Monday, December 15, 2014

The Real Reason You Aren't a High Stakes Pro Yet

why you aren't a high stakes poker pro

There is often a belief out there that big winners in poker (especially mid and high stakes pros) have some sort of magical power or super human IQ. I know that I have been guilty of believing this at times as well. That is, putting higher stakes players on a pedestal and thinking that they are somehow far superior to me technically. The reality is that this belief is mostly false.

Something that changed my thinking drastically in this regard happened a few years ago. I was being mentored by a mid/high stakes pro at the time and he was sweating me at NL50. He told me that there is actually no substantial difference in technical poker ability between the typical NL50 regs that I was playing against and the NL600 regs that he battled on a daily basis.

Both understand the mechanics of solid TAG or LAG play well. Both read hands reasonably well and both understand some of the basic math behind the game. So why is one player playing at 12 times the stakes as the other then?

Well in truth of course some of those NL50 players will in fact make it to NL600 one day and beyond. The only reason that they are not there yet is because they are still working their way up the ladder in online poker. However, the large majority of them will not get there. In fact if you come back two years from now most of them will probably still be playing NL50 or maybe even lower if they don't keep up with the evolution of the games. So again, what is the big difference then?

Well there are a few things in my opinion. 

Bankroll to Move Up


The first thing that we all need in order to move up is the bankroll. Many people at the micros massively stunt their progress by cashing out too much. I know this all too well because I did it myself for many years. People would often ask me why I played millions of hands at low stakes and didn't move up more. Well guess what? I had bills to pay! This is why I constantly preach against going pro in this game until you are playing decent stakes and have a large life bankroll saved up as well.

I actually did have both of these at the time when I originally went pro but anyone who has followed my story on this blog knows that I also did not have the discipline to put in the hours back then so I allowed my bankroll and savings to regress to a point where I should no longer be pro. I chose to grind low stakes for years instead of getting another job though. But this also killed any chances that I had of moving up because I was cashing out nearly all of my winnings every single month. 

So even if a typical NL50 grinder is winning at a small clip (2bb/100 for instance) if he plays 100k hands a month this equals $1000. Add in another $500 for rakeback (very conservative estimate) and he banks $1500 a month. If he does not touch his bankroll for two months then he has 30 buyins for NL100 ($3000) on top of what he already had. However, if he can't stop hitting the cash out button you can see that he will never get anywhere. This is especially the case these days when most regs are extremely risk adverse nits. I am guilty here as well. 

Courage to Move Up


This leads me to my second point, having the courage to move up. Often making the jump to a higher stake is really just a mental block more than anything for a lot of people. There are many grinders out there today at stakes like NL10, NL25 and NL50 who have tried making the jump to the next limit several times in the past without success. Because of this they have all but given up on even trying any more. They have actually convinced themselves in some cases that they simply can't beat the higher stake! 

This is completely foolish thinking for a number of reasons. Firstly, if you are even a small winner at your current limit it only stands to reason that you will be able to beat the higher one as well. The reality is that the players who you think are so big and bad at the higher limit are actually only marginally better than the ones who you battle it out with on a daily basis at your current limit. And let's face it, fish are fish at any limit.

And as I have discussed before moving up is not easy for anybody. Most people fail multiple times before sticking at the higher limit. You have to realize that the sample size is always totally insignificant in your move up attempt and routine variance can often be the sole cause of your failure. People often also over-adjust when moving up and this is why I constantly try to warn against changing anything. Just do what has brought you success to this point. 

Taking Shots


high stakes poker pro

Something that I also want to discuss is taking shots. This has sort of been frowned upon by many people over the years because it involves risking significant portions of your bankroll and sort of contradicts the slow and steady approach which I have long suggested as well. But the thing is many mid stakes players and most high stakes players will tell you that they finally broke through in a big way by taking a shot at some point. 

What do I mean by taking a shot? Well if there is a fish sitting alone at a table that is 5 times the stakes that you normally play do you sit down or take a pass? If variance isn't on your side and the fish gets lucky he could decimate your bankroll in a big way. Many high stakes pros have lost half of their bankroll at times by taking shots like this. 

However, if you simply run just normal or good (remember that this happens the majority of the time) then guess what? You could conceivably double or even triple your bankroll over night especially if the fish goes on tilt and keeps reloading. This is like winning a tournament which has also propelled many players ahead early on in their careers. It will allow you to immediately feel much more comfortable playing higher limit games than what you normally play. 

The "Disclaimer"


Now I want to be very clear here. I don't want everybody who reads this post to suddenly start taking shots at NL200 with their $1000 bankroll because they see a fish waiting for action. Nor do I want people to think that extremely aggressive bankroll management is the only way to achieve success in this game. The truth is that the slow and steady approach still works just fine. There are many examples such as this small/mid stakes crusher who I interviewed earlier this year. He started from the very bottom (NL2) and even though it took several years he is now making good money and has been signed as an instructor by a major training site as well. 

