Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Poker and Traveling the World - Taking Your Game on the Road

traveling the world and poker
Boracay, The Philippines
One of the best things about playing online poker professionally (or just working online in general) is that you are location independent. Your office is anywhere in the world that has an internet connection which is basically anywhere on earth in 2015. This is definitely one of the biggest things that drew me to online poker initially. That is, the idea of working for myself and having the freedom to live life on my own terms. It has been nearly 8 years now since I left my last "real job" and I have no intentions of ever going back to something like that again.

So I finally took full advantage of this freedom only just a few years ago when I booked a one way ticket to Bangkok. I have written about what it is like to live in Thailand as an online poker player a few times before on this blog and they have become some of my most popular and commented on posts ever. In fact these days it seems that not a week goes by where I do not receive an email from somebody who is about to make the move here and wants some advice on how to settle in. I have personally seen explosive growth in the number of poker players (and online professionals in general) living in this region in just the short amount of time that I have been here. This is especially the case in Chiang Mai, where I spend most of my time, which is often dubbed the "digital nomad capital of the world."

However, something that rarely gets talked about (at least in the poker community) is the idea of traveling as opposed to simply just moving somewhere. A lot of the poker players who have taken the leap and moved to a place like Thailand (or a ton of other places around the globe such as Mexico, Malta, Argentina etc.) tend to stay in the same place for most of the year with maybe the odd visit back to their home country. Often they live in a big poker house with 4 other poker players and kind of stick to themselves. There are some obvious advantages to this. Having a stable internet connection being among the top of them. It also helps to keep the costs down when you stay in one place and share the rent.

But there is a whole world out there and if you have the ability and the willingness to go see it then I think you should do so especially when you are young. This is something that I only began to do just last year when I spent some time in the Philippines. I actually released Modern Small Stakes while I was staying in Manila. It was a fascinating experience overall and I will definitely be back to that country in the future. Filipino people and their culture is far different than what I am used to in Thailand even though it is only a short flight away. 

This kind of lifestyle (relocating or traveling abroad) is something that is becoming more and more of a possibility for many people all of the time. Internet use continues to grow rapidly all over the globe and more people than ever are running home based online businesses or working remotely for a large company (upwards of 1 in 5 Americans at least part-time according to Forbes). I actually think that this type of work/life arrangement is absolutely the future for a whole host of different reasons but that is for another article.

I can tell from the response to previous articles of mine that this is something that many of you are interested in as well. And of course playing online poker professionally (or live as well) is one way to make this happen. I am no expert on traveling the world yet but I have lived abroad for a few years now and wandered around a bit as well. I hope to provide some tips in this article on relocating and travel especially as it relates to online poker players.

Living a life like this is really not as hard as many people think it is. And those of you reading this who have already taken the leap and moved halfway around the world should know this better than anyone. But there is still this myth out there that you have to be rich to do something like this, especially to travel a lot. This really just isn't the case at all if you go about it correctly.

online poker and relocating abroad
My studio apartment in downtown Manila, The Philippines
Change Your Idea of What it Means to Travel

The first thing that you need to do is think about traveling in a different way. When I talk about traveling the world I am not talking about package tourism vacations like most people go on where you stay in a 5 star resort for a week and sip martinis on the beach. I am also not talking about riding the chicken bus and slumming it in hostels with the backpackers either.

It's not that there is anything wrong with either of these. I have gone on vacations to some ridiculous beaches in recent years such as Boracay and Phuket although typically staying in 3 star or 4 star accommodations. I have also had an amazing time backpacking through countries like Laos with 23 year old free spirits from Ohio. But both of these types of travel are rare for me because they tend to restrict you from getting much work done and they are also a fairly superficial experience in my opinion. When I talk about travel what I really mean is a longer stay type of trip where you live a more structured life and also get a much deeper understanding of the local people and culture. However, I don't stick around long enough to be considered an expat either. 

So this is why I prefer to stay in the country that I am traveling to for at least 1 month and 3 at the most. I will typically rent an apartment or a condo outside of the main tourist areas which allows me to get much better prices on everything and see more of the actual day to day life there. Some people might say that this is not even traveling at all, that I am more or less just placing myself in a foreign culture for a bit. This may be true. But semantics aside I believe that this is the best way to truly experience a foreign country. I don't think that you can really begin to understand a vastly different culture in a week especially while spending most of your time cooped up in a resort or a hostel with a bunch of other foreigners. It is also the best way to maintain  a reasonably normal life/work balance while traveling. 

There are some huge cost saving advantages to this way of traveling as well. Firstly, when you rent an apartment by the month you are going to save a fortune. If you hang out in hotels or even hostels paying the daily rate all the time, it is going to get expensive real quick. I am not really a fan of using the internet to book longer stay places like this. I want to see it in person myself first. This is why when I go to a new country or city I will book a hotel or guesthouse in advance on the internet for a couple of days and then hit the pavement looking at as many longer term places as I can during that time.

poker and traveling
My most recent one bedroom apartment in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Sometimes a significant hurdle can be finding a place where they allow month to month rentals. When I am on the road like this I typically have no wish to sign any sort of lease. If you want the baller pad it is going to be difficult to find one without a lease. This is why when traveling I often end up staying in a studio apartment of some sort. Sometimes this is even just a hotel room. A lot of 3 or 4 stars will have a monthly rate if you ask. When I am back in Thailand where I spend most of the year I will get a nicer one bedroom apartment or even a house because I am willing to sign the lease (although 6 months max).


Internet is obviously a huge issue for all poker players or anyone who works online. However I do think that some poker players may put off traveling because they feel that they need the fastest most stable connection on earth to do their job. Unless you are playing high stakes HU hypers or something this probably isn't really the case. Most people reading this blog play micro stakes cash games where the money involved in a single pot is rarely large and you often get a healthy disconnect timebank as well. The amount of EV that you are actually giving up even on a dodgy wifi connection is pretty insignificant in most cases.

