Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Simplest Fool-Proof Tactic You Can Do To Increase Your Poker Profit. Seriously.


Okay, so you’ve spotted the sucker at the table--and it’s you. Now what? Answer: Move!

Being able to identify the good and bad players at a table is great— but what you actually do with that information is paramount. There are a ton of specific tools and tactics at your disposal to exploit those identified bad players (and also to avoid trouble situations with the identified good players), but there is one really powerful thing that anyone—even the most absolute beginner—can employ: table and seat changes.

I was working with a beginning poker student online a few months ago. I was in hands-off-and-observe mode, and this student was getting beat up pretty badly by the opposition at the $50NL table. We took a break and I asked what he thought was going wrong. “I’m getting killed by these other players," he said, "They’re reading me perfectly, and I can’t do anything about it!” So I asked if he thought he was the so-called sucker at the table. “Well, yes, obviously!” So then I asked why he was still sitting at that table. “Uh…."

There’s an old poker saw that says if you’re the 10th best player in the world, you’re still screwed if you sit down at a table with the 9 better players. Poker is a game that is played against other people, and if those people are more skilled than you, over time you’re going to lose all your money to them. So why would you even try? Yes, there are times when you just want to test yourself against the best, etc., but the majority of time you should be looking for, well, incompetent players to sit with.

This sounds kind of harsh and unsporting, but hey, poker is fundamentally a game of making fewer mistakes than your opponents, while exploiting the mistakes they make. Perhaps more important, it’s a game played for money. The other players at your table won’t hesitate to attack your weaknesses to get at your money, so why should you hesitate to exploit their weaknesses? Sit with the bad players and beat them up. And, conversely, get up and leave if you find yourself on the ropes getting hit in the mouth over and over by better players.

There are two key tactics to employ at the poker tables when you find yourself in a less than profitable situation: table and seat changes. The first (table changing) is pretty obvious; if you’re the 10th best player, just get up and leave. Ninety-nine-point-nine-nine-nine percent of the time, online and live, there are better opportunities, tables, and situations on which to spend your limited playing time. Why sit at a hard table that’s kicking your butt when you can be the butt kicker at another one? There’s absolutely no shame in picking a better battlefield on which to wage war. I do it regularly, and so should you.

The second tactic (seat changing at your table) can be very effective and highly profitable if you identify a fishy, exploitable player. If you’re seated to their right, it’s going to be much harder to abuse their mistakes and/or isolate them then if you're on their left. If a seat opens up 1-4 seats immediately to their left, you should try to move to it. Get on their left, isolate, exploit, and profit. Seriously, what are you waiting for? Someone else to take that money seat?

The same holds true against the good players at your table, but for different reasons; if your table has a very good reg sitting there raking chips, but you still want to stay at the table (e.g., because there are enough bad players to make it profitable to hang around), you should endeavor to move to a seat to the pro's left. This helps minimize the damage he or she can do to you when you enter a pot. It also allows you to employ advanced techniques like re-isolating if/when they raise a bad player.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Position is power at the poker table. Just like location is to real estate, the three most important things at a poker table are position, position, and POSITION. So you should move, move, MOVE! Money flows clockwise at a poker table, and the best players set their table clocks accordingly.

So back to our student. After the "Uh...." comment when I asked why he hadn't left the table, we took a break, talked about the mistakes he was making, and then we found a better game to sit at. I’d like to report that we crushed the new table, but on our fourth hand of the new session our 5-bet all-in-preflop with Aces got called by Kings and we were promptly coolered for a 100bb buy-in. My student began to tilt, so we did the ultimate table change: we stopped playing altogether for the afternoon. The good news is the lesson was still ultimately learned, and in a follow-up session a few weeks later, we did crush it for a couple of buy-ins in an hour— after carefully selecting a soft, juicy table to exploit, that is.

The bottom line is this: When faced with bad table or seat positions: move, move, MOVE! When you’re struggling at a table, pause for a moment and reflect on your abilities versus those of the other players. Ego is your enemy here; you have to be as honest and objective as possible. If you can’t spot the sucker, it probably is you— so move, move, MOVE!  And if you can spot the sucker, then move, move, MOVE to their left. Your bankroll will thank you.