The main point of this article is that you need to step outside your comfort zone at times and take some chances in this game if you want to truly reach your potential. I don't have a ton of experience in mid stakes or high stakes games myself but I know enough to know that there isn't really anything magical that these players have done to get there. Sure, some elite winners are technically better in some areas than others but for the most part they are just trading blinds back and forth, beating up on the bad regs and massacring the fish. This is the exact same thing that goes on in your NL25 or NL50 games.

You need to let your bankroll grow unfettered if you really want to move up in this game. I typically don't suggest that anybody even think about going pro until at least NL50. And like I said you should have a large life bankroll as well (savings) so that you rarely need to touch your poker funds. If you are not able to do this though and need to dip heavily into your winnings each month then you will be the guy who is still playing NL25 two years from now. 

Another reason to keep your day job is so that you have the courage to take more shots at moving up and even jump on opportunities to play against a fish at much higher limits. You can do this when you have a full time job because even if you go broke your bills are still paid and you can simply reload. I have talked about playing poker professionally many times on here and the pros and cons that go along with it. However, many people still choose to go for it way too early and end up paying the consequences for it.

Ultimately You Should Pursue YOUR Goals in This Game


But each situation is unique and I am not here to crush anyone's dreams. I am just here to provide some proper perspective from my experience. I recently came across one of the most hilarious and eye-opening PG&C threads that I have ever seen on 2+2. Two young kids (early to mid 20's) grinding NL2 and NL5 all day and partying all night in Cambodia. This seems insane to me and many others given how little they are making. However, anybody who has ever been to Cambodia knows that it basically costs nothing to live in that country. They are also young and having the time of their lives. So for them living on a beach in Cambodia grinding nickels and dimes all day still beats working some factory job back in cold and rainy England. 

Who am I to argue with that? Pursue your dreams in this game but you should also look at it realistically if you really want to move up one day and get to the real money. And always remember, the real money isn't at the micros.
Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a poker player, coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes and Modern Small Stakes.

Images used in this post: flickr.com/photos/shanghaisound, brainyquote.com

Monday, December 8, 2014

Rakeback Grinding Versus Bumhunting in Today's Small Stakes Online Cash Games

bumhunter or rakeback grinder in online small stakes cash games
With 2015 nearly in our sights I thought it would be a good idea to talk about two different approaches to small stakes online cash games these days. In one corner you have what I would loosely call the "rakeback grinders." These are people who play high volume. This means 16+ regular tables or 3+ Zoom tables. Often at least half of their actual profits come from rakeback.

On a big site like Pokerstars with a yearly based rakeback program which rewards heavy volume the goal is to reach Supernova for small stakes rakeback grinders. By getting to this level they can then trade their FPPs for cash bonuses, hit milestone cash bonuses and get some other secondary stuff like stellar rewards and tournament entries.

Rakeback programs are different on all poker rooms but the end result is pretty much always the same. Play a lot and they will give you a portion of the rake that you paid back. And at some sites like Pokerstars they will give you a higher percentage depending on how much you play and the stakes that you play at.

For many heavy grinders who get to reasonable stakes (typically at least NL25) this can add up to substantial amounts. Thousands per month by the time they approach mid stakes are certainly possible. If they can manage to just stay breakeven at the tables then obviously this is a decent payoff for them. Winrates are often fairly low for rakeback grinders though because when playing this amount of tables it is difficult to give enough proper attention to table selection and making high quality poker decisions.

In the other corner we have the people who I would loosely refer to as "bumhunters." These people play much lower volume. This typically means 1-15 regular tables or 1 or 2 Zoom tables. A much bigger portion of their profit usually comes from winnings made at the poker tables. They tend to focus a lot more of their attention on finding the weak spots and making higher quality poker decisions. They can afford to do this because they free up a lot of time by playing much fewer tables than their rakeback grinder counterparts.

I Had to Decide, Rakeback Grinder or Bumhunter?


mass multi-tabling rakeback grinder versus bumhunter at micro stakes cash games
Image: billrini.com
Now I used to be firmly in the first category. Anybody who has taken even a casual look through the history of this blog will know that I used to grind 200k+ hands a month at low stakes. While I was able to keep my table winnings fairly high in softer games I was also certainly keen to get those rakeback rewards from heavy volume as well. This worked very well for me for many years. I would simply open up as many tables at the micros as the poker room allowed me to (24 on Pokerstars) and grind for hours on end knowing that I would likely come out ahead and that I would score a bunch of rakeback in the process as well.

About 5 years ago though the games started tightening up. No longer could I just open up 24 random tables at NL25 or NL50 on Pokerstars for instance and expect to print money in my sleep. I actually had to actively table select in order to maintain my previous results. This is not the easiest thing to do when you have this many tables running because your time is obviously limited.

Many of the regs started to gradually get better as well so I had to actually think through hands a little bit more in order to find new ways to exploit them. Again, this is something that works fine when playing 8 tables but not so much when playing 24.

So I eventually got to the point where I had to make a decision. Was I willing to accept a small winrate and big variance while keeping my rakeback rewards or cut the tables substantially and start winning again at the pace that I was formerly used to? For me this was not a very difficult decision because I have been an extremely competitive person my entire life. I play this game to win.

