Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A Step by Step Guide to Making Value Bets That Fish Can't Wait to Call

Value bets against fish in poker
One of the biggest keys to success in poker is value betting against the bad players. Good hands are hard to come by and it is absolutely essential that you get the maximum value out of them.

But you shouldn't be sitting around waiting for the nuts in order to get involved in pots against recreational poker players. There are many other situations where you can extract value with a hand as unimpressive as middle pair, bottom pair or even ace high.

In this article I am going to discuss some of the top ways that I use to extract the maximum value out of fish by making bets that they simply can't say no to.

Understanding Fish Psychology

I have an entire section in my first book devoted to the topic of "fish psychology." I am not sure if I invented this term but I have never really heard anyone else discuss it before.

Basically what I mean by it is getting inside the head of a bad player and attempting to see the game how they see it. Easier said than done but bear with me.

Businesses in every industry do the exact same thing. When you know the customer's specific wants and needs then you can provide them with the best product or service and ultimately maximize your revenue.

The same principle applies in poker. Since fish bankroll the entire poker industry I like to refer to these players as my customers. When I can figure out how they see the game then I can make bets which deliver the highest EV (expected value) to me.

If there is one unifying trait that you will find among nearly all recreational poker players it is this: 

They are deeply suspicious of everyone.

Most people tend to think that everyone is bluffing them more than they should especially at the micros. Fish take this to a whole different level though.

They literally think that everybody is trying to pull a fast one on them every single hand. This is why they are so in love with the call button. It doesn't matter if they get shown the nuts 9 out of 10 times. That one time that they catch you in a bluff makes up for everything.

The Big Call is the Entire Reason That They
Poker fish love to bluff and make big calls
Play the Game

A lot of this comes from movies and the way that poker has long been portrayed in popular culture. A lot of us tend to get wrapped up in the modern skill based game played on the internet where we talk about multi-tabling, long term winrates, HUDs and ranges.

We completely lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of the population still views the game as some kind of luck based machismo contest played by gangsters in smoke filled underground clubs with guns on the table.

Even if they have progressed from archaic Hollywood depictions of the game to tournament poker on TV these programs are still highly edited to only show the big exciting hands where a player is "put to the test for all of his chips."

So it is important to understand that the vast majority of recreational players have a very distorted and inaccurate view of the game where it is all about the big pot, the big decision and the big call.

So they love getting into ridiculously huge pots with a mediocre hand where they hope to catch you in a huge bluff. If they are tilted then they might try and make a huge bluff themselves.

This is the very reason why they play the game. They get a huge thrill out of it. It is also the reason why they invariably end up losing big time in the long run.

Value Bets Need to Always be About Value

You have probably heard the mantra "don't bluff the fish" many times. It makes perfect sense when you understand how they view the game. Trying to bluff a player who is deeply suspicious of you and lives for the big hero call is obviously a really bad idea.

So this is why our value bets versus the recreational players always need to be about value. But as I mentioned above, what often gets left out here is that you don't need to have the nuts in order to turn a profit.

1. Thin Value is Key

Most fish routinely make hero calls with ace high or worse even when they have no history with you at all. Many people make the mistake of waiting for two pair or better to value bet hard though like they would against a reg.

This is a disaster and you already know why. Yep, it is because middle pair beats ace high. Bottom pair beats it too. Why not get value in these spots (which happen a lot more often) too?

Anyone can value bet two pair or trips against a bad player. This takes no skill at all. It is the thin value bets with weak hands where good players get ahead.

2. Size Also Matters

The other mistake that people commonly make is not adjusting their bet sizes versus fish. They use a "one size fits all" approach towards all players.

This strategy is a good idea versus reasonable thinking regs. When you always bet the same amount it makes it very difficult from a game theoretical perspective for your opponent to know if you have the value hand or the bluff this time.

But we are not talking about reasonable thinking opponents in this article!

We are talking about people who play the game for fun and to relieve stress after work. They are not paying attention to your bet sizes. They are not taking any notes on you. And they definitely aren't using any sort of a HUD.

It would be a huge mistake not to take advantage of this by varying your bet sizes in certain situations in order to get the preferred reaction from them.

So let's get into some actual example hands here because I think that will help illustrate everything that I have talked about so far.

Example #1 - The Donk Bet Raise

Hero raises on the button with A9 and gets called by a fish in the blinds.

The flop comes:


The fish donks out for 20% of the pot


I have discussed donk bets a few times on this blog before. So you may know that I am a big fan of raising them with a wide range especially versus bad players.

This hand is a perfect example of that.

A recreational player calls us from the blinds preflop. Since these players often play something like 50% of their hands, our opponent here could literally have almost anything.

This board is insanely draw heavy with a ton of different straight draws, flush draws and pair combinations. With middle pair top kicker we are well ahead of most of these hands. So instead of just calling the small bet we should raise here for value.

What if we get called and he donks into us again on the turn?

It depends a lot on the turn card.

If it is a total blank like the 2 then I would just go ahead and raise a silly bet like this again. After all, this card changes nothing and he will likely call with all of his draws and worse pairs which we have even more equity against now with only one card to come.

If the turn comes with an action card like the Q though then I will probably just call the small bet in an attempt to get to a cheap showdown since we still beat all of his worse pairs and a few draws.

It should be noted that if he can make a real bet (i.e., 50% of the pot or more) I would likely just fold on this particular card since it hits so many draws.

Example #2 - The Ace High Value Bet/Value Call

Hero raises with AQ from EP and gets called by a fish on the button.

The flop comes:


Hero CBets and the fish calls

The turn comes:


Hero checks and the fish bets 30% of the pot


As we talked about before recreational players love to get into silly situations with mediocre hands. This is one of them. They love to make bluffs and hero calls on double paired boards like this or bingo boards (i.e., 777).

They rightly assume that you probably don't have anything very often on a board like this. Therefore if you bet they just assume that you are always bluffing. They love to make dumb bluffs on these boards themselves as well.

So these situations are the perfect spot to just call down with ace high for value or make a value bet yourself with a hand like this. They will often be bluffing with worse and they will also call you down with worse.

Sometimes they simply don't even understand the rules of Hold'em and they think that they have 3 pair on this board with their pocket 4's!

