Tuesday, December 29, 2015

How to Beat Online Poker in 2016

Beat online poker in 2016
As we kick off another new year many people are hoping that 2016 will finally be the year where they find big success in online poker. However, the unfortunate reality is that most will not achieve their goals.

This is the way that it always is. This is also the way that it has to be. In a zero sum game like poker there will always be winners and losers. There will be some people who simply want it more and they will get the results.

But there is another factor at play here as well which is the rake. This is the small amount that each poker site takes out of the pot or tournament buyin. Even though it might seem fairly insignificant at first, when added together it is enough to turn many breakeven players, and even a few small winners, into losing poker players.

So this is why you will often hear people say that only 20%-30% of people actually show a profit in the long run in poker. And then of that only about 10% are really big winners. These are the ones who make a significant side income or even go pro.

And lastly, to top it all off many people believe that the games online are the toughest that they have ever been. I personally do not believe that they have gotten much worse in several years now but this certainly isn't 2005 anymore either.

With all of that said many people do still achieve big success at the micros these days. And at the very lowest stakes like I talk about all the time on this blog (NL2, NL5 and NL10) becoming a winning player should not be some big mystery. After all, you are playing against some of the worst players on earth.

So in this article I am going to break down a few main keys to beating online poker at the micros in 2016.

Long Term Mindset

There is a sizable portion of poker players who will probably never beat online poker because they are incapable of seeing this game for what it really is: a long term endeavor.

What do I mean by "long term?"

I mean months. I mean years in some cases. I mean 100's of thousands of hands. I mean millions of hands. Poker is not a get rich quick scheme. And because of the impact of variance (card distribution and short term luck) it can sometimes take a very long time to attain reliable results.

But I can tell though from many of the comments that I receive daily through email, on blog posts, on Youtube videos etc. that there is a large number of people out there who are only concerned with what happened in their very last session. This often amounts to a completely meaningless sample of a thousand hands at most.

They will often describe to me in perfect detail how their aces "got cracked" 3 times in a row. Or how their opponent hit a lucky river card against them 5 times in a row. As if any of this matters at all. And also as if these events are some sort of bizarre statistical anomaly that has only ever happened to them.

There is a point in poker where if you want to move forward and beat the game then you do need to accept on some level that sometimes things will not go your way for a very long time. And I am talking about much longer than a session or two here. I am talking about weeks or even months of losing.

I myself have gone through multiple stretches of 100k+ hands at the micros where I ran so far below EV (expected value) that it was absurd. I literally just lost every single day for weeks or months on end even though I have some of the best results in history in these games.

A friend of mine here in Thailand who is one of the biggest pre-rakeback winners in the world at mid stakes SNGs just wrapped up Supernova Elite on Pokerstars by running 30k USD under EV and only posting 4 winning days in the entire month of December.

Can you imagine how many times in a row his aces got cracked during this stretch?

The bottom line is this:

Professional poker players focus only on one thing in poker, the long term. Amateurs get wrapped up in their results for particular sessions or in particular hands.

The beauty of poker is that the short term fluctuations are what make the game so profitable. Most people lose their mind and play terrible when things go poorly. Or if they catch a heater they think they are a poker god and make similar mistakes.

Nobody is perfect. As long as you are human then consistent losing will eventually affect you on some level. The biggest difference though between the top winners and everybody else is this:

We don't allow it to affect our play at the poker tables in any significant way. 

I get pissed off all the time when I run bad in poker. I am a really sore loser and I can't stand losing at anything. I have destroyed several mice (I only buy cheap ones). I scream sometimes. I curse. Once I got so pissed off I destroyed a cook book with a hockey stick (don't ask).

But did I make the correct fold for the 18th time in a row? Yes. Did I decide to run some retarded bluff against a bad player because I was tired of losing. No. You can be mad as hell but still make the right decision.

If I truly feel like I can't make the right decision then I will quit all of my tables at once, get away from the computer, and not play a single hand again that day.

In short, I will do whatever it takes to make sure that my emotions (no matter how intense they are) never have any significant impact on my actual play at the tables.

Alternative Strategy

If controlling your emotions in the moment is something that is difficult for you then there is another strategy that I often use these days.

I know that I will never understand the short term in poker and I also know that it is completely meaningless in the grand scheme of things. So why bother even caring? I will often just ignore my results at the tables for days or weeks.

If you are following a good bankroll management strategy then there is absolutely no reason why you need to check your bankroll so frequently. I, like many other professional poker players or semi-pros, follow a very conservative bankroll management strategy. I am always ridiculously over-rolled.

