Poker games have gotten a lot tougher the last couple of years. The win rates that were possible 2008 are just not realistic any more. That being said there is still a lot of money to be made from poker, especially if you  are practicing good Table Selection.

The following is based on quite extensive research on various resources online including among others these:

What I say here does not apply for microstakes. You can achieve significantly higher win rates there.

It does not apply to live games either. Hopefully variance is a lot lower in live games since you can read your opponents body language and manipulate them. It is also common that the skill difference is much higher than online.

Cash games: Above 2 BB / 100 is great and above 3 BB / 100 is world class.

BB / 100 is an historical way of measuring win rate in cash games. It comes from Pokertracker and the big bet in limit games. 1 BB = 2 big blinds.

Multi-table tournaments: Above 20 % ROI is great and above 30 % is world class.

ROI means Return on Investment. If you for example buy-in in a tournament and you have an average ROI at 20 % that means in average you win $20 each time you play that tournament.

Sit and Go’s: Above 5 % ROI is great and above 10 % is world class. Even at higher stakes it is basically impossible to earn > $10 / Sit and Go.

If you have higher rates than this you are probably running hot.

Many people underestimate how much you need to play to have a reasonably accurate understanding of your winrate. And there are many opinions – which is understandable because it varies with competition, style of play etc.

Personally I go by this guideline which I think makes sense:

Cash games: 30 000 hands to see if you are a winner. 100 000 hands to have an idea on win rate.

Tournaments: 500 tournaments to see if you are a winner. 1500 tournaments to have an idea on win rate.

Sit and Go’s: 500 Sit and  Go’s to see if you are a winner. 1500 Sit and Go’s to have an idea on win rate.

I know, this sucks. Hate variance! When I realized this I strongly considered giving up poker. But still if you look at the graphs on the really good players who play a lot, they are consistently pointing in the right direction.

But if consistently winning money is an important concern in your poker game you have to accept these facts. Focus on the process of playing good poker. Make sure you do play good poker by analyzing your hands. Do not focus on the short-term results. You must learn to enjoy poker from the playing and not connect satisfaction to short-term winnings.

Some things to think about regarding variance:

  • It takes a huge amount of time for the fish to realize they are not the shark – and that’s a great thing!
  • It helps you cope with the down-swings. They are after all very natural, even for the best players in the world.
  • Variance can go either way,  it can make a big plus also!
  • If you are a winning player, most of the time you will go plus. Maybe it is 90% likely you will be up after each 30 000 hands if you are a +2 BB / 100 player.
  • If you play 4 tables of 6-max it will take less than 100 hours to reach 30 000 hands. That’s not too bad.


I’ve been thinking about this and I think I know who it is. It is “Lack of discipline”.

Lack of discipline reveals it ugly face in so many poker situations, it is always creeping behind you and stab you in the back when you least expect it. Right?

Let me give you a couple of examples of when the enemy might attack you:

  • Play too many hands – your thinking: “this is sooo boring, please let me play some more hands” – you know it is wrong, but sometimes the enemy defeats you
  • Don’t fold when you know you should – you have a strong feeling that it is bad to call that bet, but you just can’t help yourself
  • You play when your tired, drunk or on tilt – the bankroll you have carefully built up over weeks or months is blown during one night when you shouldn’t have played
  • You play on higher levels than your bankroll is suited for – oh, it is so tempting I know!
  • You’re not really focusing on the game, you are thinking about other things or surfing the web while playing
  • You are not in physical shape to play top-notch poker hour after hour – but it is so boring to go to the gym. But maybe tomorrow?
  • You do not develop your skills, you don’t practice poker – you just play. That’s more fun after all, isn’t it?

That’s just a couple of examples. And you know what, I still loose this endless fight from time to time. But I try to think about it, and I try to not loose to often. Stay tuned and I will share some of my ideas on how to defeat the enemy.

Are poker players in general lazy?

How much time are poker players in general putting in to improve their game compared to other fields? I would say that the answer is VERY little.

