Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Common Online Poker Myths: Separating Truth From Fiction

Common Online Poker Myths: Separating Truth From Fiction
My little poker website here tends to attract a lot of people who are new to the game or who play the lower stakes. This isn't a coincidence. I write mostly about these games after all. And as it has grown in popularity over the last few years I have noticed a fairly significant increase in the amount of questions that I get through email, Facebook, Twitter, 2+2 etc. On occasion I get some pretty goofy stuff. Borderline tin foil hat material in some cases where they are nearly convinced that all of online poker is rigged. Upon a closer examination though, most of the time it is simply due to a misunderstanding of the long term variance in this game. I wanted to address a few of the common online poker myths that I often receive in this article.

I Always Lose Big With Hands Like AA, KK, QQ and AK. 

Well first off you probably don't "always" lose with them. This is a loaded term that gets thrown around much too lightly when we are emotional about something. If you check your poker tracking program it is likely that you actually win a lot with these hands. For instance, here are my results with AA, KK, QQ and AK over my last 300k hands at NL25:

Common Online Poker Myths: Separating Truth From Fiction

The important point to note here besides the $7000 dollars in winnings is the "WWSF." This stands for won when saw flop. I am winning with these hands nearly 2 out of every 3 times that I play them. In fact if I were to take out AK, which misses the flop 2/3 of the time and also is over-represented in this sample because you get dealt unpaired cards much more often than paired cards, the numbers would be even higher.

Poker myths

As you can see with AK excluded my winning percentage is now approaching 3/4 of the time. This is by no means a brag. This is pretty typical stuff for anybody. Everybody wins the most money with these hands in the long run. The reason is pretty simple. They are the best starting hands in the game! This is why most people also tend to play big pots with them.

Now something that we need to remember about no limit hold'em though is that our opponent is very rarely drawing dead. Most of the time we don't flop a set, trips or a straight even with a killer selection of hands like AA, KK, QQ and AK. Instead we just have an overpair or top pair top kicker at best. Any two completely random cards are still drawing live here.

So since our opponent almost always has outs and we are typically playing a big pot with these hands it only stands to reason that we are going to lose big with them on occasion also. You know that fish who hit his two pair on you? Well he actually had 5 outs which equals 19% equity on the flop.

Is online poker rigged?

Our donkey friend here was a 4 to 1 underdog with two cards to come. Is it really that inconceivable that somebody could win with these odds? People bet on 4 to 1 underdogs in sports all of the time. Why? Because 4 to 1 underdogs do actually win sometimes and they get a great payout for it.

Now poker is different of course because we are not laying our fishy friend here any odds. He is playing for exactly the same pot that we are. He doesn't get a big payoff when his long shot comes through. Herein lies the entire reason why this game is so profitable. No sports bettor anywhere in their right mind would ever accept 1 to 1 money when their team is a 4 to 1 underdog to win. However, in poker they will.

You can't get mad when they win. You also can't be surprised if they win a couple in a row sometimes. Is it really that inconceivable that a 4 to 1 underdog could come through a few times in a row? Of course not. Quite rare but it certainly will happen. This does not mean that they always crack your AA or that you always lose with premium hands.

It just means that you happened to lose with your rockets a few times in a row. This is something which has happened to every single poker player on planet earth who has played any significant amount of hands in this game. Imagine if they had something a bit better like a flush draw:

poker myths

Or a pair and a flush draw which actually makes them a small favorite to win.

dealing with poker variance

You have to understand that your opponent nearly always has outs in this game and just because you happen to have AA, KK, QQ or AK does not mean that you have a license to print money every single time. You will lose sometimes. Sometimes you will lose with them several times in a row in fact.

This does not make them bad hands. In fact if you have played over 100k hands of poker in your career go check your Hold'em Manager or Pokertracker right now and you will almost certainly find that they are among your biggest winners.

They Don't Respect My Raises at the Lower Stakes! I Prefer to Play Against Good Players

No they won't respect your raises at the lower stakes. In fact most of your opponents are only really paying attention to the two cards that they hold in their hand. If they happen to like those two cards (or even just one of them) you could bet your first child's education fund or raise them the equity on your house. It won't matter. They aren't folding.

However, this should be seen as a good thing. We want to play against really bad players who don't fold anything. This is a dream scenario when we finally make a hand because we will get paid off all the way. This is something which good players don't do. In fact, we don't have to have anything close to the nuts to get paid off big versus bad players. Top pair can often be good enough to get three streets of value out of them.

If you can get them tilted (which is easy to do and something that I highly recommend) then getting a huge payoff with a marginal hand is not difficult at all. This is something that is much harder to do versus any competent player.

The idea that you want to play against a better opponent because you can "read them better" is frankly absurd. You will never make anything close to the same amount from a reg as you will from a fish. The fish loses at 20bb/100 or more and even the worst regs typically only lose at 5bb/100 at the very most. And most regs are in fact closer to break even or even winning players. You shouldn't even need to ask who you would rather play against.

Yes recreational players can be frustrating to play against sometimes. You have to accept this. If they didn't get a chance to win they wouldn't keep reloading their accounts and bankrolling the entire industry. Stop trying to put them on a hand. It's a complete waste of time anyways. Just bet when you have it and keep the bluffs to a minimum when you don't. They are easy money in the long run.

