Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Fixing Your Red Line: 9 Simple Ways to Increase Your Non-Showdown Winnings

Fixing Your Red Line: 9 Simple Ways to Increase Your Non-Showdown Winnings
People often ask me what their red line should look like at the micros. If you don't know what a red line is, it is an indicator of your non-showdown winnings in Pokertracker or Hold'em Manager. Basically, it tells you if you are winning the game within the game. That is, taking it away from your opponent without having to show the best hand.

Now when people ask me about this I always tell them that at extremely low stakes such as NL2, NL5 and NL10 not to worry too much about their red line. The reason why? It is almost certainly going to be negative because these stakes are filled with calling station donkeys who don't fold anything! Frequently trying to bluff them out of pots is very unlikely to be a profitable strategy.

And before you even ask, yes, my red line is negative at these stakes too. I am not just saying all of this to make you feel better. The green line is the only one that actually matters!
red line graph pokertracker
Lost the battle but won the war!

However, when you get to limits above this (i.e., NL25+) the recreational players become harder to find and the regs understand the game quite a bit better. Therefore it is important that you start winning these smaller battles where no cards get shown down on a more consistent basis. This doesn't mean that you need to be the bluffing champion of NL50 in order to beat it. However, I do think that you should be aiming for at least a break-even result in non-showdown winnings by these stakes.

So what are some ways that you can go about doing this?

1. Steal the Blinds More Often

This is really the most obvious way to improve your non-showdown winnings. Every time you take down the blinds uncontested your red line goes up. It's that simple. And even though you only win a small amount, when you think about just how many hands end on this street (preflop), you can see that this will quickly add up in a big way.

Now it is important not to go overboard with stealing the blinds. Several years ago it became fashionable to raise it up with almost any two especially if the opponents in the blinds were nits. This strategy is not nearly as effective (at least at the upper end of the micros) in today's games because many regs are now aware of what you are up to. They have therefore adjusted by 3Betting you light more often.

In most situations at the micros I think you should be aiming to steal the blinds with about 30-40% of your hands.
how to improve your red line at the micros
The yellow hands above represent roughly the top 35% of all hands.
If you are significantly below this amount (or even significantly above it) then this could be affecting your red line results in a big way.

2. Play More Hands In Position

Another super obvious way to go about fixing your red line is to simply play more of your hands in position. In my first book Crushing the Microstakes I recommend playing at least 3 times as many hands from the button as from UTG. I also recommend a pretty tight range from the blinds.

The reason for this?

It is simply always going to be much easier to take the pot away when you are last to act. You get to see what your opponent thinks about his hand before you even do anything. Basically you are "wearing the pants" in the hand on every single postflop street. They don't know what you are going to do. They have to react to you.

Now once again you don't want to get too crazy with this strategy at the upper end of the micros in today's games. Good regs will notice that you are abusing the crap out of late position and only playing the nuts in EP and from the blinds. They will make adjustments and easily exploit you because of this.

However, you should still make sure that you are playing a solid majority of your hands when it is likely that you will be in position after the flop. To check your actual statistics by position in Pokertracker 4 make sure that you select the following at the top:

non-showdown winnings pokertracker

After that make sure you select these options on the left panel:

red line pokertracker

Change the drop down menu to "Position" if you are looking at 6max and enter the limit and the dates below. Your VPIP and PFR numbers by position should then appear in the center top panel.

3. Float More

The ability to float is one reason why playing your hands in position more often is so valuable. Many regs, especially at the lower end of the micros, still play primarily fit or fold after the flop. That is, if they don't hit their set, top pair or a solid draw then they fold versus the CBet.

The problem with this strategy is that you are only going to make one of these hands about 1/3 of the time. This is why you see many of these regs with a fold to flop CBet of 70% of even higher in some cases. Believe me, the guy who is making the CBet (and improving his red line when you fold) does not have something good 70% of the time! These people are giving away a ton of free equity by folding a lot more often than they need to.