***

Okay to briefly change the subject, I have a question: did you like this post? Hate it? Want to read more like it? Have ideas for improvement? I’d love to hear from you, either in the comments below, or directly via email. Click here to email me a quick note with suggestions— or just to say howdy. I look forward to it.

All-in for now...
-Bug

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Bug's Back... some random thoughts and miscellaneous ramblings



Three weeks in Europe is a tough thing to recover from. I went from hiking 12+ miles a day on average there to about 1 mile a day here. Went from eating like a schwein to, well... that hasn't changed. Went from cool weather (literally got caught in a blizzard in Berchtesgaden) to HOT here in Tucson. Went from slow, restful days with the wife, to holy-crap-there's-a-lot-of-stuff-to-catchup-on mode. Went from not a care in the world, to work, kids, house, vehicles, yada yada yada.

***

Came home... and my new 27-inch Retina iMac was waiting for me to unbox and get running. Gorgeous display. Two days later I'm wrapping up all the software installs and updates, reorganizing the home office, yada yada yada. I'm now 100% an Apple guy (iMac, MacBook Pro, iPad, and iPhone 6). God help me.

***

I'm REALLY jealous of all the WSOP players who made the trek to Vegas this year. Overall, the vacation in Germany was better-- but maybe just marginally!

***

Looking forward to the Main Event coverage. I'm seriously rooting for a girl to make the final table this year. Annette and Vanessa, heads-up in November, would be perfect.

***

One thing a vacation always does for me is refocus and reenergize. As a result, I've got a few online projects that are going to see some re-invigoration. For this blog, the plan is to get more regular with posts. Tied to this of course is with getting more focused on the ABC Poker Training lessons with Le Monsieur and getting the alpha version up and running. I've been offline and carefree for essentially a full month, and now it's time for this re-energized Bug to get busy.

***

Jet lag sucks.

***

All-in for now....
-Bug

Monday, June 15, 2015

Bug's on Vacation

For those of you writing me emails, wondering where I've gone-- I'm in Germany for a few weeks of much needed vacation. Thus far I've been eating too much at breakfasts, getting lost on hikes in the wald (forest), driving deeper and deeper into the Bavarian Alps, buying all manner of touristy things, eating ice cream for lunches, sleeping in late, ignoring blogs, work, email, and pretty much everything else. In other words, having a great time.

I'm silently rooting for Memphis Mojo, et al who are at or headed to the WSOP. Wish I was there-- but being here is a pretty good consolation prize.

I'll be back online and posting more regularly in a couple of weeks. Until then... auf wiedersehen!

All-in for now...
-Bug

Monday, June 1, 2015

What is Bug Reading? May 2015 Edition.

Too many books, too little time...
Often I get contacted by blog readers looking for book recommendations. Most of these queries (obviously) are related to poker training materials, but not always. Sometimes people are just curious what I'm reading, even if it's non-poker fiction. Ergo, in today's inaugural end-of-month post, I present what's currently on my iPad, Kindle, bedside table, easy chair, and (gasp) in the bathroom (and no, I won't tell which book is where!):

First up is Charley Swayne's Advanced Degree in Hold'em. I've skimmed this book in the past and found it thought-provoking. As Le Monsieur and I work our way through the ABC poker lessons, I keep finding myself picking it up frequently to clarify a point here and there. It was especially useful when I wrote a recent monster two-part ABC lesson on a) Classifying Villain Types; and b) Exploiting Villain Types. Swayne's book is kind of weirdly written (a cross between a textbook, a scientific journal paper, and 1980's-era computer graphic output) but there's gold nuggets buried therein if you're up to the task of wading through it.

During this past couple of weeks, I've also had Ed Miller's excellent Playing the Player open in various electronic and paper copy versions throughout the house. As I've stated before, I'm a big fan of Miller, and this one has some really good, solid, practical advice on dealing with common villain types you face at medium and low-stakes games. Not a cheap book, but well worth the money. If you literally can't earn back the cover price during a week of employing its advice at the micro-tables, you're doing something seriously wrong.