I am not the kind of person who can accept a small winrate with massive variance on a day to day basis. I am well aware that every time I sit down to play poker that I could lose but this should be a rare occurrence in my opinion. With extremely low winrates of say 1bb/100 or 2bb/100 though (which is what most rakeback grinders these days are making) they are probably looking at losing around 40% of their sessions. This is simply unacceptable to me.

So several years ago I did indeed start cutting the tables in a big way and to this day I rarely play on more than 8 at a time. This affords me much more time to find the tables with the fish on them and to make sure that I get the right seat versus them as well. It also gives me the time to dig much deeper into my HUD when I am involved in hands against good regs and find the lines to exploit their weaknesses.

Hello Again #Winning!


table selection and mass multi-tabling in small stakes cash games
After dropping the tables from 24 to 8 my results at the tables also turned around in a big way. I went from grinding out a fairly miserable 2-3bb/100 existence at NL25+ while mass multi-tabling to approaching double digits again and coming away a big winner on most days. This is what appealed to me the most. This approach also reinvigorated my enthusiasm for the game. Rakeback grinding is just not the reason why I started to play this game in the first place. It really saps all of the fun out of it and makes poker seem like too much of a job to me.

But this is just me. You need to decide for yourself how you want to approach this game. Many people are just fine grinding the long hours for rakeback and dealing with heavy variance. If this is you then don't let me persuade you otherwise. Money is money in poker. I don't care how you make it. Rakeback dollars spend just the same as the stack that you took from a fish. If you are able to show a profit in this game (no matter how you do it) then more power to you because you are ahead of 3 out of 4 people already.

Also, keep in mind as well that overall profitability is still higher for most people in small stakes cash games by following the rakeback grinding model. And once you get to mid stakes where Supernova Elite (worth 100K+ USD on it's own) becomes possible on Pokerstars this is just too big of a carrot for many people not to resist going after. This is indeed why many professionals still prefer the rakeback grinding model and the long hours and heavy variance that comes with it.

What Approach is Right for YOU?


With 2015 coming up though you should consider what approach that you want to take in the coming year. Because like I said before, some of the big poker rooms run yearly based rakeback programs. Therefore, if rakeback grinding is for you then you should start to plan out your goals early on in the year.

If the bumhunting model is for you though then I think you should start focusing on how you are going to improve in two categories in 2015. Firstly, you need to stay on top of the latest strategies and trends concerning table selection. Finding the fish and getting the right seat versus them has to be a major priority for you at the tables. It needs to be your full time job in fact when playing.

Also, you should spend more time on improving your game because playing against regs is inevitable no matter how elite your bumhunting skills are. This can take many forms. More database reviews, session reviews, quality training videos, books, coaches, forums and poker friends. I want to emphasize the word "quality" here because there is a lot of garbage out there these days. Don't just listen to anybody. Remember that most people actually lose at poker.

Ultimately you need to decide the path that is right for you. While there is likely still more money to be made as a rakeback grinder across the board in today's games, don't expect to crush anything besides NL2 or NL5 nowadays with this approach. What you give up in overall profitability by following the bumhunter model is often balanced out in less obvious ways though by becoming a more skilled poker player overall. There is also a psychological edge to bumhunting as I discussed above that applies to some people (you win more often).

There are clearly pros and cons to both and the ultimate decision needs to be made by you in accordance with your goals and approach to this game. I ran in informal poll the other day on my Facebook page and the results were pretty much split down the middle. I hope this article gave you some food for thought.

If you have any thoughts on rakeback grinding versus bumhunting please leave them below. Which category do you consider yourself to be in? Which is better and why?

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


Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a poker player, coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes and Modern Small Stakes.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Optimal Bet Sizing Strategies at the Micros

Optimal Bet Sizing at the Micros
Image: flickr.com/photos/auhur
Making effective use of bet sizing at the micros can make a big difference to your bottom line. Those who have read my first book know that I advocate a lot of creativity with bet sizing both preflop and postflop at the lowest limits (NL2 especially). I don't think that people are quite so stupid less than intelligent at these stakes anymore though so I have since scaled back on some of the crazier suggestions. However, the principle still remains. There is an optimal bet sizing which will yield the highest EV for every opponent that you face. It is your job to find out what that is.

Before I begin I do need to be clear that I think that most of your bet sizings should standardized these days at the micros. This applies to preflop and on the flop in particular where you will make the large majority of your decisions. For instance, a lot of people will raise preflop to 3x or 2.5x and then follow it up on the flop with a CBet of about 60% of the pot. I don't think that there is anything wrong with this.

A huge benefit to this strategy is that it saves time. One of the biggest keys to success when multi-tabling online poker is using your time effectively. Debating over the sizing of every routine preflop raise or flop CBet is simply a waste of time. I don't think that standardizing your bet sizing in all instances at the micros is optimal though and that is what this article is all about.

In What Situations Should You Consider Using Some Non-Standard Bet Sizings?


Well I think clearly against recreational players. It blows my mind when I see good regs at much higher stakes who still do not know how to play optimally against fish. As I have said many times here on my blog, in videos and elsewhere it simply makes no sense at all to standardize your bet sizings or balance your range against a recreational player. Why? Because they are not paying attention to any of this. Most of them don't even know what a range is! Therefore, you should be adjusting your bet sizing upwards when you have it and adjusting it downwards when you don't.