Let’s discuss how chess players improve their skills in their game. Chess and poker has enough commonalities to make the comparison relevant. I know most of you are not playing chess but I hope you get my point anyway.

Here is how a fairly regular chess amateur with slightly above average ambition has developed his skills in the game over the years:

  • Started in a chess club at the age of 7
  • At the club there was a weekly theory session of 1 hour followed by some exercises and game practice
  • Has spent hour after hour to memorize opening moves (boooooring – at least that’s what I think;-)
  • Has practiced many variations of endgames, for example with 1 pawn, two pawns, bishop vs bishop, bishop vs knight, etc, etc
  • Has practiced finding combinations on time
  • Takes notes during each game
  • Analyzes the game afterward with his opponent
  • Analyzes the game when he comes home with the help of the computer
  • Reads chess books
  • etc

And a fairly regular poker player at a similar level:

  • Play poker
  • Play poker
  • Play poker

You get the picture…

And you know what is so hilarious about this? The chess player above has not earned a cent from his hobby. And the poker player might have earned many thousands of dollars.

So you are trying to defend yourself by saying, “But everyone knows that chess players are nerds, and anyway poker is a game of intuition. I know what to do, I just feel it! And I am not a nerd!”.

Sure, intuition is a big part of poker. But so is tactics and strategies and analysis. I will not get into debate here about which part is most important, more on that in later blogs. Right now I will only argue that there are lots of things that can be studied and practiced in poker, just like there is in chess.

So now that you have realized that you have been lazy, and want to change all that – how do you do that?
Well, you can always start here. Try the different poker training exercises. And try to improve your results. And don’t just give up because it is not super-fun all the time. You think Kasparov gives something up after a couple of minutes just because it wasn’t entertaining enough? Don’t get me wrong, I certainly hope you enjoy the exercises and I know a lot of people who do. But all parts of your poker training does not have to be equally entertaining as playing is.

Good luck on your road to true success in poker!

Is poker mainly a game of skill or a game of luck?

The question is a hot topic in several countries in the world right now. In Sweden there are ongoing trials that will depend on input from the experts. In an interesting article in Aftonbladet Dan Glimne refers to “Statistical Analysis of Texas Hold’em” by Sean McCullochwhich who has studied 100 million played hands in cash games with blinds of $1 and up.

Some of the conclusions are that 25 % of the hands went to showdown. In these showdowns the best starting hand won 50 % of the time.
So the best starting hand is only winning through showdown 12,5 % of them time! Furthermore somenone is winning the 75 % of hands that never went to showdown. Through skill, luck or aggression?

What do you think?

I get a lot of questions and discussion on the topic of rigged online poker.

So I am going to share what I believe here.

I just read that they are closing down the UFO departement at Military Defense in Great Britain. They don’t express an opinion on whether UFO’s exist or not – but in the 50 years that they have had this department, they have not encountered one threat to the national security. So now they don’t see a need for that special branch anymore.

Every year a vast amount of people all around the globe files reports on UFO encounters. But have we yet seen any verified encounters? Yes, there are a couple of reports and photographs that seem strange and difficult to explain, but almost all of them are explainable and a lot of them are bluffs.

So do I believe online poker is rigged? In general my answer would be no, I don’t believe that any of the major rooms is rigged. I wouldn’t be totally surprised if some of the small rooms are, but for the big players I think the risk/reward is far too bad for trying something like that.

Most importantly I believe that the lack of evidence is revealing. If online poker was so rigged that so many people believe why isn’t there more evidence? Like hand histories over 100′s of thousands of hands that might actually show something? Interesting is also that most of the players who so strongly believe poker is rigged are casual players who might not even have played 10 thousand hands in their lifetime. But how you can draw conclusions from such a small sample? The fact of the matter is that you can’t.

For more on the subject, check out Bill Rini’s (former Poker Room Manager at Party Poker) interesting article Why Online Poker Is Not Rigged.

How about cheating in online poker then? That is a different matter, more on that in later posts…

My 50 cents on the raging debate on the matter of skills in live poker games versus online games.

