Tuesday, January 17, 2017

9 Ways to Keep Your Cool Against Bad Poker Players

How to stay calm against bad poker players
We have all been there when playing poker. You bet your overpair the entire way and a bad poker player shows up with some bizarre two pair that he hit on the river.

Or you flop your trips and there is simply no amount of money on earth that you can bet to get them to fold their flush draw (trust me I have tried).

Of course the river comes with the flush card and he bets into you. This is the third time in a row this has happened. You already know you are beat before you even toss the chips in the middle. And as sure as the sun will come up tomorrow, he turns over the flush and scoops the pot.

How do you deal with stuff like this at the poker tables without losing your mind? This is one of the main challenges that you will face coming up in small stakes cash games whether live or on the internet.

There are lots of complete beginners, lunatics and fish at these stakes. Even some of the regulars have very little clue what they are doing and will call you down with all sorts of ridiculous holdings (and nail it on the river of course!).

Well I gotta be honest with you, I don't have all the answers. But I have a lot of experience dealing with players like this. In this article I am going to provide you with 9 ways to keep your cool against the bad poker players.

Since many people have big problems with tilt at these stakes learning how to maintain your sanity when things go horribly wrong can really make a big difference to your long term winrate and ultimately your profit.

Alright let's get started!

1. Laugh it Off

Honestly, this has always been my main go to when the bad players hit something ridiculous against me. There is a point where you just have to see the comedy in it.

Poker simply isn't a game where you can win every hand. Being able to just laugh it off (much like in many other situations in life) will go a long way towards keeping you relaxed. And ultimately boosting your winrate and profits.

Always remember this, at the lower stakes online we are often playing for amounts that are equivalent to the price of a cup of coffee or a movie ticket. How much does it really matter?

Is there really any point in losing your mind because some donk got lucky against you and won a $10 pot? You know he called with incorrect odds the whole way. You also know that he will lose in the long run if you run this same situation 10 times or 100 times.

Just laugh it off. Next hand.

2. Understand the Odds

Building off of that, it is important to understand the odds in poker. When you are betting pot or 3/4 pot they simply do not have the correct odds to be calling with their flush draw or bottom pair.

This is why I have always been such a big advocate of betting big against bad players at the micros. Yes it is going to lose you a big pot on occasion but it will win you a big pot on so many other occasions.

If they are calling wrong, without the right odds, this will catch up to them in the end. Winning poker is a process. If you keep the math on your side, you will win in the long run.

Make sure you understand the basics of hand odds, pot odds and implied odds and then you can always bet an amount that keeps you on the right side of the math.

3. Don't Make it Personal

One of the biggest things that I had to learn early on in my poker career was not to make it personal. Don't get focused on Donk X that just bad beat you twice in a row.

It is better to think of all the donks as one big universe of donkdom instead. Collectively they are all geniuses at chasing their draws without the right odds and getting their money in bad.

Always remember that your battle is with the entire universe of donkdom, not some individual donk that has been getting lucky against you lately.

Think about how a place like Las Vegas works. Something crazy like 40 million tourists go visit there every single year. Many of them win. Some of them even win big! But more of them go home losers.

This is because the casinos know that the math is ultimately on their side. So do you think they cry about Donk X who got lucky all night on the roulette wheel and took them for a small fortune?

No of course not.

As long as people keep voluntarily putting their money on the line in a -EV game like roulette (millions every year), they will always win in the end.

Don't make it personal. Don't focus on the specific bad player who has been getting lucky against you.

4. Imagine Being Them

When somebody makes a terrible play and gets lucky against you, it is very likely that they do this all the time. Just imagine how terrible their results are.

Back in the days of good old pokertableratings.com after somebody gave me a terrible beat I would often search them right away. Once I saw their catastrophe of a graph this would help me a lot with point #1 above, just laughing it off.

Trust me, these bad players are getting absolutely owned in the long run. Their graph goes straight down at a 45 degree angle in the wrong direction. They are deposit machines. They bankroll the entire industry.

This is how the poker economy works: 

You have a small amount of people winning big and removing large amounts of money on a regular basis. Then you have a huge amount of people who are situated somewhere around breakeven. They don't take much out but they don't put much in either.

So after the online poker room or casino takes it's cut where does the profit for the good players come from then? Yup, you guessed it. It comes from that fish who just called you the whole way with his 74 offsuit and hit two pair on the river.

He is the reason why this game is profitable. That is why I preach about table selection to no end on this blog and elsewhere.

When you know where the money is actually coming from in poker, it becomes a really easy game.

5. Respect Your Customers

You should also learn to view the bad poker players as your customers. Despite how frustrating they can be to play against sometimes in the short term, they will ultimately be your biggest profit source in the long run.

If you get mad at them and berate them one of two things can happen:
  • They will feel disrespected and stop playing
  • They will realize that they suck and get better at poker

You should know that both of these results are absolutely terrible for you. If you happen to be one of those people who berate the fish when they suckout on you I hope you remember this next time.

I know you are emotional in the moment. It's frustrating to lose a big pot to some goofball who doesn't even know what he is doing.

But these guys are the lifeblood of the entire industry. It is better to learn to respect them as your customers. When they lay some ridiculous beat on you give them a simple "nh" (with no sarcasm) or just say nothing at all.

They are just there having fun. They will get lucky from time to time. That's why they keep coming back again and again to give away more of their money.

Don't bite the hand that feeds you.

6. They Don't Even Know What They Are Doing

Sometimes the recreational players honestly just don't even know what they are doing. How can you even be mad when this is the case?

You see this the most in low limit tournaments online because they attract more totally clueless fish than any other format. Sometimes you are actually playing against play money players who won a freeroll to get their seat.

I remember a hand awhile ago early on in a $2 dollar tournament online. I hit top set on the flop with my pocket 9's but the board was monotone (all hearts I believe).

I knew that my opponent was really bad and would call with any flush draw so I just shoved my entire stack in the middle knowing that I would be a big favorite.

Before calling he got in the chat box and told everybody his hand, naked ace of hearts. He wanted to be sure that if another heart came that he would indeed make a flush.

That's right, doesn't even know the rules of the game! Proceeds to call off his entire stack with about 27% equity. Nails it on the river of course.

