Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Set Over Set - Should You Always Go Broke?

set over set in poker
If you play enough poker set over set is something that is going to happen to you eventually. It is a difficult situation to be in because you have what amounts to an incredible hand, but there is only one card in the deck that can allow you to win the hand.

And I don't think I even need to tell you how low the odds are of hitting that!

So in this article I am going to talk about what to do on those rare occasions in poker when you get set over set. Is there any way to get away and not go broke in these situations?

Set Over Set is Exceedingly Rare

First off it should be noted that getting set over set is an extremely rare occurrence in poker.

In fact, the math suggests that somebody will flop a higher set than you in a full ring cash game once every 7.8k hands. It is even more rare in a 6max game, where it will only happen once every 12.6k hands.

This is why set over set is commonly referred to as a "cooler". That is, a hand that is simply an unlucky break and pretty much everybody is going to lose all their money.

Let's assume for a moment that you do in fact put all of your money in the middle every time you are set over set. As we know, you will lose the vast, vast majority of the time.

However, it is important to note that you are going to cooler somebody else (by set over setting them) once every 7.8k or 12.6k hands as well. And believe me, they are almost surely going broke against you too.

So the key takeaway here is that set over set situations are exceedingly rare and pretty much everybody goes broke when they happen.

This makes the whole debate of whether or not you should always go broke when they happen a bit pointless.

This is because even if you stick all the money in the middle every single time this situation arises, your opponents are going to do the same when you happen to have the higher set.

So therefore, in the long run this is pretty much a neutral EV (expected value) situation.

Should You Always Go Broke With a Set?

Bet let's address the question or whether or not you should always lose all your money with a dominated set anyways.


Because we should always be looking for an edge in poker no matter how small especially in today's tighter games.

If we can successfully make a good fold with a lower set even just once every 10 times it happens, then we can turn this into a positive EV long term situation for ourselves and a negative EV one for our opponents.

This in turn will directly impact your bb/100 (also known as your winrate) in a positive way, which is the most important thing in this game.

But should you ever really fold a set especially at the lower limits where there are so many wild and crazy players?

Well, folding a set should definitely be an exceedingly rare event. In fact, the only time you should ever really be folding a set is when one or both of the following conditions are true:
  • You are against a tight/passive opponent who is giving you big action
  • The community cards allow for a lot of other nut hands (straights, flushes etc.)

The most important factor in nearly every decision in poker is the player type that you are up against. I am simply not going to be folding a set versus any fish or aggressive regs unless the board is absolutely ridiculously bad for me (e.g., four flush).


Because these player types have way too many hands in their range (and even total bluffs) that my set is miles ahead of.

And in the case of recreational players in particular, they tend to think about hand strengths incorrectly anyways. For instance, they will often massively over-value a hand like top pair.

Secondly, the board texture (especially by the river) is hugely important if I am ever going to consider folding a set.

On a dry uncoordinated board like:


There is very little chance that I ever fold because there are no possible straights or flushes that could beat me.

However on a board like:


There are multiple straights and flushes that could beat me and therefore it is easier to get away.

Lastly, you will sometimes encounter a crazy board like:


Where there are so many ways for you to be beat that folding your set to a big bet is almost trivial.

When Would I Really Consider Folding a Set?

Anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis though (or has checked out either of my books) knows that my whole poker game and strategy is heavily based around playing the player.

So assuming the board doesn't go totally crazy like in the last example above, the main determining factor for me is often a tight/passive player type. We have all seen these kinds of players at the micros.

Their stats might look something like this:

set over set poker
Typical nitty 6max regular

The numbers in blue are VPIP/PFR/AF. This is a typical tight/passive 6max regular. A VPIP of 18 indicates a tight player and an AF of 2 is definitely on the passive side.

This is essentially type of player which picks his spots and is very cautious at the poker tables. So you would be well advised to give them some credit when they start tossing the chips around.

By the way, for a complete breakdown of what each stat above means, check out my complete HUD setup article.

Another thing that is important to remember is that these types of players will typically be the ones who are playing on many different tables at once.

So when they wake up out of the blue and suddenly start giving you big time action, this is when the alarm bells need to start going off. They didn't just randomly pick you on one of their 16 tables to suddenly run a wild bluff against.