However when looking for a longer stay place an already installed broadband connection (ADSL or cable) is still extremely high on my list. I will also ask to connect to the internet while I am there so that I can quickly run a Speedtest on the connection through my laptop. If I don't have my laptop on me then I will at least test the wifi using the Speedtest app on my phone (AndroidApple). 

Sometimes however it can be hard to find a place with a solid internet connection already set up. Furthermore, setting up your own line with a local ISP might not work because they will often want you to sign a long term contract. I am of course not sticking around long term. There are always other options such as tethering a strong connection from your phone or using an aircard but many times I have simply just relied on the wifi connection. They are not always as bad as you might think and here are a few tips to help with that.

Firstly, most apartment or condo buildings will have a wifi router on each floor. Make sure that the place that you are looking at is as close to this device as possible. If they do not have an available apartment close to the router then do not stay there. Secondly, avoid massive condo or apartment buildings that have hundreds of units if you have to rely on the wifi. This many people will dilute and weaken the signal no matter what. And lastly, once again check the connection on your phone prior to moving in. Focus on the stability of the line especially, low ping. 

online poker players moving overseas
A typical market stall in Chiang Mai, Thailand selling Pad Thai for $1
Live Like a Local

Since you won't be living in a tourist resort you won't be getting charged 4 times the price for everything. Go out to eat at the local restaurants, go to the local markets and pick up fresh meat and produce for a ridiculously low price. Try to speak the local language with them a bit, they will love you for even trying. Basically just try to live (mostly) like they do. You will of course still stick out like a sore thumb. It is absolutely impossible to avoid this. But who cares, this is all part of the experience. 

I should mention that I am not talking about living in the middle of nowhere in some remote fishing village or something here. That could get a little sketchy. I typically stick to major cities where some English is going to be spoken and there will be some foreigners living there as well. You should do some research on the city before your go there so that you have a rough idea of the various districts, where the tourists traps are, where the expats live etc. 

I personally think that Google Maps (Android, Apple) is one of the greatest inventions ever. I place pins all over the city on my phone before I ever even get there. I make sure to grab a sim card and buy some data as soon as I arrive. Often you can get this right away at the airport. Knowing exactly where you are and where you want to go at all times will make your life so much easier.

One of my favorite things to do is to rent a motorbike and just take off to explore the surrounding area. Knowing that I can't get lost even if nobody speaks any English at all is a huge help. It will also save you time and money when a taxi driver inevitably quotes you some ridiculous price or tries to give you the tour of the city in order to keep the meter running longer.


The biggest expense with traveling is always the airfare. There are many ways to "hack" the system by collecting points on credit cards and using frequent flyer programs. I try to do a little bit of this but I am no expert on the subject. There are definitely some ways to save on airfares beyond this though. First off, I always fly economy. I am not some rich high stakes baller. I have to travel with the regular folk, that's just the way it is. 

But really, it's mostly just the obvious stuff. Try to avoid flying on a weekend. The cheaper flights are almost always during the week. Try to avoid flying during a peak tourist season or a big holiday. Airlines know that demand will be high and they will often jack up the price. Booking well in advance is another big one. You should always book any flight at least 6 weeks prior to the departure date as the price will often be half of what it is if you book at the last minute. The best promotions are always available to those who book early as well.

Ultimately the best way to save on flight costs though is to simply not fly at all. Or if you must fly then at least try to keep it local and use budget airlines like Ryanair in Europe, JetBlue in America or AirAsia in Asia. And by keeping it local I mean going to another country in the region and avoiding trans-oceanic flights as much as possible. As you can imagine for instance it costs me literally nothing at all to fly on a budget carrier from Bangkok to Phnom Penh or Kuala Lumpur especially when I book well in advance and take advantage of promotions. However, if I want to fly to London or New York it is going to cost me a lot more money no matter how I go about it. 

poker and traveling the world
Visas, Medical Coverage, Ability to Play Online Poker

Most of you who are reading this are from a Western country. Passport holders in these nations consistently enjoy the highest travel freedoms in the world. This means that you can go to most countries either visa free or by getting a visa on arrival. This will typically get you 1-3 months depending on the country. Often you can extend your stay if you want by heading to a local immigration office inside the country and paying some sort of fee. Be aware that there are some countries where you might have to apply for a visa ahead of time though such as China or Vietnam. Just do a bit of basic research on the internet before you go and you will be fine. 

Regarding health care often it is very cheap for minor stuff in non-western countries but it is still a good idea to get some sort of worldwide coverage for if anything major happens. Coverage plans can be found very easily with a simple Google search and they are often inexpensive. Make sure to read the fine print though because many of them will not cover stuff like motorbike accidents. These companies are well aware that people love to come to a place like Southeast Asia, rent a cheap little scooter not having any previous experience driving them and mess themselves up. 

Lastly, if playing poker on the internet is your primary source of income then you should obviously be aware of any laws or restrictions before you go to any country. As most people know for instance your options for playing online poker in America are currently very limited. In some countries such as France, Denmark or Italy you may have trouble getting on Pokerstars because they have private networks for their own citizens. On the flip side if playing live poker interests you then the US is a great destination for that. Just make sure to do your research on this before you go. The travel forum on 2+2 is often a great source of information for this sort of thing. 

Slow Travel in Low Cost Destinations

I certainly did not invent this type of slow travel approach. It is very popular among online professionals these days and Tim Ferriss even mentioned it in his legendary book "The 4 Hour Work Week" many years ago when he talked about the idea of taking "mini-retirements" throughout your life. As he points out, the idea of waiting until you are old and perhaps have medical problems to "retire" and start enjoying your life is simply a ridiculous concept. You should go live your life while you are young. Placing yourself in a completely foreign culture for awhile will challenge you and make you grow as a person in ways that were previously unknown to you. And it doesn't cost anywhere near as much as many people think.