Seriously, how can I even be mad? "That's poker."

7. Humour Them or Troll Them

The art of table talk is sadly a bit lost these days due to the solitary nature of online poker. But there is a lot to be learned from the old school pros in this regard.

I know it is rare but there will be occasions when you actually get lucky against the fish yourself. And you should expect to get solidly berated about it. I know because I have been called pretty much every name in the book over the years at the poker tables!

Legendary live poker pro Barry Greenstein once told a story (in his famous book "Ace on the River" by the way) about getting lucky against a recreational player in a particular hand. The fish subsequently let loose about how terrible Barry was at poker for what seemed like forever.

After the lecture was finally over (face to face by the way, this is live poker) Barry simply replied with the following:

"If you think that play was bad, stick around for awhile, I am sure I will make much worse ones than that!"

Consummate professional.

On the odd occasion when you actually get lucky against a bad poker player expect them to lose their cool and perhaps berate you. Don't ever engage with them on any level. Just let them have their say.

The best policy is just to say nothing at all back to them. But if you do make it short and simple like this and hopefully tilt them even more.

8. Inject the Logic

A term that I often steal from renowned poker mental game coach Jared Tendler is to "inject the logic." I actually interviewed him here on my blog last year by the way.

What does this actually mean?

Well I see it as doing your best to use the rational part of your brain during a stressful situation (such as a bad beat), rather then using the emotional part.

As I said above, know the odds. There are a million little free equity programs out there. If you use Pokertracker 4 then there is one built right into the software.

Just plug in the hole cards and the board if you don't know the exact odds in a particular situation. And then you can see the exact equity in the pot that each player has for yourself.

If your opponent got the money in bad against you (had the worse odds), then you actually win in this situation. This is because in the long run this guy is just handing you his money. Be grateful for that.

The thing with poker though is that the hand with the best odds doesn't always win. It is very rare that somebody is actually drawing stone dead (0% equity in the pot).

So sometimes the guy who plays badly and gets all his money in the middle with 27% equity gets to win the pot. But logically you know that you cannot fight the math like this and expect to win in the long run.

However, if we didn't throw the bad players a bone every once in awhile they wouldn't keep coming back again and again, depositing their money and bankrolling the entire industry.

As frustrating as bad beats can be, try and view them in a rational and logical way instead of with anger. If you got the money in good, you won. Let the cards fall however they will.

9. Take a Step Away

Now I wanted to save this one for last.

Despite everything that I have said above, sometimes the best thing that you can do when the bad poker players are getting lucky is to simply walk away.

It just isn't worth tilting off a few stacks to them because this is the stuff that absolutely destroys your winrate and profits in the long run.

There will be days at the poker tables where you simply will not be able to win no matter what you do. If you feel angered, frustrated, have a feeling of hopelessness, find yourself making bad calls or wild bluffs, you should step away from the game.

And preferably for the rest of the day. Remember, the games aren't going anywhere. They will be there again tomorrow. Also, don't even bother reviewing the session right now. It will just piss you off even more.

Just go do something completely different (and totally unrelated to poker) and come back the next day with a clear head. Review the session before you play again and you will be able to see without being emotional, what actually happened.

If you lost a bunch of pots when you got the money in good, don't worry about. Inject the logic, you won.

If you got the money in bad though in some spots, or perhaps some of those "coolers" weren't really coolers (you could have found a tough fold), then consider some ways in which you can play these hands better next time.

You could also get a second opinion by posting them on a poker forum or asking some of your poker playing buddies.

Bottom line, some days at the poker tables you just won't be able to win. It is better to accept this and learn to quit before you start tilting badly and do some real damage.

Final Thoughts

Keeping your sanity against the bad poker players can be difficult under the best of circumstances. But you gotta remember that they are the reason why you are able to profit in this game. And yes, they do lose huge in the long run.

Sometimes in the heat of the moment though anything can happen. This is the big illusion that makes this game so great and enticing to the bad players. The very best poker players are able to see right through it.

I hope this article gave you a few ideas to help you keep your cool next time the recreational players start handing you some crazy bad beats.

If you want to know what strategies I personally use to crush these types of players make sure you pick up a copy of my free ebook "Massive Profit at the Micros."

Lastly, make sure to let me know in the comments below what strategies you use to keep your cool against the bad poker players.

 How to stay relaxed against bad poker players

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

How Long Does it Take to Get Good at Poker?

how long will it take to get good at poker?
A common question that I see people asking is how long will it take to get good at poker. It's a very valid question because if your goal in this game is to turn a profit (as it is for most people), then you want to know when the payoff will come.

Now unfortunately like with most things in poker there is no crystal clear answer to this question. It is simply going to be different for everybody.

Some people learn faster, some people have more gamble in them and take shots sooner. And some people simply just have more work ethic than others and will brute force their way there. 

However, after 10 years of being around the micros online, playing millions of hands of poker and coaching 100+ people at these stakes, I can certainly provide some general ideas on how long it takes to get good in this game. 

What Does Being Good at Poker Even Mean?

I think the first thing that we need to ask is what does being good at this game even mean? Because you see the thing with poker is that there is always a pecking order.

Your skill level is always relative. 

Even if you are the best NL10 player in the world, it is highly likely that you would be a fish (or at least a "bad reg") if you were immediately placed in a NL200 game. But the best reg in the world at NL200 would also be the mark if he were thrown into an NL5000 game. 

So by "good at poker" in this article I am just going to be referring to good enough to beat a certain limit. And really I mean being one of the best regs which is the top 5% or 10% of all players. 

These are the people who I would refer to as "crushing" the game. At NL2 this might be 20bb/100. At NL25, 7bb/100. At NL200 3bb/100. Potential winrates go down drastically as you move up because the opposition simply gets better.

So let's go ahead and speculate limit by limit!

How Long Does it Take to Beat NL2?

Let's start with the very lowest limit there is. This is NL2 which has one cent and two cent blinds. These are the games where you will still regularly find huge fish. I am talking about a VPIP of 40+. 

You can see this in the video series that I released at this limit last year. I played the entire thing on Pokerstars which is often considered one of the hardest sites out there and I really did not table select at all. I was also playing at the worst hours possible, Sunday night, Monday morning etc. 