And frankly, if you just stop giving a crap about short term results then your play will probably improve dramatically as well. This is because you will finally be able to stop focusing on the day to day swings and direct all of your attention on what actually matters, playing your best in each individual hand.

Whatever approach you decide to take, if you ever want to succeed in a big way in poker then you simply have to find a way to stop obsessing over the short term illusions of this game.

Play Your "A-Game" at All Times

This leads to my 2nd key for beating online poker in 2016 which is playing your A-game at all times. This means that you are always playing to the best of your abilities with zero distractions and minimizing tilt.

I believe that it was Tommy Angelo who made this term famous in his Buddhist inspired "Eightfold Path to Poker Enlightenment." In this video series he talked about how most poker players drift into their B-game or C-game during their session if they get bored or things aren't going their way.

If things start going really badly then they will slip into their D, E or F-game and literally start giving away their money at the table. Angelo talked about the necessity of eliminating your D, E and F games completely.

I would take this a step further though and propose that as we enter 2016 you should make it your goal to eliminate your B and C-games as well. As everybody knows, the games are tougher these days and you simply cannot afford to be playing anything but your very best anymore.

This really starts with an entire lifestyle and mindset approach in my opinion. I recently discussed this in my popular "How to Kick Ass in Poker and Life" post. I also discussed this topic in detail near the end of my 2nd book.

Many of the top poker players these days (both live and online) are starting to see poker as much more than a game. They see it as a business. They view the game like a professional athlete would.

For any professional athlete these days (pick a sport: basketball, soccer, mma etc.) their game is a 24/7, 365 obsession. They are in the gym and eating right during the off season. They are taking extra shots after practice. They are visualizing success before the game or match.

Why should it be any different for poker players?

If you want to be the best then you should start thinking like the best and conducting your life like the best. Nobody is perfect and everybody falls off the rails from time to time. But the biggest winners are consistently putting the time in at the tables, studying away from them, and keeping their life in order as well (proper nutrition, regular exercise and good sleep).

Do what you need to do to play your A-game at all times. Be your best and accept nothing less. You owe that to yourself.

A Solid (But Simple) Strategy

Lastly, you need to have a good strategy in order to beat the micros online. This is the area that nearly everybody focuses all of their attention on these days. And they often go about it all wrong.

There is an absolute epidemic of overthinking poker strategy these days for extremely low stakes. You know the games where you are playing against the worst competition on earth for pots that are often the price of a cup of coffee (NL2, NL5 etc).

I play a basic positionally aware TAG (tight and aggressive) strategy in these games with a heavy emphasis on finding the fish and exploiting them. And as mentioned above I keep my tilt to an absolute minimum as well.

But so many people absolutely refuse to believe that this is all that it takes to beat these games. There has to be something more in their mind.

I get people emailing me all the time who are reading highly technical GTO poker strategy books and they can't beat NL2. They talk about advanced poker math theories that I have never even heard of.

Or they study all the training videos of some high stakes crusher who plays 500 times higher stakes than they do and talks about strategies meant to beat world class opponents.

And yet they wonder why they can't beat NL2...

If you want real results at the micros in 2016 then you would be much better served to learn and apply a basic TAG strategy. Most people claim to know what this means but they actually don't in reality. In my free little guide "Massive Profit at the Micros" I tell you exactly what it is. You can download it right here.

I have also written countless articles for the website that you are reading right now which focus on simple strategies for beating the games that you actually play in at the micros. For a complete listing I would recommend checking out my "Start Here" page.

Final Thoughts

Beating online poker at the micros in 2016 is not some impossible code to crack. These are the stakes which are still chock-full of absolutely terrible players, fish and regs alike. Much like success in any other area of life though beating these games simply requires a little bit of expertise and then a whole lot of hard work.

But the game of poker demands more still yet. It requires that you sometimes wait weeks or even months to get real results. It also requires that you bring your A-game to the tables as often as possible. If you are in this game for the quick buck or you easily give up when adversity strikes then you might want to look into finding a different hobby.

Poker is hard. This game can be absolutely brutal at times. Achieving big time success requires a level of mental fortitude that most people simply are not capable of. Because after all, if it were so easy then everybody would be doing it. Your success or failure in this game really is entirely up to you.

Hopefully this article gave you a little bit of insight on how to approach this game like a winner. All the best at the tables in 2016!

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

Beating online poker in 2016


  1. As usual . . . insightful and reasonable. Keep it up Nathan. I've finally started to do well at NLHE and I credit you for it.

