Saturday, May 23, 2015

Should You Play Cash Games, Tournaments or Sit and Gos?

When you first start playing online poker you have a choice to make: Should I play cash games, tournaments or sit and gos? They are all poker. There is no difference in the rules. However, they are vastly different formats that each require a completely separate set of strategies for success.

Now I think that most of you probably already know which format I prefer. Of the nearly 500 blog posts on this website roughly all of them are about cash games. But I think there are pros and cons to cash games, tournaments and sit and gos. I am a fan of the other two formats and I have certainly dabbled in both of them to various extents over the years. In this article I am going to go over the good and the bad with each and explain why I ultimately decided to choose cash games.

But before I begin some people might be thinking to themselves why do I have to choose? Why not just play all three or even a combination of two? This is a good question.

I think the answer is pretty straightforward though. If you were to spread your play across several different formats you run the risk of becoming a jack of all trades and a master of none. I think it is better to specialize so that you get really, really good at one rather than being just decent at a bunch of them. This will ultimately be much better for your bottom line as well.

With that said, let's begin!

Cash Games Pros

1. Flexibility. This is one of the biggest reasons that I choose to play cash games. I can come and go when I please. If I feel like playing for 15 minutes then I will play for 15 minutes. If I feel like playing for 8 hours then I will play for 8 hours. Furthermore, I do not have to schedule my sessions around any particular time of the day. There is plenty of action at the cash game tables around the clock and I can jump in and out whenever I want. This just makes planning my life so much easier. It also helps with tilt control. If things are going badly and I feel like my play is suffering then I can simply shut down all of my tables immediately and leave for the day.

2. Steady Profit. Arguably just as important to me is the idea of winning on a regular basis. I generally know what to expect with cash games. Yes, sometimes there are lengthy downswings or heaters but for the most part I know that I will come away with a profit on most days. Even though we should always focus on the long run these frequent wins are good from a psychological perspective. The consistent results (relative to the other two formats) also allows me to be much more confident in where my abilities are.

3. High Profit Ceiling. Even though I am well known as the micro stakes guy and I do not have any real aspirations to take a run at mid stakes or high stakes (at least at the moment) I do believe that cash games have the highest potential profit ceiling out of the three formats. The action in high stakes cash games has dried up quite a bit in recent years but the millionaire club always still has plenty of members.
cash games, tournaments or sit and gos?
The top 5 biggest cash game winners in 2014 according to

Note the ridiculously low volume for all 5 of them as well. That is just over $31 a hand for Jungleman if you are keeping score at home. Punting-peddler actually one upped him by a fair margin making $43 every time he played a hand of poker last year.

I don't believe that the top winners in the other two formats come close to these numbers year in and year out, especially when you consider it from a dollar per hand or hourly perspective. If you want to get really rich, play cash.

Cash Game Cons

1. Competition. I think that cash games are probably the most popular format overall and with that comes more competition. And really what I mean by this is the level of competition. While recreational players are more inclined to spread out their action more evenly across the different formats cash games tend to attract more professional poker players. It's really easy to see why. As I just mentioned the session time flexibility of cash games makes it a lot easier to plan your life and the steady profit creates the kind of cash flow that helps when it comes time to pay the bills.

2. Complexity. This is actually a pro for some, including me. I think cash games are clearly the hardest format to get good at. It is really simple to see why. The stacks are generally a lot deeper and therefore there are more decisions to be made after the flop. Decisions are much more complex on those later streets in particular. There is no quick mathematical calculation for instance that will tell you if your opponent is bluffing, range merging or has the nuts when he makes a big bet on the river. I have great respect for the other two formats and I don't want to sound like I am "dissing" them. But I do think that it is a lot easier for a cash game player to go and have success in tournaments or sit and gos compared to the other way around.

Tournament Pros

1. The Big Win. There is nothing more exciting in all of poker than a tournament final table. And if you have ever won a poker tournament then you will know what a rush it is. This is not to mention how good it is for your bankroll! This is personally why I still play MTTs every now and then. I love the feeling of going deep and having that shot of hitting a big time score.

2. Staking. Getting staked, which means playing fully or partially with somebody else's financial backing and sharing the profit or losses, is a lot easier to get and more accepted in tournaments than in the other two formats. There is a huge and well known staking culture that exists across all limits both live and online. This can be a nice safety net to have given the extreme variance that comes with playing tournaments on a regular basis.