There was a 40+ VPIP fish on my tables almost all the time without me even trying. I stacked them again and again with a very basic strategy. So in games that are this soft it does not take much at all to beat them. 

I would estimate that for a person starting from the absolute ground up (knowing nothing at all about poker), they should be able to beat NL2 within one month. And they should be able to crush this limit at the highest winrate within 3 months. 

Important Disclaimers!

1. I am assuming throughout this article somebody who takes poker very seriously, not the casual hobbyist. To give you an idea, I used to play 100k hands in one month even with a full time job.

2. Secondly, most people actually lose at poker in the long run. There are many different reasons for this. If you are able to win at this game (no matter how long it takes you), then you are already way ahead of the game.

Use the numbers in this article as motivation, not as a measuring stick to compare yourself with. Only a small elite (who also run decent to good early in their poker career) will achieve them.

How do you learn to beat these games? 

Well there are multiple ways to improve your poker game that I have discussed before both paid and free. This runs the gamut from basic books, forums, Youtube videos, Twitch streams, training sites and strategy websites like the one you are reading right now.

Good old fashioned experience at the poker tables should also play a large role in your learning. Before any of these education materials existed this is how I and many others learned how to crush these games.

You don't need to know any advanced mathematical theory or really anything technical at all to beat NL2. Just a very simple TAG strategy will suffice.

How Long Does it Take to Beat NL5 and NL10?

I am going to group these two limits together because as I have discussed before I think the relative skill gap between NL2 and NL5 is large, but it is not nearly as big between NL5 and NL10.

In order for a total beginner to beat these stakes it will probably take a few months. To become the top winner in these games might take as much as 6 months. 

Once again, you don't need to know anything too advanced to beat these limits. However, the biggest difference is that you need to start learning how to beat somewhat competent thinking opponents.

The huge fish that you see everywhere at NL2 do not exist to anywhere near the same extent at NL5 or NL10 unless you table select well. This is something that you should absolutely be doing by the time you get to these limits by the way.

The regs who you will be facing instead aren't exactly good poker players. However, they aren't just giving their money away like the fish or the beginner regs at NL2 either.

So for instance the NL5 and NL10 regs are not going to stack off every time they have top pair or an over pair versus your set. They won't play terrible dominated hands. They will understand position to some degree and they will almost never limp.

Again, while most regs at these limits are still beginners for the most part this stuff makes a huge difference. This is the biggest reason why you should expect your winrate to be cut in half when you go from NL2 to NL5. This will not happen between any other two limits in online poker.

In order to beat NL5 and NL10 you will need to find ways to beat somewhat competent players who are actually trying to win and aren't going to throw their money away to you.

This means that you will have to tailor your strategy to each individual player according to how they play. This is huge part of what I discuss in my 2nd book Modern Small Stakes.

You need to find each reg's individual weaknesses and exploit them. 

For Example:

Reg A 3Bets too much preflop (10%+) 

You should 4Bet lighter especially when out of position, flat more in position and value call after the flop with a wider range than normal.

Reg B CBets the flop a lot (70%+) but gives up on the turn frequently (CBet of 40% or less)

You should float the flop with almost any two cards in position and bet the turn when he gives up.

You can get exact data like this by using your HUD by the way. If you play live (or on a site that doesn't allow HUDs), then you will have to rely on your observation skills.

There is nothing too complicated here. These are just simple logical counters to the large imbalances that you frequently find in the regs at NL5 and NL10. 

However, you also don't learn this stuff over night. You should expect to spend several months at least with consistent play and study in order to become the best at these stakes.

How Long Does it Take to Beat NL25, NL50 and NL100?

Once again I am going to group several limits together here so that this article does not turn into another book. Are there differences between NL25, NL50 and NL100? Yes large skill differences. 

However, I think that there is enough in common to loosely group them together. And they all play at a significantly higher skill level than what is required to beat NL5 and NL10. 

I would expect it to take 6 months to start consistently beating these games if you are a total beginner and 1 year to become the absolute best at them. 

As long as you are table selecting you can still find almost as many fish as at NL5 and NL10. However, the key difference is that the regs are in general quite a bit better at NL25, NL50 and NL100. 

They don't often have the massive imbalances in their play like I just described above (i.e. huge gap between flop CBet and turn CBet) that you see all the time at NL5 and NL10. They also do not tilt as easily. 

Instead, most regs at NL25, NL50 and NL100 take the game fairly seriously. They have probably read or watched a lot of the same books and training videos that you have. Some may have even hired a coach to help them at these stakes as well.

And lastly, not only will a good amount of the regs be using a HUD (this is true at NL5 and NL10 as well) but the key difference is that they will understand how to actually use it more effectively (i.e. find your weaknesses).

But with all that said, almost every reg at the micros still has noticeable leaks in their game. Or at the very least they still lack an understanding of advanced poker theory such as properly assigning ranges, understanding what hands they block and pulling the trigger on big bluffs.

Also, there are still plenty of regs at NL25, NL50 and NL100 who are just mass tabling nits (12/10 at full ring or 18/16 at 6max) just sitting around waiting for the nuts and collecting rakeback. You can exploit these kinds of players all day with the simple counters that I discussed in the previous section. 

And lastly, fish are fish at any limit and they also exist at all limits. If you make table selection and site selection literally your job when playing poker you could just bumhunt these games all day and only play against complete droolers.

No "advanced skills" needed.

How Long Does it Take to Beat NL200, NL400 and NL600?

Once again I am grouping several limits together here for the sake of brevity. NL200, NL400 and NL600 (and NL500 if you play Zoom) are the first stakes where finding the weak spots starts to become pretty difficult.

Many of the regs at these stakes are pros and take the game very seriously. The "bad regs" who commit basic errors at the lower limits don't last long here. Fish still show up from time to time but they are rare.

So how long does it take to beat these stakes? I would say anywhere between 1 and 2 years with dedicated play and study. It really depends on the individual more than anything though.

You have to really start understanding this game on a deeper level. You need to know "why" certain decisions are better than others and be able to think for yourself and improvise on the fly. This requires a lot of experience and high level study.

Also, since the player pool is much smaller at these stakes it becomes less and less of a game of HUD stats and more a game of psychology and balancing your ranges in every scenario. 