The oldtimers often see online players as inexperienced and naive. The new breed of online players often see the oldtimers as, well you guessed it, old.

I actually think that both sides are right!

How can that be? Let me explain…

In general I believe that the good online players are better at analysing the game and have a more thorough understanding of the mathematics of poker.

And in general I believe the oldtimers have a keener sense for characteristics of different players and “feel” for how they are going to play.

On the matter of experience I actually think that it is not uncommon that a 23 year old online poker wiz kid has as much poker under his belt as a 60 year old vet.

If you started playing online at the age of 18 and have been playing 4 tables 10 hours per day a couple of years – at at least double the pace of a live game you will actually gather a lot of experience fast.

In general I believe the oldtimers underestimate the skill of analysis and mathematics.

In general I believe the online players underestimate the skill of reading tells.

I actually even believe many of the oldtimers underestimate the skill of reading tells themselves.

When you read for example Harrington on Hold ‘em Expert Strategy or Gus Hansen’s Every Hand Revealed or Warwick Dunnet’s Poker Wizards most of the pros say that tells are a very small part of their game.

But I believe they are wrong.

Sure, when it comes to situations where they can say “I know he had pocket 7′s, I could just feel it” I agree that it is very rare.

But I do believe that they can often get a sense of strength or weakness or a bluff.

The reason I think they underestimate the skill is that all of us underestimate the power of the subconscious.

The power of “gutfeeling”, female intuition and such is very strong. There are so many things going on under the surface that never reaches the conscious parts of the brain.

If you don’t believe me you should read the great book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking about intuition (not a poker book).

Now, when I talk about the ability to read tells, I am not mainly referring to “when he put’s the money in the pot like that he has a strong hand” kind of read. I would agree that those kind of reads are fairly rare. I am talking about the feeling you get that something is a certain way, but you can’t really put your finger on it. It is just a feeling. You can’t explain it, and you can’t teach it to someone else. Why? Because you don’t know yourself how you do it! In Blink there is an example of the examination of a supposedly old greek statue. All the physical testing shows that it should be the real deal. But the experts were united, something was wrong with it. They just couldn’t figure out what. After a while it turned out, if I remember correctly, that it was something with the proportions that were slightly off. And after a while they were able to prove it physically also.

Another reason I believe intuition and tells are truly important part of the great live players game is that when you read most of the really good live players analysis of hands they are not too impressive.

Most of them are doing decent or good analysis. The only exception that I’ve seen so far is Harrington who is really impressive. But most other great live players are not doing mindblowing poker analysis.

I still think most of them are not just lucky, they are great players. I believe a combination of good analysis skills together with outstanding “reading” skills can take you very far in live games.

An excellent example is Mike “the mouth” Matusow who has lost tremendous amounts in online poker. If I remember correctly he has said that he has never had a winning month online! And his analysis and plays sometimes feels kind of weird. I believe he is a bad online player but a great live player. He seems to have excellent feel for when he can get away with a crazy bluff and he seems capable of manipulating people to do what he want. But he is not able to do that online, so he is loosing there.

So why then are online players better at analysis and mathematics? Because of the use of online tools like Pokertracker and Pokerstove. 20 hours with tools like those might give you more information and more accurate information than 30 years of speculation with your peers.

To conclude I think both sides of specialists have a lot to learn from each other!

This is really interesting!
Drawpoker has been proven to have a skill value of 0,45 in Dutch study!
So what on earth does that mean?
It has been analysed statistically by going through loads of hands. A simplified version of Drawpoker was calculated according to a certain formula to be on the level 0,45. This can be compared with Blackjack on level 0,06.
The needed level to be considered a skillgame according to the Dutch court was 0,20, so no problem for Drawpoker. And they consider Texas Hold’em to be on a higher level.
This is a recap of an article i Aftonbladet (sorry – in Swedish), I have not been able to find the study unfortunately. Please share if you find it.

Well, under some circumstances it can be – and it can be even more successful.

But when opponents are playing good poker, at full ring table with average stack depth (100 big blinds) there is only one style that is truly successful and that is Tight Aggressive. By the way, I am talking Texas Hold’em No limit games here.