This is because most of the places that are high on my list to go to are of course countries where the cost of living is low. As much as I would love to go live in Australia for a couple of months for example this isn't likely to happen. Why would I go there when the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, The Dominican Republic, Mexico, Columbia etc. are all places that also have great weather and beaches and I can live in them for a fraction of the cost? I will certainly travel to places like Europe and Australia at some point for the experience but not for a long stay given the current economic conditions. 

Countries in Southeast Asia and Central and South America are the best places to go these days for living either long term or short term. They typically have great weather all year round and a low cost of living. Here is the current monthly cost for a one bedroom apartment in a bunch of major cities in these regions. All data comes from www.numbeo.com, a great website for comparing the cost of living in various places all over the world. It should be mentioned that a studio apartment will often be considerably cheaper but numbeo does not provide any data on these.

Medellin, Columbia: $216
Bangkok, Thailand: $530
Phnom Penh, Cambodia: $470
Guayaquil, Ecuador: $283
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: $495
San Jose, Costa Rica: $557
Playa Del Carmen, Mexico: $470
Chiang Mai, Thailand: $332
Buenos Aires, Argentina: $577
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic: $436
Manila, The Philippines: $443
Bali, Indonesia: $275

And for comparison...

New York City, USA: $2736
London, England: $2393
Sydney, Australia: $1747
Vancouver, Canada: $1463
Berlin, Germany: $726
Stockholm, Sweden: $1129
Paris, France: $1265

Obviously there are much cheaper cities in Western countries to live in than these but the same can be said for any of the Asian and Central/South American countries listed above as well. For instance, it will only set you back $664 a month for a one bedroom apartment in Winnipeg, Canada and at $169 a month you can almost live for free in Sakon Nakhon, Thailand. However neither of these places are highly sought after destinations to live in (please don't send me hate mail if you are from Winnipeg or Sakon Nakhon!).

The point is that if you want to live abroad and even move around a lot as I discuss in this article it is actually much cheaper than most people think. In fact even with airfare and visa fees added in (which are often non-existent on short term stays) if you live the modest lifestyle away from the tourist areas like I suggest in this article, then you would likely still cut your expenses considerably in comparison to living in any major Western city.

This is a huge part of the reason why an increasing number of people who make a living online are deciding to leave. It simply does not make financial sense for me to live in my own city of Vancouver for instance compared to many of the low cost destinations listed above. The 30 degree year round weather in a place like Thailand is a nice bonus as well!

Final Thoughts

I hope that this article proved useful to some of you who are considering some sort of travel or relocation abroad. As I have said before, the hardest part really is just getting on the plane. Most people have a ton of questions about everything in the world before they leave (I did too). However, once they arrive they find out how easy it actually is to get themselves set up. It is only scary the first time you do it. More than likely you will be kicking yourself that you didn't take off for an adventure like this sooner. 

And as mentioned, the actual cost, which is the biggest barrier in many people's mind, is actually pretty trivial in a lot of these countries if you learn how to keep your costs down. I had a comment on my Thailand mega article a little while ago which I think sums it up pretty well:

online poker and traveling the world

If this guy can make it playing NL5 for 3 years then I think clearly anything is possible. And there are many more stories like this as well. Don't get me wrong though, it is definitely much preferable in my opinion if you play higher stakes than this and I would highly recommend having some decent savings (at least 6 months living expenses) set aside as well.

However, people like Turlock prove that if you can crush the lowest stakes of online poker then you do have some options. I honestly wish that I had thought of it myself a few years earlier when I used to click buttons all day long at NL2 and NL5 for some ridiculous winrates.

I do want to follow my own advice in this article though and expand my horizons a little bit more this year with some semi-frequent travel. So at the risk of turning this into another travel blog I may include some updates on that in the future. I wish you all the best in whatever your goals are in poker and in life. Hopefully this article helped provide some insight into a slightly different approach to life which is becoming more and more popular these days.

Let me know your thoughts on traveling/relocation and poker in the comments below! And if there are any questions that you want to fire my way about this, go right ahead. 

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

Friday, February 13, 2015

Why You Need to be More Patient at the Micros in Order to Succeed

Patience in micro stakes poker
photo credit: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhist_meditation
A lot of the people who read this blog are fairly new to the game or have been struggling at the lower limits for awhile (NL2, NL5 and NL10 in particular). If you are one of these people then I bet one of the most difficult things for you at these stakes is dealing with all of the really bad players who will call you down with anything. When they are running well, hitting every flop and nailing all of their ridiculous draws on the river it can be downright maddening to contend with.

If you have been following my advice to abuse the heck out of bad players in late position by raising up their limps with a wide range then this can actually multiply the frustration when they are running lights out. It will seem like every single time the flop comes down you have nothing and they either make a donk bet into you or raise or float your CBet. Or perhaps you finally have something by the river but they still donk bet into you or raise your value bet. What do you do in these situations? I am going to discuss exactly how to deal with the "fish on a heater" in this article.

Don't Get Frustrated

The easiest thing in the world to do in these situations is to get frustrated. This will probably lead you to have one of two reactions, both of which are bad. Firstly, you may just assume that you can't win a hand versus this player and either leave the table or start passing up on the isolation raises with mediocre hands that you know are profitable in the long run. This is a form of minor tilt that is damaging for your winrate.

The other far more common reaction to this situation is to start bluffing the fish. This is sometimes also known as "fancy play syndrome." This is a form of major tilt that can have devastating effects on your winrate. Both of these reactions are wrong and here is why.

Reality Check

The reality is that your fishy friend here just happens to be running good right now (hitting a lot of flops and draws) and you aren't. This is something that can easily happen during an entire session or even a series of sessions against the same player. Nothing is rigged. Nothing is amiss. It is just a minor anomaly in the card distribution over a small sample size.

I bet I could sit here and flip a coin in front of you for 20 minutes and get it to land heads or tails 5 times in a row also. You probably wouldn't demand to examine the coin or accuse me of cheating. It's just a random (though fairly rare) event that will happen on occasion.

