our hand on later streets
  • We are OOP
This is a spot where you should be simply checking and giving up. Making a CBet here is just lighting money on fire. 


Example #4


Hero raises with J♣T♣ in LP, a fish calls in the SB and a reg calls in the BB

The flop comes:

Q♦9♥3♠

The fish checks
The reg checks
Hero???

Even though we probably won't get both players to fold all that often we should make a CBet here. We have an open ended straight draw and possibly two live over cards. Also, both players have already checked to us which indicates some weakness.

As I mentioned before though, you need to be more careful in multi-way pots especially against players who don't fold to flop CBets. You should have hit the board in some reasonable way like we have here. 

If I had complete air here with a hand like 87 or A5 against two players like this I would likely just check and give up. Against one opponent it would be ok to take a stab. 


Example #5 


Hero raises in EP with A♥K♥, a fish calls in MP and a fish calls on the button

The flop comes:

T♦6♠5♠

Hero???

A spot like this in particular is really difficult for a lot of people at these stakes. You have a huge hand preflop but you completely whiffed the flop versus a couple of bad players. To make matters worse, you are OOP. 

I know it might not be an overly popular choice but the best decision here (by far) is to simply check and give up.

You have to forget about how pretty your hand looked before the flop and realize that in this spot it will be difficult to get both of your opponents to fold. We know that they are calling if they have any piece and even bottom pair with no kicker is a sizable favorite against us.

Flop Strategies Versus Bad Poker Players Who Do Not Like to Fold

We are behind against a simple flush draw as well.
Flop Strategies Versus Bad Poker Players Who Do Not Like to Fold

Versus one player OOP here it is definitely much closer. I would probably be CBetting some of the time. But against multiple opponents it is definitely a better idea to simply give up. 


Final Thoughts


CBet spots on the flop at the micros really aren't as difficult as some people make them out to be. As I have mentioned before, one of the biggest keys to my success against the throngs of bad players and calling stations at these stakes is to simply be more patient. This means that sometimes you will need to simply check and give up even with a hand as strong as AK. 

Against the weak/tight regs you can just keep things simple as well by barreling hard on all of the boards that hit your perceived range. If they choose to call you down or fight back they will often have a big hand and you can safely fold.

Against the tricky opponents at these stakes who will float and raise you with a wide range there is obviously a lot more to say. You will need to consider things like balancing your range and taking unconventional lines a lot more often.

That honestly is a topic for an entire other article. But I have indeed already written that other article before. You can go check it out here. 

If you have any questions or comments about any of the example hands above feel free to leave a comment below. What is your strategy versus bad players on the flop?

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Flop Strategies Versus Bad Poker Players Who Do Not Like to Fold

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Should You Play Full Ring or 6max?

Should you play full ring or 6max?
A question that I get asked a lot is if you should play the full ring or 6max poker tables. I think there are a lot of different pros and cons to each so I am going to address them here in this blog post.

What people especially want to know about are the profitability of each format, the different play styles required to beat them and the presence of fish. I will address each of these in particular one by one.

Let's get started!


Are Win Rates Higher in Full Ring or 6max?


It is difficult to answer this question because I do not have all of the data. The poker sites themselves are probably the only ones who truly know if there is a difference but that is proprietary information that they aren't likely to release.

The infamous pokertableratings.com website who used to widely publish player information and results before Pokerstars laid the hammer down on them provided some interesting data.

I remember checking the leader boards on that website for results in full ring and 6max at all levels of the micros. Their results indicated that there was no real substantial difference between the win rates of the top players in either game.

Now of course the win rates of the top players are much different than the average win rate or the median win rate. There is no way of knowing what these are. But on the surface, and from my own personal results as well, I think that win rates are pretty similar in both games.

It is only in heads up games where you will see a substantially higher win rate ceiling because you can play every hand against a fish with no interference from other regs. But then of course you can't put in anywhere near as much volume in this format either so it evens out.

Bottom Line:

The potential win rates are roughly the same in full ring and 6max.


Style of Play to Beat Full Ring Versus 6max


If you really break it down all a 6max game really is is a full ring game minus the first 3 seats. But the reality is that those extra 3 seats do make a big difference. There are 50% more people at a full ring table and this means that the average hand strength in any situation will be higher.

But beyond this I also feel that there is a different mental approach to each game as well. Full ring tends to attract more of the nitty mass multi-tabling grinders whereas 6max attracts the action junkies. This is not always the case but the generalization is fair I believe.