It is important to note that I am once again referring to a spot here where they are making the typical fish bet of 30% of the pot or less. If they start potting it, it is probably a better idea to let it go unless there is some kind of crazy dynamic in place between the two of you.

And likewise, when value betting with ace high you shouldn't be potting it yourself or anywhere even close. This is a spot where you know that your opponent likely has very little and can only hero call you with something ridiculous like king high or queen high.

Therefore, you want to make a bet size that they just can't say no to. So as little as 30% of the pot is often a good idea for a value bet in these spots.

Example #3 - The Action River Card Massive Overshove

Hero raises on the button with 77 and gets called by a fish in the blinds.

The flop comes:


The fish checks
Hero CBets

The turn comes:


The fish checks
Hero checks

The river comes:


The fish bets 50% of the pot

This is one of my all time favorite spots to get absolutely sick value.

Many people make the colossal mistake here of just making a standard raise to 3x and allowing the bad player to happily snap call it with his straight or flush.

This is truly an epic bad decision for your winrate because we already know that fish don't like to fold anything. Do you think that there is any chance on earth that they are going to fold a straight or a flush?

Of course not, they would call it off for literally any amount. And that is why this is the absolute perfect spot for the massive overshove all in.

I can't tell you how many times I have instantly turned a 40bb pot into a 400bb pot versus some terrible player at NL2 or NL5 by recognizing that there is a good chance that he has a huge hand which I beat.

I probably don't need to tell you how good this is for your winrate either.

Example #4 - The Over Sized Value Bet

Hero raises in EP with AK and gets called by a fish on the button.

The flop comes:



This is obviously a no-brainer CBet. We flop top pair top kicker versus a bad player on a board with a few draws. But as mentioned before, the mistake that a lot of people will make here is standardizing their bet sizes.

For instance, they will bet 60% of the pot here no matter what they have. This is a good idea versus the regs but it doesn't make any sense at all versus the fish.

The reason why is that if the bad player has top pair or a draw on this board then he is going to call 80% of the pot just as often as he will call 60% of the pot.

Since good hands are hard to come by, and we almost certainly have the best of it on this board, then why would we not opt for the higher amount?

This is especially important when there is a dynamic in place. I often talk about the benefits of pounding on the fish in position and isolating the crap out of them.

One of the main reasons is so that they pay out like a slot machine when you hit something good (doesn't need to be anywhere near as strong of a hand as this).

So in some situations you could even get away with potting it here or even over-betting the pot if such a dynamic exists. Always remember that this is No Limit Hold'em. You can bet whatever amount you want.

Don't Worry If They Fold

Some people are hesitant to follow my advice to bet big in a situation like this because they are afraid of scaring the fish out of the pot.

The reason why it is a mistake to think this way is because if the fish doesn't have anything then he is going to fold no matter what amount you bet. This is just how poker works.

However, if they caught a piece (top pair, middle pair or a draw) then they are going to call nearly anything within reason. So it would be a serious mistake not to charge them the maximum.


I hope that this article helped show you that there are many different ways to get big value out of the fish even with weak hands. We do this first by understanding the way in which they view the game and then by making bets that are tailor made to exploit their weaknesses to the max.

It is important to note that the plays mentioned in this article will always work versus these types of players.

The reason why is that when people talk about the games changing these days they are talking about the regs. Regs are the ones who are reading poker books, watching training videos and discussing hands with others.

Fish however play the game for fun and never even think about improving. Therefore they make the same mistakes over and over again. Once you learn how to exploit these effectively, then it becomes just like printing money.

Let me know your thoughts below on value betting versus the fish. Do you have any other strategies for getting the maximum value out of them?

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Getting the maximum value out of the fish in poker

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Top 3 Poker Tools Used by Online Pros

Online poker tools and software
There are several different types of poker tools and software used by online poker players these days. None of them are a magic wand that will suddenly turn you into a crusher over night. However they can make the playing experience a lot smoother, provide you with key information in real time and make studying the game a lot more efficient.

These are all essential especially for professional online poker players. For instance, reducing the amount of clicks needed to perform mundane tasks such as sitting down at a table and buying in is a crucially important time saver. This allows them to allocate more time to things that actually matter such as making the right decision in a big pot.

Being able to gain useful data from the massive amount of hand histories that they have collected by playing poker is also a huge benefit. This allows them to study the game much more efficiently and use this information at the tables as well in the form of a HUD.

I Only Use What is Necessary

However, anyone who has read this blog for a while knows that I am very much a minimalist when it comes to poker tools and software. I don't like having unnecessary stuff all over my screen. And I don't use gimmicky programs designed to find your "leaks" or find the fish.

So in this article I am going to discuss the 3 main poker tools and software that I think are necessary for all serious online poker players. I have used all 3 of these myself for many years and they have helped me have huge success playing online poker.

PokerTracker 4

1. PokerTracker 4

All discussion of poker tools will always begin and end with a tracking program and HUD (heads up display). The Coke and Pepsi of the poker tracking software world have long been PokerTracker and Hold'em Manager. And these two companies actually merged together last year.

What a poker tracking program essentially does is process the raw hand history files that you receive from the poker room after every hand that you play. A hand history is a small text file that provides information about absolutely everything that happened in a particular hand from the time, date, player names, stack sizes and the action in the hand. 

What a poker tracking program does is read each of these hand histories and create useful information to help you study the game and learn more about your opponents. 

For Instance:

Say you have 100 hand histories where you played against Player A. The poker tracking program reads those 100 hand histories and is able to tell you that Player A decided to play their hand on 20 occasions. This means that the other 80% of the time they decided to fold preflop.

Now when you look up that player inside PokerTracker or Hold'em Manager you will be able to see that the percentage of hands that they play is 20. This is very useful in determining player type for instance.

Heads Up Display

You can take this one step further and utilize the HUD feature as well. This allows you to place this information (along with many other stats) right beside their name at the tables like this:

PokerTracker 4 HUD

Studying The Game (Using Filters)

The other great thing about having all of this information is the ability to study your opponent's tendencies away from the tables and compare it to your own stats.

