Monday, November 2, 2015

How to be a Poker Shark - Getting Ahead and Winning Big

Poker shark winning big
Poker is a lot more fun when you win big. I can tell you this from experience. My #1 goal in this game has always been to find out how to achieve the highest possible win rate. The top of the food chain. The poker shark.

The problem with a lot of poker educational material and training these days though is that it focuses on teaching you how to become a mediocre winner. And if grinding out that 2bb/100 win rate for years on end at the micros is your goal then by all means, have at it!

Keep burning the midnight oil studying "game theory optimal" strategies so that you can eek out another fraction of a big blind edge against strong opposition (in theory of course). Or keep crunching "SPR" numbers or counting hand combinations until you find the perfect bet size or play (again, in theory of course).

The problem with all of this is that most people don't want to study complex mathematical theories for years on end in order to go from a 2bb/100 winner to a 2.5bb/100 winner. They want to be a 5bb/100 or 10bb/100 winner and also, they want to do it now, not next year.

So in this article I am going to discuss a few of the main ways from a practical perspective to cut the line and start generating the big win rate that you actually want at the micros.


Modern Poker Theory is Backwards


Let's start by talking about the key problem with literally all modern poker theory. Most of it is based on what I call the "banging your head against a wall" approach to poker.

That is, it focuses almost entirely on how to beat solid thinking opponents. That is great and all but nobody turns a big profit against solid thinking opponents. These players simply do not make enough fundamental mistakes in order for you to ever gain a big edge against them.

This is why I constantly talk about the importance of finding the fish, tagging them, chasing them around, finding the right seat against them and so on on this blog, in my videos, books and everything.

I prefer to play against players who do in fact make big fundamental mistakes at the poker tables because again, my goal is to win big in this game, not to grind out a tiny win rate against strong regs.

I get a lot of flack for this. I have been called the "bumhunter king of the micros" among other things for instance. And that is fine. I actually take it as a compliment.

"Bumhunter" by the way is a pejorative term that some people use to describe people who focus almost exclusively on playing against the recreational players. In other words intelligent poker players who understand where the money actually comes from in this game.

The bottom line is that if you focus all of your attention on trying to beat the toughest opponents then you are simply trying to deny the fundamental rule of poker that nearly all of the profit comes from the weaker players.

You can keep banging your head against a wall by trying to outwit solid thinking opponents who take the game just as seriously as you do.

Or you can focus your attention on finding the weakest players, getting position on them and exploiting their bad play in order to truly crush the games.

I have already written the ultimate guide to table selection at the micros if the latter approach seems a little bit more effective to you. And yes it is completely free (although it shouldn't be).


Exploitative Strategy is the Key to Big Success


When I talk about exploitative strategy (which I am a huge proponent of) I am talking about finding the biggest weaknesses in my opponents and hammering on them. Everybody has weaknesses at the micros (even the good regs) and I am all about doing things the easy way in poker.

If I can see on my HUD for instance that my opponent plays well preflop and on the flop but shows significant weaknesses on the turn and river guess where I am likely to attack him? It doesn't make sense to battle your opponent where they are strong.

So the classic example is the weaker reg at the micros who folds to 3Bets too much. You still see them at the lower stakes all the time folding 80% of the time or higher. I won't ever be trying to "balance my range" against these players. I am just going to 3Bet the crap out of them, like literally every time I get a chance.

You will find many other areas where the recreational players and the weaker regs have huge leaks in their game by making effective use of your HUD. Here are just a few of them which I regularly exploit as well:
  • Fold to 4Bet is too high
  • Fold to flop raise is too high 
  • Fold to turn float bet is too high
Note that you can exchange the words "too high" with "too low" for any of these and I will simply open up my value betting range to exploit them in another way.

What if your opponents don't make glaring mistakes in some key areas? Refer to my first point above. I don't play in games where everyone at the table is a strong, well balanced reg.


Be a Little Non-Standard Sometimes (It's OK)


Another thing that holds a lot of people back is this idea that there is some so called "standard play" for every situation. Or even more silly, that there is a perfect bet size.

This is No Limit Hold'em. You can bet whatever amount that you want.

One of my favorite high stakes players to watch back in the day was Prahlad Friedman. Most people today have probably never heard of him but he had a big impact on online poker in it's early days. He played under screen names like "Mahatma" and "Spirit Rock."

Arguably his biggest contribution to the game was the massive over-bet on the river. He would regularly bet 10k into a 2k pot with a wide range of bluffs and value hands. It absolutely dumbfounded his opponents at the time and often put them on instant monkey tilt if they guessed wrong. This, of course, would allow him to win much, much more.

There are many more examples of players like this throughout the history of poker who ignored the "standard play" and revolutionized the game in the process. Sure, people eventually figured out ways to counter their strategy but for a time they reigned supreme and annihilated the games.

