Friday, February 13, 2015

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

Why You Need to be More Patient at the Micros in Order to Succeed
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A lot of the people who read this blog are fairly new to the game or have been struggling at the lower limits for awhile (NL2, NL5 and NL10 in particular). If you are one of these people then I bet one of the most difficult things for you at these stakes is dealing with all of the really bad players who will call you down with anything.

When they are running well, hitting every flop and nailing all of their ridiculous draws on the river it can be downright maddening to contend with.

If you have been following my advice to abuse the heck out of bad players in late position by raising up their limps with a wide range then this can actually multiply the frustration when they are running lights out.

It will seem like every single time the flop comes down you have nothing and they either make a donk bet into you or raise or float your CBet. Or perhaps you finally have something by the river but they still donk bet into you or raise your value bet. What do you do in these situations? I am going to discuss exactly how to deal with the "fish on a heater" in this article.

Don't Get Frustrated

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

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

Reality Check

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

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

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

Levels of Thinking in Poker

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

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

And so on. It gets confusing after that.

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

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

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

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

This is the level of simplistic thinking that you need to understand in order to defeat the bottom feeders that abound at these limits. Forget whatever fancy plays you saw on TV or read on some forum or training site video.

Winning poker at these stakes is often like playing against an 8 year old. I don't mean to be insulting to my opponents when I say this but at these stakes I always assume that they have zero poker intellect until proven otherwise. I assume that they think on level #1 and I play against them the same way that I would versus my kid nephew who just learned the rules of the game.

It is important to make a distinction between poker intellect and real world intellect here. Many of the people who you play against at these stakes are indeed very smart individuals in other fields. Away from the poker table they might be business executives, managers, doctors, lawyers, grad students etc.

However, in this specific field of online poker their level of understanding is often very limited at these stakes. High intellect does not necessarily mean success in this game. In my opinion winning poker at the lowest stakes is just a very simple series of logical decisions. However, for whatever reason even many highly intelligent people struggle with this.

My guess as to why is because no matter how many times I (and others) say it they just can't believe that it is really that simple. There must be something more! I saw Phil Ivey bluff Daniel Negreanu for 100k on TV!

Ya well guess what?

This isn't high stakes heads up poker versus world class opponents. We are playing for the price of a cup of coffee here against people who are just learning the game. Your triple range merging GTO correct bluffs aren't going to work on them!

Fancy Play Syndrome (Death to Your Micro Stakes Winrate)

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

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

Remove Your Ego

Patience will be a massive key to your success at these stakes. The ability to let go of your ego and make the correct fold for the 5th or the 18th time in a row is truly what separates the biggest winners from the rest at these stakes. This is because like I said before, the large majority of your opponents are only thinking about their own hand.

When that flush card comes on the river and they bet big into you again guess what happens when you flip out and raise them with your middle pair? They ponder for half a second, call and turn over their flush. Duh right? Now you will be even more tilted!

The correct approach here was to take a few deep breaths, look at the situation objectively, and calmly find the fold button. Yes, even if you have lost count how many times in a row this is against the same player. I am not saying that you need to become a Buddhist monk or something in order to succeed at these stakes.

However, you definitely need to learn to leave your ego at the door against bad players like this. This is especially the case if you play a lot of tables at once. You will see the long run much faster than other people and therefore you will see some of the craziest variance that this game can throw at you.

If I sat in front of you for a week this time flipping that same coin there is probably some stretch where I will make it land heads or tails 10, 15 or even 20 times in a row. In a vacuum an event this crazy would probably prompt you to want to examine the coin or even accuse me of cheating. But of course once again nothing is amiss here.

I just increased the sample size in a big way and therefore we will eventually encounter some truly unbelievable variance. Play a few million hands of online poker and you will also have your mind blown at certain points.

Patience Young Jedi

As I have said many times before I think at some point you just need to stop trying to understand it. Stop trying to logically understand or mentally process variance in poker. Once we start talking about sample sizes in the millions the stuff that will happen will not even seem real.

People who are relatively new to the game come to me all the time complaining about how horrible their luck has been for their past 10k hands.

When I tell them that I have had multiple losing stretches for 10x this amount of hands at certain points in my poker career they don't even know what to say.

Even the very best players in the world sometimes lose for days, weeks or even months on end. Heck, if they play MTTs (where the variance can be truly extreme) sometimes they even have losing years! This is just a natural part of the game. So a fish getting lucky a couple times against you is hardly anything to get all worked up about.