I think that this is the mentality that you need to bring to each game as well.

While you could simply open with the exact same range in a 6max game as you would from the final 6 seats in a full ring game this would not be optimal. People are more action orientated in 6max and will 3Bet you and 4Bet you more often. They will also run bluffs postflop with a higher frequency and value bet thinner.

This means that you need to open up your game a little bit more in 6max both preflop and postflop.

Now there is always the disclaimer that I need to mention for the super micro stakes games like NL2 and NL5. Most of the regs at these limits have very little creativity in their game. They are often on way too many tables and simply waiting around for the nuts regardless of the format.

Therefore, it would be a mistake to think that every time a reg at these stakes 3Bets you in 6max that they are out of line. In fact you will still find many weaker regs at these limits who play both formats and amazingly they do not change their play style at all.

However, 6max is a game that will always be a little closer to the truest form of poker in my opinion which is heads up. That is, relative hand strengths are lower and therefore the pot usually goes to the person who wants it more.

The thing is though, 6max is way closer to full ring than it is to heads up in this regard. Hand strength still does matter a lot especially at the lower limits where the regs often aren't bluffing.

If you tried to bring a heads up style of play to a 6max game it would be disastrous for your results. However, in 6max you do need to come out of your full ring shell a little bit in order to achieve the maximum success.

Bottom Line:

You need to open up your game a little bit in 6max compared to full ring by playing a few more hands, bluffing a bit more and value betting a bit thinner. However, you don't want to go overboard with this especially versus many of the regs at the lower stakes.


Are There More Recreational Players in Full Ring or 6max?


I really don't have much evidence to say definitely one way or another. One would think that a lot of fish are action orientated and therefore might be more inclined to jump into a 6max game.

However, plenty of recreational players like to sit at a full ring table as well. The reason why is because this is likely the format that they are more familiar with if they come from a live background. Also, full ring makes it easier for them to find a seat, ease their way into the action and then start playing badly.

I think the last point here is the most important. And I don't mean the playing badly part. That is what they do best and we all love them for it.

I mean finding a seat and getting into the game right away.

It is important to remember that recreational players have jobs and a full life away from poker. They simply play the game to unwind or for enjoyment in their spare time.

Therefore, they don't want to waste their time searching for a table or sitting on a waiting list. They will simply join the first table that they see which has an open seat whether that is full ring or 6max.

This is one of the biggest reasons why I suggest starting your own tables or joining short handed ones in order to play against the bad players more consistently. Make it nice and easy for them to find you.

Bottom Line:

The numbers of fish are probably pretty similar in full ring or 6max.


Rakeback Differences Between Full Ring and 6max


This is a massive topic which could easily be an entire article unto itself. However, on most sites you will earn a higher number of points or rakeback percentage per hand in a 6max game.

The reason for this is really simple. You are going to be involved in more hands in 6max and also the pot sizes will be a little bit higher due to the fact that it is a more action orientated game.

However, the equalizing factor here is that you can play a lot more tables of full ring. This means that even if the rakeback level is a bit higher in 6max that it will be made up or even exceeded by the increased volume in full ring. This is why many serious rakeback grinders do indeed prefer full ring.

Bottom Line:

The levels of rakeback are roughly the same in the end in both formats.


So Should You Play Full Ring or 6max?


So I have laid out the facts above. There are some small differences in the play style required to beat each game but everything else is pretty equal.

So this is why when people ask me whether they should play full ring or 6max my answer is always the same:

Play the one that you enjoy the most!

We all started playing poker for fun and it should always remain that way. Most people who succeed in a big way in this game are the ones who truly love playing the most as well.

You are going to be more motivated to learn and improve at something that you enjoy doing. Then you will get better results which will motivate you even more.

Also, I think some people are just more naturally hard-wired to play either full ring or 6max. If there are any fellow Starcraft nerds out there then you probably stick mostly to one particular race, Protoss, Zerg or Terran. I definitely believe that different personalities are drawn to the style of play of each particular one.

The same thing applies in poker. Reserved, calculating, mathematically orientated people are probably going to be more drawn to full ring. More spontaneous, action orientated people may be more interested in 6max. These are certainly generalizations in many ways but I believe there is some merit in them as well.

Bottom Line:

Protoss all the way! My life for Auir!

Seriously though, play 6max if you enjoy it. Or play full ring if you enjoy it more.