Semi-related to poker (actually, more related to the eventual online training site Le Monsieur and I are creating) is Michael Hyatt's Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World. I'm a huge fan of Hyatt; I subscribe to both his podcast and his blog, and I can honestly say that through the years his advice on work, leadership, and family has made me a better man, manager, and husband. This particular book is very "sales" specific, but it's still recommended. I've picked up a number of things in it that are directly applicable to the training material development effort we're in the midst of. Good stuff.

And whilst on the self-help and business theme, I also recently picked up Kate Erickson's The Fire Path, which purports to lay out the sequential steps necessary to begin a successful online business. I found this book via another podcast that I'm a big fan of: John Lee Dumas' Entrepreneur on Fire. Kate Erickson is Dumas' wife, and while I'm only a little ways into the book, and while it is a little simple-minded at times, the fact that JLD had a hand in the book's creation makes it worth the price of admission all by itself. I really like JLD's business insights, and there are some good, very practical--and actionable--steps to address that his wife has captured in the book. Really simple but powerful concepts like creating a Venn diagram of your passions and proficiencies, and then layering on another Ven circle set of Profitability to find your possible calling was an "a-ha" moment for me. Lots of these kinds of interesting things in the book, and I'm only about a third of the way through it.

Totally unrelated to poker and/or business is Michael Connelly's The Gods of Guilt. Dunno if you saw The Lincoln Lawyer on the big screen or not, but it was based on Connelly's first installment in this particular novel series of his. Connelly's books aren't incredibly deep or meaningful, but they are always fun and fast moving. He also affords an interesting look behind the curtain of the justice system. I have most of Connelly's books, and when this one came out a year or so ago, my wife bought it for me as a gift. I'm just now getting around to reading it and am enjoying it immensely. Yes, it's a guilty pleasure, but it's also a very diverting bed-time read to relax to and turn off all the other non-fiction stuff going on in my head.

Finally, I'm working my way through an older out-of-print book by Hal Roth called Two On A Big Ocean: The Personal Account of a Man and Woman Who Circumnavigated the Pacific--Alone In A 35-foot Sailboat. This was written decades before GPS, Loran, solar systems, digital electronics, reliable radios, etc., so it's a great glimpse back into the, well, courage it took to do something audacious like sail out into the wild blue ocean and try to hit tiny islands thousands of miles away. Despite living in the desert, sea-going tales like this have always held sway with me. As a kid I read Robin Lee Graham's Dove and have been hooked ever since on this kind of story. Roth does a good job mixing the at-sea "this is how you use a sextant" stuff, with the on-land "here's the interesting stuff that happened to us ashore" tales. A fun read. I often see it available on Amazon for pennies.

****

I'm always looking for book recommendations, so please drop me a line if you have a good idea or a favorite read you think I'd enjoy. My tastes are very varied and extra eclectic (or, as Mr. Multi likes to opine: maybe I just have no taste to begin with). Anyway, I'm jetting off on a big 3-week sojourn to Europe starting next Saturday, and I'll be loading up the iPad with a number of tomes to read whilst gone; if you have a good suggestion, I'm all ears (or is that eyes?). Too bad I can't/won't take the unfinished bathroom book with me-- it will have to wait for my return from Germany.

All-in for now...
-Bug




Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The 4 basic villain types you face at small stakes games-- and how to play against them.

Today's post is a 15-minute audio on classifying--and exploiting--villain types at the low-stakes tables:


Some key takeaways and additional points not raised in the podcast:
  • Most of the opponents you face at low-stakes games will have big leaks and weaknesses.
  • Finding these weaknesses—and learning to hand read—begins with stereotyping and classifying the villains.
  • The most basic and important classification looks at two related aspects of the villain's preflop hand selection: a) how loose (or tight) the player is; and b) aggressive (or passive) the player is with their two starting cards. These are represented by "VPIP" and "PFR" statistics, respectively.
  • We can plot these two factors on a two-dimensional “PATL” grid.
  • There are four basic, broad categories of villains you'll play against at the low-stakes poker tables. They can be categorized by which quadrant of the PATL grid they land in.
  • The quadrant of the PATL chart that the villain resides in will give a big clue as to the types of mistakes (if any) they make.
  • Tight-Aggressive Villains. Good players can be found in the upper left quadrant of the chart. These players are known as tight-aggressive, TAgs, regs, and/or pros. 
    • TAgs play a tight, selective preflop style, playing only a fraction of the hands dealt to them, but doing so very aggressively. This is the recommended preflop style of play for beating most low-stakes games.
    • You can spot a TAg by the fact that on average they're playing about one in five or six hands dealt to them, and doing so with serious aggression. They're also playing a very positionally-aware style, being much tighter in EP, and looser in LP. They're often taking control of hands, and will raise draws on the flop as semi-bluffs, and will bet-fold rivers.
    • TAgs are the trickiest of players to counter. They don't make many mistakes, but it's still generally best to play straightforward against them. In general, your profit is going to come from other players--not these guys; you'll mostly just trade chips back and forth with other TAgs at the table if you're a good player, too.
    • If you can, sit to the left of these players to help minimize the damage.
  • Tight-Passive Villains. Players in the lower left corner of the chart are know as tight-passive, weak-tight, nittish, timids, or rock-like. 
    • These players play few hands, but unlike TAgs, they mostly just call when involved in a hand, with very little raising in general, even post-flop.They often make a small profit or are marginally break-even, primarily because they stay out of trouble and make few big pot mistakes. They generally value position, but they don't open up as much in LP as a TAg.
    • These players generally fold too much preflop, and give up on pots too easily after the flop is dealt unless this hit it very hard (TPTK or better). If they hit moderatly hard, they'll sometimes call a single bet, sometimes with strong draws, but then will give up on the turn if they don't improve.
    • These players can be bluffed relatively easily, both preflop (steals) and postflop with c-bets on flop and turn. On the other hand, it's hard to get a lot of value from these players, as their tendency is to fold if bet into.
    • If one of these players bets and/or raises, it's probable they have a very strong hand. Proceed cautiously and only with strong made hands that can withstand a showdown. These players rarely if ever bluff.
  • Loose-Passive Villains. Players in the lower right corner of the chart are known as loose-passive, LAps, calling stations, no fold'em hold'em players, sheriffs, fish, and/or ATMs. Almost all LAps at low-stakes tables are long-term losers.
    • These LAps play a lot of hands and call a lot-- far too much, both preflop and postflop. They're poor players in general and make a lot of "let's see a flop and make a hand" mistakes. They don't usually understand position, or if they do, they don't employ it very strongly in their preflop starting hand strategy. Often any two suited cards are good enough for them to play. A common saying you'll hear from them is, "you can't win if you don't play."
    • You should not usually try to bluff these players; they won’t fold even their weakest hands to aggression.
    • Against these players, you should bet your medium and strong value hands on all three streets to build a pot and get paid off. Value is the name of the game to beating these guys, and in fact the majority of your profit at small-stakes tables will come from LAps.
    • You will occasionally get bad-beaten by these players because they stick around with crazy stuff that a normal player would have smartly folded two streets early. When you take a bad beat by one of these guys, remind yourself that results don't matter; decisions do; and, if you don't want to play against bad players, who do you want to play against? Over time, you will make a lot more value money from these guys than you lose to them on bad beats.
  • Loose-Aggressive Villains. Players in the upper right of the PATL grid are said to be loose-aggressive, or LAgs. Some professional and semi-professional players employ this style with good results (but also with high variance); this Bug is one of them. Extreme players in this quadrant are known as maniacs. Aside from the pro's, most LAgs at small stakes are losing players.
    • These players play a lot of hands and raise most of them. Because of this, they often put too much money into the pot with their weak holdings and then have trouble getting off the hand, even when they know they're beat. They like love to bluff, often with multiple barrels on multiple streets.
    • Play tight against bad LAgs, and try to do so in position. If possible, seat change to be on their left. They usually undervalue position in their own play, and isolating them with your big hands can be very profitable.
    • Don’t over-committ against these players with weak holdings. If you do have a strong hand, however, you should be willing to play a big pot with them, often for stacks. Variance is something you'll have to get used to when playing against a LAg.
    • Be wary of the professional LAg, as they will be hand reading well and will not pay you off.
Hope this helps you focus your game. Learning to classify players is the first step in the hand-reading process, and if you make even small adjustments based on the tendencies and style of play of the villains at your table, you'll be way ahead of most of the other players competing for pots.