Much like somebody hitting their draw or out-flopping you 5 times in a row. When you think about it with a cool head it doesn't seem like that big of a stretch to imagine that something like this will happen from time to time does it? However, in the heat of the moment when playing an emotional game like poker it can seem preposterous.

Levels of Thinking in Poker

This is where something that is often referred to as the "levels of thinking" in poker is important to remember. If you are unfamiliar with this term it goes something like this:

Level #1: What is my own hand?
Level #2: What is my opponents hand?
Level #3: What does my opponent think my hand is?
Level #4: What does my opponent want me to think his hand is?

And so on. It gets confusing after that.

However, the only thing that you need to remember though is that many of the regs (and certainly all of the fish) who you are playing against at NL2, NL5 and NL10 are only thinking on level #1. That is:

The only thing that is on their mind when playing against you is what their own hand is and what they think of it.

What you could have or what you are representing is not something that they spend much time thinking about. This is why when you finally make a big hand such as two pair or better they will call you down the entire way if they have top pair and sometimes with worse as well.

Fish: Hmm, another bet eh? I don't care! I have top pair! Call, Call, Call!

This is the level of simplistic thinking that you need to understand in order to defeat the bottom feeders that abound at these limits. Forget whatever fancy plays you saw on TV or read on some forum or training site video. Winning poker at these stakes is often like playing against an 8 year old. I don't mean to be insulting to my opponents when I say this but at these stakes I always assume that they have zero poker intellect until proven otherwise. I assume that they think on level #1 and I play against them the same way that I would versus my kid nephew who just learned the rules of the game.

It is important to make a distinction between poker intellect and real world intellect here. Many of the people who you play against at these stakes are indeed very smart individuals in other fields. Away from the poker table they might be business executives, managers, doctors, lawyers, grad students etc. However, in this specific field of online poker their level of understanding is often very limited at these stakes. High intellect does not necessarily mean success in this game. In my opinion winning poker at the lowest stakes is just a very simple series of logical decisions. However, for whatever reason even many highly intelligent people struggle with this.

My guess as to why is because no matter how many times I (and others) say it they just can't believe that it is really that simple. There must be something more! I saw Phil Ivey bluff Daniel Negreanu for 100k on TV! Ya well guess what? This isn't high stakes heads up poker versus world class opponents. We are playing for the price of a cup of coffee here against people who are just learning the game. Your triple range merging GTO correct bluffs aren't going to work on them!

Fancy Play Syndrome (Death to Your Micro Stakes Winrate)

As I mentioned before the absolute worst thing that you can do against an opponent thinking on level #1 who keeps getting the better of you is to start getting "tricky" with them. Fancy play syndrome has been the downfall of many micro stakes players. It happens almost always when things aren't going their way. The flush card came on the river and once again your opponent makes a large bet into you. You inexplicably reach for the raise button with your middle pair. But why?

Most of the time it actually just due to frustration. I have done it enough times myself to know this! This play was not actually thought out at all. You didn't really think that you were raising your middle pair here for value. No, the truth is that it didn't really matter what you had at all. You were just fed up with this guy constantly betting into you and you wanted to show him who is boss. Unfortunately though, this is not how winning poker works.

Remove Your Ego

Patience will be a massive key to your success at these stakes. The ability to let go of your ego and make the correct fold for the 5th or the 18th time in a row is truly what separates the biggest winners from the rest at these stakes. This is because like I said before, the large majority of your opponents are only thinking about their own hand. When that flush card comes on the river and they bet big into you again guess what happens when you flip out and raise them with your middle pair? They ponder for half a second, call and turn over their flush. Duh right? Now you will be even more tilted!

The correct approach here was to take a few deep breaths, look at the situation objectively, and calmly find the fold button. Yes, even if you have lost count how many times in a row this is against the same player. I am not saying that you need to become a Buddhist monk or something in order to succeed at these stakes. However, you definitely need to learn to leave your ego at the door against bad players like this. This is especially the case if you play a lot of tables at once. You will see the long run much faster than other people and therefore you will see some of the craziest variance that this game can throw at you.

If I sat in front of you for a week this time flipping that same coin there is probably some stretch where I will make it land heads or tails 10, 15 or even 20 times in a row. In a vacuum an event this crazy would probably prompt you to want to examine the coin or even accuse me of cheating. But of course once again nothing is amiss here. I just increased the sample size in a big way and therefore we will eventually encounter some truly unbelievable variance. Play a few million hands of online poker and you will also have your mind blown at certain points.

Patience Young Jedi

As I have said many times before I think at some point you just need to stop trying to understand it. Stop trying to logically understand or mentally process variance in poker. Once we start talking about sample sizes in the millions the stuff that will happen will not even seem real. People who are relatively new to the game come to me all the time complaining about how horrible their luck has been for their past 10k hands. When I tell them that I have had multiple losing stretches for 10x this amount of hands at certain points in my poker career they don't even know what to say.

Even the very best players in the world sometimes lose for days, weeks or even months on end. Heck, if they play MTTs (where the variance can be truly extreme) sometimes they even have losing years! This is just a natural part of the game. So a fish getting lucky a couple times against you is hardly anything to get all worked up about. You need to learn to take it in stride and make the right decision regardless of the circumstances. Don't make the situation far worse for yourself by over-complicating things versus a very simplistic thinking opponent. Winning in this game, much like in life, is a just a long series of relatively small but good decisions.

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

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Art of Bluffing at the Micros: When to do it and Why

bluffing at micro stakes poker
One of the oldest rules in the book at the micros is to "never bluff." So why would I write an article about bluffing at the micros then you might ask? Well, because poker as we know it on the internet has changed a lot over the years and bluffing is now profitable against some opponents at these stakes. Long gone are the days when literally every single player is incapable of folding anything. Many regs have long since realized that frequently finding the fold button (especially against other tight regs) is vital to their success at these stakes.