  2. Any comments on the new Pokerstars VIP system?

    1. I don't know enough about how the VIP system changes will affect micro stakes cash. I will have a closer look in the new year when the changes are implemented and perhaps comment then.

  3. Great articles to begin a new year. Many thanks.

  4. Thank you very much for this great article! I also have goals for the next year and I will try to achieve them...with your help :) Let's crush the micros! :)

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Aces being cracked three times in a row I wish. I had quads cracked three times in a row. One by straight flush, one by royal, and one by better quads.

    1. so? short term..............................

    2. Well on the same day I posted this comment. I got 13th In the Big 4.40 and 3rd in the Big 2.20. I might have done better in the big 2.20 but while I was in second place with three remaining the power went out. By the time I got the power back on I was a hopeless short stack and had to make a short stack hero call.

    3. What I meant to say was that it's not all bad and turn around does happen. The power going out actually made me laugh as my immediate thought was that it wasn't the cards conspiring against me it was the entire universe :)

  7. Thanks you very much! I found your website some days ago and I have started to read your first book and your articles before starting to play NL2.

    I was a reg player of SNGs and MTT, playing just for fun, but I'm moving to cash games soon, I will keep following you.

    1. Thanks Pablo. I am glad that my articles and book are helping you. All the best when you get started at NL2!

  8. Always sound advice. Especially the A game. My weakness. I get bored, maybe a little tired, maybe PUI on occasion. I'm returning with a new outlook in 2016 however - disipline. No more late tired nights or boredom. Bum hunting is good. I've taken at least a 7 month sabbatical and ready to go. Between your advice and books, hey no more excuses. Love felt too. Onward and upward, thanks Nathan!!

  9. Hi Nathan !! Your article is like gift for everyone I think ! I'm actually in a bad time in poker and reading your blog really help to stay calm and think positively about the game and about us ! Thanks you ! !

    1. Thanks kash. I am glad that my blog can help you. We all go through tough times in this game sometimes. Hang in there!

  10. Nice article Nathan and happy new year!

    1. Thanks Jorge and all the best to you in the new year as well!

  11. are you aware of full tilt games right now?

    if you'd be you wouldnt speak about long term perspective in a poker blog

  12. Dear Nathan,

    I learnt your super basic strategy and ingrained it using 2nl on stars.

    For the past 6 months I've used exactly the same strategy at the 200nl game at the local casino every second Saturday night. This game is the lowest stake offered and is even softer then 2nl online. The players have the same leaks but to a much greater extent. Thus your lines continue to be the best method of exploitation.

    My profit is in 4 figures now (keep in mind rake is 10% with a 10bb cap .... One of biggest around). I will use this for a holiday later this year and raise a beer to your teachings while on a tropical beach Nathan.

    Happy new year and keep up the useful articles.

    Mark in Australia.

    1. Great work Mark! I am happy to hear about your success. Enjoy the vacation and keep crushing it!

  13. actually due to the rake, poker is a negative sum game.
    great post as always, Nathan.

  14. Hi Blackrain79,

    Thank you for an amazing website. It's opened my eyes a lot.

    Im finding it hard to manage tilt. I can, like you state, accept 1 or 2 bad beats but I hit 5 in under 200 hands last night. So working to get up 5x buyins just to lose it all the next day is so demoralising.

    I'm at 14000 hands which sounds like nothing to you but obviously this is a long stretch for me to end up losing it all in 200 hands. Granted from the 5 buyin loss I went on to lose 10 more due to tilt. But I just can't manage a 150$ BR making 5$ a day when I'm earning 60x more that at work. Any tips for me.


    1. Thanks Luke, I covered the topic of bad beats and how to deal with them in my very latest article which you can find here.

  15. That's definitely tue. Variance exists and it can be daunting. No matter what you have you get beaten: set? You find an higher set. Aces? They call you with any random card and make double pair, a straight, a flush or a set. Straight? They go all in with top pair and flop a full-house runner runner (it happened twice in a row!!!). It can last long, but not forever. If I get some bad beat in a session I quit and relax to avoid tilt and, after three weeks of bad variance with 20BI lost, I end-up tighten my play really much (as tight as 9/8) and it worked. In the following three weeks I recovered all my losses and showed positive result, gained confidence back and I began playing as usual (always tight but not that much: 18/15, a little bit less than what Nathan suggests but I'm not as good as he is, I'm only a recreational player and not a pro, and it works fine for me with sufficient and consistent positive win rate in the long run 7BB/100).

  16. Very nice post, the emotional part is very important, thanks again man