It took me a long while (years) and quite a bit of money to figure this out. I hope you will not make the same mistake. Because it is more fun to be splashing money around and outplay your opponents and put fear into their hearts than sitting around waiting for that good hand, right?

Some of you might argue that this might be true for cash games, but there is no way this is true for tournaments? Well, in a way you are right. But you are missing one thing. I mentioned that this is true when opponents are playing good poker. And you might also be missing the stack sizes, which are an important factor.

So what do I mean, are tournament players not playing good poker? Well, many of them are. But MANY of the tournament players are really scared of busting so they are playing very few hands preflop and fold after the flop if they don’t make a good hand. Especially in live tournaments. I probably would to if I had traveled 1000′s of miles and paid 10 000 $ to enter.

But that is not how you should play if you want to play good poker. And it is not the way most players are playing in online cash games or early stages of tournaments. From the levels when people start playing decent poker, let’s say $0,5-1, a lot of the players are Tight Aggressive and will not be bullied around be someone who is playing a lot of hands.

And now you are thinking, yeah, yeah, this guy has lost some money playing loose, maybe he’s just a bad player and now he is bitter?

That could have been the case. But it isn’t. What has convinced me of the merits of Tight Aggressive play on decent playing tables, regardless of if it’s a tournament or a cash game is deep analysis of my hand history database with 5 million played hands and 100 000 players. I have not yet found a cash game player who has been really successful and who is playing more than 25% of all hands at decent levels.

So I challenge you!
Show me a player who’s playing more than 25 % of the hands and who has a winrate of more than 2 BB/100 hands (2 big bets = 4 big blinds) on $1-2 or higher over more than 50 000 hands at full ring!

The value of position in poker, especially in Texas Hold’em is huge.


Having position on someone means that you act after them.

You have probably heard terms like Early Position, Middle Position, Button, Under-the-gun (UTG) etc.
Early Position means that you are sitting close to the blinds and will act early in the hand, especially preflop, when the blinds are acting last.

The benefit with having position on someone is that they will act before you, so when it is your turn you will have gained information. And information is money in poker.

Preflop

If you are first to act at a Full Ring table you will have 8 or 9 people to act after you. It is natural that you need a very strong hand to be able to open the pot. To understand this fully let’s imagine you open the top-10 % best hands. If you do that it is more than 50 % likely that one of the following players will have a better hand, if you open with the worst hand in your range (1 – 0,1 to the power of 8 => 60 % chance). In other words, if you open with a 10 % range UTG at a Full Ring table you are not a favorite to have the best hand. Furthermore, it is also likely that someone with a stronger hand will get involved AND have position on you throughout the hand.

On the other hand, if you are on the Button and open with a 30 % range there will only be two players left to act and the chance that you have the best hand is almost 50 % (1 – 0,7*0,7). AND you know you will have position throughout the hand.

These are the reasons why poker players play very few hands from Early positions and a lot more from Late position (not as extreme when the game is shorthanded).

Think about this the next time you consider opening a decent, but not great hand UTG in a Full Ring game next time. Even if you believe you have a skill advantage over your opponents (make sure you have enough games at the level under your belt to be sure of this) you might well be playing a hand with a card disadvantage and a positional disadvantage. Have a clear reason for playing the hand if you do, for example that table is folding much too often, or for deception (occasionally) or since you are much stronger than the opponents. Otherwise fold!

An example of the value of position preflop is you hold a fairly strong hand in late position. A TAG (Tight-Agressive) UTG open raises and a TAG Middle Position reraises significantly. Now you can throw away a pair of 8′s in late position without having invested a single bet. On the other hand, if you had been UTG you would have open raised with this hand – without any information about how your opponents like their hands.

Postflop

The difference between acting before or after you opponent can often mean as much as saving a bet when you have the worst hand and winning an extra bet when you have the better hand. This may not sound like much, but it is. Sometimes the last bet is on the river, in a big pot.

This site is mostly focused on No limit Cash games in Texas Hold’em.