Here are a few examples:


NL5 6max


Villain is a 56/7/1 (VPIP/PFR/AF) fish.

Villain limps from UTG
Hero raises on the BTN with A♠Q♥
Villain calls

The flop comes,

A♦6♦3♥

Villain checks
Hero???

Betting 60% of the pot here would be ok but it is not optimal. We are up against an extremely bad player who is going to call if he hit any piece of this board. So if he has an ace he is calling literally anything. All aces are in this player's range and we crush most of them. If he has 6x, 3x, 54, a pocket pair of some kind, a flush draw or even some random gutshot he isn't going anywhere either. We crush all of these hands too. So we should always be betting more here such as 80% of the pot, full pot or even overbetting in some rare instances when a certain dynamic is in place.

It should be noted that a lot of people get hung up in a situation like this because when they make a big bet and their opponent folds they think that it was the bet sizing that "scared them off." This could not be further from the truth. What made them fold is the fact that they had nothing. You have to remember that bad players still typically need something in order to call. It doesn't matter whether you bet 40% of the pot or 80% of the pot here, if villain has queen high with no draw he probably isn't calling.

For the sake of discussion it should also be noted that if we had nothing here (hero has K♥Q♦ for instance) then we should always bet a smaller amount such as 40% or 50% of the pot. This is because we know that villain isn't going anywhere if he has a piece of the board. Therefore, we may as well risk the least. A recreational player like this is not taking any notes on your bet sizing. He isn't even using a HUD or paying any attention to how you play. He is looking at his own two cards and the only thing that matters is if he likes them or not. Standardizing any bet sizings against a player like this is simply throwing away EV. You should simply adjust your bet sizing according to your hand strength.


NL10 Full Ring


Villain is a 48/27/3 maniac with a 0% fold to 3Bet.

Villain raises to 3x from MP
Hero is in the CO with K♦K♣

Hero???

Here is another simplistic example against a bad player but with a preflop decision this time. We should be 3Betting here 100% of the time. Balancing our play by flatting on occasion in a spot like this just doesn't make any sense. This sort of player is not paying any attention to our button flatting range.

So how much should we make it then? Well, making a standard 3Bet to 9x here is ok but it is not optimal. Why? Because this is the type of player who does not fold to 3Bets at all (0%). Since we have the second best starting hand in hold'em we should always be taking advantage of this.

We should therefore always be adjusting our 3Bet sizing upwards here. I would make it 4x minimum or even more if it is clear that this player is simply not folding at all. Always adjust for the situation and the opponent in poker. The "standard play" is often not optimal. All situations are different in poker and the truly cerebral poker player has very few standard plays in his arsenal.

What About Bet Sizing Versus Regs?


Bet sizing micro stakes poker
Image: flickr.com/photos/123147187@N03
When facing a more capable opponent, such as the multitude of different regs that you will encounter at the micros, there is definitely a lot of benefit to be had by looking for an optimal bet sizing as well. Now we aren't going to get away with any of the ridiculous oversized 3Bets or full pot flop CBets like we just discussed versus the fish. This is because most regs will see right through it. I would just standardize my bet sizings for the most part versus them on these two streets (preflop and on the flop). However, on the later streets there is plenty of room to experiment with some more creative amounts.

The turn and the river in particular are the two streets where most regs at the micros are really lacking. A lot of them are simply multi-tabling robots who are masters of the raise preflop and CBet the flop game. They will barrel sometimes on the later streets and make the odd call if they think somebody is bluffing them. However, for the most part they don't like to face a lot of confrontation and will often make the "safe play" and fold if they don't have the nuts.

We would like to get the max value out of our made hands though and have the highest possible success rate with our bluffs. The typical 60% of the pot bet sizing or 2.5x raise (which they are used to) are ok but once again they are often not optimal for our stated goals here. What if we instead over-raised them on the turn in some spots? What if we mini-raised them? What if we CBet 25% of the pot? What if we just went all in?

Their heads will explode.

Always remember that this is "no limit" hold'em. There are no rules. Let's look at a few spots versus some typical bad regs and ask ourselves not what the standard play is but what the optimal play is.


NL2 6max


Villain is a 19/15/2 weak TAG with a 40% fold to flop CBet and a 60% fold to turn CBet.

Hero raises to 3x from MP with A♦T♦
Villain calls from the button

The flop comes,

4♦8♣Q♥

Hero CBets 60% of the pot
Villain calls

The turn comes,

K♠

Hero???

This is a great turn card to double barrel on against a weaker TAG opponent like this so we will almost always be firing again. The question is how much though? Well, I tend to bet on the higher side versus a lot of regs when barreling just to let them know that I am serious and that it is going to cost them if they want to continue. So my typical bet sizing here would probably be around 70% of the pot.

However, in this situation we caught a great turn scare card which also gave us a bit more equity (gutshot to the nuts). We also are up against a player who folds less than most on the flop and more than most on the turn. We simply don't need to bet so much in a spot like this.