A good player at these stakes knows that he has to show up with different hands and take different lines in all situations in order to keep the regs guessing.

For Example:

A reg raises from middle position and you have X playable hand on the button.

You should be capable of flatting or 3Betting here with premiums, broadways, strong aces, suited connectors, suited aces and more. This way your opponent can never know what kind of hand you will show up with this time.

Postflop you should be taking a variety of different lines in these spots as well whether you are the preflop raiser or not. And this should be the case whether you flopped top set or 8 high.

The bottom line here is that you can't get away with a polarized range anymore like you can at the lower limits. You have to be able to show up with strong hands, mediocre hands and bluffs in all situations. Otherwise many of the regs at these stakes will catch on and exploit you badly.

You also need to be capable of analyzing ranges well by these limits and understanding how you block certain hands. You need to understand how many value hands and bluffs your opponent has in various spots and then counter that effectively.

These limits aren't easy but they aren't impossible either. Every year people climb up to them and beyond but you shouldn't expect it to come fast or easy.

How Long Does it Take to Beat High Stakes?

Lastly, I am not even going to comment much on high stakes (NL1000+) because I haven't played at these limits in a long, long time and the game is played at a very high level these days.

You will find some of the best poker players in the world at these limits online. Beating these stakes requires world class talent in most cases. This is why most people will frankly never make it to these limits. However, this doesn't mean that it is impossible.

OtB_RedBaron is a good example of this in recent years. He is regularly regarded as one of the best 6max players in the world today with about 2.2 million dollars in tracked earnings at the time of this writing. This is Pokerstars and NL5000+ only by the way. There could be way more at lower limits and on other sites.

It took him about 4 years to get there.

Final Thoughts

How long does it take to get good at poker? Well it depends on what stakes you are talking about beating, your dedication to playing and improving and a whole host of other factors. 

But in general the learning curve gets steeper the higher you move up. This isn't really that surprising though. When more money is involved people are going to take the game more seriously.

With a reasonable amount of focus and dedication most people should be able to have success at the lower stakes within a few months. However, it might take years to reach the mid and high stakes levels.

I should mention lastly that even though this entire article was focused on cash games, I believe that the same will be true in tournaments and sit and gos.

Let me know your experience in the comments below. How long did it take you to beat each limit?

how long does it take to get good at poker?

Thursday, December 29, 2016

How to Beat Online Poker in 2017

beating online poker in 2017
As we enter another new year plenty of people will be vowing that this is the year that they are finally going to start beating online poker. Or start crushing the micro stakes at least.

Unfortunately most will fail.

Poker is not always a walk in the park these days even at the lowest stakes. And due to the nature of the game itself, only maybe 1/3 people end up winning in the end. Even fewer end up winning big time.

However, this is still a substantial amount of people when you consider that millions play poker worldwide. And also, the real reason why most people don't win is actually because they lack a coherent strategy, a solid plan to climb the stakes and the mental fortitude to see it through.

In this article I am going to address all three of these. Because there really is no reason why you shouldn't be able to at least beat (if not crush) the lowest stakes in 2017.

Getting Back to the Basics (Eliminating Fancy Play)

I have been saying it for years here on this blog and in my books and videos. The key to beating the lowest stakes online (NL2, NL5 and even NL10 in particular) is a very simple approach. This also applies to most live games at stakes of 1/2 and 2/5.

"Fancy play syndrome" (FPS) as it is often called is all too often the death knell of so many bankrolls at the micros. FPS in a nutshell is basically an attempt to do way too much at the poker tables.

For instance:

  • Making some ridiculous river bluff check raise for no good reason
  • Light 4Betting the nit who just 3Bet you (yes he has the nuts)
  • Trying to triple barrel a fish off his middle pair (no he isn't folding)

And so on and so forth.

All of this sort of stuff just goes completely over the heads of 99% of the people who you are going to play against at these limits. Most of the time they are simply going to call your ass down and you will end up being even more frustrated and tilted.

One of the biggest keys to my success over the years in these games has been an iron discipline. Don't get me wrong, I am still human and I make stupid bluffs and bad calls sometimes. But they are extremely rare.

For the most part I am able to bite my tongue and either check it down or fold even when I have been getting pounded on for days or weeks.

The real key thing to understand here is that each hand in poker is an independent event. Just because they have been check/raising your CBets for hours or even days on end doesn't mean that they are bluffing you this time.

It just means that they have been running good against you (making a lot of hands) and you have been running bad yourself (not making very many good hands).

You can get angry and frustrated and run a silly bluff against them but you know what is going to happen most of the time. They are going to call or shove on you 9 out of 10 times and you will be in a world of hurt with your crap hand.

The 1 out of 10 times when your crazy bluff forces them to fold you can go ahead and pat yourself on the back because you caught them bluffing but the problem is that you still lose big time in the long run.

Most players at the lower stakes are extremely passive when it involves big portions of their stack. They aren't bluffing you, believe me.

Even if they appear to be overly aggressive by raising up a lot of hands preflop and CBetting a lot this is a totally different thing from putting their stack on the line.

When a player at these stakes starts moving big portions of their stack in the middle postflop this is almost always a sign that they have a very strong hand (two pair or better).

This is where the discipline comes in. You have to be able to lay down strong hands here, even an over pair sometimes. Getting all fancy here and shoving it back in their face is a recipe for disaster and will directly hold back your progress at these stakes.

So here's the deal:

Starting this year in 2017 you are going to make it a rule for yourself that you are going to stop flipping out in these sorts of situations with crazy bluffs. Put it on a post-it note and stick it to your monitor if you need to.

Just find a way to remind yourself that this sort of decision making will, without a doubt, prevent you from achieving your goals.

Sometimes you are going to run bad for days or even weeks and it can seem like they are just playing with you. Trust me, they are not. You have to learn how to keep your cool in these situations and just keep making the folds.

I have some of the best results in online poker history at the lowest stakes, and believe me, this is one of the biggest reasons why. Stay disciplined at these stakes (most of your opponents will not by the way) and you will profit greatly.

Keep in mind also that the nature of No Limit Hold'em means that it only takes one or two silly mistakes a session to really screw your winrate over badly. Don't let this happen anymore. Stop sabotaging your results in this game.