But still, should we really fold a set especially on a dry uncoordinated board like the first one above? To be honest, if it is just heads up with me and one of these tight/passive opponents, I am still going broke most of the time.

The reason why is that at the lower stakes I still believe that enough wacky stuff can be going on for me to be ahead sometimes. They can be overvaluing a hand like an overpair for instance. Also, it is just really damn hard to fold a set!

Something that is also extremely important to note here is the type of set we have. On a dry uncoordinated board I am never folding middle set. Top set is quite literally the best hand possible so that obviously never gets folded either.

The reason why I am always willing to felt middle set in this spot is because my opponent has an equal chance of having a higher set or a lower one. And this is not even to mention a whole host of other non-set hands that I destroy.

So, if I am ever going to fold a set (which is exceedingly rare), it will only ever be bottom set.

The One Situation Where it is Correct to Fold a Set

Ok so enough build up!

Is there actually a specific spot in poker where you can correctly make an incredible fold with your bottom set versus a higher set on a harmless board?

Yes. There is one.

This is the extremely rare situation where you are up against multiple tight/passive opponents with bottom set on a dry uncoordinated flop. Furthermore, before the action even gets to you there is a CBet by the preflop raiser and a raise by one of the preflop callers.

As crazy as it might sound, this is a situation where if you continue on in the hand there is a good chance that you will be shown a higher set by the flop raiser.

The key thing to remember here is the player type. Simply ask yourself why a tight/passive player would make the insanely aggressive move of raising the preflop raiser (with more people left to act behind as well!) on a completely harmless board like:


I will tell you why. It is because his 99 or 55 has your 22 absolutely crushed.

I gotta be honest though, even in a somewhat obvious spot like this, I don't always make the right fold. It is especially hard at the lower limits because I just assume that everyone is bad until I am proven otherwise.

However, this is a rare situation that you might want to be on the look out for. As difficult as it might appear at first, being good enough to fold bottom set here can save you a lot of money in the long run.

Final Thoughts

Set over set situations are one of the most common types of hands that you will see posted on poker forums in particular. This is because everybody wants to know if they should have gotten away.

Often they really just want to hear those four magic words to soothe their pain "it's just a cooler".

And to be honest, it is just a cooler in the vast, vast majority of cases. To go around routinely folding sets (especially at the lower limits) is a serious mistake that will negatively affect your winrate in a big way.

And also, it is important to remember that even on the rare occasions that you are behind to a straight or a flush, you still have 10 outs to a full house or quads. This is by no means an insignificant amount of equity.

So to answer the age old question of whether or not you should always go broke when you are set over set, the answer is yes in the vast majority of cases.

As I discussed above this situation is extremely rare and most of your opponents are always going broke when the roles are reversed as well. Therefore, even if you decided to stick all the money in the middle every single time, it would be close to neutral EV in the end.

However, there might be one or two rare spots where a couple of tight/passive nits are in a raising war in front of you and you have bottom set on a dry and uncoordinated flop. I am not saying that you should always fold here but alarm bells should be going off at the very least.

Let me know in the comments below how you approach set over set situations. Are you able to make a sick fold in these spots sometimes?

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folding trips in poker

Monday, August 15, 2016

What is the Fastest Way to Become a Winning Poker Player?

Fastest way to become a winning poker player
People ask me all the time what is the fastest way to become a winning poker player. Well, unfortunately success rarely comes fast or easy in this game.

You could get lucky of course and win a big tournament. But even for a good experienced poker player this would take a lot of short term luck.

But there are several steps that you can take to quickly improve your game and get yourself winning at the lower limits at least. In this article I am going to discuss several of them.

Review Your Play

Some people look at me with a strange face when I tell them that you must review your play in order to get better. How you might ask?

Well, much like a professional athlete reviews the game tape, you need to look over your hand histories. Every time you play a hand of poker online the poker site generates a raw text file called a hand history. You have the option to save these to your hard drive.

You can then use a program like Pokertracker or Hold'em Manager which will turn these files into useful information about yourself and your opponents. They will also allow you to review your hands after you have played them.

The only way that you are going to get better at poker is by learning from your mistakes. When you only ever play the game (and don't review your hands) you aren't giving yourself a real opportunity to analyze why you are taking certain actions.