If you want to get the same results as everybody else (marginal winner at best) then you should go ahead and do what they all think is the standard play at that moment in time.

But elite winners and poker sharks know that the game is always changing. In fact it often swings back and forth from one extreme to another in cycles. 5 years ago when limitless aggression was at it's peak in online poker they called you a "donkey" if you called too much.

These days though the pendulum has shifted back in the other direction because everybody has finally realized that the answer to hyper-aggressive players is to call a lot wider. Now all of the sudden you can post your "donkey" hand histories again on the poker forums and get a virtual high five instead of ridicule.

Don't listen to the masses of breakeven players with their "standard plays." The game is always changing. There is no such thing as a standard play. The biggest winners are at the top of the curve and are actively creating the strategies to counter what everybody is doing right now.

The same people who laugh at them and ridicule them today will be copying them and praising them tomorrow.


Final Thoughts


As I mentioned at the top, poker is really a lot more fun when you win big. Most people never get there though because they take things far too seriously and over complicate everything.

The biggest key to being a poker shark and a huge winner will always be in playing against the fish and to a lesser degree the weaker regs.

Many people choose to keep sitting in terrible games though trying to draw blood from a stone. Or they think that there is some secret mathematical formula which will help them crush solid thinking opponents.

Poker simply does not work this way.

If having a big win rate is a priority of yours then you absolutely have to change this way of thinking. You have to understand that game selection is a skill in and of itself. And in an era of poker like we have today when the games typically play tighter and the fish are harder to find, it is more important than ever.

Secondly, you need to focus on finding and exploiting the biggest weaknesses that your opponents have. Instead of spending so much time thinking about how to "balance your range" in all situations you should just hammer on them more often where they are weak.

Lastly, don't be afraid to try out new strategies and even unconventional bet sizing. Show me somebody who makes a lot of "standard plays" and I will show you a mediocre winner or a breakeven player. The standard play is a myth. Poker is always changing and those who truly crush the games are riding the crest of that wave.

Let me know in the comments below what you think it takes to really crush the games today. By the way, if you want some concrete numbers on what it means to really destroy the games I talked about that in a popular blog post located here.

If you found this article helpful then please do me a big favor and share it with your friends on Facebook and Twitter below!

How to get a tell on your opponent in poker.

34 comments:

  1. Hey Nathan! What do you think about pokerstars changes in Vip club?

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    1. Hey juan,

      It is definitely very bad for high volume rakeback grinders. I do feel for them (I have friends who are SNE) but at the same time the VIP program has been heavily slanted in their favor for a long time. It wasn't exactly like this came out of nowhere.

      I also think that relying on rakeback (essentially arbitrary handouts from the poker site) as a large source of your winnings is dangerous. This is why I talk about maximizing your table winnings so heavily all the time. The article above is a perfect example of that.

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  2. Hi Nathan,

    Could you provide some of your numbers (by using the method to only play juicy tables) such as:
    - limits you play
    - number of tables you play on average
    - number of different clients/sites you use at the same time

    I was wondering if you wait most of the time for better tables or find good enough tables right away.

    - Michael

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    1. Hey Michael,

      Sure. I play mostly NL25 and NL50 but lower sometimes as well. I often mix limits, 6max and FR and sites for the absolute maximum table selection. I rarely play more than 8 tables at a time. I play short handed a lot, snipe the Jesus seat, all of the stuff that I talk about in my big table selection article linked above.

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    2. Hi Nathan,

      Good blog as always...Lots of FREE info as well :)). Is this +EV?! cause for sure it's not STANDARD...:)))
      So,in ur opinion,will this strategy applies to SNG's as well? (due to the fact that stacks are shorter,chasing or attack Turn or River will let you without fold EQ.) Again,in ur opinion, 20bbs Stack will be the shortest that u will do that or needs to be 25bbs +...more like a guidance;will mix it up to see how it works.

      Long Live The "BlackRain79"!!!

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    3. Thanks Alex. I am a cash game player so I don't like to comment too much on other formats. Also, the structure and stacks in SNGs are far different so it often requires a different strategy.

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  3. Hi Nathan,

    I'm playing Zoom tables 2NL. Grinding project
    My experience:
    - Fish and Maniacs rotates alot in these tables too.
    - Those who wait for big pairs can be sorted out by HUD.
    - I tried out the table selection before I started playing Zoom. I guess my lack of exploiting recreational players should be better. It's easier to manage 1 Zoom, than 6 regular 6max tables.

    My question is:
    - How do you rate Zoom tables vs Table selection?

    I believe Zoom is the way to go for many and is the future for poker. It is fast and fun for people in general. Those people that drop in from time to time will more likely choose zoom game.