Getting Back to the Basics (Solid TAG Strategy)

Another key piece of the puzzle to beating online poker in 2017, especially at the micros, is a solid and coherent strategy that you consistently apply.

What does this actually mean?

Well it's been the same thing for many years actually. A simple TAG (tight and aggressive) strategy is the biggest key to success at these stakes.

I am going to briefly outline this below. For a more detailed look I would suggest picking up a copy of my free poker ebook.

Basics of a TAG strategy for the micros:

  • Play 15% of hands in full ring, 20% in 6max
  • Skewed heavily for position (play 3 times as many hands from the button compared to UTG)
  • 3Bet 5%-8% of hands mostly for value and mostly against middle and late position opens
  • CBet the flop 60%-70% of the time, less often in multi-opponent pots
  • CBet again on the turn roughly 50% of the time mostly for value, bluff the nits on scare cards
  • Value bet wide on the river especially against calling stations and recreational players
  • Occasionally semi-bluff raise your draws on the flop or turn versus highly aggro regs
  • Understand the basics of player types (i.e. you can't bluff a calling station or rec player)

This is a barebones idea of what a solid TAG strategy looks like for the lower stakes. When applied consistently at the micros it is a recipe for success. And at the very lowest stakes, it will absolutely crush those games.

Most people already know a lot of the above though. There is nothing really groundbreaking here. The real key to it all is consistency.

Having coached close to 100 people in the past at the lower stakes, I know that consistently applying this strategy, no matter how things have been going or how they feel, is one of the biggest problems.

It is not ok to just suddenly turn into a LAGtard and start raising 30%+ of your hands in 6max just because you are tilted or bored. It is not ok to start "experimenting" with raising all your suited connectors in early position. It is not ok to triple barrel bluff a calling station reg just because you want to get back at him, "show him who is boss."

And so on.

The key to success with a TAG strategy is that you apply it at all times no matter what the circumstances may be. This is similar to the discipline and avoiding fancy play that I discussed above.

You don't get to take certain days off from your strategy just because you feel like it. You apply it at all times no matter what.

Make sure that you fully understand what a solid TAG strategy means and then apply it at all times in 2017. Treat this game like a professional and it will treat you well in return.

Have a Solid Plan for Climbing the Stakes in 2017

As I have discussed before, one of the key aspects to building your bankroll at the micros is having a solid plan to climb up the stakes.

There really is no reason why you can't go from the very lowest stake, which is NL2, and be playing NL100 before the end of the year.

NL100 (blinds 50c/1$ with a $100 buyin) by the way is where you can start making some very serious money in this game. I am talking thousands of dollars per month even part time.

Think about it this way. There are only 5 steps between these limits:
  • NL2 to NL5 
  • NL5 to NL10
  • NL10 to NL25
  • NL25 to NL50
  • NL50 to NL100

This means that you only have to successfully move up to the next limit less than once every 2 months over the course of the year in order to be an NL100 reg making solid money one year from today.

With consistent play, there is absolutely no reason why you cannot do this. And this is even knowing full well that you will likely fail in your move up attempts on several occasions.

Check out my article on moving up the stakes for more on that by the way. I don't want to get into a deep discussion here about why moving up is sometimes difficult and why even the very best players will fail on occasion.

So further to this you can even set bankroll targets for when you are going to move up (and down as well). I typically suggest having at least 30 buyins these days for any limit that you play at the micros.

By a "buyin" I am referring to the maximum amount that you can put on the table in most online cash games which is 100 big blinds.

So this is what 30 buyins means at each level of the micros:
  • NL2 (blinds 1c/2c) - $60
  • NL5 (blinds 2c/5c) - $150
  • NL10 (blinds 5c/10c) - $300
  • NL25 (blinds 10c/25c) - $750
  • NL50 (blinds 25c/50c) - $1500
  • NL100 (blinds 50c/1$) - $3000

Now remember that these are the bare minimum bankroll levels that I suggest. It is totally fine (and preferable in my opinion) to err on the side of caution and use 40 buyins or even 50.

This allows you to stop stressing over the routine 10 buyin downswings. And when the 20 buyin downswing happens you won't be losing your mind along with a massive portion of your bankroll.

Whatever amount of buyins you decide to use I suggest setting some goals for exactly when you are going to move up and then give yourself a 5 or 10 buyin "shot".

What it is a shot?

A shot is a controlled attempt to move up to a higher limit and play there from now on. The reward for success is that you can potentially double your poker earnings by playing for more money.

It is important to note that you should only ever try to move up to the very next stake by the way. Never skip over any stakes no matter how experienced you are.

There is no big rush to get to the top. Even if you have huge success right away stick around at each limit for a week or two just for the experience that it provides.

How to Make Your Poker Success a REALITY in 2017 (no more playing around)

I would also highly suggest that your publicly state your goals, bankroll targets and track your progress in the form of a blog or perhaps a vlog or twitch channel if video is more your thing.

You can set up a free blog using Blogger or Wordpress in a matter of minutes with zero technical know-how. Everything is pre-programmed for you. You just type your thoughts and then hit publish.

You can also set up a Youtube channel for free in a matter of minutes if you prefer video. You just record a video of your thoughts (or even of yourself playing poker) and then hit the upload button.

You do not actually have to show your face or anything by the way. You can simply record what's on your screen and just voice your comments over the top by using a free program like Screencast-O-Matic. For a more professional option check out Camtasia (although only free during the trial period).

Twitch.tv has exploded in popularity in recent years in the poker community and it involves streaming in real time. Once again you do not have to show your face if you don't want to. It is also even easier to set up. Here is a good guide to get you started.

Why is all this so damn important?

Let me get to the real reason why this is so important. The act of publicly stating your goals will hold you more accountable and make you much more likely to actually follow through on them even if only your mom and grandma are reading your blog or watching your videos at first.

Secondly, your blog/youtube/twitch channel will help you interact with other poker players and get advice, suggestions and even make friends or form a study group. I have people who have literally been commenting on my blog posts and videos for years.

Almost all of them found me through this blog. Some of them are even real life personal friends now. Their support and advice over the years has been crucial to keeping me sane at times in this crazy game.