You need to learn to take it in stride and make the right decision regardless of the circumstances. Don't make the situation far worse for yourself by over-complicating things versus a very simplistic thinking opponent. Winning in this game, much like in life, is a just a long series of relatively small but good decisions.

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


  1. Of all of your great posts, this is my favorite. I'm a solid, winning, non-professional microstakes player and would normally describe my best attribute as patience. I would say that my win rate is more due to patience than aggression. However - and this is why this post is so fantastic - when I'm in downswings that patience eventually gets tested and I experience ALL of the things you've just written about.
    It's especially timely in that over the last month rather than move up to 25NL, I dropped down to 4NL to overhaul my semi-nitty TAG game to learn to play in line with your ideal stats in MSS. Through 11K hands that overhaul was a massive success.
    And then over the last 2K hands I've been in a brutal downswing. It was inevitable and expected but this one has had more how-many-times-in-a-row-can-this-happen hands (the kinds you so accurately described) than I have ever experienced. My response has been with too many of the kinds of unnecessary adjustments you just described.
    I will re-read and re-read and re-read this post and anybody who values their win rate or their sanity will do the same. This post is everything. You are doing a great service to us "littles" and have added much enjoyment and profit to my game. Thank you and keep up the good work.

    1. Ray, thank you so much for the kind words. It feels great to know that I can help somebody out there. I say it all the time, I am no great player, I just beat up on some people that are worse than me at the micros. But I think we all share a common struggle at these stakes and go through similar experiences. I am glad that by sharing mine that I can help. All the best going forward!

  2. Thanks for the post! This is the first time when I could say, I didn't learn anything new from your post, maybe I can go pro now :) Jokes aside, it's not because I'm so good or your post isn't good (it's great as usual), simply because dealing with this was the easiest part to unterstand for me. When I play a hand good and a fish still beats me, I just laugh and give him the loan. Maybe this was so easy for me, because forums are full of players whining about bad beats by fish and even cheating, and I really didn't want to be like them.

    But I have other mental problems to worry about. Fish kills me 6 time in a row - thats okay, he is on a run, I know I'm better. Reg beats me 6 time in a row, I start thinking: is he outplaying me or is he just on run? Did I play it good? It can be really frustrating for me. And the worst is when I know I made a mistake. I know I have to focus on the next hand and let it go until the session review, but sometimes it stayes in my mind for a while. And I also have a huge problem with the HM's 'active session' page. I really, really hate it. I know, a 1-2 hour long sessions winning rate means absolutely nothing. But still, when I see I have good profit, I tend to play passively not to "risk" the nice numbers. When I'm in red, I have to bring it up to at least breakeven, let's make this hero call. I try not to see it, but the ideal would be don't care about seeing it.

    1. Thanks Kovacs! The problems that you describe are also very common. It is difficult to know who is getting the edge with regs sometimes because the skill set is often close. That is, whichever player has the skill advantage, it is likely not by much. It is good to study the regs and try to play better against them but at NL2, NL5 and NL10 I wouldn't worry about it too much. Just focus on finding and exploiting the fish.

      Wanting to quit/play passive when up and be more aggro when behind is also a common issue. You just have to remember that this is a long term game and neither is useful. One thing that I do to prevent this is to simply not look at my results during a session at all.

  3. MTT players can have loosing sessions for years ? OMG ... now that's some mental resistance ... at that point you can be a buddhist monk for sure.

    1. Haha Rudolf. I mean overall of course. They will have some cashes but they might go a year without a major score or two which could put them in the red overall. MTTs have such top heavy payout structures that winning a tourney or two can often be the difference between a winning or a losing year for an MTT player.

  4. hey nathan :-)

    fantastic post,as usual :-)

    "the stuff that will happen will not even seem real" yep,thats EXACTLY what i m thinking right now and for some time now experiencing a crazy downswing which now hit the 280k hands...
    'no,this isnt real,it cant b real!!!!impossible' lol
    the best was when at some point i flopped my AX flush,all money goes in,in the end i saw he flopped a straight flush!!!!lol and if that wasnt already enough,he turned a 2nd straight flush!!!!lol
    i think he had 86s,flop was 579 , turn 4 !!
    those things they wouldnt even show in the movies coz no1 would believe it since mathematically its almost impossible,like 1 in xxxxxxxx !!!

