Monday, May 5, 2014

Bankroll Builder - End of the Era

Well, the bankroll building exercise is over. For those of you coming late to the party, a while back I was contacted via email by someone I call e-pal. E-pal is a relatively new player interested in improving. He was also somewhat discouraged that after a year of self-taught play he wasn't even breaking even at the game. He thought it was impossible to beat poker. He was basically at the end of his rope, ready to abandon this frustrating/rewarding/crazy game called poker. On the plus side, however, e-pal was energetic, motivated, and has a mind like a sponge, soaking up everything. He also asks great email questions that made me think. A lot.

Anyway, e-pal and I struck up a series of conversations about various hands he had played (and lost) at the microstakes. E-pal honestly doubted that with the toughness of today’s games it was possible to actually make consistent money playing it. At least that was what all the forum trolls he was reading said. His own results were amplifying that position, too; he had gone broke a number of times, kept reloading, but was getting very discouraged. In fact, he was about to give up on poker forever when he first contacted me. After about a dozen more back-and-forth emails, hand reviews, and general discussions, I suggested that we find time to have him watch me play. Long story short, we ended up agreeing that over the following thirty days I would play with e-pal looking over my virtual shoulder and try to teach him the basics of winning at the games under $25NL. He would "fund" a virtual deposit in my account, and I would tutor him from the ground up on the basics. If we lost the initial "deposit", it was on him. If we made any money, we’d split it 50:50…. 

...but the money really wasn’t the point for either of us. Instead, the most important thing was he’d see first hand how it was possible to grind out a regular hourly at the microstakes—and then decide whether he’d quit poker or not.

Thirty days of coordinated/sequential play is/was actually pretty tough given my work and travel schedule, and it was made harder by the fact that e-pal lives on another continent in a very different time zone and has his own work schedule issues. Some days we were only able to play for 15 minutes (often super early morning my time (I'm a morning man) which was late his time (he's a night owl)), other days we found an hour or more to play (e.g., on the weekends). We even got in two separate sessions on one day in the experiment. Frankly, I’m surprised we went the full month without missing a single day. For thirty contiguous days we managed to connect online and play, starting with an initial pseudo ‘roll of $25 online.

During our sessions, e-pal was tasked with keeping all the records of our play. He also took his own notes, and frequently sent me questions afterwards about specific hands. We played fast-fold poker initially (to get preflop position and starting hand selection down, and to simply get in volume, too) and then transitioned to regular 6max and full-ring cash games as we graduated from L1 preflop and basic postflop c-betting do's-and-don'ts to more serious L2 tactics. We also played a smattering of single table SnGs (to work on keeping track of things like effective stack sizes vs. blinds, SPR, and the like-- and just to mix things up a bit), and even did a couple of sessions of pot-limit Omaha (to hammer home the fundamentals of reading the board and identifying the nuts; and yes, we actually lost money in these PLO sessions, but the fundamentals we worked on were worth the modest negative hits to the growing ‘roll.)

We had a couple of rough patches along the way, including some non-A game tilting. We also violated a few basic bankroll management (BRM) fundamentals to accelerate the process, but we agreed that this experiment/ersatz coaching session required aggression on the BRM front.

After thirty days, here are the results:
  • Hours played: 15.75 hours
  • Average session length: 33 minutes
  • Average # of tables played simultaneously: 3.5
  • Total profit earned: $260.56
  • Return on Investment: 1,040%
  • Average hourly earn rate: $16.51/hour
All in all, the experiment was a lot of fun-- and educational for me, too, the ersatz coach. Said simply, I learned a lot while explaining various concepts to e-pal in real time. There's no better way to truly grasp a concept than to teach it to someone else. This was as beneficial to me as I hoped it was for e-pal.

The experiment was also profitable, too. While not 100% scientific, I think we demonstrated that the micro-stakes games are still quite beatable. It’s all about fundamentals and discipline. ABC and value-first poker remains a winning formula down in the micros. For example, the importance of position and starting hand strength is monumentally important, especially the application of Sklansky's Gap Concept. If I had a nickel for every time I used words like, “think gap,” “gap fold,” “reverse implied odds,” and “trap hands,” during our sessions I’d be a rich man today.

It's interesting to note that the average hourly rate e-pal and I earned matches up almost perfectly with what I have earned at these stakes over a much larger sample size of hands. In other words, even though the experiment sample size was modest, the results were fairly indicative of what a solid ABC poker player can expect to make hourly on average at these stakes.

We worked hard on blind play, both defending and stealing. Oh, and of course the twin concepts of sunk costs and the Zen of Folding were beaten into e-pal’s head relentlessly-- again, with position and gap concept driving many of these decisions. This was true not only preflop, but postflop, too. Over and over we repeated things like, "Don’t go broke with TPTK." Or JJ. Or QQ. Or AA on a J-T-8 board. Or…. In other words, caution remains the better part of valor profit at the microstakes.

The math proved also to be important, especially when it came to basic things like calculating outs and comparing them to pot odds. This was particularly true when deciding whether to c-bet semi-bluff or not into multiway pots. A little math goes a long way in helping make otherwise tough decisions.

And speaking of math, of absolute importance was the power of estimating realistic implied odds when set mining with small pairs and calling IP with suited connectors and gappers. Many times we folded small pairs OOP at full ring tables and/or to late position aggro players that weren’t going to pay us off even if we hit. On the flip side, we stacked more than a few players when we limped in LP with correct implied odds and hit. ABC Poker, ABC Poker, ABC Poker....

Finally, we spent a lot of the latter sessions on my trusted RED-i method of thinking logically about hands, with a strong emphasis on the R-is-for-Reading part. Again, if I had a big blind for every time I forced e-pal to tell me the range of a villain, including those times we weren’t involved in a hand…. well, I’d have quite a few big blinds in my pocket. Putting villains on hand ranges, even at the microstakes, and then playing against that range, is where you make consistent money at these games. It also sets you up for learning to tackle the higher stakes games if/when you master the art of ABC hand reading and transition to level-3 poker…

…ah, but enough of my drivel; here’s a small part of what e-pal wrote me today when the experiment formally ended and he sent me the results:

"Mind the gap mate! I am not quitting poker! Our sessions have changed everything round in my noggin. I know how to think [about a poker hand] now. I can not send enough thank yous your direction."

Cool beans. I feel like a proud father watching a son graduate from high school and move off to college. In addition to demonstrating the power of ABC poker, I made a good friend (and what will probably be a long-term student). It also really helped focus and refine many of the things I'm putting into my [future] book on learning poker from the ground up. Can't beat any of that, can you?

All-in for now…



  1. Interesting experiment -- thank you for sharing.

  2. Any chance you would share some of the hands/notes from the experiment with the rest of us?

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