These programs also allow you to filter for specific scenarios and find the long term profitability of certain plays (e.g. 3Betting with AQ versus just flatting). This takes the guesswork out by giving you the cold hard facts on which plays are more profitable.

So for all of these reasons, at some point early on in your poker career, I recommend at least getting yourself aquainted with one of these poker tracking programs and using them to review your play.

Play Poker Like a Beast

When I first started the main way that I taught myself how to become a winning poker player was through ridiculous amounts of simply playing the game. I am talking 10 or 12 hours every single day.

I didn't have much of a choice back then because training programs and many of the other educational tools that I will mention later on in this article simply did not exist.

Now of course not everybody has this much time to devote to the game. However, even if you work a full time job or go to school full time, you probably have at least a couple free hours each night.

Many people end up wasting this time by watching TV or browsing Facebook. If you want to create a successful side business or income such as by playing poker though, then you are going to need to sacrifice these things.

Consistency is another big key. It is important to try and play every single day if possible. This keeps the game fresh in your mind and allows you to easily recall the key situations that you have been working on lately.

I would recommend doing a session review in Pokertracker either directly before you start playing or directly after as well. Just quickly review about 5 or 10 of the most important hands. This will help keep you up to date on what you need to work on and what is working well.

Find Those Fish!

Forget Pokemon, winning poker players are out finding the fish!

It is really important in today's games that you make sure that you are finding good games to play in. And by that I mean games that are full of recreational players or fish.

I see so many people these days struggling at the lower limits and often it is because they are playing in tough games where they don't have much of an edge.

What I mean by this is that as a relative beginner their skill level is not significantly better than most of their opponents. You win big in the long run in this game when you have a big skill edge over your opponents.

But the great thing with poker is that it is all relative. When I first started playing online 10+ years ago recreational players were not hard to find. They were on pretty much every table.

This helped allow me to win big very frequently even though truthfully, I was pretty bad at the game back then myself. The reason why? A lot of my opponents were really, really bad.

If you put yourself in similar game conditions today then you will get the same results. You don't need to be the greatest poker player on earth in order to crush the micros.

Sometimes You Gotta Work to Find Them

The fish aren't always on every table table though, unless you play live. Online, it definitely takes some effort to find them these days. This is why I recommend playing on the right poker sites for starters.

Some poker rooms are more geared towards the recreational poker player and gamblers in general especially by offering lots of up front bonuses. These are the sites that you want to be playing on.

The sites that you want to avoid are the ones that make it easy to mass multi-table and give big rewards for volume of play. These sites tend to attract more of the tight regulars.

You also need to make sure that you are practing good table selection no matter what poker site you are playing at. Always make sure that there is at least one player at the table who is playing too many hands (40%+) and limping and calling a lot.

Winning Poker Players Study the Game

Lastly, and arguably most importantly today, is to study the game. Sometimes I get a blank face when I say this too.

What do I mean by study the game?

Well, there is an absolute ton of poker educational resources out there these days such as books, video training sites, forums, coaching and more.

None of this stuff was around when I first started playing online poker. I believe if it had of been, then I would have improved my poker game much, much faster.

The reason why is because many of these educational resources allow you to lower the learning curve by getting direct instruction from somebody who has already had big time success in the games that you play in.

I would recommend using a mixture of all of the resources listed below if you are just starting out.

1. Books

10 years ago I would have said that poker books were mostly a waste of time. Most of the titles back then were written by aging live pros who had little to no experience with the modern game online.

That has all changed in recent years though with tons of new titles on the market from experienced online pros.

Most poker books of course are not free but they are rarely expensive either. And for the amount of information that you get, they are actually an absolute steal.

For total beginners or anyone struggling at the lowest stakes I would recommend starting out with my first book, Crushing the Microstakes. CTM provides you with the complete strategy for how to start winning big at the lowest limits.

As mentioned though, there have been tons of other good titles released in recent years by online poker players like myself who have the experience and results in these games.

I would recommend simply heading over to and searching for "poker books" for a good idea of what other material is out there.

2. Video Training Sites

I highly recommend getting a subscription at a video training site as well. There is nothing better than seeing a winning player make decisions in a video format and discuss the reasoning behind them.