Branding: So many poker players STILL do not get it.

And finally, the third (and most important reason) why you should get started with a blog or video channel this year is because you should begin building your brand as a poker player immediately.

I don't want to get into too much detail in this post as I will have a lot more to say later in 2017, but the very website you are reading right now, blackrain79.com, which is based off my online poker screen name, is now a well known brand in the poker community and even a full time business as well.

This opens up more opportunities than I can possibly name. It also allows you to add tons of additional revenue streams to what you already make at the tables. Poker players who still do not realize this in 2017 (which is most of them) are absolutely crazy in my opinion.

Doug Polk (WCGRider), who is arguably the best heads up NL Holdem player on earth, is one of those guys who absolutely does get it. He does a brilliant job of branding himself on Youtube and driving huge traffic to his new training site. I am guilty of watching his clickbait videos all the time!

Start thinking big and outside the box in 2017. As a successful poker player you have a skill that is highly in demand. Poker is also a huge market that is absolutely starved by a lack of quality or even entertaining content.

Even if you are not yet a successful poker player start that blog/youtube/twitch channel anyways with a "Follow my journey up the micros" type approach. Talk about both your successes and your failures. People absolutely LOVE that sort of thing.

Lastly, if you are still up in the air about how important branding yourself is in 2017 just think PewDiePie and 12 million dollars a year from Youtube alone.

Do I even need to say anything more?

Only the Strong Will Survive

Even with everything that I just said above, the biggest reason most people do not achieve their goals in this game (or even win at all) is because they lack the mental strength to carry them through the tough times.

The way that I like to look at poker is that you are signing up for mental pain. Most of the time this game is boring as hell and you are slowly hanging on, losing or getting kicked in the teeth.

All of this is interspersed by a few very brief periods where you make a strong hand or go on a rush, make a bunch of money and the game is fun. Most people though end up losing their minds and throwing away all of their profit (and sometimes more) during that 90% of the time when they are hanging on or getting crapped on.

The game isn't going to change for you. It is up to you to adjust. I have said it many times before, winning poker especially at the micros, is boring. It requires tons of discipline and mental fortitude. It's honestly not that "fun" most of the time. They call it grinding for a reason.

If you are looking for a get rich quick scheme with poker or you are an action junky trying to emulate Daniel Negreanu every hand, this game is probably not going to work out very well for you.

This same thing goes for blogging, Youtube and Twitch by the way as well. The reason why blackrain79.com is now arguably the #1 micro stakes strategy website in the world is because I kept hitting the publish button for years even when absolutely NOBODY was reading this thing.

I didn't give up. Everybody else did.

The same rules apply in poker. Give up when the going gets tough and you will fail for sure. I can absolutely guarantee you of that. That's the easy thing to do. That's what everybody else does.

Learn How to Predict the Future

You should fully expect to lose for days or weeks on end several times this year and this is absolutely normal. You might even have a losing month or two or three.

Nothing is wrong with the dealer, the RNG or the software. This is a normal occurrence that all serious professionals understand can and will happen at some point. This is why bankroll management is so important as I discussed before.

This is the mental pain that you are are signing up for when you decide to take this game seriously. You can easily predict the future with poker. This is why there is no reason to freak out and throw away all of your winnings (like everyone else) when the inevitable 10 or 20 buyin downswing happens.

Mark it on the calendar, several really nasty downswings are going to happen to you this year in 2017. Don't be shocked when they actually do happen.

The only question is are you going to crumble underneath it like 90% of other people, complain to your friends online, spew off buyin after buyin with tilt or even put on your tinfoil hat and go full rigtard?

Or will you be like the 10% of elite and professional poker players who stay disciplined or take a break if they feel like the tilt is too much to handle. Either way, they do not allow it to influence their actual decision making at the poker tables.

This is the #1 thing that separates them from everybody else. It is why they make a full time living or a solid part time one from this game.

Your choice in 2017.

Final Thoughts

Beating online poker in 2017 is not going to be a walk in the park. The games aren't always easy these days even at the lowest stakes. And worse yet, poker can be a brutally difficult and cruel game at times even under the best of circumstances.

But there is still a sizeable portion of people who do win or at least break even every single year. And there is also a smaller amount who absolutely crush the games and become semi-pros or even full time professionals.

I know this because I have been a part of this latter group for nearly 10 years now and it has changed my life completely (living in Thailand, traveling the world etc.). All detailed in my free ebook Massive Profit at the Micros.

There is no reason why you can't start crushing the micros at least in 2017 if you consistently apply a solid TAG strategy, have a solid plan for moving up the stakes and have the mental fortitude to see it all through.

Let me know in the comments below what your goals are this year in poker. More importantly, let me know exactly how you are going to go about achieving them.

Thanks for reading and all the best in 2017.

how to beat online poker in 2017

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

How to Get Back Into Online Poker After a Long Break

Coming back to online poker after a lengthy absence
My workstation by the beach in Koh Lanta, Thailand
Getting back into online poker after a lengthy break is a problem that many people face. I know because they send me emails about it all the time!

The transition is unfortunately not always easy because the landscape in online poker can change pretty fast. If you have only been away a year or two, then chances are you won't have too many problems.

However, if you have been away for 5 years or more, you might be shocked by the level of play even at the lower limits these days.

So in this article I am going to offer some advice on how to get back into online poker (and most importantly start winning) even if you have been away for quite some time.

Is Online Poker Even Worth It These Days?

Let me start with if poker is even worth it these days, because this is something else that I also get asked all the time.

Well first off, sorry to disappoint but I can't actually answer this question for you. Let's consider where online poker is today though.

Is poker the gold rush that it was 10 years ago? Absolutely not. Is it even as easy as it was 5 years ago? Nope.

It is pretty much impossible to make 6 figures a year anymore unless you play mid stakes. And pretty much nobody is making 7 figures anymore unless you play nosebleeds and are one of the best poker players in the world.

Does this mean that playing online poker is pointless? Far from it in my opinion.

If you have a solid career (or you are currently a student who is on your way to getting one), then I would say that trying to go pro especially at the micros these days is a poor idea.

However, many people still make a solid part time income with online poker. And yes, many, many people still make a good full time living playing this game also.

