Saturday, July 25, 2015

Zoom Poker Strategy - The Essential Guide

Zoom Poker Strategy - The Essential Guide
Ever since Pokerstars first launched Zoom Poker in May of 2012 it has grown to be immensely popular. Full Tilt (now owned by Pokerstars) technically did it two years earlier with a similar variant of the game called "Rush Poker." However, with the trouble that this company had during it's final years under the old ownership, it never really took off in a huge way.

The Pokerstars marketing machine though along with their crisp industry leading software have taken this fast fold format of the game to the next level. The games are extremely popular especially at the lower limits and I get questions on a regular basis from people asking specifically about Zoom poker strategy.

So that is why I wrote this article.

It is important to remember that there is nothing fundamentally different about Zoom from a regular table. They are both poker. There are still two blinds, the button acts last and a flush still beats a straight. However, there are a few important strategic differences that you need to know about.

The Zoom Poker Information Gap

"You cannot step in the same river twice" - Heraclitus (ancient Greek philosopher)

Well, in Zoom poker you cannot sit at the same table twice. You are moved to a new table after every single hand and put into a random seat against a bunch of random people. At the lowest stakes (NL2) the player pool regularly exceeds 500 people even during non-peak hours.

With a little bit of simple math this means that if you are playing at a full ring table you can expect to see a particular player once every 55 hands (500/9=55) on average. Given the same player pool size you are likely to see them once every 83 hands on average at a 6max table (500/6=83).

What this essentially means is that you are constantly playing against a bunch of unknowns. With a player pool of this size it will take ages to build up any kind of statistically significant data on your HUD.

Even just to get the most basic information on someone (VPIP and PFR) could take playing over 1k hands. A sample of about 20 hands is typically necessary for these two stats to converge close to their true values.

If you are only seeing a particular opponent once every 55 (or 83) hands though, then once again it doesn't take a math genius to figure out that this is going to take an awfully long time.

Strategy Versus the Great Unknown

So as I said, what you are really doing if you play Zoom poker at the lowest limits is more or less playing against a bunch of unknowns. If you play regularly then you will build up some reasonable samples on the regs. However, this will still take way longer than at the regular poker tables.

So there are both pros and cons to this.

The Pros

1. Use the Lack of Information to Exploit Them Early On.

While we lack information on our opponents it is important to remember that it goes both ways. They probably don't know much about us either.

You can take advantage of this by playing more aggressively than normal at first. I call this the "first encounter theory." I talk about it extensively in Modern Small Stakes and I also referenced it in a recent article about strategy versus unknown opponents.

The main gist of it is this: You can typically get away with a lot more versus someone early on when there is no history involved.

Most people are taught to keep it tight when they first sit down at a poker table. Only play good cards and just observe the action. Since this is what most people expect you to do it can be wildly profitable to go ahead and do the exact opposite.

Nobody is going to expect you to 4Bet bluff or raise the river on the very first hand. It is likely that unless they happen to have a monster they will just "let you have it." After all, they have no reason to believe that you would just be doing this sort of thing out of the blue.

2. Being a Chameleon Can Be Very Profitable

The other benefit to the lack of information in Zoom poker is that your opponents have no idea what type of player you are. You can easily fly under the radar and even radically switch your game up from session to session just to mess with their "reads."

Since you see so many different faces when playing Zoom it is effectively impossible to build up any kind of real history with anyone. The only thing that your opponents will have to go on is the meager HUD data that they have on you. This is if they are even using a HUD at all. Many will not be using one at the lowest stakes.

But if they are, you could play like a nit one session and then a LAG the next and it would take them a long time to figure out that you have adjusted. This can cause them to make all kinds of mistakes such as giving you too much credit or paying you off too much.

The Cons

1. The "Why" is Often Missing

In online poker where physical tells don't exist and the action moves fast (speed of light fast in Zoom) we often rely on our HUD to provide us with information about our opponent's statistical tendencies. When you remove this information it it very difficult to have a reason to make any specific play beyond "because it is standard."