And really the greatest feature of these tracking programs is the ability to use filters. This allows you to look at specific scenarios (i.e., something as insanely focused as 3Bet pots where you check raised the turn all in).

Having the ability to break down the game into such tiny little chunks and analyze your results as well as that of your opponents is an invaluable tool to improve your own game and study more efficiently. I have written much more about this topic before in my database review post.

I have also written a comprehensive guide on how to set up your HUD which includes free download links to both of my custom PokerTracker 4 HUD profiles. It is still the most popular post in the history of this website.

PokerTracker or Hold'em Manager?

I personally started with PokerTracker many, many years ago when they were the only game in town. I then switched over to Hold'em Manager for a few years. For the past several years I have gone back to PokerTracker with their latest release: Pokertracker 4. 

The reason why I think that Pokertracker 4 is currently the best tracking program and HUD on the market today really boils down to how easy it is to use. Installation is quick and flawless, the right options and stats are in the right places and the software runs very smoothly even when dealing with very big sample sizes. 

Furthermore the HUD itself is highly customizable and easy to set up on all of the major poker sites. Lastly, I have found their support to be very good when I had any questions. 

Many people use Hold'em Manager and it is also a top notch product. If it works for you then there is absolutely no need to switch over to PokerTracker. And, as mentioned before, they are both owned by the same company now so I think we can expect great things in the future as the strengths of both software teams are combined. 

Also, if you are just starting out at NL2 I would not worry too much about getting a tracking program and HUD right now. Just focus on getting the fundamentals of the game down and getting used to playing poker online. 

But if you are serious about online poker then I would highly recommend getting used to using a tracking program. They typically pay for themselves very quickly at the poker tables. And the ability that they provide to study the game and improve away from the tables is simply immense.

Both major brands offer a free trial. PokerTracker 4 is Mac compatible while Hold'em Manager 2 is not.

Here is the link to the free trial for Pokertracker 4. 

Table Ninja II

2. Table Ninja 2

Another tool that is extremely important for all serious online poker players is multi-tabling software. One of the key advantages of online poker over playing in a casino is the ability to play as many tables as you want. 

I have still played the large majority of my 7 million+ lifetime hands while 24 tabling on PokerStars. This number might seem insane to some of you and many people ask me how this is even possible. 

Well firstly, I didn't just start playing 2 dozen tables at once over night. I slowly built up over the years as my decisions became more automatic with experience. Also, a heavy gaming background probably helped prepare me a bit for the fast paced nature and multi-tasking of online poker. 

But a big key to my ability to play this many tables has always been to use software which helps me manage all of the tables better and cut down on useless clicks. 

For many years I just used various AHK scripts that were created by other poker players and offered on forums for free.

But there were always lots of headaches with these because they were difficult to setup and had limited options. And if the poker site decided to make any major changes to their software they might stop working altogether until the guy who created the script got around to providing an update for it.

This is why Table Ninja entered the market several years ago as an inexpensive paid multi-tabling software solution with a dedicated development team behind it. 

I realized that I was wasting so much time dealing with wonky and unreliable AHK scripts just to save a few bucks so I switched over to Table Ninja shortly after it came out. 

Some of the key features of Table Ninja that help me multi-table more effectively are:
  • The ability to easily organize all of my tables where ever I want on my screen
  • Tons of hotkey customization abilities
  • Preset bet sizing (huge time saver)
  • Auto buyin and seat taking (another huge time saver)
  • Auto time bank click so you don't time out
  • Sit in and sit out all tables immediately by hitting one button
Here is a short demo video which explains all of these features in more detail:

Table Ninja is developed and maintained by the same company that manages PokerTracker and Hold'em Manager so this means top notch support and quick updates.

There is a free trial with this product as well and the paid version is very affordable especially with an annual subscription. Table Ninja is not Mac compatible.

Once again, if you are just starting out with online poker or you only play a few tables at the most then I probably wouldn't bother with multi-tabling software for now.

However, if you are serious about online poker and do any amount of multi-tabling then getting Table Ninja is about the easiest and cost effective investment that you can make.

Here is the link to the free trial for Table Ninja 2.

3. PokerStove

The last poker tool that I have used extensively over the years is PokerStove. This is a great little equity analysis tool that allows you to plug in specific hands and community cards and get the exact odds. PokerStove is also 100% free.

The reason why PokerStove has been so popular over the years (and continues to be even when there are much more advanced free and paid equity analysis tools out there) is it's simplicity.

PokerStove does exactly what it is supposed to do and nothing more. You can simply plug in some hands as shown below and get instant results over a ridiculous sample size in a split second.
PokerStove Equity Tool
Did you know that QQ is actually a 57% favorite versus AKo preflop?

You can also add in community cards in the box on the top right to see what the equity would be like in any flop, turn or river situation that you want.

Furthermore, you can also plug in entire ranges as shown below.
PokerStove Ranges
Not sure what an 8% range looks like? Now you know (hands in purple). 
You can also quickly create a range with various types of hands like all pairs or all broadways by clicking the buttons on the top right.

All and all PokerStove is an insanely useful tool for quickly determining the equity in any situation in Hold'em. People often ask me how I know the odds in a certain spot within a couple of seconds (give or take a few percentage points of course).

It is because I have literally searched thousands of scenarios over the years in PokerStove. Eventually the odds just get imprinted in your brain.

Unfortunately the developer no longer really supports this product (it's free, who could blame them?). But I have created a download link for you just to keep this great tool alive.

Download Link

You can download the latest version of PokerStove here.

Some people have mentioned in the comments for this post that they are having issues installing PokerStove. If this is the case there is another free equity tool called Equilab which is popular and even has a few more bells and whistles such as pre-defined ranges.

You can download the latest version of Equilab here.

Mac Users

Be advised that neither PokerStove nor Equilab are Mac compatible. You will have to use one of the numerous methods in order to run a Windows based program in Mac OS.

But it should also be noted that PokerTracker 4 (as recommended above in this article) has an equity tool built right into it's software. So that is another option for Mac users.


The poker tools and software mentioned in this post should be in the arsenal of all serious online poker players. I have used the tracking program, multi-tabling software and equity tool mentioned above for years myself.

But it is important to note that none of these tools will turn you into a huge winner over night. They will not for instance tell you what the best play is. That would be cheating.