I have lived in Thailand for nearly 5 years now. There are countless foreigners out here playing this game full time. And early next year I will mark 10 years myself of playing poker either professional or semi-pro (I quit my last "real job" in April 2007).

Also, this question ("is poker worth it") almost always seems to get framed within the context of first world countries. As if everybody on earth who plays online poker ONLY comes from countries like America, Canada or England!

In many Eastern European, South East Asian or South American countries for instance $500 a month is a very good income, upper class in some cases. Is making $500 a month at online poker hard even as we enter 2017? Lol, no.

With all of the above said...

Poker is by no means a walk in the park these days either. It takes some serious dedication to win big (several thousand a month or more). You have to work consistently at improving your game, tilt control, table selection and have a solid work ethic.

The Massive Changes in Online Poker All Occurred 5+ Years Ago

The good news though is that if you left poker within the last 5 years (i.e. after Black Friday), you probably won't notice too many huge differences.

People have been crying about the state of the games for quite some time now because it is much easier to blame their inability to win on "tough games."

This keeps them from addressing the fundamental issues with their game and lack of work ethic which are the real reasons why they don't win.

But a lot of these same people simply haven't been around long enough in this game to understand the complete picture either. All of the major changes in online poker actually occurred between 5 and 10 years ago.

10 years ago online poker was a total joke. You had people playing 10/20 on Party with $2000 in front of them who barely knew if a flush beat a straight.

I came up in these games, and like many others, I foolishly thought that the free money would last forever. I didn't grind anywhere near enough. I got lazy. Video games or partying were more important.

I should have made millions. I regret it to this day.

Because of course this gold rush was never going to last forever. Fish don't have limitless money to lose. Also, a global recession (2008, 2009) and government interference in the industry (capped with Black Friday in America in 2011), killed this remarkable moment in online poker forever.

But even by 2011 the games were already playing way tighter. The totally clueless fish had long since gone broke. The training sites were already well established and the overall level of play had risen dramatically.

The real golden era in online poker, when the money was literally falling from the sky, happened between 2005 and 2008. And I am sorry to say but those days are never going to return again.

So What Has Actually Changed in Online Poker in the Last 5 Years?

If you haven't played online poker in 5 years the one difference that you will undoubtedly notice right away is the level of aggression even at the micros. The games don't really play that much tighter, but you will get 3Bet or even 4Bet light for instance a lot more often.

Also, regs understand ranges better and they don't always take the same line with the same hands either. Lastly, many regs these days have developed some ability to bluff and their mental game is slightly improved.

Now, if you are coming back at NL2 or NL5, most of the games here are still a complete circus, full of terrible players. I even made an entire video series earlier this year (2016) to prove this. My winrate was something totally ridiculous like 35bb/100 and I had massive fish (usually several) on every table.

However, if you want to pick things up again at NL25 for instance, you will notice more aggression and you will have a harder time even finding the fish. This is why table selection is so massively important in today's games once you get past the very lowest limits.

It isn't an option anymore. It is something you simply have to do if you want to achieve big success in online poker.

What Has Changed in Online Poker in the Last 2 Years?

The games have gotten perhaps even a bit more aggressive but there are no massive differences here in late 2016 compared to say 2014.

Again, if you read poker forums a lot (full of losing players), you will constantly see people whining about how the games get harder every week or something ridiculous. Gotta blame their lack of success on something!

But the reality is that the games have been playing tight and aggressive for many years now. There are good regs, there are bad regs and there are a few fish floating around.

There have been no earth shattering changes in the way that the micros in particular play over the last several years. There are still a few things that you should keep in mind though.

Firstly, once again you need to pay more attention to table selection than ever before and this extends to site selection as well. Simply put, play on easy poker sites.

Mass tabling for rakeback on Pokerstars is pretty much a thing of the past at this point. Focus on playing with bad players and a lower table count instead.

Also, with the more aggressive regs, don't get into ridiculous 4Bet/5Bet levelling wars with them. Play more hands postflop and just call down lighter overall. Infinite aggression is easily countered in this way.

Also, be willing to explore new ways of abusing all the bad regs such as by bluffing scare cards more often, stabbing at more pots and taking weird lines to confuse them.

Lastly (and amazingly still almost no one is doing this), learn how to tilt the regs. This is one of the easiest ways to turn good players into fish.

Most players at the micros (even the best regs) tend to have a weak mental game. Indeed, this is often the biggest reason why they play at these limits.

Accept Online Poker the Way it is Today and Move Forward

What I had to learn many years ago is that it is important to simply accept online poker the way it is today. Instead of whining and complaining it is better to look for the good in it.

The sense of entitlement out there is crazy with some people. This game doesn't owe anybody anything. You get what you put in and if you want it bad enough, there is always a way to achieve big success.

For me personally, online poker has been a blessing. This game has completely changed my life and has allowed me to live life on my own terms.

While I might not be rich from playing it, I live in places that most people only get to see on vacation and I also travel frequently as well. I wouldn't trade that freedom for anything.

Has it been easy? Hell no. I have almost thrown in the towel completely on so many occasions. And I would love nothing more than to hop in my time machine and go back to 2006. I would grind around the clock nonstop!

But this isn't the reality that we are in today and lamenting the fact that the games used to be so much better accomplishes absolutely nothing.

I still keep playing this game because I have a deep passion for it and because I know that I can make decent money doing so. I have learned to respect it, accept it and move on.

What To Do If You Are Just Getting Back Into Poker

If you are coming back to online poker after a lengthy absence, I would recommend starting at the lowest stakes for now and always using proper bankroll management (at least 30 buyins).

I would also consider signing up at a good training site or checking out some modern books. I would also suggest picking up a copy of my free guide on how I created some of the highest winnings ever at these stakes.

Other than that, just relax. Online poker is still largely the same old game that it has always been. While the millionaire club might be shrinking this doesn't mean that there isn't still decent money to be made.

The bottom line is that if you are willing to work hard both on and off the tables, then there is no reason why you can't turn online poker into a solid part time or even full time income as we enter 2017.

Speaking of that, stay tuned because I will be releasing my guide to beating online poker in 2017 in the next week or two.