    the worst for me is when i keep loosing and loosing and loosing vs horrible players and i KNOW i m much better than them,but i just cant do anything about it!!!!yesterday after loosing 7 buy ins in a few minutes i thought 'ok,if its like that i will only set mine now,no more stealing etc' next hand 22,flopped a set,boom boom,all money goes in on the turn where i already had a fullhouse,but he flopped also a set...of queens....lool

    its like no matter what i do i run into a wall....

    i WISH i would b outplayed by better regs coz there i can work on my game,i can try 2 change something and play better,but what frustrates me the most is when i do everything right and keep loosing for months now without being able 2 do anything about it...

    funny that u mentioned the buddhist monk since i m also following a spiritual path for 15 years now and meditating 2.5hrs/day which r now altogether more than 10k hrs since 2000...maybe thats the only thing which still keeps me from throwing my laptop out of the window!!!!lol
    maybe its just karma...

    after reading that even the best r loosing sometimes for months on end,i feel a bit better now,if they go through that long of loosing streaks i shouldnt complain... u say 'patience young jedi' the force is with u ;-)

    1. Haha thanks Dimi. That is incredible. I would like to start meditating. I will have to work myself up to this level of dedication though! We have of course talked about your issues through email. There is a lot of stuff going on. Some is probably an extreme case of bad luck as you say but some probably isn't as well with a sample size this large. I really do hope it turns around for you Dimi. I hope you follow my advice from the last email and go beat up on some NL2 fishes. Impossible to lose!

    2. yep,i do follow ur advice...but results r still the same...12k hands since the email,7 buy ins down at NL10 -10 buy ins down NL5!!!!LMAO

      but i wont back down,i i surely wont play NL2 anymore coz its not about self confidence...i know that i m better,i KNOW coz when i m most of the time a big favorite when the money goes in,well,cant do anything about it other than try 2 stay calm and not 2 tilt...

      whenever u wanna try meditation let me know so i can give u some instructions how 2 do it...u help me here,i help u there ;-)

      good thing in meditation is that there is no bad beat and stuff!!!lol
      the more u put in there the more comes out.. :-)

  5. Great article Nathan can't agree more. I've lost count of how many times I've fallen into that trap of losing control due to a couple of sessions with those horrible results due to bad players getting lucky. You do know how to explain the idea of patience very well, as all of us should understand it. The force is strong in this Master Jedi ;)

  6. It's all about me. When I'm reading this, I feel like I'm looking on myself. This is main thing that keeps me all the time on the limit where I was, and I'm now- floating between nl2 and nl 10 :/

  7. Nice post Nathan! I think you're spot on with your comments on the ego and patience.

    I'm personally fascinated by the relationship between meditation and poker and have blogged about it myself. No other non-poker practice has had as powerful affect on my poker game.

    Are you actively meditating? I know there are some great retreats in Thailand.

    1. Thanks Mike! No, I am yet to do anything like this but it is something that I have thought about.

  8. @Nathan ... I've been looking at my hands for the past 30 days and I noticed that with powerful hands like 88 + , AJ + , KJ + and QJ + I've made around 600 $ at NL6 .... but with the other hands I've lost all the money .... which got me wondering : what if for the next month I only play the big hands and quit the others ?

    It will be hard , I will be super nitty , I will be very tight from BTN and CO also but at least I will have a lot of money at the end of the month.... because I always made a big profit with those type of hands .

    A lot of fish won't even notice that I am super nity this way and I will still take their money.
    What do you think about this approach ? Will it work ?

    1. It might work at the very lowest stakes. I would be careful though because most regs and even some rec players use a HUD these days. If they see that you are playing a ridiculously small amount of hands they are going to be much less likely to pay you off. Also, people are going to steal your blinds to a much greater degree which will likely add up to a a lot more in losses from the blinds than you might think.

    2. This guy is on the right track playing 11%. Now work on position, 3betting stealing blinds defending BB (maybe 25%)That should get him to around 18% then adding some suited and JTo+ and he'll be in the sweet spot PF Remember most opponents are Level 1 thinkers. This post is 18 months old so probably this guy is playing $200NL but anyway...

  9. Great article. I took a beating tonight so this couldn't be more timely.

  10. A time for patience is when not getting any action with KK+ or when you do flop set+ especially in a 4 way pot. Give everyone a free card and someone catches up value bet and everyone folds. To improve my winrate what I do is have some chips handy to throw instead of the mouse or keyboard