However, a lot of the content applies in Tournaments and Sit and Go’s as well.

In general you can play the same way in the early stages of a Tournament as you do in a Cash game with the following considerations:

  • If you have a skill advantage you want to avoid marginal all-ins, but you also want to play many hands (can sometimes be conflicting goals if opponents are aggressive)
  • You might want to project a tight and conservative image early on to be able to get away with more when the blinds increase

Some people say you should take every chance to collect money at early stages, because otherwise you will have too small chance to win. This is not true. With a correct strategy for opening up your game when the blinds increase you will still have good chances of winning.  If skill advantage is ignored optimal strategy in a tournament is identical to a cash game when far from the money.

In a Sit and Go you need to play a little bit tighter. The reason for this is that the so called Bubble effect is noticeable from the very start of a Sit and Go (it is normally negligible in a large MTT (Multi Table Tournament).

The Bubble is what it is called when the tournament is at a stage so that it is getting close to the money payouts.  Usually many (inexperienced players) tighten up a lot at this stage because they really want something to show for their efforts. This can be taken advantage of by skilled opponents by raising with more hands and increased aggression. Due to something called Bubble Factor correct strategy is in general to raise when first in with more hands, but avoid confrontations more than normally (call or reraise with fewer hands).

The Bubble Factor helps you decide exactly how to play an optimal strategy at any time in a Tournament or a Sit and Go. The basis for this is something called the ICM (Independent Chip Model). The ICM is a way to convert tournament chips into real money. This is somewhat complicated (but very important). The more chips a player has, the less each chip is worth. Doubling the amount of chips does not double the dollar expected value ($EV).

The optimal strategy is fairly complex and depends on payout structure and stacksizes etc so for a full understanding of this part of tournaments and sit and go’s I recommend specialized sites and the following sources:

ICM

Introduction to ICM

Free ICM calculator

If you are playing Sit and Go’s and take it seriously I strongly recommend getting the Sit & Go Wizard. It is both an ICM calculator, but more importantly, you can practice with it to play a close to perfect end-game in Sit & Go’s. Try it for free for 30 days and make up your mind late.

Bubble Factor
Kill Everyone: Advanced Strategies for No-Limit Hold ‘Em Poker, Tournaments, and Sit-n-Gos

Tournaments
Harrington on Hold ‘em Expert Strategy for No Limit Tournaments, Vol. 1: Strategic Play
Harrington on Hold ‘em Expert Strategy for No Limit Tournaments, Vol. 2: Endgame

Sit and Go’s
Sit ‘n Go Strategy

A critical skill in poker is being able to adjust to your opponents.

You want to do this to maximize your earnings from their mistakes and minimize your own mistakes that they can take advantage of.

If you have information that will  help you predict how your opponents are going to react you should use this to your advantage.


Adjusting opening ranges to table average

In general, if a table is playing tighter than normal, you should play looser. If a table is playing looser than normal you should play tighter. You get a fairly good idea for what average play is by the Preflop Strategy. This is pretty average except on Microstakes which are much looser most of the time.

On top of this you might play looser than normal if you have a high skill edge against your competitors and you might play tighter than normal if your opponents are more skilled than you (but normally select a different table).

Many poker players are overdoing these adjustments. Be careful when you stray from the default strategy since it can make you very exploitable when someone notices this. If there isn’t a huge skill difference or if you are not very sure of what you are doing you should only make small adjustments, for example:

  • If table is very tight play 25 % more hands from all positions.
  • If table is very loose play 25 % fewer hands from all positions.

This may be a reasonable starting point at a cash game table. However, in a tournament people can sometimes become so tight when it is getting close to the money so you can play more or less every hand. These situations will mostly require experience, feel for the table dynamics and knowledge about the bubble factors and how that influences the game.

Adjusting to the game flow

If someone has 3-bet you four times in the last 20 minutes you will be tempted to fight back next time, right? This goes for most people.

Exactly how to adjust to game flow, table dynamics, mental game etc is something that mainly must be learned with experience. One thing to consider though, is that many people are overadjusting and doing it too quickly.