There are tons of good training sites out there but I would recommend two for people who are just starting out or struggling at the micros. probably has the best selection of up to date training video content available of any site that I have seen especially for the lower limits. Their membership prices are also very low and they have a free trial of course.

The other site that I would recommend is which is mostly free these days. I am actually an (inactive) coach there myself and have made close to 100 videos for this site in the past.

DragTheBar is still a good training site overall but it can't really compete with some of the bigger sites like Deucescracked these days in terms of up to date quality instruction.

It should also be mentioned that there is a good deal of free video content that you can find on places like Youtube or Twitch these days. Here is my Youtube Channel by the way.

The problem with Youtube and Twitch sometimes though is that you don't always know who you are getting advice from. Because after all, anyone can toss up a video or a stream on either of these platforms.

However, I would still recommend checking them out in addition to a training site subscription.

3. Forums

With poker forums there are tons of them and they are almost always free. is the biggest one of them all and many of the top players in the world post there.

However, it is also notoriously known to be full of know-it-all kids who won't hesitate to rip into you with nasty comments if you ask what they deem to be a "stupid question."

This is why I would actually recommend another larger poker forum over it. Cardschat is a much more welcoming environment for beginners especially.

Even though the level of poker advice might not always be quite as good as TwoPlusTwo, the nastiness is far less common and the sense of community is much better.

You might not know it but I also have a poker forum myself on this very website that you are reading right now!

It is of course nowhere near as active as the other ones mentioned above but there are plenty of regular contributors and I pop in there all the time myself to comment on hands and questions as well.

It is always free and no nasty comments I promise. I will just ban them! :)

4. Coaching

Lastly, coaching is probably the best overall option that there is in order to get good at poker really fast. There is nothing that can compare to the one on one personal interaction with a good winning poker player.

They can dissect your game specifically and make custom recommendations. They can also watch you play and comment in real time on the actions that you are taking. The best coaches in fact will press you on why you are making certain plays and suggest a better line when necessary.

The biggest impediment with coaching though of course is the price tag. There are many different reasons why coaching is not cheap and some of the best online coaches charge hundreds or even thousands per hour.

However, in order to find a good coach at the lower stakes you don't need to shell out this kind of money. There are many coaches these days who work with students at the micros for much less than this.

I have already written a big article before about how to hire the right poker coach. I would recommend checking that out for more info on this.

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately there really is no super fast way to become a winning poker player. It takes time and a lot of effort. However, it certainly doesn't need to take you years or even months to start crushing the lower limits.

Firstly, I would absolutely recommend reviewing your own play by getting started with a tracking program. How can you learn from your mistakes if you don't study them?

Secondly, you must play a lot. And I truly mean a lot. All of the best players who I know have played millions and millions of hands of poker. This is not a coincidence.

Lastly, you need to make sure that you are playing in soft poker games by picking the right poker sites and table selecting well.

You should also be spending plenty of time studying the game to improve your overall skills. This should involve a mix of reading books, watching training videos, posting on forums and maybe even hiring a coach.

The bottom line is that if you put the effort into this game, then you will be rewarded with success in the end. There is no ultra quick way to get there though.

But if you follow some of the advice above, then you will be able to push your learning curve along much faster.

Let me know below some of the ways that you have used to become a winning poker player. Do you have any suggestions that were not mentioned in this article to improve your poker game?

New Here? If you want to learn how to become a winning poker player quickly, then check out my strategy articles for the micros. Also, make sure to hop on my free newsletter below for tons more free tips!

winning poker player

Thursday, August 11, 2016

What Does bb/100 Mean?

what is bb/100?
Win rates, and more specifically bb/100, is something that is a bit confusing for some people. This is especially the case if you come from a live poker background where you might track your results by the hour instead for instance.

In this article I am going to explain how we use bb/100 to measure our results in online poker and what are some good benchmarks to shoot for.

What Exactly is bb/100?

Specifically it means how many big blinds you win per 100 hands. This is how all modern poker tracking programs such as Pokertracker 4 and Hold'em Manager 2 keep track of your results.

In every cash game, whether live or online, there is typically a small blind and a big blind. Let's use a typical 1/2 game as an example. The big blind here would be $2.

Say you bought into this game for 100 big blinds which is $200. If after 100 hands of play your stack was $220, then you would have a profit of 10 big blinds. You would then say that your win rate in terms of bb/100 is 10bb/100.