Variance in Full Ring Versus 6max


As Tom M pointed out in the comments below the variance in full ring is generally quite a bit lower than in 6max. This means that you will have less intense downswings and less volatility to your bankroll in the short term.

This of course means that your upswings might not be as high either. However, I think that overall the lower variance is a good thing for many newer players who may have difficulty dealing with bigger swings.

Bottom Line:

If you are just starting out online and literally have no preference to either format then I would suggest that you choose full ring for this reason alone.


Conclusion


Ultimately it is your decision whether you play full ring or 6max. I can't decide for you. There probably isn't that much difference in the amount of money you can make in either game so that should not factor into your decision.

I think you should therefore simply play the game that you are most naturally drawn to and enjoy playing the most.

But hang on a minute. Some of you might be thinking to yourself why not simply play both?

Great question and this is actually what I do these days. The main reason why is for increased table selection. I am simply trying to find the fish. I don't care what kind of table they are sitting at.

Incidentally, once you get to the mid stakes games (and obviously the high stakes as well) this actually becomes something of a must. Almost everyone plays both 6max and full ring at these limits because the player pool is simply way smaller.

However, when you are just starting out at the micros I think you should stick to one particular format for now. I am a big proponent of keeping things as simple as possible as you work your way up the micros. There is no lack of table selection at these stakes anyways.

Let me know in the comments below if you prefer 6max or full ring and why. Or if you are/were a Starcraft nerd like me and want to relive old glories, then you can post about that as well!

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

Should you play full ring or 6max in poker?

Friday, August 7, 2015

Young Poker Players: Balancing School With Going Pro

Young Poker Players Balancing School With Going Pro
A lot of younger poker players contact me with big dreams about becoming a poker pro. They are usually somewhere between the age of 18 and 22. On occasion they are even younger than this which means that they shouldn't even be playing poker for real money in the first place!

Anyways, these guys (the legal age ones) have all the enthusiasm in the world and are ready to put in 16 hour days at the tables. I love the drive, the excitement in their voice and the limitless potential that they see. Oh to be 19 again!

As someone who has played this game as a pro or semi-pro for over 10 years now I hope to impart a little bit of life experience in this article. I will be primarily speaking to these younger guys who are in College or University right now who have big dreams for a future career in poker.

This article will still be useful though to anyone else who has ever considered playing the game on a professional or a semi-professional basis. 


I've Run Pretty Good in This Game


Let me explain my story a bit more first. I have to admit that I ran good in this game even before I ever played my first hand.

I am in my mid 30's now but poker blew up right as I was finishing school. Chris Moneymaker actually won the WSOP just a month before I graduated.   

When the subsequent poker boom happened and online poker took off I quickly became absolutely obsessed with the game like many others. Almost every waking moment of my life for the next 5 years was spent playing the game or thinking or reading about it. 

I had all the dreams of becoming a poker pro of course. I have probably watched "Rounders" 79 times. I would stay up late watching episodes of the WPT or High Stakes Poker every night. And of course I idolized all of the big online poker pros of that time period like Prahlad Friedman, Brian Townshend, Dusty Schmidt and many others.

The games were also absolutely amazing back then during this "golden era" of online poker. There were a lot of fortunes quickly made. If your graph wasn't 6 or 7 figures, nobody cared.

That was it. I was going to be a poker pro. I didn't care what anybody told me.


Fast Forward to 2015


That was 2005 though. This is 2015. What has changed in the last decade?

In a word:

Everything.

The entire poker landscape has completely changed. There is arguably more online action than ever before but the games are also probably harder than they have ever been before as well. People aren't stupid and they won't just keep throwing away their money forever.

There has also been all sorts of government meddling with regards to online poker in the past decade, a global recession to contend with and a lot of broke fish who slowly lost their interest with the game.

The bottom line is this:

It is really hard to be a poker pro these days.

5 figure or even 4 figure graphs are what people are bragging about now. There are tons of people grinding out a living at extremely small stakes and making a pretty meager income by Western standards.

And many people have simply moved to some other country to take advantage of a lower cost of living or to escape government meddling with the game in their own country.

Lastly, the stability of most online poker sites (except for the industry goliath Pokerstars) is always a bit of a question mark. And players are also constantly at the mercy of whatever changes that these sites decide to make. Some of them can have a huge impact on their bottom line.