    Alex

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    1. Hey Alex, I think the Zoom games are fine at the lowest limits, especially NL2. I think that at higher limits though the games play a lot tighter and the inability to table select is therefore is much bigger problem.

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    2. And how do you feel about NL10 6max zoom ? This is my game I want to win at :) Zoom (fast tables) are great for me for number of reasons, but I have fear. Fear there is no possible BIG profit to be made (even though I play only 2 tables and focus 100% and think about every hand deeply and I'm not fast fold robot). I really like fast tables for many reasons over table selecting and playing normal tables. Do you think I can still make it there ? Or I will be just break even no matter how I play there ?

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    3. I play zoom nl10, and you find more agressive players but fishes too, for the "3bets" take a note and watch some tendencies on their huds and make a lot 4bet with air. I was playing normal tables 3 weeks on octuber nl10 but I try the gold star playing the last 10 days of the month on zoom and I like the play. I loose the chance for bumhunter, looking just for the fishes, but I can identifie easylly on tha zoom tables. My winrate isnt the best by now but I got profits and benefits changing my strategies like Nathan recommends, just looking the best way for playing for each player on big pots

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    4. Thanks for answer :) And how many hands you played there already ?

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  4. A wonderful article indeed! Take "Instead of spending so much time thinking about how to "balance your range" in all situations you should just hammer on them more often where they are weak" or "The standard play is a myth. Poker is always changing_" Hey, come on in, everybody! Here lies the crux of the matter! Many see it, few really do care to look into it. Every word sounds true, tells of author's profound knowledge and vast experience both used properly. Many happy returns, Nathan!

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    1. Thanks Taras, glad you enjoyed this article.

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  5. Hey Nathan, interesting blog post today. I agree that the "standard play" isn't the way to go, you need to start thinking that every situation/hand is different and be always in the look for an option that makes the most money every time.

    After the changes on the VIP Club I've read rumors about the possibility of Amaya forbidding 3rd party softwares like HM2 and PT4, how do you feel about that? Best of lucks! Take care!

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    1. Hey Jorge, ya they haven't been big on specifics so far. I don't think they will ban HUDs though. I think they are trying to get rid of a few programs that have popped up recently which are coming close to crossing that line of actually telling you what the best play is.

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  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  7. hello
    can you describe your daily routine as a pro? do you just wake up whenever you feel like or do you set an alarm? how many hands/hours do you play daily and do you play everyday? do you play one big session or take breaks in between? I often find myself unable to achieve my volume goals because every time I take a "30 min break" it always turns into a 3hr break. do you have this problem at all or do you just love poker so much you just cant wait to get right back to the tables? and one last question.... when you first went pro did you do it under perfectly optimal financial conditions or did you just quit because you just hated your job and just felt like you had enough of it?

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    1. Hey snowman,

      I am not a full time pro anymore. I would not have the time to write these blog posts, make videos and write books if I was. So I typically play a few days a week and I almost always play really early in the morning when I get up because I live in Asia (these are the hours when north american and euro fish are online).

      I just play one session. It can be anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours. When I originally went pro I saved up for a year while working full time and playing poker every night. So no, I didn't snap quit my job because I hated it, I was well prepared financially.

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  8. Hello BR ! I have been watching you for a while by now. I bought both of your books and I am in the middle of the second one. I used to watch this blog but I would read only few times some article. This year I try to review all your articles here and I even wright translations into my blog, so it gives me most out of it. So what I means is I am big fan of yours. And this article is very interesting, not only because of its main massage. I have been around poker for a while and I am still struggling at micros. I used to win ~6bb/100 back in the day on FTP before Black Friday on NL5 6max with basic approach I learned from your first book. I had long pause from poker and this year I came back, trying to win at NL10 6max. And I have been break even or slightly winning or loosing (this has been the case for few past months, I am down like ~20 buyins). I'm intelligent, I read a lot about poker, I discuss on forums, I watch videos and make notes, I have my own blog and goals and plans. I am even at the tables playing any time I can. I changed my breakfast, so I have very healthy one every morning. I am patient guy and I work even on my mindset, so I have very little issues with tilt at the moment. But still I can't win. I think I finally realized why is that. For the first half of the year I had been trying to play according to "GTO" stuff and balanced ranges etc. etc. It wasn't that hard for me to understand these concepts and dive into them and these concepts are actually really interesting and fun to learn and to read about them. Recently I realized howewer: hey, maybe other players actually still suck hard on NL10 6max tables. So I stopped to learn about this stuff and now I focus on videos, where coaches are actually explaining the game quite simply and most importantly they realize people at micros are bad, they rarely bluff, and they call too much. These kind of coaches tell in their videos we should base our play on population reads at these micros. I love it. Hopefully I will start winning soon. And what I mean this misconception you mentioned in your article is everywhere! Few days ago I posted some hands on poker forums and people start immidiately telling me "ok you got this in the range, what you do with this range in this spot, what range does he have here, why he would do this and that since it doesn't make sense" etc. etc. I often understand these thoughts and it makes sense. It has a lot of logic in it. But problem is it doesn't work. Am I right? Problem of todays poker learning materials is YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT TO CHOOSE and what is best for our microstakes games. I will stick to ideas of YOURS. And I will be looking for the same point of view at these things in any other poker material I will learn from. Do you think that way I will success ? Thank you and keep up the good work.