But the great thing about poker is that for every adjustment there is always a counter-adjustment. Many micro stakes players have taken this folding thing way too far and some of the better regs have taken advantage of this by being more aggressive and bluffing more. The prime target for these bluffs is a player type that I have discussed many times before, the "TAGfish." They typically have stats that look something like this:

Full Ring: 13/10/2 WTSD 22%
6max: 19/16/2 WTSD 22%

The first set of numbers is VPIP/PFR/TotalAF. If you are unfamiliar with what these mean go check out my mega article on HUD setup here.

Basically this player type is tight, fairly passive and doesn't like to stick large amounts of their stack in the middle without the nuts. We can notice this most especially by their relatively low WTSD% (went to showdown %). The average is about 24% among regs according to my database. These players are the perfect opponent to run a big time bluff against on the later streets. I will go through a couple examples of how we can do this shortly.

However, first I want to be really clear about something. If you are table selecting properly at these stakes (a horse that I have beaten to death on this blog, in my books and elsewhere) then you should be running into a whole bunch of other bad regs who are calling stations and who you should not be bluffing very often. They will have stats that look something like this:

Full Ring: 13/10/2 WTSD 27%
6max: 19/16/2 WTSD 27%

As you can see the WTSD% is the crucial stat here once again. Even though this player type is only going to showdown 5% more often than their TAGfish counterpart this is actually a huge relative difference. Every session we all face many close decisions on the later streets. Some regs just won't fold their small over pair, top pair or even their middle pair though. On the other hand, plenty of the weaker TAGfish regs frequently fold all of these hands.

This is where most of this 5% difference comes from. You don't want to be bluffing these calling station regs very often whose WTSD% is in the high 20's. Players who are in the low 20's though should be a prime target.

If you are table selecting well then you should also be playing with plenty of the standard SLPs (semi-loose passive) and fish at these stakes. These players of course don't fold anything at all. They will have stats that look something like this (Full Ring or 6max):

SLP: 27/8/1 WTSD 29% 
Fish: 52/8/1 WTSD 33%

You are simply not going to turn a profit trying to run a big bluff against either of these player types. You should almost never try to bluff these players on the later streets. It is often simply winrate suicide because they will call you down with any piece, even no pair hands on occasion.

So therefore, when bluffing at the micros, we should be squarely focused on the weak TAGfish regs who do not go to showdown very often. Let's go through a couple examples of how this will work in practice:

NL2 Full Ring

Villain is a 13/10/2 TAGfish with a 22% WTSD

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

The flop comes,


Hero CBets,
Villain calls

The turn comes,



We have all seen this position many times before. It is the classic double barreling spot against a weaker reg on a turn scare card. When he calls preflop we put him on a range of mostly pairs trying to set-mine us and the occasional slow-played big ace or big pair. Very few of these hands hit this flop hard and very few of them will be happy about seeing that king pop up on the turn either. Suppose we double barrel and get called on the turn though?

The river comes,



This is a spot where you could think about firing another shell. It really looks like our opponent is probably hanging on with some sort of mid pair hand like 88, 99, TT, JJ or QQ. Even if he somehow hit the king on the turn we can expect a player like this (22% WTSD) to think long and hard about folding it too if we can fire the third bullet here. Unless he literally flopped the absolute nuts with 66 or 77 there is a good chance that we get a player like this to lay down the entire rest of his range.

NL5 6max

Villain is a 19/16/2 TAGfish with a 22% WTSD, 75% Flop CBet, and a 60% Turn CBet.

Villain raises from UTG
Hero calls from the CO with 8♣8♠

The flop comes,


Villain CBets
Hero calls

The turn comes 9♠

Villain CBets

Here is another spot versus a weak reg where we could consider running a bluff. Once again we should ask ourselves what our opponent can have in a spot like this. When he raises from UTG in a 6max game a tight reg like this is probably on a range of the typical 22-AA, AK, AQ, AJ and KQ. We can also see that this player follows up with another CBet on the turn fairly often at 60%. However, we know that given this range and this board that he rarely has a nut hand. He would have to have exactly JJ, 99, 66 or 22 to feel extremely confident here.

Since this is another weak reg this looks to be a good spot to turn our hand into a bluff on occasion by raising. I should mention that once again our actual hand value doesn't really matter that much because we are simply playing the player and his range here. We know that he can't be very strong all that often on this board and that he often folds when faced with big pressure.

I should also mention that like the previous hand my plan is to fire a lot of rivers if called on the turn. When I find an opportunity to bluff like this I do not like to give up without firing the final shell as well. This is because he is going to call our raise a lot on the turn with hands like AA, KK, QQ and AJ. A TAGfish reg like this though will often check all of these hands to us on the river unimproved and make a tough lay down if we can fire another substantial bet.

Final Thoughts

Like I said before, my intention with this article was not to get you all to start bluffing up a storm against the typical regs that you find at these stakes. This would be terrible for your winrate against most regs especially at NL2, NL5 and NL10. This is why I zeroed in on the very specific TAGfish player type who is relatively tight but typically won't put big amounts of his stack in the middle without a huge hand.

When pushed around enough though even these players will eventually adjust so it is important not to bluff them every single time in spots like this. Many regs at these stakes will simply start spite calling you if they think that something fishy is going on. The key is to walk that fine line where it is just believable enough for them to keep letting you have it.

The old adage "don't bluff at the micros" is still mostly true these days especially at the lowest stakes. However, hopefully this article helped show you that there are a few spots where you can boost your winrate against the right opponent in the right situation.

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

Monday, January 12, 2015

Setting Poker Goals for 2015 - Your Guide to a Breakthrough Year

2015 poker goals
Hey everyone, I hope you have had a great start to the new year! I wanted to wait a little bit before publishing this post because right after new year's eve is when everybody is in a frenzy about their resolutions and emotions are guiding their actions more than anything else. By the second and third week all the people who were merely talking (and not actually committed to taking consistent action) have started to give up. This post is for those who are serious about taking the necessary steps in 2015 to have a breakthrough year in poker. I want to speak to the people who are still grinding hard but don't have a clear direction for the year yet.