For instance:

  • Pokerstars yearly adjustments to it's VIP program (rakeback)
  • Full Tilt's recent decision to all but ban table selection on it's site
  • Partypoker's decision (and subsequent reversal) a few years ago to segregate the player pool 


The Reality of Being a Professional Poker Player Today


Here's the thing though, there are still plenty of people who make a good living playing online poker. There are still many who make a great living at it as well. And as I have mentioned before, this will always be the case assuming that the rake remains relatively the same. The reason why? 

Because there will always be a pecking order in poker.  

Imagine for a second that you were considered to be the #6 best poker player in the world. That would be amazing right? You would literally be able to print money in almost any game on earth.

But what would happen if you were forced to play every day at a table with the #1, #2, #3, #4 and #5 best players in the world? 

That's right. You would be the fish!

You would slowly be bled dry and you would be the entire reason that this game runs. This is becoming more and more the case with online poker in today's games.

The fish are scarce and that is why I constantly hammer on about table selection to no end on this blog and elsewhere. You have to find the weak spots. They are what fuels the entire industry. 

And in the complete absence of fish, which is sometimes the case these days at the mid and high stakes games, you have to feed off the weaker pros. 

It is not easy to beat another poker pro. They aren't idiots. You aren't going to crush anything at a table that is composed entirely of professionals.

Simply put: 

Poker is no longer the gold rush that it was 10 years ago. 

Those times are long gone and it is likely that unless the game somehow explodes in Asia that we will never see something like that again. 

If it is your dream and goal to become a poker pro in 2015 then you have to understand that it will be a difficult journey and you are probably going to have to work harder for it than in years past. 


All is Not Lost


Despite all of this doom and gloom, as I said before, there are still plenty of people out there making a good to great living with online poker. 

I have lived in Thailand for the past 3 years now which probably has the highest concentration of online poker pros anywhere in the world (they are literally all foreigners of course). So I see it with my own eyes every day. 

Sure, there are a lot of grinders in this country scraping by at the micros and taking advantage of the low cost of living. However, I have also met tons of other guys that are absolutely killing it at much higher stakes. They could easily live the good life anywhere they want on earth. 

The reality of poker is this:

Most people are going to lose in this game in the long run. 

This is the way that it has to be. As I always say, for most people poker will always remain a hobby that doesn't exactly pay so well. 

But a select few will always rise above the rest and really succeed in a big way. These people who really crush the games probably represent 10% of the player pool at the most. It might even be closer to 5%. 

But guess what? That is still a relatively huge number of people!

I have heard estimates before that Pokerstars may have close to 50 million accounts. The large majority of these are play money of course. And the large majority of all accounts are inactive. 

But even if they have just 1 million active real money accounts you can see that 5% or 10% of this number is still a very large amount of people. 

So don't despair when a bunch of bustos on a forum are proclaiming that online poker as a career is "dead" or some other BS. 

Most of these people are part of the vast hordes of breakeven or losing poker players. Being able to blame their lack of success on some outside factor is simply a defense mechanism for their ego. 

Yes, the games are hard these days. Nobody is going to deny that. But there is still plenty of good money to be made for those that really want it. 

So if it is your absolute dream to be a poker pro in 2015 should you go for it?

Yes.

However...


A College Degree is +EV, Poker Not Always


Bringing this discussion back to the younger guys who are currently in College though, it is a much better idea to keep your future poker plans on the side for now and make getting your degree the main focus.

Here's why:


1. Poker Isn't Going Anywhere

Poker will be alive and well in 4 years or less when you graduate. There is absolutely no need to play as much as you can right now. 

Furthermore, since everybody seems to agree that the games are harder than they have ever been right now, then it can probably only get better in the future right? You aren't missing some "golden era." As mentioned, that's ancient history, 10 years ago. 

I know how hard it can be to limit yourself from playing all the time when you are just getting started. As I said before, I was obsessed like crazy with poker for years when I first started and still am to a certain degree.

I am probably very lucky that the poker boom didn't happen until after I finished school. 

But you have to understand that you have your whole life ahead of you to pursue your career as a poker pro after you graduate. 


2. Professional Poker is Not a Sure Thing. However, a Degree is.

The reason why I stress getting the degree finished is because it is simply one of the best investments in yourself and your future that you can possibly make.

I know that with rising tuition fees and struggling economies in many Western countries that there has been a large debate in recent years about the value of a University degree. 

But at the end of the day, the average salary for College graduates in most Western countries still far exceeds those of non-College grads. As a New York Times article recently put it, a University education is:

"The most reliable ticket to the middle class and beyond."