If you want to get better results in online poker then you will need to work hard on improving your skillset both at the tables and away from them. I recently wrote an in depth article on the top 9 ways to improve your poker game.

What these tools will do though is allow you study the game more efficiently and have more information on your opponents by making use of the data that you have collected by playing the game.

They will also make multi-tabling online poker a much smoother experience. And they will also allow you to quickly analyze many situations better and know the odds.

If you have any questions about any of the poker tools and software mentioned in this post please feel free to leave your comments below.

If you found this article helpful then do me a favor and "Like" or "Tweet" it below!

Poker Tools and Software Used by the Pros

Friday, September 25, 2015

3 Powerful Ways to Get More Action With Your Big Hands in Poker

Get more action with big hands in poker
It is very common these days to hear people complaining about not getting any action with their big hands at the poker tables. It can be frustrating to wait around for a long time to finally get your AA, KK, set or flush and then as soon as you make a bet everybody runs for the hills.

This isn't the case for everybody though. Some people do get plenty of action with their big hands. There are some subtle ways in which they play the game which ensures that this is the case.

In this article I am going to help you understand why you are not getting as much action with your big hands as you would like and how to fix it. 

1. Play At Tables With Fish 

It is important to note firstly that in today's game (even at the very lowest stakes) there isn't always a massive whale ready to hand over his entire stack to you because he hit middle pair. This isn't to say that you can't find these players with a little bit of table selection. However it isn't the norm anymore. 

So what this means is that if you just sit down at a random table these days (live or online) it is likely that your opponents will play tighter overall and be able to make a few more disciplined folds. This will affect how much action you get with your big hands in a substantial way. 

The reason why is that tight disciplined players don't play anywhere near as many trashy hands in the first place. Also, they will be able to find the fold button more often when it is obvious that they are beat. Therefore, the only time you are likely to get any big action is when you cooler them. 

For instance:

AA vs KK, set over set or flush over flush.

So one of the biggest steps towards getting more action with your big hands that you can possibly make is to play in games with lots of big fish in them.

If you play online and you use a HUD then look for players with a VPIP of 40% or more. This means that they are playing 40% or more of the hands that are dealt to them.

If you do not use a HUD or you play live then take mental notes on which players seem to be playing too many hands. You can also look for the 5 common signs of bad poker players.  

2. Start Opening Up Your Game

There is an old saying in poker which you have probably heard before:

"You have to give action in order to get action"

One of the biggest reasons why people do not get enough action with their big hands is that they present the image of a rock at the poker tables. 

I often mention on this blog and elsewhere that at the lowest stakes nobody is paying much attention. Well this is true to an extent. They aren't paying attention to how well you balance your 3Bet calling range or postflop bet sizing for instance. 

But these people (even if they are total beginners) aren't completely oblivious either! A lot of recreational players in particular only play on 1 or 2 tables at the most. Believe me, they will notice if you haven't played a hand in 3 orbits. 

Also, more regs these days are using a HUD. This means that even if they are playing on 18 other tables they can see right away from your stats that you are sitting around waiting for the nuts. 

So if you want to improve your chances of getting more action when you get a good hand then you have to give some action sometimes in spots where you have a marginal hand or even nothing at all.

There are two ways to go about this:

A) Play More Hands Preflop

The first one is to start playing some more marginal or speculative hands preflop. By this I mean hands such as:
  • Suited connectors (98s, 87s, 76s)
  • Suited Aces (A7s, A6s, A5s)
  • Suited One Gappers (T8s, 97s, 86s)
  • Weaker Broadways (KT, QT, JT)
And on and on, they don't always have to be suited. But I think you catch my point. Play hands that aren't the nuts more often!

And by this I don't mean limping along or completing the small blind. You should almost never limp under any circumstance. What I mean is coming in for a raise if it is folded to you or raising up any limpers.

If the pot has been raised already then you can consider making a light 3Bet with some of these hands a little bit more often.

Look for these 3 conditions:
  • Player who opened plays a decent amount of hands (i.e., isn't a total rock)
  • Player who opened seems like a weak player. For instance he has a high Fold to 3Bet% (70% or more)
  • Player opened from a steal position such as the hijack, cutoff, button or the blinds where his range will likely be wider.

B) Get More Active Postflop

Opening up your game also means giving a little bit more action postflop as well. Again, even the non-HUD using fish can tell that you are only giving any significant action when you have top pair or better. 

The HUD using reg can refer to multiple stats such as Raise Flop CBet%, Total AF and Went to Showdown% to see how loose or tight you are postflop.

Here are 3 good ways to start giving more action postflop:
  • Start raising your draws or even two overs more often
  • Bluff more rivers against weak/tight regs
  • Float more flops and bet the turn when checked to
It is important not to go nuts with these strategies. You don't want to become a postflop maniac over night. Any time you make fundamental changes to your poker game it should be a gradual progression.

But simply ask yourself this question a little bit more often:

"Is there a more aggressive play that I could make in this situation which might win me the pot?"

Not only will making a few more bluffs or "plays" like this get you more action with your big hands but it will also help improve your non-showdown winnings which is a big key to your success as you move up the stakes. 

3. Put Your Opponents on Tilt

The final way to get more action with your big hands is to put people on tilt. The great thing about this strategy is that it will work in tight games just as well as loose ones.

As I have discussed before on this blog I try to go out of my way every single session to intentionally put one reg on tilt.

I look for a weaker reg who happens to be on my right on a bunch of tables and I just act like the world's biggest dick. I will 3Bet the crap out of him and raise or play back any time I get a chance.

It is very important to note that I only do it for that particular session though. I will make a note and revert to totally normal play versus them in all future sessions.

This strategy accomplishes two things:
  • They get pissed off at me and we have a little war during that particular session
  • They give me no credit in future sessions even though I have reverted my play back to normal against them
What this ultimately means is that they won't always be making those disciplined folds against me anymore. When I 4Bet them preflop they might spaz ship their AQ or TT versus my AK or JJ+.

When I hit my set against them they might shove their AA or KK even though I am giving them clear signals that they are beat. 