Each time the new year rolls around I think it is a good idea to look at where you are in poker, where you want to be and make goals for the coming year. This is something that a lot of people do on a monthly basis already. However, when you look at the entire year it is much easier to see the big picture. With proper bankroll management and a solid work ethic both at the poker tables and away from them it is certainly possible to be playing four or even five stakes higher than you currently are by the end of the year. This is the kind of progress that most people are looking for. It is not going to happen overnight though.

It also makes sense to set poker goals at the beginning of the year because many online poker rooms such as Pokerstars have a yearly based rakeback program. This means that your player points count is reset to zero every January 1st. The points that you accumulate all year long determine which level you reach in the rakeback program. The upper tiers of course is where most of the big money is. Therefore you want to be clear on what your rakeback goals are from the start of the year rather than starting your planning in September.

So in this article I am going to go over what I think are some of the best ways to reach your goals at the poker tables this year. If you haven't reached the success that you have wanted in the past it is time to forget about that now and focus on what you can do to start turning your results around in 2015. So let's get started!

1) Consistent Play

This is really so much more important that anything else. If you can't find the time to play poker on a regular basis then you are not going to get the results that you want, period. We all have busy lives but the truth is that if success in this game means enough to you then you will find the time to get an hour or two of play in each day even if you have a full time job or student work load. It is important that you schedule this at the same time each day.

Back in 2007 when I last had a "real job" I would work the typical 9-5 all day in an office. Every night when I got home I would make a quick dinner and then hit the tables. On the weekends of course I would try to play all day and then have a social life at night. I would literally play every single day and I actually managed to put in more hands than most professionals. Why? Because I made my success in poker a priority in my life. If you really want to make it happen in this game then you have to do the same.

Action: Set a specific time period when you will play poker every single day unless there is an emergency. Minimum 7 hours a week. Everybody can find one hour a day if success in this game is a priority for you.

2) Consistent Study

This is also very important in today's games. You need to make sure that you are constantly improving. Playing all the time is huge part of this for a lot of people, myself included. I learn the best through my own mistakes. However, regular study is still important. I need to analysis those mistakes in Pokertracker for instance. I try to watch (and take notes) on at least one training video a week. I try to keep up with the latest poker literature. I discuss hands with poker friends. Sometimes I might even hire a coach.

Now I don't do all of this every single day but I make time at least on a couple occasions each week. Back when I had a full time job I would often do a one hour session review of the entire week's play on Saturday morning. This would help me identify mistakes in individual hands and make sure that my play was solid overall. On Sunday morning I would often do a one hour database review in order to look for overall changes that could be made to my game often by studying the best players at the stakes that I was playing. During the week I would designate an hour on a Wednesday for instance to watch and take notes on a training video that was highly relevant to the games that I play in.

Action: Set a couple of specific times each week (3 or 4 hours minimum) that are dedicated to studying the game in a variety of ways.

3) Make Hand Goals (Not Monetary Goals)

 If you look back through the history of this blog (before I revealed who I was and had any readers) you will see that for years almost all of my entries were about how many hands I played that day and if I was on pace for my monthly goals. Notice that I didn't mention money anywhere. We cannot control our short term results in this game. We can control our volume of play however. So along with playing and studying consistently you should have concrete goals on how much you are going to play each month.

Action: Set monthly goals for number of hands played. I would say that 50k hands a month should be the rock bottom for anyone who is serious about succeeding in this game (6max or full ring).

4) Set Moving Up Targets

This is another area where a lot of people fail because they do not have the proper planning in place. You should always practice good bankroll management but you don't need 90 buyins for the next limit before you move up! I think 40 is more than enough. So say you are playing NL10 right now and your bankroll has hit $1000. This is 40 buyins for NL25. You should immediately move up and give yourself an 8 buyin shot for instance. If your bankroll dips below $800 at any point then you move back down to NL10 and grind it back to $1000. If you stay above $800 though, then you continue to play at NL25 until you reach $2000 which is 40 buyins for NL50.

This is just an example but you can see how having the proper planning in place can make things extremely simple. You can adjust the metrics upwards or downwards depending on your preference. However, if moving up 4 or 5 limits this year is a priority of yours then you need to set targets on when you are going to move up and when you are going to move down as well. Failure will happen and it is important not to beat yourself up about it. Remember that we are planning out an entire year here. There will be many ups and downs.

Action: Set specific bankroll targets for when you will move up and when you will move down. Stick to these throughout the entire year no matter what.

5) Set Rakeback Targets

As I mentioned before, many poker rooms these days operate a yearly based rakeback program. If you play on Pokerstars for instance then you should plan where you want to be by the end of the year. Even if you are playing NL2 right now you can still achieve Supernova and maybe even a milestone bonus with consistent play and moving up throughout the year.

So first things first get your current VPP per hand and do some calculations. You can simply look at how many VPPs you have before a session and then how many you have at the end. Divide the difference by the number of hands that you played. Here are some very rough VPP per hand estimates from my experience.

NL2: 0.02
NL5: 0.03
NL10: 0.04
NL25: 0.09
NL50: 0.14
NL100: 0.25

So let's assume you play NL10 right now once again. At 0.04 VPP per hand if you play 100k hands per month you will collect 4000 VPPs. This is enough to easily get Goldstar, the 2x FPP multiplier and plenty of stellar rewards along the way. However even if you put in this volume every single month at NL10 all year long it would not be enough to get to Supernova where the big rakeback money starts to roll in. Supernova requires a yearly VPP count of 100k. 4000 x 12 = 48000.