Look, we are poker players. We think in terms of EV (expected value) and odds. No matter how good you think you are at poker (or can be) the simple facts are that most people do not make it in the long run in this game. 

However, for most people a College degree will always provide at least some reasonable opportunities in life. For many more, it leads them into well paying careers. 

Now of course you don't have to get a degree in order to get a well paying job or start your own business. There are countless examples of people who have proven this. 

But if you have already decided to attend College why not just finish what you started? What's the point of putting in all that work for a year or two and then quitting? That is the poker equivalent of calling the whole way and then folding the river. 


3. An Education Makes You a Better Person

Let's also remember here that life isn't only about money. 

My degree for example is in History with a minor in Philosophy. It is very rare that a discussion about 16th Century European wars or the "Essence of Being" comes up at a cocktail party...or anywhere for that matter.

This is actually a real shame because I would totally own in these debates!

I also paid a lot of money for this education which clearly isn't a prerequisite for my career as a professional poker player and writer. 

However, I do feel like I am a far better person because I spent all those years learning about Western history and thought. I feel like I have a much broader perspective on things. 

And also, since History and Philosophy are both heavily academic fields, I feel like I am better able to articulate myself and my writing ability has no doubt benefited from it as well. 

These are simply invaluable skills to have no matter what you choose to do with your life.


Final Thoughts


A lot of people dropped out of school during the poker boom to chase their dreams in this game. And it did in fact work out exceedingly well for some of them (at least financially). 

Back in the early, early days of online poker I still remember watching the high stakes games on Partypoker where you would see people with thousands of dollars in front of them who barely understood the rules of the game. 

But many people who dropped out of school during this period didn't make it in the long run. Even in these ridiculously soft games they still couldn't make it work for a variety of different reasons. 

As I have talked about before, making it as a professional poker player over the long term requires a heck of a lot more than being "pretty good at cards."

It takes a very unique individual to be able to play this game for a living year in and year out. After all, if it was so easy everybody would be doing it!

I am not here to crush anyone's dreams though. I have laid it all out on the table in this article. The games are tough, the online poker environment is a bit unstable and being a poker pro is a very difficult profession.


The Bottom Line is This:

I am firm believer in chasing your dreams and passions in life.

I should be sitting in some corporate cubicle right now reading about somebody else's life as a poker pro, writer and living abroad.

That was the safe route for me to take in life. That is what everybody told me was the sensible thing to do. I would probably have a lot more money as well.

But I wouldn't be happy. And that is why I am sitting here right now writing the story instead.

If you truly have a deep passion for poker, then I think you should go for it. Give it a shot especially while you are young. The worst thing that can happen is that you find out after a year or so that it wasn't for you and you move on.

A lifetime of regret about "what could have been" might be a far bigger price to pay. 


Finish School First Though

But if you are currently in school then make the +EV decision and finish your degree before going pro. You have your entire life to grind it out and make your name in the poker world. Believe me, a couple of years spent investing in your mind is not something that you will ever regret. 

Let me know your thoughts on poker and school in the comments below. If you have any questions about playing poker professionally let me know also. I would be happy to help.

If you know someone who is currently struggling to balance school and poker go ahead and send them this article. Or click the "Like" or "Tweet" button below. 

Young Poker Players Balancing School and Online Poker

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

9 Ways to Improve Your Poker Game in 2015

9 Ways to Improve Your Poker Game in 2015
There is an incredible amount of educational material out there these days to help you improve your poker game. There is so much in fact that it can probably seem a bit daunting at first to someone who is just getting started online.

Also, to complicate matters further, not all of this information is good. Some of it is bad and you might actually harm your progress by following it. Lastly, it is also important to remember that everybody learns differently. What might be effective for one person might not be for another.

So I decided to put together this list of the top ways that I would choose to improve my game if I had to start all over again today.


1. Play an Insane Amount of Poker


If there is one unifying trait that all of the biggest winners always seem to have in common it is this:

They always seems to be at the tables playing poker!

Why wouldn't they after all? The whole point of the game is to play it and make money. There is simply no way that you can ever become great at poker if you spend most of your time sitting around watching it, talking about it or reading about it.

But there is another hidden benefit when you make playing the game your main priority. It might sound cliche but I have always maintained that learning from your own mistakes is the number one way to improve your game.