So when you are in position you should be floating the flop a little bit more often when you have middle pair, bottom pair or a weak draw (gutshot etc.). You can even do it from time to time with ace high or king high. You should especially be looking to float more often if you are up against one of the regs who gives up a lot on the turn (big difference between flop and turn CBet).

fixing your red line micros
Float guys like this all day! CBets the flop 73%, only 38% on the turn.

4. Play Your Draws More Aggressively

A great way to take down more pots without showdown is to use your draws as a weapon, That is, semi-bluff with them. Instead of flatting on the flop with your flush draw or open ended straight draw why not raise with it instead? You need to always remember one of the cardinal rules of poker that I just alluded to heavily above:

Most of the time in poker nobody has anything very good at all! Click to Tweet!

Truly understanding this statement is really at the heart of improving your non-showdown winnings and red line. So therefore, when we have some reasonable equity (like we do with a flush draw or straight draw), then we should be using this as an opportunity to make our opponent fold.

Now we do not want to do this every single time. We always want to make sure that we are mixing things up against thinking opponents in all situations. This allows our play to be much less predictable. I think raising 50% of the time sounds perfectly fine in this situation though. You could accomplish this by simply raising your flush draw or straight draw every other time regardless of the opponent.

5. Double Barrel More

Another way to improve your red line is to follow up with another CBet on the turn more often. As I mentioned above we can take advantage of people who give up on the turn too easily by simply floating more often. Well the exact opposite is true as well. We can take advantage of people with a high float flop CBet by sticking another bet in their face more often.

non-showdown winnings at the micros

Now again, we don't want to go too overboard with this. There has been a noticeable upturn in recent years of micro stakes regs suddenly turning into "double barrel monkeys." So much so that I have started just double floating these guys or even raising the turn quite frequently.

The key thing here is to make sure that you have reasonably balanced CBetting numbers across all three streets. Your flop CBet is always going to be a bit higher than your turn and river CBets. But it should not be way, way higher like we saw above. I think a 20 point maximum difference is a good benchmark. 30+ is becoming noticeably unbalanced.


NL10 6max

Villain: 19/15/3, fold to flop CBet 55%

Hero raises in EP with 4♥4♣ and gets called from the button

Flop: J♠6♠2♥

Hero CBets
Villain calls

Turn: K♣


The king on the turn is just too irresistible. We should fire again. This player does not fold all that often on the flop either at 55%. If we keep applying pressure in a situation like this (and as long as there is no significant history) we should expect a fold more often than not from a fairly tight looking micro reg.

> Hero CBets again.

6. Triple Barrel Bluff More

Disclaimer: Do not even think about using this tactic if you play at NL10 or below. You will get snap called...just because. 

There is no quicker way to blast your red line upward than by taking down pots on the river uncontested. The reason for this is simple. This is the street where on average the pot size is going to be the highest. Now of course frequently bluffing on this street and getting caught is about the worst thing that you can do for your blue line (showdown winnings). And this will ultimately affect the only line that really matters (your green one).

So when I suggest triple barrel bluffing more this is something that should be done very sparingly and your reasons for doing so should be very well thought out. However, this can be a highly effective tactic against double floaters because they usually aren't willing to go all the way with it at the micros. And even if you do get caught once in awhile it is amazing for your image!

7. Value Bet Thinner

The simple act of value betting thinner means that you are going to make people fold more often. This is always a good thing for your red line. Most regs at the micros are afraid to value bet too thin. That or they will only do it versus the recreational players.

This is a mistake because you are actually missing out on quite a bit of value versus the calling station regs who will look you up with middle pair or worse (high WTSD%). This is especially the case if you have a bad image like I suggest you create versus them on a regular basis. Make them think you are a maniac!

Frequently value betting thinner will actually in and of itself help you accomplish this. This is because it will increase your Total AF significantly on their HUDs. And any time you are simply betting more often will make others naturally assume that you are bluffing up a storm.

"He can't have it every single time!"

8. Semi-Bluff Raise the Turn More

Again, this tactic is not for NL10 and below players. You will get called. Don't send me hate mail!

Semi bluff raising the turn is a more advanced play that you still rarely see at the micros. You will see plenty of regs who are capable of it at NL100 and higher though. Basically it involves taking a hand such as a flush draw, straight draw or even just middle pair and simply raising with it.