But this is why we have set targets to move up. If you play at NL25 or higher where the VPP per hand is significantly higher then you can see that achieving Supernova and even milestone bonuses is definitely achievable. So for instance Quarter #1 NL10, Quarter #2 NL25, Quarter #3 NL50 and Quarter #4 NL100. You can then calculate your rakeback based on playing higher stakes throughout the year with the same volume. Our example here according to the VPP per hand numbers above and 100k hands a month would be:

Quarter #1: 12k VPPs
Quarter #2: 27k VPPs
Quarter #3: 42k VPPs
Quarter #4: 75K VPPs

Total: 156k yearly VPPs and easily Supernova.

You could then go on to calculate your FPP's and your stellar rewards according to your rakeback level etc. You get the idea. It is possible to plan out some rough rakeback numbers over the year and then calculate them into actual dollar amounts according to what bonuses you plan to buy.

The numbers above on a very rough estimate represent something like $7500 with fairly relaxed volume and most of the play early in the year coming at low stakes and low rakeback levels. Once you start consistently playing at the upper end of the micros and beyond where Supernova Elite and multiple milestone bonuses become available then the rakeback dollar amounts go much, much higher.

For more on the Pokerstars rakeback system visit here.

Action: Set monthly (and yearly) rakeback targets assuming that you will move up on several occasions this year.

6) Blog About All of This!

Make all of this public. You can start a blog for free in minutes with Blogger or Wordpress so money or time cannot be an excuse here. When you publicly state your goals it is a powerful thing. It doesn't even matter if anybody is reading it or not. I had literally zero people reading this blog for the first three years. It didn't matter to me at all though. The simple act of consistently writing down my goals and charting my progress daily helped keep me accountable. I will give you the opportunity at the end of this post to publicly promote your blog if you want a few readers though.

Action: Create your new blog as soon as you finish reading this post and immediately write down your daily playing schedule, weekly study schedule, number of hands, moving up and rakeback targets and goals.

7) Be Realistic About Your Current Abilities

I get emails all the time from people telling me that they have played 50k hands at NL10 and they aren't winning. In a polite way I typically recommend that they move down. I know this is very hard on the ego for many of us but you have to start at a limit that you can currently beat! If that means playing at the circus they call NL2 then so be it. If you table select just a little bit and understand the fundamentals of poker to any degree then you should have no problem beating this limit.

If you are still having trouble succeeding at these stakes (NL2 and NL5 in particular) then I would highly recommend checking out my first book "Crushing the Microstakes" which literally gives you a complete roadmap on how to dominate the terrible players who populate these limits. I have also put out dozens of totally free videos and articles on how to crush the lowest stakes.

The point is that you start where you abilities currently are. It is going to be a tough year ahead if you are constantly playing in games that you are not good enough to beat yet. It is much better to start at a stake that you are confident that you are a winner at. This will give you the confidence to play more and study harder. Remember, poker is not going anywhere and it isn't a race to the top. Start small and build big.

8) Build for the Future

Success in this game does not come fast or easy. You need to understand that there will be many hills and valleys this year and you can rant about them in completely obscurity on your blog if you want (I sure used to on here!). But as you can see, you are building for something more than the short term ups and downs here. You are building to get out of the micros and start making 5 figures or 6 figures + per year where we all want to be in this game. This is why planning out your year now can help you see the forest through the trees and ultimately reach that end goal.

If you start to look at the numbers now at 4x the stake you are currently playing (which is where you will be by years end) you can use this as your carrot so to speak. I didn't even mention the table winnings above. Assuming you actually beat NL100 for instance for even a couple bb/100 that in itself is a couple thousand dollars a month along with the 1k or 2k in rakeback with typical volume levels.

Final Thoughts

I am not trying to toss numbers around to get you all excited. God knows I have discussed many times before how much of a mistake that is when you are just starting out. And they aren't really that spectacular anyways. 3k or 4k a month is not exactly spectacular money in any first world country. However, a lot of people do have dreams of playing this game professionally one day or making a significant side income to pay for a new car or some fancy vacations. It absolutely is possible but you need to be willing to put in the work. As I stated right from the start, it begins and ends with consistent play.

Back in 2007 when I quit my job it took me about 8 months to go from NL2 to NL100. I had about a 5k bankroll and maybe 10k in the bank that I had saved from my job. It wasn't anything miraculous. I just played every night for a couple hours and set aside time for study as well. I set targets to move up and down and I stuck with the program every day no matter what. 

This was many years ago and it is not quite as easy to have such success this quickly today. However, the opportunity still remains. There are many success stories similar to this that come out every single year. The common denominator among them is almost always the same. They set goals and they work extremely hard at them every single day.

Even with all of this I can't promise you that you are going to move up 4 stakes this year. But I can promise you that it will not happen if you keep quitting every time the going gets tough. I can promise you that it also won't happen if you continue to half ass your commitment to playing this game. This is why the goals, the targets and the process of writing it down each day on your new blog or journal are so important. The only obstacle between you and your success at the tables in 2015 is you. Now go and make it happen!

Leave a comment below with the URL to your new blog if you would like a bit of free exposure. I may promote a few of them on social media as well.

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

Monday, December 22, 2014

How to Value Bet Effectively at the Micros

Value Betting Micro Stakes Poker
It has often been said that one of the biggest keys to success at the micros is value betting. I really couldn't agree more. If there is one thing that stands out to me from playing millions of hands at these stakes it is that most regs do not know how to get the max value from their good hands. This is especially the case when they are playing against fish. I thought it would be a good time to revisit this topic because the holiday season is upon us and this is the time of year when you will find some of the biggest whales on earth at the poker tables.

So let's get back to basics here.
  • What is value betting?
  • Why is it so important? 
Value betting is simply the act of making a bet when you have the best hand. It is usually pretty easy to tell when you are ahead in poker. You have a strong hand such as top pair and your opponent is just calling. Your opponent probably has a draw or perhaps some worse made hand that he is hanging on with. If your opponent is a recreational player then he could be calling you with anything including no pair/no draw hands. It is even easier at the micros to know where you stand because most players are extremely passive. When they raise you on the big money streets in particular (turn and river) they are very often letting you know that you are behind.