It pretty much just goes back to the whole idea that you get action in poker when you give action. I prefer to use this strategy of acting like a total maniac for one session versus a lot of the weaker micro stakes regs. 

This is because they often aren't able to see through my little ruse. All I have to do is play completely normal versus them in future sessions and often they will pay out like a slot machine to me. 

Final Thoughts

Hopefully this article gave you a few pointers on how you can start getting more action with your big hands at the micros.

Playing in games that have fish in them will always be the easiest way to go about this. We all know that these players tend to play far too many hands and have trouble finding the fold button.

But even in relatively tight games there are a couple of other ways to start improving your chances of getting paid off. The first way is to start giving a little bit more loose action in order to create the illusion that you are in there bluffing up a storm.

People will naturally want to give you more action if they notice that you are involved quite a bit or have the stats of an aggro reg on their HUD. The key is that when the big money goes in, you always have it.

The second way is to try and intentionally tilt your opponents. You don't have to do this every session. However, if you directly target a few regs from time to time this can have a big impact on the amount of action that they will give you in future hands.

Let me know in the comments what you think of these strategies. Do you have trouble getting action with you big hands?

If you found this article helpful then do me a favor and "Like" or "Tweet" it below!

Getting action with AA and KK

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

19 Crucial Reasons Why You Aren't Having Huge Success at the Micros Yet

19 reasons you aren't beating micro stakes poker yet
People write to me all the time with the problems that they are having beating the micros online or small stakes live cash games. So I get to see firsthand what is holding them back at these stakes.

Often it is just small stuff that can easily be fixed like bet sizing or calling too many 3Bets. But sometimes it is also more fundamental stuff like poor starting hand selection, missing key value bets or tilt. Finding and fixing these problems may require a more determined effort away from the tables. 

In this article I am going to list the top 19 things that prevent people from having big success at the micros. I will also suggest ways to fix them. 

Hopefully this will help you make some adjustments in your games and start crushing! Let's get started.

1. Big Pots With Marginal Hands

I have seen this issue time and time again especially in the past when I used to coach. Out of nowhere they are involved in a huge pot with a hand like J9 for no valid reason. 

For some equally unknown reason tons of money got put in the middle on the flop and turn. Now on the river they managed to hit their top pair and they are facing a bet for the rest of their stack.

This is absolute madness. 

As I talked about in my "Biggest Key to My Success" post a while back I have been able to post massive winrates in these games by simply avoiding these types of situations altogether. 

Usually I will just fold preflop. If I get involved though I am not going to play a massive pot with a hand like this. I will try to keep the pot small and get to showdown. If that is not possible then I will fold. 

You do not have to fight for every pot and every little edge at NL2 and NL5 in particular. Keep things simple at these stakes and focus your attention on the big edges instead.

2. Playing Out of Position Too Much

It is important that you keep your calling range tight from the blinds in particular especially at the lowest stakes. In fact I often advocate simply 3Betting or folding in the large majority of situations. 

The reason why is that no matter how you cut it playing poker when out of position will always put you at a massive disadvantage. You will never win nearly as much with your good hands and you will lose more than you should with your 2nd best hands. 

3. Not Abusing the Button and the Cutoff Enough

So to go along with point #2 you should conversely be playing a ton of hands when you do have position. This is because playing in position is wildly profitable. 

In Crushing the Microstakes I suggest playing 3x as many hands from the button as from UTG or the blinds. I still think this is a good baseline minimum. You can honestly get away with even more than this at the lowest stakes. 

Simply put, most people drastically under-estimate the value of position in poker. Go into your Hold'em Manager or Pokertracker and see for yourself how drastically your winrate is affected by position.

There is certainly a time and a place to "balance your range" at higher limits by playing a few more hands out of position. But at the lowest stakes you are much better served to keep it tight in these situations and abuse position as much as possible.

4. Flatting Too Much Preflop in Position

Another issue that holds people back is flatting too much preflop in position with speculative hands. It seems like a good idea on the surface. After all, you have position, you have a suited connector type hand and maybe you can win a big pot by hitting something big. 

But the problem is that you rarely hit something big.

Much more often you flop nothing at all. Or even worse, you make a pair and end up hopelessly calling down when you really only beat a bluff. 

The biggest reason why I do not suggest flatting with a wide range in position at the lowest stakes is because people at these limits are not very good postflop yet. This is not a knock, it is just the truth. 

Learning how to take pots away and make thin value bets and thin value calls on the later streets is one of the hardest things to learn in this game. It takes years for most people.

Most people playing at these stakes are relatively new to the game and do not have a real plan or any real confidence in their abilities when they flat with these hands preflop. Therefore, it is better to just fold some of these hands for now. 

5. Flatting Too Much Postflop

Something else that newer players do which gets them in trouble is calling too much postflop. I remember reading the famous book "The Theory of Poker" many, many years ago and in it David Sklansky suggests that you should only be calling about 10% of the time postflop (if memory serves me correct).

Now keep in mind that this book is about Limit Hold'em and it was also written before online poker even existed. However, this extreme bias towards raising or folding postflop was always something that stuck with me. 

I don't want to lay out any specific numbers because I don't know for sure what they would be, but I do think that the best strategy in low stakes NLHE cash games today is still largely to raise or fold. 

Again, the biggest problem here isn't even the act of calling itself. I want to make that crystal clear because somebody always seems to want to take me to task for this statement.

The problem is with calling for no specific reason and without a plan. Most newer players cannot tell you why they are calling or what the plan is in many situations. Therefore, they often end up folding to further aggression later on or simply losing at showdown. 

This is obviously not a winning strategy. And that is why I advise that for now, when in doubt, raise or fold the large majority of the time.

6. Playing Too Many Hands Preflop

This isn't a problem for that many people anymore. In fact, ironically it is the opposite (not playing enough hands) which is a bigger problem for many newer players today. 

However, not playing enough hands will never hurt your winrate nearly as much as playing too many hands will. I often suggest a benchmark of 15% for full ring and 20% for 6max. 

I think you should aim for these numbers. If you find yourself significantly above them then it is likely going to harm your winrate in a big way. 

If this is you, find out what the bottom part of your starting hand range is and start removing some of those hands. Cutting out marginal hands from EP or the blinds is also a great place to start.