For example, if you are 3-bet twice in a row by an average player who has 3-bet of 5% over several thousand hands and if you have an average image both at the table and over long run at the site. Should you automatically assume that he is full of it and assign him a range of 15%? Or is it more likely that he happened to get good hands twice in a row? Most of the time it is actually the latter. And it can be a more costly mistake to 4-bet light in the wrong situation than to fold a marginal hand.

So general advice is:

  • If your image is normal, assume that opponents are playing their normal game until something has deviated more than 3 times

For example, if someone with a normal image has 3-bet you 3 times, you should still assume he is playing his normal game (unless you have other reasons to think he is out of line). However, the fourth time he does it in a short period of time you can start assigning him a wider range than normal.

But be careful how far you take your adjustments also. Most players don’t start playing completely differently all of a sudden (unless they are drunk or on tilt). And, when someone knows he has been overdoing something, he may well have decided to shift gears, by the time you start adjusting.

This goes both ways of course, pay attention to how your opponents are likely to perceive you. And if you have done something 3 times in a short time span you might consider changing gears if your opponent is likely to catch up on this and do something about it.

Adjusting to the blinds

If you are playing multiple tables of cash games online at low stakes or higher, you usually don’t have to adjust too much to the tables. Most tables will have some decent opponents so the table average will not be that far from normal most of the time. And when it is, it will most of the time only be for a short period.

Here is a guideline to help you get started. As usual it is important to not overdo it.

Small blind

  • If  big blind fold-to-steal < 70% or raise-steal-attempt > 10% decrease opening range to 30 %.
  • If big blind has a fold-to steal of > 90 % increase opening range to 50 %.

You should also keep an eye on if the big blind loves to squeeze or raise limpers and tighten up limps and cold-calls if he does. If he overdo it a lot it is an opportunity to trap with premium hands.

Button

  • If either of the blinds fold-to-steal < 70% or raise-steal-attempt > 10% decrease opening range to 30 %.
  • If either of the blinds have a fold-to-steal between 70- 80 % use normal opening range.
  • If both blinds have fold-to-steal between 80-90 % increase opening range to 40 %.
  • If big blind has a fold-to steal of > 90 % increase opening range to 50 %.

You should also keep an eye on blinds who loves to squeeze or raise limpers and tighten up limps and cold-calls if they do. If they overdo it a lot it is an opportunity to trap with premium hands.

Cut-off

  • If either of the blinds fold-to-steal < 70% or raise-steal-attempt > 10%  or button 3-bets > 10% or cold-call > 10% decrease opening range to 20 %.
  • If both of the blinds have a fold-to-steal between 70- 80 % use normal opening range.
  • If both blinds have fold-to-steal between 80-90 % increase opening range to 30 %.
  • If big blind has a fold-to steal of > 90 % increase opening range to 35 %.

You should also keep an eye on blinds and button who loves to squeeze or raise limpers and tighten up limps and cold-calls if they do. If they overdo it a lot it is an opportunity to trap with premium hands.

Why adjusting in steal position is important

Some people think that it is not worth putting much attention to blind stealing since the blinds are so small. Just use the default opening range and everything will be fine. But that will be a big opportunity lost. Consider this:

A really good winrate is 2 BB / 100 Hands (BB is Big Bets).

That’s 0,02 BB / Hand = 0,04 Big Blinds / Hand

You are on the button or the cut-off 2/6 of the time if you play 6-Max. If you are a zero-sum player, you can reach a 2 BB / 100 level just by increasing your winrate at the button and cut-off by 0,12 Big Blinds / Hand.

Let’s imagine you are always raising 20 % of your hands from the  cut-off and 30 % of your hands from the button no matter who plays the button and the blinds. Let’s also imagine you play with buttons and blinds that are folding too much 25 % of the time. You can increase your winrate to 0,12 Big Blinds / Hand in total average if you can steal successfully 30 % extra the times when you have weak opponents. This is just a complicated way of saying that adjusting your opening ranges on the cut-off and the button can have a significant  impact on your winrate!