Value betting is extremely important in poker because as you may have noticed by now it is really frigging hard to make a hand like top pair or better! You need to be getting the maximum value out of them when you do. Also, many of your opponents (especially at the lower end of the micros, NL2, NL5 and NL10) are incapable of folding. They are literally begging to call you with whatever junk they happen to have. You need to give them the opportunity to do just that.

One of the biggest ways that people shoot themselves in the foot at these stakes is by thinking that pots will magically build themselves. This is not going to happen in most cases because extremely passive players don't like to bet without a big hand. They will call you down all day but if you give them the opportunity to check with their middle pair, gutshot or queen high they will usually take it. Therefore, please remember this: If you want to win a big pot at the micros you almost always need to build it yourself. Let's look at a couple of common value betting scenarios at the micros versus bad players.

NL2 Full Ring

Villain is a 26/7/2 SLP (semi-loose passive) with a 30% WTSD (went to showdown).

Villain limps from UTG+1
Hero raises from the CO with K♥J♠
Villain calls

The flop comes,


Villain checks

First off this should definitely be a standard preflop raise. I don't want to get into a deep discussion of preflop strategy in this article but as I have discussed many times before you should be isolating bad players like this frequently and especially when in position. We actually have a reasonable hand in this example. I would isolate this player with far worse here, half the deck for sure.

So we flop top pair, now what? Well again, this should be a fairly straight forward CBet after the villain checks. As I noted above it is important to build the pot at these limits and not expect a passive fish like this to do it for you. Checking back here to be "tricky" is a huge mistake at these limits. You don't need to balance anything against a player like this whose only concern is his own two cards and what he thinks of them. Just value bet 100% of the time here.

I also don't want to get into a big discussion of bet sizing in this article. When value betting versus a recreational player it should almost always be 75% of the pot or more. Check out a recent article of mine for more on optimal bet size amounts at these stakes.

Hero CBets

The turn comes,


Villain checks

This isn't the greatest turn card in the deck. It completes a few draws such as 97 and Q9 and perhaps makes a few two pairs such as T8 or JT. However, we always need to remember that these hands only represent a small portion of this player's overall range. He has plenty of other hands that we beat and he would love to call a bet with them. These include, T9, QJ, QT, J9, A8, K8, Q8, 98, 87, 99 and any two diamonds. I think I am being conservative here. With a bad player like this there definitely could be more hands added to this list.

Hero bets

The river comes,


Villain checks

Once again the river isn't the best card in the deck for us because it completes the flush but it certainly isn't the worst card either. A lot of regs at the micros will freeze up here though and choose to just check behind for the showdown. This is a major mistake. You are throwing away EV (expected value) by not making a value bet here. Remember that villain can still have any of those one pair hands that we listed above on the turn. And what do SLP fish with a 30% WTSD like to do?Call of course.

Please don't worry about being check/raised in this spot either. If the opponent here check/raises us we are folding 100% of the time. Why? Because passive players at the micros do not check/raise the river without the nuts. Most regs today at the lower end of the micros are still not making the bet on the end here. Don't throw away easy money like this. Always value bet here.

NL5 6max

Villain is a 52/12/2 Whale with a 34% WTSD with a 0% Fold to 3Bet.

Villain raises from the CO
Hero 3Bets on the BTN with 9♣9♠
Villain calls

The flop comes,


Villain checks

It is certainly not a crime to just flat preflop here and maybe let some other bad players in. However, since we have a pretty strong hand in position against a fish who doesn't fold anything I would prefer to just juice up the pot here a little bit. Once again on the flop this is not the time to be getting tricky. Yes there is one overcard but there are simply so many hands that a bad player like this will continue with including ace high.

Hero CBets

The turn comes,


Villain checks

The turn isn't the best card in the deck but it is not the worst either. While it is another overcard to our pair it does seem odd why somebody would ever have a queen in their hand here though. However, you should never put something like that past a huge whale like this. We know that a player like this could have easily floated the flop out of position with plenty of no pair/no draw hands which may have a queen in them.

Since this is a 3Bet pot I would recommend just checking behind here in order to prevent the size of the pot from getting out of control. The biggest reason why is because we don't really have a lot to gain by betting here. Villain will likely fold all of the made hands that we beat because it is starting to get really expensive for him to continue. Conversely, he will happily call along with all of his made hands that beat us and any of the few draws available on this board. Therefore, betting again here is mostly a lose/lose situation for us because we can't get much action from worse hands and we simply build a bigger pot for hands that have us crushed.

Hero checks

The river comes,


Villain checks

This is a classic thin value bet spot. We need to be betting for value here. This hand is similar in many ways to the last one because a passive bad opponent has checked to us on the river. This typically indicates weakness. And as we mentioned before, if he does happen to be sandbagging something big he will let us know and it will be the easiest fold in the world.

Something that I like to mention with regards to thin value betting is that you should be getting looked up from time to time by better hands. If you make a bet here and a recreational player calls and flips over something silly from time to time like QJ or T8 you shouldn't feel like you made a bad play. If you are not getting looked up by better hands like this on occasion then this should be cause for concern. This is because it is likely that you are not making enough thin value bets. If on the other hand you are frequently getting looked up by better hands then you are probably value betting too thin.

Always remember that these value bets on the river can make a huge difference to your winrate in the long run because they are often for significant amounts like 20bb. If you miss just one of these opportunities every thousand hands a little simple math tells us that you have just thrown away 2bb/100 in EV. This is an absolutely massive amount in today's games. Don't be like all of the other bad regs in these games and check back without thinking in spots like this.


I hope this article helps some of you struggling to make your mark at the lowest limits. If you aren't having the success that you want right now you should go back to the very basics of this game and ask yourself if you are getting the maximum value from the recreational players. Always remember that they are the entire reason why we play this game. You should always be making them pay the maximum.

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