I got my start in poker during an era (mid 00s) when many of the educational resources that I will discuss later on in this article were simply not available. However, I was still able to teach myself to win primarily by seeing what works and what doesn't firsthand.

When you play millions and millions and millions of hands of poker like I have then you tend to see the same situations over and over and over again.

Eventually, even the most stubborn person on earth will notice that they keep losing repeatedly when they do X. They will eventually start doing Y.


2. Review Your Play


The easiest way to start learning from your own mistakes is to review your hands after every session. Maybe every session is taking it a little bit too far but when you are just starting out regular session reviews are an absolutely invaluable way to improve your play.

When I wasn't throttling millions of hands of online poker into my brain I was spending countless hours reviewing my own hand histories and finding ways to improve.

It is really a very simple formula:

1. Find out what works and do more of that
2. Find out what doesn't work and do less of that

If you ever want to push through and become truly elite in this game then you are going to have to learn to think the game through on your own anyways. I think it is a good idea to start working on those habits right from the very beginning.


3. Effective Use of a Poker Tracking Program


The easiest way to review your play by far is with the aid of a poker tracking program. This is one of the biggest reasons why I suggest getting familiar with one as soon as you get a little bit of experience playing online. You don't even need to use the HUD if you don't want to.

Many people seem to think that the HUD feature and the ability to track their results is the whole point of these programs. This could not be further from the truth.

One of the best features of poker tracking software is the ability to filter for specific scenarios. This allows you to get the exact data over a big sample on whether you are winning or losing in a specific spot.

For example: When I raise the flop with a draw am I showing a profit or a loss?

If I am showing a profit then I will keep raising them and if my winrate is really high then I will do it even more. If I am in the red in this situation though then I will reconsider my strategy and look at some specific hands to see why I am losing.

You can't argue with the raw data and results over enormous sample sizes. It is black or white. You are either winning or losing and you can make adjustments from there.

I personally use Pokertracker 4. Hold'em Manager 2 is a good poker tracking program as well. You can filter for specific scenarios like the one that I mentioned above in both of these programs. You can also try out either of these programs for free.

I have written extensive guides on both how to study your opponents and run filters as well as optimal HUD setup for Pokertracker 4.


4. Study Training Videos


Training videos revolutionized the poker education industry several years ago and I still think they are an extremely valuable way to improve your game. It is simply amazing to be able to "look over the shoulder" of a top winning player as he plays live and lets you know what he is thinking.

There are many good training sites out there. I think the real key though is researching the coaches first and taking advantage of the free trial or video teasers.

This is because what you really need to know is whether or not the training site regularly puts out high quality videos from coaches that actually play at or near the stakes that you play in. 

There is simply no point whatsoever in watching some high stakes crusher talk about NL2000 when you play NL10.

These stakes have absolutely nothing in common.

There is actually a good chance that you will get worse results by trying to emulate what you see in these videos in your own games. This is because you are learning a set of strategies and a way to think about the game that simply flies way over the head of your current competition.

Likewise, there is often no point in watching some high stakes phenom play NL10. This is because he likely hasn't played in these games in ages and will bring the same high stakes mentality to a very simple game which requires a very simple strategy to beat.

Join a training site that has plenty of current content made by coaches who actually play in the games that you play in on a regular basis.

Lastly, it should be noted that I used the word "study" above instead of "watch." Poker training videos are not like movie night. No popcorn is needed.

They should be treated instead like a university lecture. In order to benefit the most from them your complete attention is required. This also means taking notes and asking the coach any followup questions that you may have.


5. Study Poker Books


Some people learn better through reading than watching. And also of course, a full length book allows for a much deeper analysis of any topic than any 30 minute training video could ever provide.

I think poker literature has improved greatly in the past several years. Just 5 years ago literally all we had were a bunch of books written by some aging live poker pros with little to no experience playing online poker. In fact many of them were written before online poker even existed!

Thankfully, this is not the case anymore.

In the past several years a ton of quality new titles have been released by online players specifically which provide valuable insight into the way that the game is played today. They also often cover the software that we use today in the modern game such as the poker tracking programs that I just discussed above.

As an online poker player myself, I have written two of these books for the lower limits:

Crushing the Microstakes (NL2, NL4 and NL5)
Modern Small Stakes (NL10, NL25, NL50)

There are plenty of other good books out there as well covering all aspects of the game from the mental side, exploitative theory, math basics and GTO. You can easily find all of these titles (except for mine) with a simple search for "poker books" on Amazon. Check the publication date.