7. Get Max Value Out of the Rec Players

Again, this probably isn't the biggest issue anymore but it is still a concern for some. Big hands are hard to come by in this game and it is absolutely crucial for your winrate to get the max value out of the bad players. 

As I discuss at length in my first book I virtually never slowplay versus these types of players. Instead I often just blast the pot button or even overbet versus the fish with my big hands. 

I had somebody ask me today on Twitter if I still advise this in 2015 (you can follow me here by the way).

Yes, and I will advise it in 2020 and 2030 as well. You know why? Because fish don't change. They play the game for fun and they live for the big call. 

If you have been getting involved in a lot of pots with them and trying to tilt them as I always suggest, then you are simply leaving money on the table by not blasting the pot when you finally make a big hand. 

When in doubt make the value bet versus the recreational players and make it big. 

8. Don't Pay Off the Nits

This one took me literally years to learn and it still tilts me to no end when I screw it up today. At the lowest stakes these days there are many mass multi-tabling nits sitting around waiting for the nuts. They will look something like 11/9 in full ring or 17/15 in 6max on your HUD. That is VPIP and PFR.

When they start getting involved in a big pot with you especially on the later streets (turn and river) it is because they have a big hand. 

These players are on far too many other tables to suddenly be picking on you out of the blue. They generally have no creativity in their game anyways. 

You need to learn to make big folds in these spots even with hands as strong as top pair top kicker and overpairs. If you are a true expert then you can even profitably make the ninja fold with two pair.

Don't donate to the nits. They waited all day to hit their set against your AA. Now fold and laugh at them. 

9. Use Your HUD Effectively

How do you know who is a nit? By using a HUD (heads up display).

As I have discussed many times on this blog and elsewhere I think that anyone who is serious about online poker should be using a HUD these days. 

If you are just starting out at NL2 then I wouldn't worry about it too much for now. But once you get some experience online and start moving up the stakes it is a must. 

Here is my comprehensive guide on how to set up your HUD for when that is the case for you. 

10. Playing Against Regs All Day Long

Regs (which is short for regulars) are the people who you see at the tables every day. They take the game fairly seriously and they don't make the massive mistakes that the fish make. 

I don't care if you are Phil Ivey himself, you aren't going to crush a game full of regs. If having huge success at the micros is your goal then you must make table selection your job in today's games. 

This means that you stop playing Zoom poker and focus on finding the fish, tagging the fish, chasing them around, playing at the right times and even poker site selecting. 

I have also written a comprehensive article on this topic which you can find here. 

11. Becoming an Effective Quitter

Only in poker is the act of quitting actually a good thing. Something that a lot of newer poker players struggle with is chasing losses when they are having a bad day at the tables. 

They may end up extending their session much longer than planned or even worse, jumping stakes and blowing a lot more.

The biggest problem with this is that you end up playing huge amounts of volume when you are playing at your worst. You lack confidence, you fear the worst at every corner, you are in a sour mood and on and on.

It makes a lot more sense to put in more volume when you are running good and things are going your way. You will be much more confident in your abilities and make better decisions. 

This is just one reason why I suggest not even looking at your bankroll at all during a session. Just focus on making good decisions. You owe it to yourself to put in your best effort at the tables. 

12. Over Analyzing and Over Complicating Everything

With the massive growth in poker educational materials in recent years such as video training sites, books, coaching and forums people are over analyzing everything to death even at the smallest stakes. 

In fact, some people spend so much time studying the game, discussing the game and watching the game that they barely even get around to playing it anymore!

Big success at the lowest stakes does not require any in depth strategy. You don't need to balance anything, GTO anything or SPR anything. 

What you need to do is sit down at the tables (which have fish on them) on a regular basis and play a solid but simple tight and aggressive strategy. 

Save all of the fancy stuff for higher limits against actual thinking opponents. For now, just focus on the basics and you will do just fine. 

13. Calling Too Many 3Bets

Calling too many 3Bets especially when out of position is a big problem still for many newer poker players. Again, a lot of what this comes back to isn't the act of calling itself. 

The problem is the act of calling without a clear plan of how you are going to win the pot when most of the time you will flop something very marginal or nothing at all.

This is why I also recommend a pretty tight 3Bet calling range for newer players at the lowest stakes: Something like 88+ and AQ+ give or take depending on the situation and full ring or 6max.

When in doubt (and especially when out of position) just fold or sometimes 4Bet if you have clear reasons why it will be effective. Keep your life simple. Remember that you don't need to balance anything or protect any image at these stakes. Believe me, they aren't paying attention.

14. Double Barreling Too Much

It used to be the opposite. People did not follow up on the turn enough. These days people will find any reason to fire the old double barrel though. And often this is a mistake against bad players who like to call a lot. 

It can be a really good idea to refer to the WTSD% (went to showdown) stat in turn and river situations. Many nits with a WTSD in the low 20's will indeed fold their draw, mid pair or maybe even top pair if you can fire again. 

However many more calling stations (both fish and regs) at these stakes with a WTSD in the high 20's will put on their sheriff's hat and call you down. 

Check back turns more often at the lowest stakes with your draws and air against these types of players. You are just burning money by trying to bluff them off of their hand. 

15. Bet Sizing Preflop

A lot of newer players make the mistake of making their preflop raises too small whether it is an opening raise or a 3Bet. If you are in a loose passive game like you often find at the lowest limits online or live then this can be a big mistake.

You want to make sure that you are making people pay to get involved with you especially when you are out of position. It isn't that you want to prevent action, you just want them to know that getting involved in pots with you will not be cheap. 

At the very lowest limits I would suggest making your preflop opens 3x at minimum and don't be afraid to make it 4x or even more if the game is playing really loose. 

With regards to 3Bets make sure that they are always at least 3x the opening raise when you are in position. When you are out of position 3.5x the opening raise at minimum. 

16. Bet Sizing Postflop

Many people (especially if they come from a tournament background) have postflop bet sizing issues in their game as well. The problem is almost always once again that they bet too small, not too big. 

Small bets of as little as 30% of the pot can make sense in many situations in a tournament because the stacks are often shallow and there is no ability to reload. 