Tournament Cons

1. Chained to Your Chair. This is the number one reason that I could never play MTTs full time. I want to be able to make plans with friends which aren't dependent on how deep I run in a tournament. Also, even more annoying is when you fire up 10 of them, bust quick in 9 but go deep in one. You know full well that you are going to sit there for another 4 hours just to lose a flip and go out in 12th!

2. Extreme Variance. Tournament players regularly go months and months on end without a single significant score. Sometimes they can even go years. This would test my sanity to the point where I might lose confidence in my abilities completely. It takes a very unique type of person to deal with the kind of adversity that tournaments can dish out.

3. Low Profit Ceiling. Even though it sounds counter-intuitive at first considering that there is nothing better for your bankroll that 1st place in a tournament, I think that overall tournaments have the lowest potential profits at least in the online game. Every year you will have one or two guys who run lights out and take down several major MTTs. But then you won't hear about them for years afterwards while variance sorts itself out. I think that there is more consistent potential money to be made in the other two formats.

Sit and Go Pros

1. Reasonable Flexibility. When I talk about sit and gos I mean the 45, 27 and 9 mans. Many years ago Pokerstars came out with 180 mans (and soon after 90 mans as well) and they are still very popular to this day at the lower buyin levels. However, since they can take hours to complete in some cases I classify them as tournaments instead of sit and gos. Traditional sit and gos are usually over in about an hour, sometimes less. So this is why I see sit and gos as more like cash games. They have a reasonable amount of flexibility in the time commitment unlike big multi-table tournaments which can take all day to complete.

2. Rakeback Monsters. Sit and gos (at least on Pokerstars) are rakeback generating machines especially at the mid to high stakes levels. If you look at the list of Supernova Elites each year sit and go players invariably take up much more than their fair share of the spots. Some high stakes sit and go pros regularly achieve Supernova Elite (worth 100k USD) multiple times in the same calendar year. Or if your name happens to be George "Jorj95" Lind then you might just ship SNE in one month! If you are a talented sit and go player capable of putting in big volume then this is the format where you can earn some massive rakeback.

Sit and Go Cons

1. Low Traffic. I think that of the three major formats sit and gos are probably last in terms of the overall number of people playing them. They also tend to attract a bit higher percentage of professionals on average just like with cash games. This means that you will often be forced to play during peak traffic hours and the recreational players will be scarce in numbers.

2. Robotic Nature. One of the biggest reasons why sit and gos never appealed to me nearly as much as cash games is because it feels like I need to memorize a bunch of push/fold charts and ICM calculations in order to succeed. This is one of the reasons that I quit limit hold'em. That game also seemed too robotic and mathematical to me. I don't want to play a game that in some ways feels like it is "solved." I might get some backlash from some sit and go guys on this one but hey, just my (perhaps ignorant) opinion.

The Verdict

With all of the above said, when people ask me if they should play cash games, tournaments or sit and gos my answer is always the same:

Play the format that you enjoy the most!

The same goes for the game type within the formats. For example, should you play full ring or 6max? Ask yourself which one you find more interesting and exciting and play that one. We all began playing poker for fun and I think it should always remain that way. Also, you are always going to be more motivated to get better at something that you enjoy. However, hopefully some of the pros and cons listed above will help guide your decision as well.

If I had to choose all over again I would still choose cash. I personally find it the most challenging of the three main formats of poker and also the most fun. Second place for me is definitely sit and gos. While I find them to be the least interesting the other main reason that I play this game is to make money. There is simply no denying the fact that sit and gos are perfect for high volume grinders who want to chase big time rakeback goals.

Lastly, while I think MTTs are a lot of fun to play they are a distant third for me. Long unpredictable sessions (lengthwise) and insane variance is too much for me to ever consider playing them on a full time or even a part time basis. They will always be just a hobby to me.

I do think that it is a good idea to mix things up from time to time though. I often do this especially when I am in a bad cash game downswing. My distraction of choice has long been the 180 man mini-MTTs on Stars. I have been addicted to them ever since they first came out. If cash is sucking badly for me but I feel like playing poker, then I will just load up a half a dozen of these things and try to donk my way to a final table or two!

Which format of poker do you prefer playing. Do you mix things up? Have you ever changed completely from one to another?
Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a poker player, coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes and Modern Small Stakes.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Fixing Your Red Line: 9 Simple Ways to Increase Your Non-Showdown Winnings

improving your red line at the micros
People often ask me what their red line should look like at the micros. If you don't know what a red line is, it is an indicator of your non-showdown winnings in Pokertracker or Hold'em Manager. Basically, it tells you if you are winning the game within the game. That is, taking it away from your opponent without having to show the best hand.