So I think it is perfectly reasonable to get away with a turn CBet of as little as 40% of the pot here. It is important to note that I would do this with a really wide range as well. When we know that our turn CBet is probably going to be effective a lot of the time we simply don't need to bet as much. We should exploit this by having a wide bluffing range as well. Versus a more sticky reg I might either opt for a larger bet sizing or even look at the effectiveness of check/raising instead. Let's look at another example.


NL25 Full Ring


Villain is a 14/11/3 typical TAG with a WTSD% of 23.

Villain raises to 3x from UTG+1
Hero calls from the CO with 3♦3♥

The flop comes,

6♥2♠T♠

Villain CBets 60% of the pot
Hero calls

The turn comes,

2♣

Villain checks
Hero checks

The river comes,

8♠

Villain bets 50% of the pot
Hero???

This is a pretty typical flat preflop for the set-mine/outplay in position versus a reg. We don't improve on the flop but this is still a pretty good board to float on. It probably didn't hit his range very hard and we can rep the flush draw as well. We figure that we can simply take it away somehow later with position as well so it's an easy call (or even raise).

On the turn a meaningless card falls and villain checks to us. This is a spot where I would just make a bet a large amount of the time. I think it is ok to just check back from time to time as well though because it is hard to rep anything and our opponent may just go into check/call mode with a mid or high pair.

On the river which completes the flush villain bets out half the pot. Hand reading in a spot like this should tell us that a weak player is probably going for some thin value with a mid to high pair here. It is very unlikely that he has any sort of nut hand though. Nevertheless, if we call, we almost always lose.

So the optimal play here is clearly to bluff raise. How much though? We can see that this particular player is sort of middle of the road as far as regs go for showdown rate at 23%. He typically needs a pretty strong hand to go to showdown but might be capable of making the big call once in awhile as well if he thinks that we are bluffing. But he is used to facing a typical re-raise size here of 2.5x or so.

What if we made it 4x instead though? How happy is he going to feel about making the hero call with his JJ or QQ then? That is a big scary bet for a weak reg who has a good hand but not the nuts. Even though we aren't repping a huge amount of hands here there are enough to put some serious thoughts in his head. The flush hit and we could have boated up with 88 or sandbagged a monster from previous streets as well. The larger sizing will perhaps be enough to convince him to let me have it this time and "look for a better spot."

Final Thoughts


The point of this article should hopefully be clear. Standard bet sizings are not bad but they are rarely optimal at the micros especially against fish and bad regs. I should mention that against good regs I typically do keep almost all of my bet sizings standardized. When you are dealing with the handful of solid regs who are big winners at these stakes it is reasonable to expect them to see through a lot of these shenanigans. I prefer to keep my play as GTO as possible against them no matter what I have.

You should always be trying to maximize your winrate versus the low hanging fruit at the micros though (fish and bad regs). One way that we can do this is by looking for the bet sizing which is likely to yield the highest long term EV. I emphasize the phrase "long term" because you have to remember that even though you may not have gotten the result that you wanted this time, it does not mean that the bet sizing was necessarily bad. You have to always think long term and ask yourself what the EV is over 10 hands, 100 hands or more.

And also remember that when betting for value bad players typically need to have something in order to call you. A lot of newer players will mistakenly slow play or bet too small with big hands because they fail to understand this point. It was not your action which made them fold. You didn't "scare the off." It was simply the fact that they had nothing.

Let me know in the comments what you think of the bet sizing discussion in this article and in the examples above. Agree, disagree? Is there a better way?

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

Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a poker player, coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes and Modern Small Stakes.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

How to be Famous in Poker and Make Millions

Getting Rich and Famous in Poker
Image: instagram.com/danbilzerian
What does it take to be great in this game? I don't mean just good. Anybody can do that with a little bit of effort. I mean legendary, unforgettable and famous.

Think about the biggest names in poker on the internet and on TV that you know of. They don't necessarily have to be the best at the game (i.e., most skilled). That is a very debatable topic anyways. We don't really have a universally agreed upon scoreboard to rank poker players like there is in many other sports.

Sure we have some indicators for tournaments such as all time money lists but everybody knows that one or two big tournament wins can often be enough to rank you extremely high. For cash games and SNGs the all time results are even harder to track for fairly obvious reasons.

So just think of the people who get the most attention regardless of what you think about their skill level or about them personally. I will throw out some names to help. I am talking about people like Phil Hellmuth, Daniel "Jungleman12" Cates, Tom "Durrrr" Dawn, Phil Ivey, Randy "Nanonoko" Lew, Daniel Negreanu, Doyle Brunson, Viktor "Isildur1" Blom, Phil "OMGClayAiken" Galfond and Dan Bilzerian.

These are some of the very biggest names in poker both online and live in the last ten years. Some are loved, some are hated but nearly all casual poker fans know these names and have an opinion about them one way or another. Most of them are really rich as well.

Poker Fame and Riches

How did these people get there? Well many of them I would argue are indeed outstanding poker players, like world class. It's different with the TV pros because online games are so much more difficult than live. Most of them would stand no chance at similar stakes on the internet. However, no matter what you think of somebody like Hellmuth for instance you still have to give the guy some credit for winning all those bracelets even though most of them were versus small fields full of incredibly bad players 10+ years ago. He is good in his element, live tournaments.