Now once again this is not something that you want to overdo or it could get really hazardous to your win rate. Do not for instance raise the turn with a draw against a high WTSD% calling station reg or recreational player. However, it can be an effective tool to use on occasion versus regs who have a high double barrel and a low WTSD%.

9. Bluff Raise the River More

Bluff raising the river is another advanced play that you need to be very careful in attempting. If you play at NL2, NL5 or NL10 don't even think about it.
red line in poker

But once again, when made for the right reason, against the right opponent and in the right situation this can be an effective tool to take down a few pots uncontested and increase your non-showdown winnings.


NL25 Full Ring

Villain: 14/11/3, WTSD 23% (no significant history)

Hero flats an MP open on the button with AJ

Flop: 852

Villain CBets
Hero raises
Villain calls

Turn: 3

Villain checks
Hero checks

River: 7

Villain leads

We know that we have pretty much no chance of winning this hand at showdown by calling. Also, our opponent's hand feels like some weakish over-pair trying to get thin value. We also know that he doesn't like going to showdown very much and probably views us as fairly tight since there is no real history.

We could just go ahead and fold. That is the easy way. And please make no mistake, this is what I would do here most of the time. I do think it is a good idea to be capable of raising with air in a spot like this on occasion as well though. It will do wonders for your red line also, that is for sure.

Bluffing 101

As I always mention when bluffing, it is very important to make sure that you are telling a story that makes sense. Always ask yourself, are there several strong hands given this action and this board that I might normally take the exact same line with?

In this instance the answer is yes.

I would raise the flop with a flush draw sometimes here and it got there on the river. There are several sets, two pairs or even a higher over-pair that I would commonly show up here with as well.

> Hero Raises!

Note: If you get away with something like this you better be damn sure to show up with the nuts against this guy next time. Regs tend to remember hands like this for a long time.

Final Thoughts

Having the sickest red line ever is definitely not necessary to beat the micros at all. And often your non-show down winnings will be largely determined by your style of play. There are many different ways to skin a sheep at the micros.

And if you play at the lowest stakes (NL2, NL5 and NL10) focusing on your red line too much will probably negatively affect your bottom line. The green line (your overall winnings) is the only one that actually matters. Just win. Nobody cares how you got there.

However, by the time you get to about NL25 I think that improving your non-showdown winnings and red line is something that you should be paying a reasonable amount of attention to. You will be playing more hands against decent regs and winning these smaller battles will play a bigger role in your overall results. Hopefully some of the strategies listed in this article will help you achieve this.

Let me know in the comments below what you think about all this red line business and the ways to improve it in this article.

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blackrain79 - micro stakes strategy


  1. Thanks! I've learned more about poker from your posts and video's in the last six months, than I learned about poker in the previous eight years. You're really making me truly understand the game.

    1. Wow, thanks for that compliment wouter, glad to help!

  2. Nice set of tips you got there Nathan! Best of lucks to you!

  3. I've been trying to double barrel more at 10 nl and I find maybe 40% of the time they fold and the rest of the time they call the turn or raise. I do have people floating me alot, the ol' stack-a-donk is the medicine for that usually(when I have a hand of course). One thing I'm really finding is when I have a hand they will bet it for me, if I'm OOP I can just check/call and station them all the way down or do the same IP. Same thing on the river, if I VB with TP or something on the flop/turn then check the river they will bluff it almost guaranteed. Sure sometimes they have gotten there but more often than not I win at showdown. Seems I've started winning more since I toned down my aggression and hands I normally wouldnt get 3 streets of value for I get now because they just keep trying to bluff me. Hellmuth has got a point sometimes, lol.

    I like how you said continually though to use these at your own risk the lower stake you go because I see people doing incredibly stupid stuff and I ask them in the chat box why they did it, they just say they don't care about the money, it's just a few bucks. Well a few bucks here and there adds up!

    1. Hey Adam, ya I know the feeling at stakes down there. NL10 is kind of a unique limit. There are some decent regs at this stake with an extremely high aggression who you can let them value bet your hand for you. Then there are plenty of bad regs and calling stations who you just need to play ABC against and don't go for crazy bluffs. All the best.