OMG Thank You For Your Advice! My Winrate is 57bb/100 Over My Last 1282 Hands! 

That is awesome! And please don't get me wrong, it is certainly a step in the right direction. However 1282 hands means absolutely nothing. In fact let's add a zero and make it 12820 hands. This is still an absolutely meaningless sample size. When you have a huge winrate over a statistically insignificant amount of hands like this it is called a heater. It's fine to do a little happy dance when you hit one. Everybody loves a heater. However, it should never be confused with your long term winrate which is what actually matters.

I often say that you should play 100k hands before coming to any conclusions about your winrate. Something that I read the other day actually has me wondering if this number is high enough though. I was reading the blog of an old poker friend who is probably the winningest NL500 Zoom player in Pokerstars history. He went through a 400k hand break even stretch earlier this year. Yes that is right, 400000 hands (five zeros) without making a dime pre-rakeback. Again, this is one of the absolute biggest mid stakes crushers in the world today.

This is probably the worst break even stretch I have ever heard of for a player of this calibre but this is not the first time that I have heard of a huge winner going through hundreds of thousands of hands without winning. I have had a few stretches well over 100k hands myself.

The moral of the story here is that the long run in poker can sometimes be really, really long. Sorry, but this is just the way it is. 95% of people would quit the game outright if they hit a 6 figure hand break even stretch or downswing. So in a way it helps weed out those who are not really very serious about this game.

OMG It's All Rigged!!!

I used to spend quite a bit of time giving a reasoned reply to these. I would point out that it makes absolutely no sense for a poker room to do anything that would risk them losing the enormous cash cow that is online poker. They already make a bajillion dollars, literally. The new Pokerstars ownership group is a publicly traded company so they release earnings projections and quarterly results. They expect to make gross revenue in the neighborhood of 700 million dollars in 2014. Why on earth would you ever want to put this in jeopardy by rigging a few hands?

Anyways, I would also point out to them that there has been no actual evidence of any rigging on any major poker room that I am aware of in the 10+ year history of online poker. Finally I would inform them that I have looked over the numbers regarding my own EV with samples exceeding 7 million hands and everything looks fine to me.

These days however, I couldn't be bothered anymore. Some people are going to think that online poker is rigged until the end of time. If I even reply at all I will usually just ask them why they even bother playing if it is rigged. Isn't it surely insane to continue playing a game where you think you are being cheated? Or sometimes I just give a ridiculous reply letting them know that my account isn't rigged, sucks to be you!

Anyways, that's all I got for now. Let me know in the comments below if you agree or disagree with my replies to any of these common myths about online poker. If you wear the tin foil hat yourself though then feel free to tell me about that as well.

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Common Online Poker Myths: Separating Truth From Fiction


  1. I'm just a newbee so I'm OP when agreeing or disagree with you. What I can tell you is that you are really helping me understand this game and how tricky, and often counter-intuitive, it is. (I come from chess, where adapting to your opp is not very relevant and where the way you reach a decision point isn't either...). Thank you.
    (My future post suggestions: Bet sizing and playing specific type of players)

    1. Hi pokerispain,

      Glad you enjoy my blog! I have played a fair bit of chess myself. I think it is a beautiful game. I agree that there are large differences with poker though. Thank you for the blog post suggestions. I will note them both. I did cover player types before (although for regs only) in this article

  2. "No evidence?" Surely statements by Absolute Poker and Ultimate Bet admitting that employees perpetuated cheating should be accepted as evidence. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cereus_Poker_Network

    1. Haha, I had that exact thing in mind when I wrote that wondering if somebody would bring it up. However I dismissed it because my understanding is that those situations involved "superusers" (people who can see hole cards). They did not involve any actual rigging of the cards themselves. Anyone can feel free to correct me if I am wrong. I skimmed the wiki page though and that looks to be the case.

    2. that is correct, the Ultimate Bet & Absolute scandals involved "super user" accounts that could see all the hands dealt. that is not the same as "rigging" where the deck is stacked to get a lot of money in the pot by dealing multiple "good" hands and dealing out "action" flops, etc.
      anyone who has watched tournament poker on TV will see the occasional fluke hands where AA, KK & QQ are dealt on the same hand. I think there was a hand in the last Main Event coverage that had 4 pocket pairs dealt.
      so, obviously, the WSOP ME is "rigged". lol

      the thing that always makes me laugh is the concept of PokerStars not only rigging hands, but doing it at 2NL, 5NL & 10NL to "increase the rake".
      yeah, that would be worth the effort/risk.

      great post Nathan.

  3. Good advice! Wish my good running days could come back. I should stay positive because things do eventually turn.

    1. Thanks jk. Hope you hit some run good soon!

  4. Say something about fullring and 6max. It seems you prefer fullring games..

    1. I actually play mostly heads up and short handed these days. This article is about poker in general though, as are most of my articles, books and videos. They are (hopefully) useful for someone who plays any format.

    2. Raising fish late with your hand chart in 6max was -EV for me. Tightening up considerably was +EV. Will you have an update on hand chart or 6max games?

    3. Sorry but I have had the complete opposite experience. Raising fish in LP in 6max (or full ring) has been incredibly profitable for me.