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    1. Now I got idea. I really think I should start posting all my hands at your forum since either you can answer me with advise or some other fan of yours. And there is a chance fan of yours will have same point of view at microstakes games as you have :) What do you think ?

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    2. About that hand I mentioned (which I posted on forums recently). Some guy gave me answer what he think about the hand. It had, as I said, a lot of logic. He talked in ranges and why my opponent wouldn't do that with that since it doesn't make sense etc. etc. I told him I actually think my play is good since it is based on population reads and I think most unknowns (trully unknown = no sigh of fish at all) won't be bluffing in this spot even though it could make sense if we would follow the logic he mentioned. He felt offended and asked me why am I posting the hand on forums at the first place if I actually don't "want" analyze it with others. And I told him I want to make sure other people will make the same play and they will base their play in this spot on already mentioned population reads. Long story short: it's not easy to recognize who is giving you good advise and who is not, especially if their advise actually sounds logical, but still is not right.

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    3. Hey msn,

      I am glad to hear that my books and blogs have helped you! I think that at NL10 and below GTO poker is a bad idea. Most players at these stakes are not very good and are certainly not paying much attention to the frequency of your actions and bet sizes.

      As I said in the article above, I think the age old exploitative approach of finding their weaknesses and attacking them is the best approach. And really, just play a strong TAG game and wreck the fish. Poker at these stakes does not need to be so complicated.

      Sure, you can post hands in my forum. I cannot promise that I have the time to respond to every one but others will help as well no doubt.

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  9. Hi Nathan,

    What would you suggest if I keep coming across the same regs at the time I play? The site I play at isn't one of the biggies, so I do find myself coming up against the same players. Should I consider switching sites?

    Also, I've sent you a question on your blog about how to play draws, but I'm not sure if you check your older posts.

    Thanks,

    Chris

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    1. Hey Chris,

      Ya I would try checking out some other sites then. You can even play on several at once and just look for the games that have a fish in them.

      I try to respond to all comments but I do receive quite a few and therefore I sometimes miss them on older posts.

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  10. To my favorites bumhunter, great article as always. Other things on my plate lately, but did have a successful weekend isolating fish. It works!!

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  11. Hi nathan.
    You are so good and you´re tips are the best

    Im stuck in nl10 Fr, I put volume a lot, 24 table 6-7 hours per day, My winning rate is like 3bb.
    Usually im playin like 120-200K hand per month. Lasth month I make a bet with a friend, 800K hands in 3 months with 3bbev+/100. 100K in nl2, and 700K in nl10.

    Im from Colombia,South America(sorry for my bad English) and living of poker for more than year, but make not tu much money, like 600$.
    These 3 months is the last chance for the poker.

    When I finish these 3 months, I will like your advice, Move to nl25? down the number of tables?
    And advice for control the tilt

    Ty

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    1. Hi David,

      I am glad that my blog has helped you! All the best with your current challenge.

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  12. Hi Nathan!

    Your blog is awesome! I'm new to poker and have been struggling with some of the terminology, but the way you explain things is just fantastic, everything is so clearly laid out! I'm going to follow your bankroll advice and start at the $10 and $25 games rather than going straight for the higher stakes, but I was wondering, what are the best sites to play on? I had read that pokerstars was really good, but then I noticed several people say it was quite tough and the software wasn't really safe, is this the case? What sites do you play and are there any you can recommend?

    Many thanks!
    Chris

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    1. Thanks Chris, glad I could help! I don't recommend poker sites on this blog but I did recently discuss everything that I look for when looking for one. You can find that article here:

      http://www.blackrain79.com/2015/06/which-poker-site-should-you-play-at.html

      P.S., I will say that Pokerstars is the massive industry leader for a reason. However, it is no secret that easier games can often be found elsewhere.

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  13. I started working for MYSELF Online at age 23 not just Poker, But every Day wake up with I want to murder it . . . In fact I sleep to this often . . .
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4PE2hSqVnk

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    1. For sure, it needs to be an every day obsession. Video blocked here in Thailand and probably some other countries, copyright :/

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  14. It's a good thing I started out on an anonymous site since it is evident that I am guilty of being shark bait from this and the table selection article. As always, learning a lot from you. Thanks again!

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    1. Thanks Paul, glad my articles are helping!

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