But I am not solely talking about results in this article anyways. I am talking about the way in which these poker players present and market themselves. I am talking about the "brand" that they have created. In this regard Hellmuth is legendary. Don't get me wrong, being great at poker (or at least decent) is a mandatory prerequisite for being famous in this game. However there are often other aspects to it besides skill as well.

What these poker players do better than nearly anybody is market themselves well. What a lot of people forget, especially as you move up in stakes, is that there is a lot of money and opportunity through your success or popularity in poker away from the tables as well. All of these players have capitalized on that extremely well.

From Personal Experience

I don't like to blow my own horn but I can tell you from personal experience that many opportunities arose for me in this game because of my unconventional results at the micros. I obviously can't go into exact detail about all of them but doors open in this world when you are great at something or even just do something totally insane like in my case.

Nobody could believe that anybody would ever play 4 million hands of poker at the lowest stakes and not move up. In reality I actually did play a lot of hands at higher stakes as well but it is better for the story to keep pretending that I didn't. My winrates at the lowest stakes (probably the highest ever) also added some extra flavor to the narrative. It got so crazy at one point that I remember going to PTR (pokertableratings.com) back in the day when they used to track Pokerstars and often seeing my profile listed on the front page beside Phil Ivey and Nanonoko.

I am nowhere close to the calibre of poker player that either of these two are but my profile was one of the most searched in the world for a time because I was doing something that was, way, way outside the norm in the opinion of most people. I didn't particularly intend to do this. I was just being me. Nor am I in any way advocating that it is a good idea to play 4 million hands of poker at NL2 and NL5. However, the opportunities that arose out of it were pretty incredible. I am talking about interest from poker sites, training sites, coaching offers, staking offers, interview requests, joint ventures, you name it.

Even though some of the people who visited my PTR profile were just there to laugh at me and say some nasty things, they ironically opened many doors for me in this game that I would have never previously had by making me suddenly appear so famous. So I actually have to be really thankful of them. As the old saying goes, any publicity is good publicity.

The point of all of this is to say that if you really want to maximize your winnings in this game (again, this doesn't necessarily mean being the best player) then you are going to have to be extraordinary in some way. You need to make a name for yourself either through exceptional skill or in the way that you present yourself (a certain style of play, ridiculous prop bets, an unforgettable personality etc.).

rich and famous in poker
Image: pokerstarsblog.com

Famous For a Reason

Everybody that I named above has it in one of these areas.

Phil Hellmuth: Well known as the "poker brat." His rants in live poker tournaments are famous on Youtube. He is hated by many but watched by all.

Daniel "Jungleman12" Cates: Known as being one of the very biggest online winners in the world in recent years, he is feared by nearly all.

Tom "Durrrr" Dwan: Involved in some of the biggest pots in online poker history. He also has an unorthodox style of play with monster bluffs that have been wow'ing the railbirds in NVG for years.

Phil Ivey: Widely considered to be the best poker player of all-time. The biggest winner in online poker history by a wide margin.

Randy "Nanonoko" Lew: The king of mass multi-tabling online poker. Laughed at for years when he was just learning the game. Now widely respected by many online poker fans and a huge, huge name.

Daniel Negreanu: The consummate table talker and #1 in all time tournament winnings at the time of this writing. Master promoter, loved or hated by many.

Doyle Brunson: Shipping stacks with the cowboy hat for over 60 years, enough said.

Viktor "Isildur1" Blom: The sickest online gambler of all time with zero regard for money. Adored by railbirds the world over even with 3 million in lifetime losses according to highstakesdb.com at the time of this writing. Best known for his epic simultaneous heads up sessions in late 2009 on Full Tilt Poker versus Ivey, Dwan and Antonius with nightly multi-million dollar swings.

Phil "OMGClayAiken" Galfond: One of the biggest winners in online history and widely regarded as one of the best minds in the game today.

Dan Bilzerian: Does this guy even play poker? He will tell you that he has won more money than any other poker player in history. However, he is far better known as the "king of Instagram" for showing off his outlandish life full of guns, girls, sports cars and crazy stunts to millions of adoring followers. Dan only blew up a year or two ago but is perhaps already the greatest example ever of self promotion in poker.

All of these people did something unheard of. They reached well outside the norm and made a huge name for themselves by either being exceptional at poker or by being somebody that everybody just had to watch. They are also all master promoters. Pretty much all of them have been signed by an online poker site at some point or even owned one. Many of them have worked with (or owned) a big name training site. Many of them have written books and have their own website. Most of them are regularly seen on TV and most of them have a strong social media presence as well. All of them are the subject of fierce debate and rampant fanboyism on poker forums around the web on a daily basis.

Treat Your Poker Like a Business

Dusty "Leatherass9" Schmidt (another online poker great from a few years back who I could have mentioned) said it best in my opinion that you should "treat your poker like a business." From the moment that you sit down at the poker table or say something in public such as on a forum or on social media people are categorizing you and making conclusions about you. And as you move up in this game you actually become a brand as well.