If you can't physically interact with your opponent and you have a meaningless sample size on your HUD then there is no way that you can really know what their 3Bet, flop raise or river bet really means.

Sure, there are timing and betting pattern tells that exist in online poker. But these are not as reliable as looking your opponent in the face or having a bunch of solid statistical data on them.

Therefore, in Zoom poker, decisions can often just boil down to your best guess within the framework of playing "solid." It is difficult to really get ahead under these conditions.

Some will argue that this is good because it takes the game back to it's roots. But without clear reasons to make any particular play you remove a huge part of the skill edge in the game.

This is especially the case in a day and age where everybody more or less plays "solid" to varying degrees. The information gap is one of the main reasons why you should expect to have a lower winrate when playing Zoom compared to the regular tables.

Zoom Poker is a Nitfest 

But an even more important reason why you should expect to have a lower winrate in Zoom is because the games simply play tighter on average.

The fast fold button is arguably the most innovative thing about Zoom poker. After all, anyone who has played in a tournament on the internet (or live) will know what it is like to be moved to a new table where you have no reads without warning.

The fast fold button though allows people to throw away hand after hand at lightning pace until they get something that they think is playable. They do not have to wait for the entire hand to be played out like at a traditional poker table.

This is obviously going to lead to people playing tighter overall. Due to the information gap nits can much more easily fly under the radar waiting for the nuts without everyone knowing.

The introduction of the fast fold button is the biggest coup for the recreational players though. This is because it inadvertently helps them play quite a bit better.

What is the biggest reason why fish lose so much? Easy, they play terrible hands that wind up being second best and they can't find the fold button. Why do they play these terrible hands? Easy again, because they were "bored." 

Now with the introduction of the fast fold button nobody has to ever get bored again. Recreational players are still going to play all sorts of bad aces out of position and overvalue trap hands like KJ and QJ but they will remove all of the total nonsense from their range such as 85o, J7o, T3s and so on.

The fact that they will often fold a lot of these complete trash hands now will have a big impact on their lossrate. They will still be big losing players in the long run but they won't lose their money at the frantic pace that they do on the regular tables.

The regs also aren't able to isolate and tilt them anywhere near as much. This plays into their favor in a big way as well.

How to Exploit Tight Zoom Games

It isn't all bad though.

Yes the Zoom games even at the very lowest stakes (NL2, NL5 and NL10) often play ridiculously tight these days. And the classic whale fish (40+ VPIP, single digit PFR) don't show up as often.

However, extremely nitty games can still easily be exploited. It just requires a bit different strategy.

The great thing about the lowest stakes is that most of the regs are relative beginners who play ABC poker. They are often on too many tables at once as well. Therefore, they do not adjust very well to loose and aggressive players.

They tend to just play their cards until it is painfully obvious that someone is clearly out of line against them. Then, and only then, might they adjust.

The recreational players of course are always going to play bad no matter the stakes and even if they play tighter like in Zoom.

So the key to exploiting tight games is simple: Play LAG.

Loose and aggressive play is insanely profitable at these limits on the regular tables and it is even more effective in Zoom.

So what does "Play LAG" mean in practice?

1. Steal The Blinds More

If your opponents are going to tighten up their opening ranges then stealing the blinds will become even more profitable. So it is a good idea to widen your opening range from all positions when playing low limit Zoom.

It is also a good idea to adopt a smaller opening raise size of 2.5x or even just a mini-raise. This allows you to risk less with all of the speculative hands that you will be opening with.

2. 3Bet/4Bet More

You can take the same approach with 3Betting and 4Betting as well. If most players are likely to lay down and die unless they have the nuts then you should fight harder for the pot.

All nits know that you don't get a lot of time to act in Zoom. They have several other tables requiring their attention so unless they happen to have a huge hand they will probably just let it go and "pick a better spot."

3. Flat More Preflop and Take the Pot Away Postflop

You don't want to go start 3Betting and 4Betting the regs all the time with weak hands though. So my favorite way to take pots away from them is to flat with a wider range preflop in position and then attack any weakness postflop.