This is not the case in cash games though. The stacks are typically much deeper and there is no threat of being knocked out if your stack gets too low, you just reload. 

This is why it is important to bet bigger for value in cash games and give people more of a reason to fold. I don't think that there is any situation where you should ever be betting less than 50% of the pot and often 2/3 or 3/4 is the way to go. 

17. Losing Their Mind Over the Short Run

I get emails all the time from people who followed my advice for 2 days and had huge success. I am a God of poker in their eyes and they are thinking about naming their first child after me. 

Then I get emails from some other people who also followed my advice for 2 days and they lost big. I have no business teaching the game in their eyes. I am terrible at poker and they hate my guts. 


Both of these sets of people are making the mistake of making a huge deal over the short run in poker. The truth is that in 2 days (or even 2 weeks) it is very unlikely that you can play enough poker to get a good indication of your actual long term results. 

One of the biggest reasons why there are only about 5% of people in this game that actually win really big in the long run is because they are the only ones who really "get it." 

What they get is that the short run is just one big giant illusion. 95% of people either lose their minds when things don't go their way over a meaningless sample or they are on cloud nine if they hit a heater.

Elite players could care less either way. It's all the same. The long run is the only thing that actually matters. And the long run can unfortunately be very, very long sometimes.

18. Wasting Their Time at Limits They Can Beat

Another reason why some people are not having big time success at the micros is because they don't step outside of their comfort zone and take shots at higher limits enough. 

Now I am the first person to raise my hand of being guilty here. But also, as I have mentioned before, it is your poker career and you can do what you want. 

However, nobody is getting rich playing NL5. If you want to make a significant side income (or even a full time one) then you are going to have to move up. 

As I talked about in last week's post, the best way to do this is to have a clear plan for when to move up and when to move down. 

19. Wasting Their Time at Limits They Can't Beat Yet

This doesn't happen nearly as often these days as playing too low but it is still an issue with some. This happens specifically with people who come from a live background who are moving over to online. 

As I talked about in a recent article for Pokernews the games online are generally a lot tougher even when there is much less money involved.

Just because you can beat $1/$2 NL in the casino does not mean that you should play the equivalent stake online. $1/$2 online is actually a very tough game these days mostly played by full time professionals.

If you have played at a particular limit online for quite awhile and are still not winning it is a good idea to step down for awhile and see if things improve. There is no shame in working your way up from the lowest limits. 

Final Thoughts

I hope that this article provided some food for thought regarding some common issues that people face at the micros online and low stakes live. 

These games might not be the absolute free money fest that they were 5 or 10 years ago but they are still very beatable with the right strategy and mental approach. 

Let me know your thoughts below. Is there anything that you would add to the list above?

If you found this article helpful then do me a favor and "Like" or "Tweet" it below!

19 Reasons You Aren't Profiting Big at Small Stakes Poker

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

When Should You Move Up Stakes in Poker?

Moving up the stakes in poker
Finding the right time to move up stakes in poker is something that is difficult for a lot of people. If they are new to the game then it might be their first time trying a new limit. So it is natural that they are a bit apprehensive and want to make sure that they cover all of their bases.

The first thing that I will say though is that there is no right time for everyone. As usual in poker "it depends" on a multitude of different factors such as bankroll, previous results, confidence and your goals in the game.

The only common theme with moving up stakes is that it is not easy for anyone. In fact it is completely normal for even the very best players to fail multiple times before they finally stick at the new limit. However, it is a necessary step that you must take in order to increase your bottom line at the tables.

In this article I am going to discuss several different factors that should influence your decision on whether or not to move up. I will provide some recommendations in order to hopefully make this transition as easy as possible for you. 

You Gotta Have the Bankroll

Bankroll is of course always going to be the most important thing when moving up. You should have increased your bankroll at your current limit through a combination of table winnings and rakeback. At what point should you actually move up though?

Well as I talked about in my recent article on bankroll management I think that somebody who is relatively new to the game and has a marginal winrate should move up at 40 buyins.

A "buyin" is 100 big blinds. 

So if you are currently playing NL2 then I would suggest moving up to NL5 when you have $200 in your bankroll. 100 big blinds at this stake is $5. $5 x 40 = $200.

However, as I also point out in that article, if you are an experienced poker player with a big winrate at your current limit, then you can move up with less than this as well. You can also wait until 50 or 60 buyins or even more if you want. 

It is ultimately up to you.

However, the reason why I suggest 40 buyins to most people these days is because it provides a decent enough cushion to withstand nearly all typical variance in today's micro stakes cash games. It also isn't such a large amount that you are wasting your time needlessly padding your bankroll.

Moving Down is a Necessary Part of Moving Up

I know that this statement might sound a little bit contradictory at first. However, it is simply a fact of life in this game that we play.

As I mentioned before, even the very best players will regularly fail in their attempts to move up in stakes. I have failed many, many times myself in move up attempts. I will fail many more times in the future. 

The reason why is that when you move up you will always be at the mercy of short term variance. Anything can happen over a sample of 1k hands or even 10k hands. 

You can very easily run bad and lose a lot since it is twice the amount that you normally play for. On the other hand you can very easily run really good and skyrocket your bankroll very quickly. 

You need to prepare for anything. This is why I suggest giving yourself a 10 buyin shot before moving down to reload. That is, if you lose 10 buyins at your new stake then you must move back down no matter what.

If you never reach the point of losing 10 buyins (this is obviously the goal) then just keep plugging away at your new limit. 

It is important to approach moving up in poker as a calculated risk. It is perhaps comparable to investing in a new stock. You have done all your research, all the signs look good for this company but there are never any guarantees. There are always factors outside of your control such as variance in poker.

This is why moving down is a necessary part of moving up. You will fail on many occasions and have to regrind what you lost at your old stake. There is no need to feel bad about yourself or feel like a failure.

The greatest basketball player of all-time (who was cut from his own high school basketball team) once famously said:

"I have failed, over, and over, and over again in my life...and that is why I succeed" - Michael Jordan [Tweet This]

And you too will eventually succeed and stick at the higher limit even if it takes 5 attempts or more. Just don't give up. And heck, you might even make it on the first try and never look back. Remember, this happens a lot too. 