Now when people ask me about this I always tell them that at extremely low stakes such as NL2, NL5 and NL10 not to worry too much about their red line. The reason why? It is almost certainly going to be negative because these stakes are filled with calling station donkeys who don't fold anything! Frequently trying to bluff them out of pots is very unlikely to be a profitable strategy.

And before you even ask, yes, my red line is negative at these stakes too. I am not just saying all of this to make you feel better. The green line is the only one that actually matters!
red line graph pokertracker
Lost the battle but won the war!

However, when you get to limits above this (i.e., NL25+) the recreational players become harder to find and the regs understand the game quite a bit better. Therefore it is important that you start winning these smaller battles where no cards get shown down on a more consistent basis. This doesn't mean that you need to be the bluffing champion of NL50 in order to beat it. However, I do think that you should be aiming for at least a break-even result in non-showdown winnings by these stakes.

So what are some ways that you can go about doing this?

1. Steal the Blinds More Often

This is really the most obvious way to improve your non-showdown winnings. Every time you take down the blinds uncontested your red line goes up. It's that simple. And even though you only win a small amount, when you think about just how many hands end on this street (preflop), you can see that this will quickly add up in a big way.

Now it is important not to go overboard with stealing the blinds. Several years ago it became fashionable to raise it up with almost any two especially if the opponents in the blinds were nits. This strategy is not nearly as effective (at least at the upper end of the micros) in today's games because many regs are now aware of what you are up to. They have therefore adjusted by 3Betting you light more often.

In most situations at the micros I think you should be aiming to steal the blinds with about 30-40% of your hands.
stealing the blinds
The yellow hands above represent roughly the top 35% of all hands.
If you are significantly below this amount (or even significantly above it) then this could be affecting your red line results in a big way.

2. Play More Hands In Position

Another super obvious way to go about fixing your red line is to simply play more of your hands in position. In my first book Crushing the Microstakes I recommend playing at least 3 times as many hands from the button as from UTG. I also recommend a pretty tight range from the blinds.

The reason for this?

It is simply always going to be much easier to take the pot away when you are last to act. You get to see what your opponent thinks about his hand before you even do anything. Basically you are "wearing the pants" in the hand on every single postflop street. They don't know what you are going to do. They have to react to you.

Now once again you don't want to get too crazy with this strategy at the upper end of the micros in today's games. Good regs will notice that you are abusing the crap out of late position and only playing the nuts in EP and from the blinds. They will make adjustments and easily exploit you because of this.

However, you should still make sure that you are playing a solid majority of your hands when it is likely that you will be in position after the flop. To check your actual statistics by position in Pokertracker 4 make sure that you select the following at the top:

non-showdown winnings pokertracker

After that make sure you select these options on the left panel:

red line pokertracker

Change the drop down menu to "Position" if you are looking at 6max and enter the limit and the dates below. Your VPIP and PFR numbers by position should then appear in the center top panel.

3. Float More

The ability to float is one reason why playing your hands in position more often is so valuable. Many regs, especially at the lower end of the micros, still play primarily fit or fold after the flop. That is, if they don't hit their set, top pair or a solid draw then they fold versus the CBet.

The problem with this strategy is that you are only going to make one of these hands about 1/3 of the time. This is why you see many of these regs with a fold to flop CBet of 70% of even higher in some cases. Believe me, the guy who is making the CBet (and improving his red line when you fold) does not have something good 70% of the time! These people are giving away a ton of free equity by folding a lot more often than they need to.

So when you are in position you should be floating the flop a little bit more often when you have middle pair, bottom pair or a weak draw (gutshot etc.). You can even do it from time to time with ace high or king high. You should especially be looking to float more often if you are up against one of the regs who gives up a lot on the turn (big difference between flop and turn CBet).

fixing your red line micros
Float guys like this all day! CBets the flop 73%, only 38% on the turn.

4. Play Your Draws More Aggressively

A great way to take down more pots without showdown is to use your draws as a weapon, That is, semi-bluff with them. Instead of flatting on the flop with your flush draw or open ended straight draw why not raise with it instead? You need to always remember one of the cardinal rules of poker that I just alluded to heavily above:

Most of the time in poker nobody has anything very good at all! Click to Tweet!

Truly understanding this statement is really at the heart of improving your non-showdown winnings and red line. So therefore, when we have some reasonable equity (like we do with a flush draw or straight draw), then we should be using this as an opportunity to make our opponent fold.

Now we do not want to do this every single time. We always want to make sure that we are mixing things up against thinking opponents in all situations. This allows our play to be much less predictable. I think raising 50% of the time sounds perfectly fine in this situation though. You could accomplish this by simply raising your flush draw or straight draw every other time regardless of the opponent.