This is how it works in every other sport out there so there is no reason for it to be any different in poker. The more success and popularity you gain, the more people will want to know about you and ultimately even pay you for your expertise. So you should find ways to maximize your gains both at the tables and away from them.

You should think about pulling off stunts to increase your popularity. Be the guy who made a prop bet to play 1/2 million hands at NL10 in one month with a positive winrate, be the undisputed king of $5 SNGs, be the biggest winner of all-time at NL50 Zoom etc. Just do something extraordinary or something that people will remember. ChicagoJoey and WCGRider are two huge names now in online poker. Both are exceptionally skilled but they became famous originally because of their crazy and widely publicized prop bets on 2+2.

"Chiren80" of World of Warcraft fame is another great example of this. The splash that he made in online poker a few years back (before quitting the game just as fast) with his crazy personality and brilliant publicity stunts is the stuff of legends. People still talk about the time that he played one million hands in one month and live streamed the whole thing. Pokerstars signed this guy to Team Online Pro for a reason. It wasn't particularly for his skill. I played against him a lot and don't get me wrong he was by no means a bad player. However he certainly was not exceptional either. I am sure that he would even admit the same himself. Pokerstars instead signed him because he brought massive attention to the game.

But I do want to mention that you don't have to do any of this stuff either. Most successful poker players (especially online) are not particularly wild, outgoing characters. I have met many of them in real life. I am not a particularly wild or crazy person myself. If you just want to grind it out and reach the top quietly then there is nothing wrong with that as well. I would suggest having a blog or a social media presence at the very least though so that people have some way of getting in contact with you.

And lastly, if you are just getting started in this game and struggling to find your way at the lowest limits then you really shouldn't be worrying about any of this stuff right now at all. But if being involved in this game on a long term basis is something that is in your future then you should start thinking about these things at some point.

If you have seen some success in this game though and you want to truly maximize your EV then you should start considering the image that you are presenting away from the tables as well. You will get "fans" one day and even some "haters" too whether you like it or not. You will get opportunities to build your brand and make money away from the tables as well. You should embrace this rather than burying your head in the sand and spending all of your time grinding.

What are your thoughts on poker as a business today? Is it something that you think about?

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


Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a poker player, coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes and Modern Small Stakes.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Common Online Poker Myths: Separating Truth From Fiction

myths about online poker
My little poker website here tends to attract a lot of people who are new to the game or who play the lower stakes. This isn't a coincidence. I write mostly about these games after all. And as it has grown in popularity over the last few years I have noticed a fairly significant increase in the amount of questions that I get through email, Facebook, Twitter, 2+2 etc. On occasion I get some pretty goofy stuff. Borderline tin foil hat material in some cases where they are nearly convinced that all of online poker is rigged. Upon a closer examination though, most of the time it is simply due to a misunderstanding of the long term variance in this game. I wanted to address a few of the common online poker myths that I often receive in this article.

I Always Lose Big With Hands Like AA, KK, QQ and AK. 

Well first off you probably don't "always" lose with them. This is a loaded term that gets thrown around much too lightly when we are emotional about something. If you check your poker tracking program it is likely that you actually win a lot with these hands. For instance, here are my results with AA, KK, QQ and AK over my last 300k hands at NL25:

common myths about online poker


The important point to note here besides the $7000 dollars in winnings is the "WWSF." This stands for won when saw flop. I am winning with these hands nearly 2 out of every 3 times that I play them. In fact if I were to take out AK, which misses the flop 2/3 of the time and also is over-represented in this sample because you get dealt unpaired cards much more often than paired cards, the numbers would be even higher.

poker variance







As you can see with AK excluded my winning percentage is now approaching 3/4 of the time. This is by no means a brag. This is pretty typical stuff for anybody. Everybody wins the most money with these hands in the long run. The reason is pretty simple. They are the best starting hands in the game! This is why most people also tend to play big pots with them.

Now something that we need to remember about no limit hold'em though is that our opponent is very rarely drawing dead. Most of the time we don't flop a set, trips or a straight even with a killer selection of hands like AA, KK, QQ and AK. Instead we just have an overpair or top pair top kicker at best. Any two completely random cards are still drawing live here.

So since our opponent almost always has outs and we are typically playing a big pot with these hands it only stands to reason that we are going to lose big with them on occasion also. You know that fish who hit his two pair on you? Well he actually had 5 outs which equals 19% equity on the flop.

is online poker rigged?





Our donkey friend here was a 4 to 1 underdog with two cards to come. Is it really that inconceivable that somebody could win with these odds? People bet on 4 to 1 underdogs in sports all of the time. Why? Because 4 to 1 underdogs do actually win sometimes and they get a great payout for it.

Now poker is different of course because we are not laying our fishy friend here any odds. He is playing for exactly the same pot that we are. He doesn't get a big payoff when his long shot comes through. Herein lies the entire reason why this game is so profitable. No sports bettor anywhere in their right mind would ever accept 1 to 1 money when their team is a 4 to 1 underdog to win. However, in poker they will.