All-in for now...
-Bug

Friday, May 22, 2015

Bug's Poker Tip #47

Bankroll Management: You Need A Lot


Let's start by pointing out that you're probably not going to like what I have to say on this subject: You need a lot more money in your bankroll than you probably think you do. You need more than most successful professional players say you need. You need more than your wife says, your poker mates advise, and the majority of the advice books, forums, and experts counsel. 

The truth is you need a big-ass bankroll if you're going to play no-limit hold'em.

A short Bug Tip like this is not the place to go into a lot of math and statistics on the subject, but suffice it to say that big downswings--even if you're playing perfectly--happen on a regular basis to everyone, even the pros. It's not uncommon for the best no-limit players to suffer 20, 30, even 40 buy-in drops in their bankroll. Variance happens, folks, even to expert players.

And guess what? You're not an expert at no-limit. You are not one of the best no-limit players in the world. You don't play perfectly 100% of the time. Your downswings can be bigger than 20-40 buy-ins. I've know very good players that have lost 50 buy-ins in long, soul-crushing stretches. I know this because I've helped them analyze their hand histories and reviewed their results after the damage is done. And it's shocking how much damage the variance monster can cause.

So let's cut to the chase. How much money should a reasonably competent low-stakes player keep in his bankroll?

Remember, I said you're not going to like the answer. Of course it all depends on a number of factors, including the mental fortitude of the player, the skill of his typical opponents, and a host of other things, but if pressed, my own personal recommendation for bankroll size of a beginning or intermediate player is that you need 100 buy-ins for the stakes you play.

Yes, 100 buy-ins!

This means if you play $0.05/$0.10 no-limit, you should have a cool $1,000 in your 'roll. Like to play the $0.50/$1.00 tables? Better have $10,000 squirreled away. And so on.

Of course you don't have to have all this money online at one specific instance in time, nor does it mean you're supposed to bring that much to Vegas with you if you want to sit and play for a weekend. But it does mean you need at least this much set aside in your walled-off poker-only fund, strictly for poker use and nothing else. The reason is to keep you from ever going broke. And, more importantly, keep you sane along the way.

Poker is chock-full of variance. And your bankroll size is the chief weapon to fight its ill effects. Make sure you have enough, or the variance monster will take your ability to play away.

(Oh, and don't even get me started on PLO variance...argh.)

All-in for now...
-Bug

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Thought of the Day: Tilt Response


On the commute in this morning, I heard a thought-provoking statement on a non-poker podcast:

Maturity is the ability to pause between The Stimulus and The Response.

Wow. This statement sums up in 12 little words the fundamental secret to fighting tilt at the poker tables. In fact, this is my own method of countering bad beats, coolers, lost-races, and all the other "injustices" I feel when I get stacked by a clueless fish.

I pause.

I breathe.

I force myself to think through the preceding actions in the hand.

Did I do everything correctly? If the answer is Yes, then this is just a part of poker that keeps the fishes coming back. This is actually a good thing. I welcome bad beats, because by definition it means I played the hand correctly and the bad guy didn't. It means that in the long run, I'll make a lot more money in this same situation than I just lost in this hand.

If the answer is No, however, and I didn't do everything correctly, then I force myself to learn from the bad beat. For instance, did I let the villain see a free card that allowed him to make his hand? Okay, next time I'm not going to play stupid-fancy, and instead I'll charge him to see the next community board card. If he's going to chase, I'm going to give him the wrong odds to do so. If I do that over and over instead, I'll make up for this lost pot of money in this hand.


Poker is a high variance endeavor. It's going to have swings. Some of those swings are going to result in painful stimuli.  So what? You have to remember that you signed up for this rollercoaster when you sat down to play. How you respond to the dips is a measure of your growth as a player.

Said simply, how you respond to the negative stimulus of variance is a measure of your poker maturity.

All-in for now...
-Bug