5. Double Barrel More

Another way to improve your red line is to follow up with another CBet on the turn more often. As I mentioned above we can take advantage of people who give up on the turn too easily by simply floating more often. Well the exact opposite is true as well. We can take advantage of people with a high float flop CBet by sticking another bet in their face more often.

non-showdown winnings at the micros

Now again, we don't want to go too overboard with this. There has been a noticeable upturn in recent years of micro stakes regs suddenly turning into "double barrel monkeys." So much so that I have started just double floating these guys or even raising the turn quite frequently.

The key thing here is to make sure that you have reasonably balanced CBetting numbers across all three streets. Your flop CBet is always going to be a bit higher than your turn and river CBets. But it should not be way, way higher like we saw above. I think a 20 point maximum difference is a good benchmark. 30+ is becoming noticeably unbalanced.


NL10 6max

Villain: 19/15/3, fold to flop CBet 55%

Hero raises in EP with 4♥4♣ and gets called from the button

Flop: J♠6♠2♥

Hero CBets
Villain calls

Turn: K♣


The king on the turn is just too irresistible. We should fire again. This player does not fold all that often on the flop either at 55%. If we keep applying pressure in a situation like this (and as long as there is no significant history) we should expect a fold more often than not from a fairly tight looking micro reg.

> Hero CBets again.

6. Triple Barrel Bluff More

Disclaimer: Do not even think about using this tactic if you play at NL10 or below. You will get snap called...just because. 

There is no quicker way to blast your red line upward than by taking down pots on the river uncontested. The reason for this is simple. This is the street where on average the pot size is going to be the highest. Now of course frequently bluffing on this street and getting caught is about the worst thing that you can do for your blue line (showdown winnings). And this will ultimately affect the only line that really matters (your green one).

So when I suggest triple barrel bluffing more this is something that should be done very sparingly and your reasons for doing so should be very well thought out. However, this can be a highly effective tactic against double floaters because they usually aren't willing to go all the way with it at the micros. And even if you do get caught once in awhile it is amazing for your image!

7. Value Bet Thinner

The simple act of value betting thinner means that you are going to make people fold more often. This is always a good thing for your red line. Most regs at the micros are afraid to value bet too thin. That or they will only do it versus the recreational players.

This is a mistake because you are actually missing out on quite a bit of value versus the calling station regs who will look you up with middle pair or worse (high WTSD%). This is especially the case if you have a bad image like I suggest you create versus them on a regular basis. Make them think you are a maniac!

Frequently value betting thinner will actually in and of itself help you accomplish this. This is because it will increase your Total AF significantly on their HUDs. And any time you are simply betting more often will make others naturally assume that you are bluffing up a storm.

"He can't have it every single time!"

8. Semi-Bluff Raise the Turn More

Again, this tactic is not for NL10 and below players. You will get called. Don't send me hate mail!

Semi bluff raising the turn is a more advanced play that you still rarely see at the micros. You will see plenty of regs who are capable of it at NL100 and higher though. Basically it involves taking a hand such as a flush draw, straight draw or even just middle pair and simply raising with it.

Now once again this is not something that you want to overdo or it could get really hazardous to your win rate. Do not for instance raise the turn with a draw against a high WTSD% calling station reg or recreational player. However, it can be an effective tool to use on occasion versus regs who have a high double barrel and a low WTSD%.

9. Bluff Raise the River More

Bluff raising the river is another advanced play that you need to be very careful in attempting. If you play at NL2, NL5 or NL10 don't even think about it.
red line in poker

But once again, when made for the right reason, against the right opponent and in the right situation this can be an effective tool to take down a few pots uncontested and increase your non-showdown winnings.


NL25 Full Ring

Villain: 14/11/3, WTSD 23% (no significant history)

Hero flats an MP open on the button with AJ

Flop: 852

Villain CBets
Hero raises
Villain calls

Turn: 3

Villain checks
Hero checks

River: 7

Villain leads

We know that we have pretty much no chance of winning this hand at showdown by calling. Also, our opponent's hand feels like some weakish over-pair trying to get thin value. We also know that he doesn't like going to showdown very much and probably views us as fairly tight since there is no real history.

We could just go ahead and fold. That is the easy way. And please make no mistake, this is what I would do here most of the time. I do think it is a good idea to be capable of raising with air in a spot like this on occasion as well though. It will do wonders for your red line also, that is for sure.