It should be noted that older versions of some of these tracking programs used to use big bets per 100 hands instead (often capitalized as BB/100). A big bet is a term that comes from Limit Hold'em which essentially means double the big blind.

So in this case your win rate would be 5BB/100 or 5 big bets per 100. Everybody uses bb/100 or big blinds per 100 nowadays though so you don't need to worry about this very much.

Variance in Poker Win Rates

Now of course a big problem here is going to be the sample size. Anyone who has played any amount of poker will know that 100 hands is not a big enough sample to come to any meaningful conclusions about your results.

In your next 100 hands you could easily lose this $20 back or win $50 more. Basically, the short term luck factor in poker means that nearly anything can happen over small sample sizes like this and you have almost no control over it.

This is why I and many others believe that a minimum of 100k hands is necessary in order to come to any firm conclusions about your results in poker. Yes you read that right, 100 thousand.

Now the problem here is that this is an absolutely crazy amount of hands for some that could take literally years to play in a casino. It might take months to play online as well.

So this is why practically speaking I think that using a sample size of 20k or 30k hands is good enough.

It is still possible to hit a big heater or a bad downswing over a sample like this that will distort your results. However, more than likely your bb/100 win rate is at least reasonably true over this number of hands.

What bb/100 Should You Aim For?

Now of course everybody has a different opinion on what a good bb/100 is these days. I get asked this question so often that I actually wrote an entire article on what is a good win rate.

The problem though is that there are simply too many variables at play in order to really say what a good bb/100 is.

It depends too much on stuff like:

  • What stakes you are playing
  • What your skill level is
  • Who you are playing against (fish or regulars)
  • How much the rake is

And so on.

So for all of these reasons it is very difficult to say that [x]bb/100 is a "good win rate" or should be your goal at the tables.

As I often say, anything that is a positive number is good. This is because upwards of 3/4 of people who play poker actually lose in the long run (i.e. their bb/100 is a negative number). Therefore, if your bb/100 is anything above zero, you are already doing a lot of things right.

Of course you should always aim to have the highest possible bb/100 in any game that you play in. But I think a lot of people get way too caught up in worrying about their win rate these days and even worse, comparing with others.

The best thing that you can really do is stay focused on improving your poker game both at the poker tables and away from them. Then and only then, the results will come.

Final Thoughts

The term "bb/100" is nothing more than a measure of how many big blinds you win for every 100 hands that you play. But since poker is such a long term game, you really need to play tens of thousands of hands at the very least before putting any real stock into this statistic.

Furthermore, you should also stay away from obsessing over it and comparing yourself with others. There are just far too many different factors that can influence your win rate over the short term in this game.

It is better to simply stay focused on all of the things that you do control at the poker tables such as making high quality decisions, game selection and working on your emotional control. This will naturally lead to the big bb/100 that we all want.

Let me know what you think about bb/100 and win rates in the comments below. Do you think there is a better way to measure results?

New Here? If you want to learn how to really increase your bb/100, then check out all of my strategy articles for the micros. Also, make sure to hop on my free newsletter below for tons more free tips!

big blinds per 100 hands

Monday, August 8, 2016

7 Tried and True Methods to Break Out of Any Poker Slump

break out of a poker slump
We have all been there at the poker tables. Running bad and losing every hand it seems. Psychologically this can be a very difficult thing to handle even for hardened pros.

So how can you pull yourself out of a never ending poker downswing and at least save your sanity? Well, unfortunately we don't always have control over the short term luck factor in this game.

However, there are several ways to at least help yourself handle these tough stretches better and not lose your mind along with your bankroll.

Here are my top 7 methods to get yourself out of a poker slump.

1. Tight Up Your Poker Game

While tightening up might sound fairly obvious in theory, I think from experience most people don't actually do this when they are running bad. In fact often if they are on tilt, they will do just the opposite.

The biggest reason why it is better to play less hands during rough stretches in poker is that you are often not playing at your best. You might not be on tilt, but you aren't thinking 100% clearly and your confidence is almost certainly low.

So this isn't the time to be pushing every small edge. This is the time where it is ok to pass up on small equity advantages in order to preserve your sanity and maintain your focus at the poker tables.