Let me know in the comments below what you think of online poker these days. Is it still worth it in your opinion? Do you have any advice for somebody just getting back into the game?

How to get back into poker after a long break

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

How Much Should You Study Versus Play Poker?

how much should you study vs play poker?
A question that I get asked a lot these days is how much should you study versus play poker. I think the answer to this question really revolves around where you are right now in your development as a poker player.

For total beginners my answer to this question is going to be very different than for somebody who has been playing awhile, has had success and moved up several stakes.

So in this article I am going to answer the age old question of how much should you study versus play poker. And I will discuss it from the perspective of total beginners, novices and advanced players.

Absolute Beginners Should Study A lot

If you are completely new to the game of poker, then you should probably spend upwards of 80% of your initial time (i.e., the first few weeks or month) studying the game.

Assuming that you know nothing at all, I would suggest that you first learn the rules of the game. This can be easily found with a simple Google search ["rules of texas holdem"].

Next, make sure that you memorize the top 10 hand rankings in poker - what beats what.

Here they are listed from worst to best:
  • High card
  • One Pair
  • Two Pair
  • Three of a Kind
  • Straight
  • Flush
  • Full House
  • Four of a Kind
  • Straight Flush
  • Royal Flush

After that I would suggest creating an account at any popular poker site and playing play money for your first couple weeks. Start at the lowest limit. Here is my complete guide on how to beat play money.

If you don't know which poker site to pick and you don't live in America, then just choose Pokerstars. It is the largest poker site in the world and has the best software.

If you are from the States head over to Pokerscout.com and play at any of the sites that have a green check mark beside them (USA friendly).

So to sum up.

Learn the game first with play money, risking nothing. Commit the hand rankings to memory, study the basic strategy tips for play money in my free guide linked above. And most importantly of all, just have fun.

Poker Novices Should Still Study Quite a Bit But Be More Focused

But what if you are past the whole does a flush beat a straight phase and you have even got started with real money play either online or live?

Well I think that at this stage of your development it is still important to spend quite a bit of time studying the game. Probably around 50% as a rough estimate.

Basically what you want to be doing at this stage is building a solid tight and aggressive strategy, learning the basics of game selection and working on your mental game.

I will be a little bit biased here but I have already written a free 50 page ebook which walks you through all of that. So I think that this is undoubtedly the best place to start. You can download your free copy here.

At this stage I think it would also be a good idea to start looking into a few basic strategy books and maybe a video training site subscription. These are some of the best ways to improve your game in the early going.

I would also suggest checking out a HUD and the associated poker database program that comes with it at this point. These programs provide an invaluable way to do what I call "self study."

This is basically the ability to analyze your play in depth and that of your opponents as well. This becomes increasingly more important as you move up. To learn more about what a HUD is and how to get one set up check out this article of mine. 

There are plenty of good free basic strategy videos on Youtube as well. Splitsuit and the Poker Bank put out excellent stuff if you play cash games. Gripsed is good if you play SNGs or tournaments.

I actually have 30 or 40 free strategy videos on Youtube myself. Just search BlackRain79. And yes, I know I need to put out more! One of my New Year's resolutions will be to stop neglecting my Youtube channel so much.

Twitch streams and strategy forums are two other free resources that can be helpful in the early stages. A lot of top players stream live these days, especially tourney pros. And forums can be a good way to get feedback on your hands.

A Word of Caution!

It is important not to overload yourself though.

Don't go order 12 different books, watch 6 training videos every day, make 10k posts on a forum and neglect your play. I see this all too often, total information overload and not putting into practice what you have learned.

Pick a few trusted resources and then work on applying that information at the tables. This is the most important step that most people miss.

Becoming a winning poker player is a lot like learning a new language. You can read books and watch videos about it all day but until you actually speak the language with other native speakers on a regular basis, your progress will be slow at best.

Studying is fine. But at least 50% of your time should be spent applying that knowledge at the tables and learning through direct experience.

Advanced Poker Players Should Study Less Often and Cutting Edge Stuff Only

How about advanced players who have been around for awhile, had lots of success and moved up several limits? Well at this stage I think that playing the game should probably comprise about 80% of your poker time and therefore studying 20% or less.

It is important to keep abreast of the latest strategies and continue your development as a poker player, but there is a certain point where the application of all your knowledge is key.

This is especially the case if you are a winning player. Remember, you don't get paid to study the game, talk about the game or watch videos about the game. You get paid by grinding it out at the poker tables and stacking fish again and again.

There are some advanced resources that I would suggest studying at this point although once again, keep it in moderation. These would be advanced books such as my second one, Modern Small Stakes.

There are many other good new titles that have been released lately as well if you lean more towards a math GTO approach to the game.

A subscription at a premium training site like RunItOnce would probably be a good idea as well at this point. For a cheaper but still solid all around training site with excellent coaches I would also recommend Deucescracked.com

Hiring a coach is something that you might also want to look into at this point as well. There is nothing that can take your game to the next level faster than a good coach. Make sure they have a solid track record of success themselves and plenty of solid feedback from students.

Lastly, as I mentioned above self study should play a huge role in your study time at this point. Using either Pokertracker or Hold'em Manager, you should be regularly reviewing your sessions and doing database analysis.

This means running filters to check for the profitability of certain plays, finding and fixing your leaks and studying your opponents in depth.

Final Thoughts

To answer the age old how much should you study versus play question is, it depends. It depends on what stage you are at in your poker development.

If you are a total beginner, then you should be studying the game a large amount of the time, learning the rules, some basic strategy and mashing buttons at the play money tables.

Once you have gotten your feet wet a bit though with real money small stakes poker, you should start to learn some proper TAG strategy, game selection and mental game control. There are countless free and paid resources out there to help you with that.

Lastly, when you become the poker end boss and you are crushing souls and moving up quickly, studying should take up less and less of your time. You should of course stay on top of the latest cutting edge strategies.

But as I talk about all the time on this blog, in both of my books and everything that I put out, increasingly you need to be the one creating those cutting edge strategies in order to truly become an elite player at the higher stakes.

You do this primarily through experience and self study. However, a few select advanced books, premium videos or a coach can help with that too.

Let me know how much you study versus play poker below. What mix has benefited you the most?

play poker or study poker