Bluffing 101

As I always mention when bluffing, it is very important to make sure that you are telling a story that makes sense. Always ask yourself, are there several strong hands given this action and this board that I might normally take the exact same line with?

In this instance the answer is yes.

I would raise the flop with a flush draw sometimes here and it got there on the river. There are several sets, two pairs or even a higher over-pair that I would commonly show up here with as well.

> Hero Raises!

Note: If you get away with something like this you better be damn sure to show up with the nuts against this guy next time. Regs tend to remember hands like this for a long time.

Final Thoughts

Having the sickest red line ever is definitely not necessary to beat the micros at all. And often your non-show down winnings will be largely determined by your style of play. There are many different ways to skin a sheep at the micros.

And if you play at the lowest stakes (NL2, NL5 and NL10) focusing on your red line too much will probably negatively affect your bottom line. The green line (your overall winnings) is the only one that actually matters. Just win. Nobody cares how you got there.

However, by the time you get to about NL25 I think that improving your non-showdown winnings and red line is something that you should be paying a reasonable amount of attention to. You will be playing more hands against decent regs and winning these smaller battles will play a bigger role in your overall results. Hopefully some of the strategies listed in this article will help you achieve this.

Let me know in the comments below what you think about all this red line business and the ways to improve it in this article.
Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a poker player, coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes and Modern Small Stakes.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

How to Deal With Poker Downswings and Tilt

Dealing with poker downswings and tilt
Downswings and tilt are the most difficult part of the game of poker for most people. But in many ways they are also one of the most beautiful parts of the game. This is because they are the proving ground upon which winners and losers and separated. We spend so much of our time as poker players trying to keep up with the latest strategy advice and tactics and forget that the ability to keep our wits about us during the tough times is what will really benefit our win rate the most.

Many people think they have their tilt under control for the most part. They point to a guy who is open shoving or going crazy in the chat box. Now that is tilt they will say! True, it is. But what they don't realize is that there are many minor forms of tilt which are just as destructive in the long run.

Here are just a few of them:
  • The bad call on the river when you know you are beat
  • The hopeless feeling which makes you play less aggressively than you should
  • The frustration triple barrel against a reg who you know "has it again"
Added all together these can have a very negative impact on your win rate as well. In fact often the damage can be equal or even more than the guy who has lost his mind tilt shoving because he will usually quit after he loses a few stacks. Many people will continue to play for hours though with these minor forms of tilt which end up costing them just as much or more in the long run.

A New Way of Looking at Downswings and Tilt

There is a different way of looking at downswings and tilt though which has helped me improve my reaction to them in recent years. But before I begin here let me be clear:

Everybody tilts to some degree.

As long as you are human you are going to get frustrated with this game to some extent at times. So I don't believe in the idea that we can ever "cure" our tilt. You have to accept it as a natural part of this game and as a part of who you are. My goal then has always been about minimizing it's impact on my results.

So what is this new way of looking at downswings and tilt? Well it isn't really a new way of thinking but I would say that it is not well known. All of the credit goes to the poker mental game theorist and coach Tommy Angelo.

Many years ago he created a video series called "The Eightfold Path to Poker Enlightenment" which as the title suggests is a sort of Buddhist take on the mental game. One idea that stuck out to me in particular, and consequently had a deep impact on how I view the entire game of poker (not just the mental game), is something that Tommy called "Reciprocality."

In his own words:
"In the world of reciprocality, it's not what you do that matters most, and it's not what they do. It's both. Reciprocality is any difference between you and your opponents that affects your bottom line. Reciprocality says that when you and your opponents would do the same thing in a given situation, no money moves, and when you do something different, it does."
You see, we all get frustrated with this game in the short run at times but there is a long term pure mathematical nature to poker which is the great equalizer. That is, everybody will eventually get dealt all of the same hands (both good and bad) in equal frequencies. Therefore, everybody will eventually experience all of the same downswings and short term "bad luck." 

Nobody gets a free pass in this game.

So therefore, the only difference between me, you and the next guy is how each of us reacts to the adversity that we will face. If we all react the same then we will all get the same results.

But as Tommy would say, you are "mining for reciprocal gold" when you seek to make better decisions than your opponents in a particular situation. In the case of downswings and tilt, if you can handle them better than your opponents, then you will profit in the long run.

I Will Handle Downswings and Tilt Better Than My Opponents Will

So building off of this idea I now take downswings, and the tilt that inevitably comes with them, as a personal challenge. Rather than take the "woe is me" attitude (or worse yet go complain about my bad luck to somebody else) I challenge myself to handle it better than my opponents will. When I have one of those really bad days where absolutely nothing works and I lose stack after stack I think about how my fellow regs will handle this situation when it happens to them.