A lot of people will call this last statement blasphemy. You have to push every tiny edge in this game even if it is just 50.1%, they will tell you.

I disagree with this though because it ignores the fact that we are human beings playing this game, not cold number crunching machines which do not tilt.

If avoiding a few coinflips that might set you off to a path of destructive tilt means giving up a tiny bit of marginal equity, then so be it.

The bottom line is don't try to be a hero when nothing is going your way at the poker tables. Tighten up, go into a bit of a shell even. And don't be afraid to even pass up on a few small edges in order to prevent huge amounts of tilt.

2. Lower the Stakes

Another method that might seem obvious is to simply lower the stakes. A lot of people once again in my experience though don't actually do this when they should.

Possibly it is because some people view this as a sign of defeat or resignation. And as a highly competitive person I totally get that.

Ego sometimes needs to take a back seat in this game though. You do not have to follow any kind of rigid structure for what limits you decide to play.

The only thing that matters is that you are playing within your bankroll.

So during a rough period in poker when I can't seem to win a hand I will often choose to just lower the stakes for the day in order to play against weaker competition and try and regain some of my confidence back.

I might choose to play again at my regular stakes the next day regardless of the results. But what this temporary drop in limits accomplishes is two things:

  • Better chance of "booking a win"
  • Keeps me playing

Even though poker is a long term game and the results of individual sessions do not matter, there still is a psychological impact that is very difficult to avoid.

Sometimes just a simple winning session can do wonders for your confidence. And this is more likely to happen at lower stakes versus weaker competition.

The other benefit of temporarily lowering the stakes is that (at least for me), it makes me more likely to play. It requires less effort to get going and there is less thinking involved against the lower stakes opponents.

As I talk about all the time, it is very important to be consistent with playing and also studying the game. I would rather put in a few hands at some lower stakes than not play at all.

3. Play a Different Format

One of my favorite distraction techniques during a downswing has long been to simply play another format.

This could mean anything from playing some MTTs, SNGs, Omaha or even Stud. Some of these games I can't really say I am much of an expert in. I might not even have an edge at all. But this is why I play at the lower stakes against weak competition.

The real key here though is that I completely switch it up and just bring the fun factor back to the game. You know, the whole reason that we all started playing this silly card game in the first place!

Also, for me, getting away from the cash game grind for awhile and playing some tournaments for example definitely aids in this because of the chance of hitting a big score and the excitement of a possible deep run.

I actually really love the 180 man tournaments that Pokerstars created many years ago because they are kind of in the middle between an SNG and an MTT.

The reason I don't play big multi-table tournaments all that often is because I don't want to be chained to my chair all day.

However, these 180 mans usually finish in 2 hours at the most. And they also have enough people in them that there is a decent score for hitting the top 3.

The bottom line is that if things aren't going well in your regular games, play something totally different for awhile. This is a great way to get your mind off of things and just have some fun again.

4. Write About Poker

This might not work for everybody but I often found in the past that simply putting my thoughts down on a blog like this one (or even on paper if you are old school) can be helpful.

That is in fact why I originally started writing this thing some 8 years ago. It was my own personal journal to record my thoughts and keep track of my goals.

This allowed me to gain a better perspective on things during rough stretches and sometimes get some encouraging words from others who have been through a similar rough stretch.

You definitely don't need to write a novel every time or feel obligated to write every day or even week. But sometimes the simple act of calmly recollecting your thoughts and getting some feedback from others can be useful.

There are tons of totally free blogging tools out there from Blogger to Tumblr, Wordpress and so on. You simply type something and then hit the publish button. It couldn't be any easier.

If you take poker seriously, then I recommend blogging even just as a way to keep track of your goals in this game.

5. Hire a Poker Coach

Getting a coach in poker is another one of those things that isn't for everybody. However, sometimes the simple act of getting an outside perspective from an experienced winning player can be helpful during a rough stretch.

The reason why is that during a downswing we are often not thinking or playing at our best abilities. A calm and cool outside perspective is sometimes needed in order to know if you are simply getting unlucky or actually playing bad.

Because this is a fine line that we walk during a bad run like this. In my experience even the very best players play bad during a rough stretch. We just like to think that it is all bad luck.