This is why we set clear rules with regards to bankroll so that it is simply a rinse and repeat process where you will eventually climb the stakes.

If you follow a simple plan like I have set out above (40 buyins move up, move down temporarily if you lose 10) then all of the guesswork is removed. It is just a matter of time until you succeed.

You Need to Be Clearly Winning at Your Current Stake

This one might sound painfully obvious but it needs to be mentioned anyways. If you do not have a history of success at your current stake then there is no point in moving up because the competition is always more difficult at higher limits and your results will only be worse. 

In fact, you should always expect a drop in your winrate any time you move up in stakes. This is why it is necessary that you have some sort of proven winrate at your current stakes. What does this history of success or proven winrate actually mean though?

Well again, to throw out some rough numbers I would say a winrate of 1bb/100 or more at your current stakes over at least 20k or 30k hands. The truth is that even sample sizes like this are by no means solid. Somebody can easily run completely horrible or totally lights out over 20k or 30k hands.

However, it can take an eternity to play 100k hands or more which is the point at which I believe that you can start to make some confident assumptions about your winrate. For somebody who plays low volume online or who plays live this could be months or even years of play for them. 

So while you need to have a proven winrate at your current stakes we also need to be realistic in terms of the sample size. This is why I think 20k or 30k hands is a decent (minimum) benchmark.

While it might be tempting to move up if things are going your way after 5k or 10k hands it is better to wait a little bit longer. The reason why is because 10k or less hands is pretty much a completely meaningless sample size in poker.

Your "winnings" could very easily be pure luck. Same thing if you have losses instead.

If you are not winning at your current stakes after a reasonable sample size then it would be a much better idea to figure out what the problems are and look for ways to improve your game.  

Many people have a mistaken belief that if they just play against better opponents then somehow suddenly their results will turn around. 

The reality though is that if you are not winning at your current stake over a significant sample size then it is more than likely because there are some core issues with your game. Playing against tougher competition will only exacerbate and expose these problems even more.

Move Up in Stakes When You Are in a Confident Mindset

Predictably, nearly all winning poker players share one similar quality. That is, they are very confident in their abilities at the poker table.

But poker has so many ups and downs though that it can be completely normal for anyone to lose faith in their abilities when things go bad for a long period of time. 

On the other hand, when things are going well most people will over-inflate their abilities even if they are long term losing poker players. 

With regards to moving up in stakes, it is always much better to do so when you are on the good side of this confidence spectrum.

You should be running reasonably well or at least normal and feel confident that you are among the better players at your stake. You should feel like you can come back to this limit at any point in the future and make money. 

You should never move up during a downswing even if you know that you are a long term winner. Confidence breeds success and it is better to take a shot at the new limit when you are thinking clearly and have full belief in your abilities. 

Don't Change Your Game Drastically at the New Limit

So now that you have the bankroll and you are feeling good about your game how should you actually approach moving up?

Well it is important to not make a big event out of it. Yes the money is double and the faces are new but it is still the exact same game and the truth is that these new regs are only marginally better than the ones who you played against each day at your old stake.

It is important not to go in there and try to prove a point to all of them right away. You will notice an increased amount of aggression from the regs in all facets of the game. This is completely normal as you move up. The games always play more and more aggressive. 

It is important to resist the urge to start haphazardly firing back at them. The truth is that there might be a few more bluffs in their range but there are also a lot of value hands still as well. Remember that these new regs don't even know who you are. They aren't just picking on you out of the blue. 

If you try to go in there beating your chest to show all of the new regs who is boss you will quickly get put in your place. It is much better to just play your normal game and maybe make the odd bluff here and there. 

Just observe how your new limit plays, get to know the tendencies of the new regs and do what has brought you success up until this point. In time, you will feel more comfortable at your new limit, have more information and be able to make adjustments on a player by player basis. 

Give Yourself the Best Opportunity to Succeed

It is also a really good idea to give yourself the best chance to succeed by:
  • Moving up when the games are good 
  • Making the highest quality poker decisions
With regards to finding the right games, recreational players are of course the key. They fuel the entire industry and you should be doing everything that you can to find them and get a seat on their left.

But even if you still aren't convinced how important table selection is in today's games and choose to play in tight Zoom games for instance, there are still some ways to improve your odds of finding the fish. 

Firstly, move up on a weekend. Recreational players tend to play more on the weekends because this is when they have time off from work. The games are always a little bit better on Saturday and Sunday at any limit. 

Secondly, play during prime-time hours. This would be anywhere from about noon PST to late at night. Don't move up at 6am PST on a Monday morning and expect the games to be good.

Lastly, take whatever number of tables that you currently play and cut it in half for your first three sessions at your new limit. This will give you more time to relax and make high quality poker decisions. 

Final Thoughts

Moving up is a natural progression for all poker players. The higher you climb the stakes, the more money that you will make. 

However, it does get more and more difficult as you move up. The competition is tougher and the edges are smaller. This is why the large bulk of online and live poker players play for small amounts of money.

You need to be constantly improving in today's poker environment in order to stay ahead of the competition.

If you currently play at low stakes then I would suggest having a look at my "Start Here" page where I have linked dozens of my most popular articles on how to improve for all skill levels.

You can also hop on my newsletter to receive free strategy advice and updates on my latest blog posts right to your inbox.

Something that I didn't mention in this article though it that it is completely fine to simply stay put at your current stake as well. Many people grind the same stakes for years on end and there is absolutely nothing wrong with this at all.

It is not everybody's dream to challenge the very best in the world at the nosebleeds. The good thing about remaining at your current stake is that you know exactly what to expect and the variance will be lower. 

Simply put:

Chase your own goals and dreams in this game and don't let anybody else run your poker career.

This means moving up when you feel that you are ready, you have the right bankroll and you are confident. Or it might mean just staying exactly where you are. You are the boss. You make the call.

In any case, I hope that this article helped provide you with some useful tips to help make your next move up attempt a bit easier. 

Let me know your thoughts or questions about moving up the stakes in the comments below. What are some difficulties that you have faced when moving up? Feel free to brag about your success as well!

If you found this article helpful then do me a favor and "Like" or "Tweet" it below!

Moving up the stakes in poker