Once again, and just like with training videos, you will get exactly what you put in with poker books. They are not meant to be skimmed. And they weren't written to entertain you.

The main goal of any poker book should always be to improve your winrate at the tables. So they should be studied like a college textbook. The material should then be applied at the tables right away.


6. Hire a Coach


Hiring a coach is probably the single most effective way to improve your game. A highly skilled coach can make specific suggestions that are tailor made for you. But this is also the most expensive option out there. Finding a good coach can sometimes be a bit of a challenge as well.

When searching for a coach some red flags to look out for are the lack of actual results at the tables and the excessive use of "testimonials" and other gimmicky marketing tactics. Highly sought after coaches have no need to advertise their services in this manner. The get plenty of referrals coming their way through word of mouth alone.

I would only hire a coach if you have played quite a bit online, moved up a few stakes, but have hit the proverbial brick wall. Because if this is not the case, then there are probably better (and cheaper or free) options out there in the mean time to help you get the fundamentals down.

However, some people prefer that personal 1 on 1 interaction and specific attention to their game and are willing to pay for it. Hiring a quality coach can make a big difference for them.


7. Join or Create a Study Group


Getting a regular study group together or a circle of poker friends to discuss hands with is another great way to improve your poker game. Although it rarely happens, these groups should be taken seriously and conducted in the same manner as a business mastermind group.

That is, there is a clear schedule set for when you meet up and what you will discuss whether it is in person or online. And each member of the group is held accountable by the others and pushed forward to succeed.

The biggest problem though is finding the right people.

You need to remember that only about 5-10% of people are actually really big winners in this game over the long run. These are obviously the people who you want in your group or circle of friends.

Furthermore, it is also better to discuss the game with somebody who does not play at your stakes (higher is always better). It is not a good idea to become friends with people who you see at the tables on a regular basis. You don't want a reason to ever soft play versus anyone.

Twitter and forums are probably the two best ways to get to know other poker players and make friendships or form a study group. There is strength in numbers and poker does not always need to be such a solitary endeavour.


8. Read Poker Blogs


Unfortunately most poker blogs do not last very long because it takes a rare combination of somebody who is a long term winner in the game and also likes to write about it on a regular basis.

Most people get all excited to blog about poker at the beginning but as soon as things don't go their way for awhile or something else pops up in their lives, they quit.

The other issue is that even when you find a regularly updated blog from a big winner most of the content is often only about their results and travel adventures. Therefore it sort of lacks in any real educational value.

However, it is still very useful in my opinion to gain insights into the mind of a top winner and especially how they react when adversity strikes. If nothing else it might inspire you.

Here are a few of the blogs that I have followed over the years which inspire me:


9. Poker Forums


Poker forums (at least the big ones) have unfortunately gone downhill quite a bit in recent years. On the largest one that everyone knows about there was actually a concerted effort about 5 years ago by a lot of winning players to "stop posting strategy."

You know, don't educate the masses.

I actually agreed with this sentiment at the time as well and stopped posting. However, I soon realized how futile this was. Regardless of what I choose to say in public the information is going to get out there through training sites, books, coaching, blogs and so on.

But still to this day I don't know very many big winners who post frequently on huge forums like TwoPlusTwo. And I don't think it is really even about not wanting to educate the fish anymore. It has more to do with the large amount of noise and endless flame wars that all big open public forums like this suffer from.

It should be noted that most big-time winning poker players have never posted much on forums to begin with though. Why? Because they are busy at the tables playing! You don't get paid to make 10k posts on a forum.

High level poker discussion still does exist on the internet but it has gone much more underground in recent years especially via private Skype groups and in some cases on smaller forums.

The best forums these days are actually often attached to training sites. The members there are usually paying subscribers and are therefore much more likely to be serious about the game.


Final Thoughts


There are many different ways to improve your poker game these days. Which one is right for you depends a lot on how you learn the game the best. A variety of different methods is probably the way to go though for most.

However, what I do know for certain is that there are very few big winners out there that haven't played an absolute ton of hands and spend a lot of time reviewing them as well.

I am not saying that there isn't any value to training sites, books, forums, coaches and the like. All of this stuff is great and will help you improve. But it needs to be done in moderation.

The guys who are actually crushing the games are often predictably right where you would expect them to be. On the left of some fish and counting stacks.

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9 Ways to Improve Your Poker Game in 2015