So getting an outside perspective can be helpful with this. Hiring a coach can just be a one time thing as well. You can view it like a paid session review.

Another free option is to simply ask one of your poker friends (who is hopefully a winning player) to help you go over some hands. You could return the favor for them some time when they are running bad.

The bottom line is that when you are in a poker slump, get an outside perspective to look over your play. You want to make sure that it really is bad luck that is keeping you from winning and not bad play.

6. Review Your Poker Sessions

You can also review your poker sessions yourself. The most important thing is to do this when you are calm and relaxed and not still stressed out from another bad session.

This is why when I am in a bad downswing I prefer to simply shut the computer off for the rest of the day and go do something totally different.

Then, on the next day, prior to my next session I will review the hands from the previous day. I will be focusing mostly on the big and medium sized pots that I lost.

Once again I want to make sure that it was bad luck and not bad play that kept me from winning them. The great thing about modern tracking software like Pokertracker is that you can instantly see the equity (or odds) involved.

As long as you had the edge when the majority of the money went in the middle, then you don't need to worry about anything. If you are getting all the chips in with the worst of it though on a regular basis, then there might be cause for concern.

7. Take a Break

Sometimes when things have been going badly at the tables for a long time it is simply better to just not play at all.

I know for me, when I am running bad for weeks on end my fuse becomes shorter and shorter at the tables. It might only take a couple bad beats to set me off.

Most poker players also have big drops in their confidence during these bad stretches and a hopeless feeling at the tables. If you find yourself in this state, then it might actually be more profitable for you NOT to play the game!

Getting outside and getting some fresh air can often be the best antidote in this case. I know this might sound like a bit of a crazy idea to some online poker shut-ins.

But seriously, just take off for the weekend with some friends or even go solo. Go camping, go hiking or snowboarding. Go on a roadtrip even!

Just get off the computer completely for awhile, leave it at home if you can. And just get outside in the fresh air and stop thinking about it for awhile.

This simple act of clearing your mind and realizing how silly it is to stress over short term results in a little card game can be very powerful.

Final Thoughts

Breaking out of a poker slump is hard enough on it's own sometimes. We can't control how the cards fall and just because things have been going badly for a long time does not mean you are owed anything.

This is a cruel game at times that has no compassion or care about "your feelings." This is why it is important that you use a variety of different methods to help alleviate the psychological stress of downswings.

This can involve everything from lowering the stakes and tightening up to getting an outside perspective, playing a different format and even totally getting away from the game for awhile.

Even though the best players take poker very seriously and study and play the game like crazy, an important key to success is knowing when to take a step back from time to time and not take it too seriously.

A bad poker downswing can feel like something a lot more serious than it really is sometimes. Remember to keep things in their proper perspective and focus on the only thing that really matters, the long run.

If you use a solid strategy and play against bad players, then the money will come in the end.

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poker downswing

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Small Pocket Pairs: The Proven Way to Win Big With Them

how to play small pocket pairs
How to play small pocket pairs is one of the most often discussed topics in poker. And the reason why is because there is mass confusion out there about how to play them effectively.

Should you limp? Should you raise? Should you even fold them?

Well, after playing millions and millions of hands at the micros and running countless experiments and tests in Pokertracker to assess their profitability, I am going to clear up that issue today.

In this article I am going to provide you with the best ways to win big with your small pocket pairs in small stakes cash games.

 The Correct Way to Play Small Pocket Pairs

Many newer poker players underestimate the value of small pocket pairs even though they can be some of your biggest long term winners especially at the lower limits.

By the way, just to be totally clear, I am talking about specifically, 22, 33, 44, 55 and 66 in this article.

The reason why a lot of beginners discount their value is because often (8 out of 9 times) they do not improve to a set after the flop. And most of the time you are stuck with three over cards on the board and no clue where you are at.

So therefore, if you choose to play these hands passively all the time, then it is going to be pretty difficult to turn any kind of a profit with them. So many times you will just end up check/folding on the flop.

This is why when I play small pocket pairs at the micros I tend to be aggressive with them as often as I can.

What do I mean by this?
  • If I am the first person in the pot, then I am always raising with them
  • In late position situations I will often 3Bet them against weaker players
  • If I have the betting lead on the flop, I will often be CBetting or even barreling with them

I want to be clear that I do still just flat versus a raise with my small pairs plenty of the time as well. When a tight player raises from early position for instance, it would be suicide to 3Bet here. Flatting is the only play that makes any sense.