You can't get mad when they win. You also can't be surprised if they win a couple in a row sometimes. Is it really that inconceivable that a 4 to 1 underdog could come through a few times in a row? Of course not. Quite rare but it certainly will happen. This does not mean that they always crack your AA or that you always lose with premium hands.

It just means that you happened to lose with your rockets a few times in a row. This is something which has happened to every single poker player on planet earth who has played any significant amount of hands in this game. Imagine if they had something a bit better like a flush draw:

poker myths





Or a pair and a flush draw which actually makes them a small favorite to win.


dealing with poker variance





You have to understand that your opponent nearly always has outs in this game and just because you happen to have AA, KK, QQ or AK does not mean that you have a license to print money every single time. You will lose sometimes. Sometimes you will lose with them several times in a row in fact.

This does not make them bad hands. In fact if you have played over 100k hands of poker in your career go check your Hold'em Manager or Pokertracker right now and you will almost certainly find that they are among your biggest winners.

They Don't Respect My Raises at the Lower Stakes! I Prefer to Play Against Good Players

No they won't respect your raises at the lower stakes. In fact most of your opponents are only really paying attention to the two cards that they hold in their hand. If they happen to like those two cards (or even just one of them) you could bet your first child's education fund or raise them the equity on your house. It won't matter. They aren't folding.

However, this should be seen as a good thing. We want to play against really bad players who don't fold anything. This is a dream scenario when we finally make a hand because we will get paid off all the way. This is something which good players don't do. In fact, we don't have to have anything close to the nuts to get paid off big versus bad players. Top pair can often be good enough to get three streets of value out of them.

If you can get them tilted (which is easy to do and something that I highly recommend) then getting a huge payoff with a marginal hand is not difficult at all. This is something that is much harder to do versus any competent player.

The idea that you want to play against a better opponent because you can "read them better" is frankly absurd. You will never make anything close to the same amount from a reg as you will from a fish. The fish loses at 20bb/100 or more and even the worst regs typically only lose at 5bb/100 at the very most. And most regs are in fact closer to break even or even winning players. You shouldn't even need to ask who you would rather play against.

Yes recreational players can be frustrating to play against sometimes. You have to accept this. If they didn't get a chance to win they wouldn't keep reloading their accounts and bankrolling the entire industry. Stop trying to put them on a hand. It's a complete waste of time anyways. Just bet when you have it and keep the bluffs to a minimum when you don't. They are easy money in the long run.

OMG Thank You For Your Advice! My Winrate is 57bb/100 Over My Last 1282 Hands! 

That is awesome! And please don't get me wrong, it is certainly a step in the right direction. However 1282 hands means absolutely nothing. In fact let's add a zero and make it 12820 hands. This is still an absolutely meaningless sample size. When you have a huge winrate over a statistically insignificant amount of hands like this it is called a heater. It's fine to do a little happy dance when you hit one. Everybody loves a heater. However, it should never be confused with your long term winrate which is what actually matters.

I often say that you should play 100k hands before coming to any conclusions about your winrate. Something that I read the other day actually has me wondering if this number is high enough though. I was reading the blog of an old poker friend who is probably the winningest NL500 Zoom player in Pokerstars history. He went through a 400k hand break even stretch earlier this year. Yes that is right, 400000 hands (five zeros) without making a dime pre-rakeback. Again, this is one of the absolute biggest mid stakes crushers in the world today.

This is probably the worst break even stretch I have ever heard of for a player of this calibre but this is not the first time that I have heard of a huge winner going through hundreds of thousands of hands without winning. I have had a few stretches well over 100k hands myself.

The moral of the story here is that the long run in poker can sometimes be really, really long. Sorry, but this is just the way it is. 95% of people would quit the game outright if they hit a 6 figure hand break even stretch or downswing. So in a way it helps weed out those who are not really very serious about this game.

OMG It's All Rigged!!!

I used to spend quite a bit of time giving a reasoned reply to these. I would point out that it makes absolutely no sense for a poker room to do anything that would risk them losing the enormous cash cow that is online poker. They already make a bajillion dollars, literally. The new Pokerstars ownership group is a publicly traded company so they release earnings projections and quarterly results. They expect to make gross revenue in the neighborhood of 700 million dollars in 2014. Why on earth would you ever want to put this in jeopardy by rigging a few hands?

Anyways, I would also point out to them that there has been no actual evidence of any rigging on any major poker room that I am aware of in the 10+ year history of online poker. Finally I would inform them that I have looked over the numbers regarding my own EV with samples exceeding 7 million hands and everything looks fine to me.

These days however, I couldn't be bothered anymore. Some people are going to think that online poker is rigged until the end of time. If I even reply at all I will usually just ask them why they even bother playing if it is rigged. Isn't it surely insane to continue playing a game where you think you are being cheated? Or sometimes I just give a ridiculous reply letting them know that my account isn't rigged, sucks to be you!

Anyways, that's all I got for now. Let me know in the comments below if you agree or disagree with my replies to any of these common myths about online poker. If you wear the tin foil hat yourself though then feel free to tell me about that as well.

If you found this article helpful please click the "Like" or "Tweet" button below. Thanks!
Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a poker player, coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes and Modern Small Stakes.