    2. Hey thanks man. I play between 6-8 hours every day and nobody I know knows anything about the game, lol. My buddy's dad was sort of a live game semi-pro and I used to talk to him about it but he was also pretty old school and thought online is rigged(to be fair he did get screwed out of some funds by a site that shut down about 8 years ago). Sadly he died about a month ago. Definitely enjoy all your stuff!

    3. FWIW, Adam, I do a lot of check-calling too. No one seems to believe how profitable it can be, because the idea that micros is completely full of passive calling stations still persists, but it really does work, given the right circumstances. (Note: It somewhat depends which site and format you specialize in. Zoom FR plays differently to regular 6-max, for example, so a strategy that exploits the tendencies of one player pool might not work so well with another). For my money, and with hands like TPGK oop, check-calling is the new bet-folding. I also love having the highest WTSD number of all the regs. I frickin' hate it when I give free cards to two-outers that bink on the river though! :D

      Nice article, btw, Nate.

    4. Arty Mcfly, the micros(at least where I play, Bovada) is definitely not full of passive calling stations. Yes of course there are some, but there are plenty of much more aggressive players that are reading books or other material that is telling them to just bet bet bet pound it all the time no matter what your hand. Phil Hellmuth compared it to the old "betcha can't eat just one" thing with the potato chips. Once they bluff you, they think they can just pound it and get you to lay down every time. I know I hate it when someone is check-calling me because I know he could be trapping me, but these guys don't seem to consider that.

      TPGK is a good hand to do it with for sure. If he has you beat he's not folding anyway, but hopefully you keep him bluffing when he has nothing. Yeah, here and there he's gonna bluff his way into the best hand, but usually you are so far ahead when he's bluffing it's worth the risk. Sucks though when you have a hand like KQ on a K or Q hi board and an ace turns or rivers:-D

      Also if I show them I will play this way with my TPGK hands, I can also check/call my major hands and my draws. I can always throw away my draw on the turn or check/raise it if i'm feeling frisky:) Cause I'm also gonna check/raise my sets and other major hands on the turn. Some players at the micros are passive, some are aggressive, but most are HORRIBLE post flop:)

  4. much love from a canadian player! oh canada!

  5. Hello Nathan. My statistics by position is crazy. Only SB and BB is red with big difference from other positions and i don't know which strategy must I use to fix it.

    1. Hey Kostas,

      If by "red" you mean losing then don't worry about it, everybody loses from the blinds. Typically you want to be playing about 3 times as many hands from late position as early position. And you should be playing just a few more hands from the blinds as from early position.

    2. Yes, that I mean. I"ll try it. Thanks Nathan. GL

    3. No problem. All the best at the tables :)

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Hello, Nathan, I follow your blog for a long time and I love your posts. Good stuff here. I dont speak english, so sorry for some mistake
    Maybe you can help me here, or give me some advice. This is my graph from NL5, its 72k hands, not a great sample, but a reasonable one, I'm 5,44bb/100 over this sample,
    I think its pretty good, but my graph is just upside down, I think sometimes maybe i'm a maniac, but my stats is not so terrible.

    VPIP: 23,0 PFR: 18,9 3bet: 9,17 WTSD%: 29,7 WSD%: 47,4 Agg: 2,89

    So, i dont know what to think, maybe you can give some thought about it.


    1. Hey Raul,

      Thank you for the kind words. I am glad that my blog helps!

      The bottom line in poker is always this: are you winning or not? You clearly are and your winrate is just fine. So, even though your red line and blue line are different than most people at these stakes, I think you should just keep doing what you are doing. There are many ways to win in poker and your highly aggressive style is working. So keep it up!

  8. I'm a profitable Sit and Go player but was concerned about a losing streak so went Googling to see if there was anything I could do.

    What a great article and much of the post is applicable to Sit and Go strategy. I'm already employing a lot of what you said but it's a fine line of doing things too much and not doing it enough.

    After reading your article I can see some places where I'm erring on either side.

    I felt compelled to post though to thank you for such a well written article.

    1. Thanks Ovalman and I am glad that this applies in your games as well!