I know they won't handle it as well as me and I take pride in that.

Poker tilt and downswings

This "reciprocal gold" that I create eventually shows up in my win rate. Every time I handle one of these bad days for instance better than my opponents, I separate myself from them and profit in the long run. How do I handle downswings and tilt better?

I do everything in my power to make sure that my losses are only those which I deem necessary. That is, they are situations where I think that I made the right play and the short term luck simply was not on my side.

In order to do this:
  • I am constantly on the lookout for minor forms of tilt (such as those highlighted above) 
  • I constantly remind myself that this game does not owe me anything, I have to work for the results that I want 
  • I constantly remind myself that anything can happen in a day, a week or even a month
  • I constantly remind myself that I have seen far, far worse than this before
  • I constantly remind myself that I am a long term winner bringing up graphs if necessary
  • I will practice breathing exercises while playing to keep my mind calm and focused
  • I will take short breaks to regain my composure and think logically about the situation if necessary
  • I will quit altogether for the day if I believe that tilt (major or minor) is affecting my decision making in any significant way
I am confident that most of my opponents at the micros are not doing all of these things.

I know that each time I quit when most regs would have lost another stack or two because of tilt, I win. I know that each time I remain focused and play a hand optimally when another reg would have lost value or failed to get away, I win.

More importantly than anything though, I know that this is a long term game and no matter how hard this day, week or month has been, all of my opponents are eventually going to have to go through the exact same thing. I know they won't handle it as well as I will. Therefore, I win.

Poker Downswings are a Blessing in Disguise

So I believe that if you choose to look at downswings and tilt as an opportunity to "one up" your opponents as I do, then you could conceivably even start viewing them as a blessing.

Dealing with the kind of adversity that poker can bring (especially online poker where the beats and coolers can come at super-sonic speed) is something that most people at the micros in particular are terrible at.  And there are no easy answers out there because this is the mental part of the game. There are no mathematical calculations, odds or software tools to help solve this problem. There is no clearly defined +EV line to take.

So therefore, it is during these times when you are facing the most adversity in this game that you can mine the most reciprocal gold. This is when you can truly separate yourself from the masses.

Dealing with tilt and downswings in small stakes poker

Almost everybody at the micros knows how to play their aces these days. Most people know how to value-bet a set. Many even know how to get away from an over pair when it is obvious that their opponent has them beat. But very few people at these stakes are good at dealing with a really bad day, week or month at the tables.

You need only look at all of the endless complaining in places like poker forums and the like. You have people literally writing novels about their bad luck! It is as if they think that all of their bitching and moaning (which nobody cares about) will somehow change the mathematical certainty that they will run bad in this game sometimes. This is the kind of truly bizarre behavior which this game can drive some people to.

And this is why I think that you should actually celebrate short term bad luck and downswings when they occur. Next time your aces get cracked 3 times in a row try jumping for joy instead. Go ahead and pop a bottle of champagne if you want!

The reason why is that many of your opponents will react very poorly when something completely routine like this happens to them. So this is actually your time to shine! This is your opportunity to distance yourself in a big way from most players at the micros.


I have often believed that poker is simply a microcosm of life. That is, many of the lessons that we learn (or do not learn) in this game are mirrored in our regular lives. We all face setbacks in our day to day lives such as getting laid off from a job, going through a divorce or a major illness. We also face much more minor stuff like a screaming baby on the subway, stubbing your toe or rain on your vacation.

The only difference between us though is how we react to these situations. Some people see these things as merely small obstacles or even opportunities to grow. Many other people though view them as debilitating disasters that end up ruining their day, week, year or even life.

Poker is a highly emotional game filled with ego. We all want to win. And it is this competitive fire that drives the best poker players forward on the technical side of the game. But success on the mental side of the game requires a lot of the opposite reactions. We need to take a more serene, detached and objective viewpoint. The ability to "let it go and move on" and keep getting up after you have been knocked down are the hallmarks of success in this facet of the game.

The best way that I have ever found to flip this switch is through the simple understanding that everybody else will eventually go through the exact same situations as me in this game. No matter how bad things get I know that all of my opponents will have to deal with this some day too.

I take a deep breath and smile because once again:

I know that they will not handle it as well as I will.

Let me know in the comments below what you think of looking at downswings and tilt in the manner. Do you agree with it? Is there a better way?

If you found this article helpful then please do me a favor and share it with your friends by hitting the "Like" or "Tweet" button below!