However, by finding ways here and there to play my small pocket pairs in an aggressive manner, both preflop and postflop, I am giving myself more ways to win the pot.

The person who always plays these hands passively by limping or calling and then folding when they don't hit their set only gives themselves one way to win the pot - make the best hand.

And as we know, this doesn't happen very often.

But by playing them aggressively quite a bit of the time, I give myself two ways to win the pot - make the best hand or force my opponents to fold.

What Should You Do If You Hit Your Set?

The other thing that playing your small pairs in this manner does is give you an aggressive table image. And indeed, this is the goal of my entire strategy at the poker tables, not just with small pocket pairs.

I want to be perceived by my opponents as somebody who is playing plenty of hands and bluffing up a storm.


Because this allows me to get a lot more action when I finally hit my hand. If you have folded the last 15 hands in a row and suddenly start betting and raising out of nowhere, most people are going to be likely to give you credit and even make a tough fold.

My style of play though ensures that they will never fold their over pair or top pair to me. So when I hit my set with pocket 4's for example, I am going to get their whole stack.

So how do I play my small pocket pairs when I hit a set?

You guessed it, aggressive as well.

If I am going to try and be aggressive a lot with my baby pairs when I don't hit a set, it would be crazy not to do this when I finally make the nuts.

The other beautiful thing about low stakes games is that people generally do not like to fold and a set is such a well hidden hand.

For example, nobody is going to worry for a second with their KQ on a flop of:


But our 44 is a virtual lock to win the hand with 96% equity!

baby pairs

So the bottom line for me is that when I finally hit my set with a small pocket pair this is not the time to be slow playing. On the contrary, this is the time to be getting aggressive by betting and raising.

You can't win big in poker unless you win big pots. And you can't win big pots in small stakes games by waiting for your passive opponents to bet for you.

Also, the whole reason that I build an aggressive image at the poker table is so that I can get paid off with my big hands like this.

When Should You Fold a Small Pocket Pair?

Now of course most of the time you will fail to hit your set. As I mentioned before, you can try to win the pot in these situations especially if you have the betting lead by making a CBet or even a double barrel after the flop.

And even if you are the preflop caller, sometimes you can try to take the pot away from a weaker opponent by floating and then betting the turn for example.

But you should know for sure that the most "profitable" way to play your small pockets unimproved after the flop is indeed to simply fold versus any aggression most of the time.

You have to realize that there are many pots in this game that you simply cannot win. And this is especially the case at the micros against bad players who do not like to fold.

The problem with these baby pairs is that when you do not hit your set and the board is mostly over cards, you only have 2 outs in the deck to improve to the best hand.

And if you are up against an opponent who doesn't have a fold button, you are just lighting money on fire by staying in the hand.

There is even a case to be made for simply folding your small pocket pairs preflop as well. I think the opposition is so weak at stakes like NL2 and NL5 that I always try to play these hands no matter what.

However, at NL10 and higher I will often simply fold 22-66 in early position at full ring tables before the flop (I don't fold them in 6max). The reason why is that players are smarter and more savvy at these stakes.

This means that they are less likely to pay you off in a big way when you hit your set. They are also much more likely to understand the power of position in poker and use it to their advantage.

Final Thoughts

Small pocket pairs tend to create a lot of confusion for many poker players. But really they are a very simple set of hands to play.

On occasion you will hit a set with them which is going to be a virtual lock to win the hand against almost anything that your opponent could have. You should bet strongly for value against most players at the lower stakes in these situations.

But far more often you will miss your set and be facing three over cards on the flop and no clue where you are at. If you have the betting lead (which you should a lot), then you should simply make a CBet and try to take it down quite a bit of the time.

If you were the preflop caller though (or your opponent has raised your CBet on the flop), then you should simply fold your hand most of the time and cut your losses.

Small pocket pairs will never be as profitable as middle or premium pocket pairs but when played correctly at the lower stakes there is no reason why they can't all be decent long term winners for you.

Let me know how you play your baby pairs in the comments below. Do you have any tips or tricks on how to get extra value out of them?

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small pockets