What are some specific ways to do this?
  • Float the flop if you have any equity at all and bet the turn every time they check to you
  • Raise the flop more often with draws, pairs and even just two overs
  • Bluff more rivers especially on scare cards (broadways and flush/straight draw completer cards)
These are three relatively cheap ways to take the pot away. None of them require you to stick a significant portion of your stack in the middle and they put a lot of pressure on your opponent.

You will get looked up from time to time of course. But against the hordes of weak, mass multi-tabling regs at these stakes you will find that many more times they will just lay it down and let you have it.

Final Thoughts

Zoom poker is still a relatively new and exciting brand of poker. The greatest thing about it is the ease with which you can sit down and just start playing within seconds.

It is brilliant really.

But this ease of access is also a fairly big drawback. It tends to attract legions of nitty mass multi-tabling regs and fish who play tighter and can't be easily isolated.

No matter how good of a LAG you are you are never going to make a huge profit off all the nits. This is why I personally do not play Zoom poker very often and I do not recommend it for anyone who is looking to crush the games.

I actually don't even play at Pokerstars as a whole very often anymore. This is because there are much easier poker sites out there with lots more fish.

With all of that said though, some people like to put in big volume and chase rakeback goals. Zoom poker is perfect for them.

And also, some people simply don't want to chase the fish around all day and constantly hop from one table to another. They just want to sit down and play. I get that and I can totally respect that as well. And in that case, Zoom is also the perfect game for them.

Ultimately it is up to you.

What I hope though is that this article helped provide you with some strategies to start improving your results in these games.

Make sure to pick up my free ebook which will teach you the strategy that I have used to crush the micro stakes for some of the highest winrates in online poker history.

Let me know in the comments below what you think of Zoom poker. What strategies have you found to be most effective in these games?

If you found this article helpful, do me a favor and click the "Like" or "Tweet" button below.

Zoom Poker Strategy


  1. Awesome article nathan! I tried some light 3bets and ran into some trouble. Can you please suggest hands you routinely 3bet/4bet with?

    1. Thanks Ahmad! In my article last week on 3Bet pots I list all of the hands that I typically 3Bet light with versus these types of players. You can check it out here.

  2. Nice article Nathan. I'm a fan of Zoom poker mostly due to all of the reasons you said on this post, but the games have been way too nitty lately and I wasn't able to really win a session. I decided just to listen to you (finally) and move back to the regular tables (better late than never). My volume has been pretty low but using some of your tips about table selection I've been able to get some decent profit on the last couple of sessions I've played. Gonna keep hunting the fish, thanks for all of the work! Take care!

    1. Thanks Jorge and glad to hear that you are seeing success!

  3. Hahaha! So this is why I was destroying NL2 and NL5 Zoom: they were way too nitty and ABC poker was enough.

    I moved back to regular tables, however. You're right: too much of a nitfest in Zoom.

    1. Glad to hear that you are doing well!

  4. My 3bet is 15, WWSF is 55 but they don't care - exploit them all day long

  5. Nathan I really respect you knowledge and I learnt a lot with you. Not only in poker but in my personal life.
    After read your articles I started won in cash game. Some time after I began play Zoom using yours tips. Man I am going very well. Today I started with 2 bucks and after 300 Hands My stack was 10 bucks. This is only one example.
    Sometime I have to quit playing because I get nervous playing with stacks like 6, 8 or 10 bucks.
    I always play N2 (0.01/0.02) cents in one table.
    What is happening man, do you think is only a question of luck.

    1. Glad my articles have helped Junior. I can't say whether it is luck or not. It requires a huge sample size to say for sure.

    2. I am a winning low-stakes Zoom player at pokerstars (7.02 bb/100 @ over 300,000 hands). While much of what you say is true, the biggest thing to do is play LAG. A devastating tool against nits.

    3. Awesome winrate MD! Totally agree about the playing LAG part as well.

  6. Thanks for writing this article. Great tips for Zoom!