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

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Modern Small Stakes is Now Available For Kindle and iPad

Modern Small Stakes for Kindle and iPad
I am very happy to announce that Modern Small Stakes is now finally available for Kindle and iPad! The mobi and ePub versions of the book should also look way better than the pdf on most tablets, smart phones and other mobile devices.

Also, as promised, all previous Modern Small Stakes buyers will now be able to receive the mobi and epub versions of the book for free. 

If you are a previous purchaser and would like the mobile version of the book then please just send me an email at:

Please provide me with either of the following so that I can quickly verify your purchase:
  • The email address that you purchased the book with
  • Your full name
After this I will email you back ASAP with a link for you free downloads. Please note that all future purchasers (i.e., from today forward) will automatically receive the pdf, mobi and epub versions of the book. No need to email me. 

What is Modern Small Stakes?

Modern Small Stakes is my 2nd full length book which was released in July of last year. It picks up where Crushing the Microstakes left off by showing you how to break down and exploit the regs who will be your main competition as you move up the limits. It therefore assumes a reasonable understanding of the fundamentals and is not intended for beginners or those struggling at the lowest stakes like it's predecessor.

In Modern Small Stakes you will learn: 
  • How to identify 9 different player types and the keys to optimal play against each of them
  • Advanced HUD setup
  • Complete ranges for every possible preflop situation against unknown opponents
  • Custom ranges for many different preflop situations against regs
  • Custom strategic advice for every possible postflop situation illustrated with over 100 highly in depth hand history examples against real opponents
  • Anti-tilt strategies, session reviews, database reviews and much, much more!
To learn more about Modern Small Stakes click here.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

7 Strategies Guaranteed to Boost Your Win Rate at the Micros

micro stakes poker strategy
If there is one thing that everybody agrees on in poker it is that they want a higher win rate. Having a higher win rate (or big blinds per hundred hands as we refer to it in online poker) simply means that you are more efficient at the tables. It would be like getting paid $30 dollars an hour instead of $20 for instance at your job. All of the sudden your time spent there is simply worth more money.

Another added benefit to having a higher win rate is lower variance. The higher your win rate, the less downswings and losing days that you will have. As many know my win rates in past years at the lowest stakes were so high that I would literally almost never have a losing day. This isn't always the case anymore with the games tightening up a bit and recreational players being harder to find. However, with sufficient volume and by following the 7 strategies below I can still come close to that goal. 

1. Reduce the Number Of Tables That You Play

Without a doubt reducing the number of tables that you play is a guaranteed way to boost your win rate. I used to 24 table all the time and switched to playing 8-12 tables just a few years ago. My win rate has at least doubled at all stakes because of this.

When you drastically cut the tables like this you simply have way more time to pay attention to the two most important determinants of your win rate at the poker tables:
  • Game selection
  • Quality poker decisions
This is one of the main reasons why I never answer the "what is a good win rate" questions anymore (except for this post that I wrote last year). You simply can't compare the win rate of a 24 table player with an 8 tabler. Or even an 8 tabler with a 1 tabler. They are completely apples and oranges.

The bottom line is that if you want your win rate to go up, then play less tables.

2. CBet More

The old raise preflop, fire on the flop and then fire again on the turn still works surprisingly well at most levels of the micros even in today's games. Some people have clued in for sure and will float you or raise you more often especially by the time you get to NL25. However, there are still tons of regs, especially at the lowest stakes, who will almost always give up versus this line unless they have a very strong hand.

Now you don't want to go overboard with this strategy. Many people do use a HUD these days even at stakes as low as NL2 and NL5. If you are CBetting the flop and turn 90% of the time, this is going to stick out like a sore thumb. However, I think that something in the neighborhood of 70% on the flop and 50% on the turn is still very effective. It also isn't high enough to make it look like you are terribly out of line.

3. Play More Hands

If you don't get involved in the hand, you can't win. It's that simple.

The highest win rates possible in any game are always going to be achieved by the best LAG (loose and aggressive) players. It is really easy to see why this is the case. They are going to win the same amount over the long run with all of their good hands as the tighter players.

However, they are also going to be involved in a bunch of other pots with mediocre holdings, which if they can win in some manner, will allow them to tap into a profit stream that tighter players simply do not have access to (because they folded preflop).

One of the easiest ways to start opening up your game is actually to follow strategy #1 above and play less tables. Every time I reduce the tables I see so many more +EV situations to get involved in. Please note that this is not the same as getting "bored" and playing a bunch of bad hands in a sub-optimal way like recreational players are prone to do.

I am currently working on a huge post about how to open up your game which will probably get released next week. Of course, if you are on my newsletter then you will be notified the instant that it goes live.

Wait, you aren't on my newsletter yet? Click here to fix that problem immediately.

4. Snipe the Jesus Seat

There is nothing more profitable in all of poker than getting the seat directly to the left of a recreational player. You can isolate the crap out of them preflop and value bet and bluff them non-stop after the flop. These players lose their money at a truly incredible pace and therefore having direct position on them in nearly every single hand is simply rocket fuel for your win rate.

There are many ways to get the Jesus seat in today's games. One way that I have spoken about on many occasions is to simply start your own tables. Bad players do not like to wait around for a seat to open up. They have a limited amount of time to play poker and they want to start splashing around right away. You can just immediately rejoin if they happen to Jesus seat you.

But an even better strategy than this is to simply observe a bunch of tables that a reg has started and as soon as the fish sits snipe the seat to their left. This and many other strategies on how to locate the fun players and get the right seat against them are included in my ultimate guide to table selection article.

5. Value Bet More

When I talk about value betting I am specifically referring to river situations. This street is hugely important to your win rate at all levels of the game. One thing that you should always do before making a decision on the river is check your opponent's WTSD% (went to showdown).

Here are some rough rules of thumb:
  • 24% or less = needs a strong hand to go to showdown
  • 25% or more = will go to showdown with weaker holdings
Now obviously there are different degrees to these numbers. You should not treat somebody who goes to showdown 18% of the time the same as somebody who goes to showdown 24% of the time. But in my experience you can kind of find a median point with most players at about 25%. Half are above, half are below.

The ones who are above are going to look you up lighter and lighter especially as the number approaches the 30's and beyond. And in contrast the players with a WTSD below 25% are going to make more disciplined folds especially the lower the number goes. 

So if you have a weak hand like middle pair, bottom pair or even ace high versus a 25%+ WTSD opponent you should be asking yourself if there is any value in making a bet on the river. Often you can get a crying call out of some ridiculous holding especially if you pay attention to your bet sizing. 

6. Bluff More

As you can probably guess then, versus the players with a 24% or less WTSD we should be looking for opportunities to bluff on the end. One of the most important things to keep in mind with bluffing though is that your story is believable. 

For instance: 

Suppose you have JT and check/call versus a tight player on this flop:


It then goes check/check on the turn when a blank card hits:


The river blanks out as well:


You decide to fire out a bluff.

This is not a very well thought out attempt to win the pot. You are probably going to get snap called by any ace here (and quite possibly some other hands too) because your line represents very little and your hand reeks of a missed flushed draw.

If you had instead mixed up your play at some point during the hand though such as check/raising the flop and firing the turn then all of the sudden your bluff here might get a lot more credibility. You might get a tight player to even fold a strong ace with this kind of pressure.

Bottom line when bluffing: Do it versus the guys who are capable of making folds (24% or less WTSD). But equally as important is making sure that your line makes sense to your opponent. Make sure that you are clearly representing several hands that beat him. 

7. Take Pots That Nobody Wants

Having a great red line (won money without showdown) is not something that is essential at the micros, especially at the lowest stakes. With many calling stations around it can be difficult to get away with a lot of bluffs. And so many of the biggest winners at NL2, NL5 and even NL10 show negative winnings in this category. However, it is still important at all levels to fight for the pots that nobody seems to want. 

You will of course be in this situation a lot at the lower limits because you still have plenty of players who think that limping is a good idea. Now it would definitely be a mistake to fight for every pot when you check your big blind with Q2o. However you should certainly be capable of taking stabs at it from time to time when you think that your opponent is weak or making a call if you think they they are bluffing. 

The same idea applies in most raised pots as well. Many regs at the micros these days are notoriously weak on the later streets and you can pick up pots that they have given up on by simply making a bet. On occasion you can also take a crazy line like raising the river because you know that they won't call you with their top pair. The key is not to overdue it or else they might start looking you up light. 


These are a few of the ways that are guaranteed to boost your win rate in today's games at the micros. None of them are really ground-breaking but you would be surprised at how many regs these days still play way too many tables on auto-pilot for 1bb/100 or 2bb/100. 

That would be most of them in fact. 

This doesn't have to be you. Big win rates are still definitely doable at the micros these days. However, you need to cut down on the tables, think outside the box a little more and make sure that you are consistently getting the right seat in the right games. 

Let me know in the comments below what you think of these 7 strategies. Would you add any new ones or remove any existing ones?

If you found this article helpful then please do me a favor and share it with your friends by hitting the "Like" or "Tweet" button below!

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