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The Ultimate Guide to Table Selection for Today’s Online Micro Stakes Cash Games

Posted by BlackRain79

Table selection has come a long way over the years at the micros. It was literally a foreign concept when I first started playing online poker in the mid 00's. The games were a lot better back then but nobody paid any attention to what table they sat down at and they certainly didn't care what seat they got. Fast forward to 2014 and if you aren't table selecting in a big way (even at the very lowest stakes) you are doing yourself a huge disservice.

Table selection is an absolute must in today's games. Long gone are the days when you can sit down at a random NL25 table and expect to have a couple of huge whales splashing around. You can get lucky and find this on rare occasions especially on a weekend but this is very much the exception to the norm. The typical table these days will consist of a bunch of tight regs and one semi-bad, slightly loose player.

It is impossible to crush these games if you insist on sitting at tables like this all of the time. No matter how much you study how to beat the regs or stay on top of every new strategy out there you will still face a winnings ceiling. This is the point where your winrate simply cannot go any higher because fundamentally your opponents just aren't making enough mistakes.

No matter how bad many of the tight players are who dominate today's micro stakes games they simply aren't in enough hands to make the same kinds of massive mistakes that recreational players do. They also don't put themselves in positions to make second best hands as often by getting get out-kicked or out-flushed because they don't play as many weak hands.

There are some people out there who still refuse to take table selection seriously in today's games. If you are in this category then this article is not for you. A mediocre winrate is the best that you can hope for due to your decision to neglect this absolutely crucial part of the game. To the rest of you who are interested in having a big winrate in today's games I am going to outline some of the key strategies that I use to find good tables and perhaps more importantly, good seats.

Table Selection Versus Seat Selection

Let me first get into a key distinction that I just brushed over. Finding the right table in today's games is only half of the battle. In fact for many hardcore bumhunters (people who only sit with huge fish) it is just the beginning. This is because they know (and you should too) that getting the seat to the left of the fish which is often referred to as the "Jesus Seat" is where the big money is made in this game.

The power of position is an often misunderstood concept for newer players. By this I mean that they massively underestimate it's importance. When you have immediate position on someone at the poker table (you are on their direct left) you have an advantage so large that even against a much superior opponent you can expect to at least break even versus them over the long run.

The reverse is also true. An inferior opponent who has direct position on you will likely bust you given enough time. Getting on the direct left of the recreational player (or as close to it as possible) is of absolutely vital importance in the table selection process. If you are on the right of the fish it will severely restrict your ability to isolate them preflop and value bet and bluff them postflop. This will negatively impact your ability to get their stack in a huge way.

I will talk about getting the Jesus Seat a bit more later though. First things first, how do we find the tables with the recreational players on them?

Play Poker at the Right Times

As mentioned finding the big fish is not always an easy task in today's games even at the very lowest stakes. There are some strategies that you can take though to seriously improve your odds.

1) Play More on Weekends

This is the oldest and totally foolproof table selection "trick" in the book. The games are always a little bit better on the weekends because recreational players have jobs to attend to during the week. On the weekends they want to unwind, perhaps have some drinks and play a bit of online poker. I have been playing online poker for nearly 10 years now. It has always been my experience that the games are a bit better on the weekends. Fish are out in larger numbers and there are more intoxicated lunatics.

Obviously we all have lives outside of poker though and if we only played on the weekends then it would be hard to get much volume in. So the point of this is not to say that you shouldn't play during the week. Yes of course you should. But if you can, you should designate more hours on the weekends. Play those epic long sessions then as well.

2) Play More During Prime-Time Hours

This is another table selection method that may pre-date the dinosaurs. People ask me all the time when the best time to play is. The answer isn't so clear in today's games though. Before the American online poker market was decimated by Black Friday several years ago the best time to play was clearly during the prime-time North and South American hours (6pm-12pm roughly).

In today's online poker climate game quality is much more balanced between the prime-time hours in North/South America and those in Europe. Prime-time in Asia is a distant third. Since most people reading this article aren't from Asia then this shouldn't be a big concern. If you do happen to live in a place like Thailand though, then it is advisable that you change your schedule a bit usually by playing early in the morning which is prime-time in North/South America.

Recreational Poker Players non-HUD Tells

As I have discussed before there are several clear as day "tells" that recreational players give off to identify themselves as bad players. None of these require any HUD data.

1) Stack Size Below 100bb

100bb is the maximum allowable buyin in most online poker cash games. Good poker players always want to have the most money possible in front of them. The reason is pretty simple. The more money you have in front of you, the more you can win. If you are the best (or among the best) at the table then it only makes sense to push your edge or "scale up" as much as possible. The only time when you should ever consider buying in for less than the maximum allowable stack size is if you are playing a higher stake than normal to chase a fish and he has bought in for less than the maximum.

There are some well known mid stacking and short stacking strategies out there. I do not advocate using either of them because no matter how you cut it you are placing an artificial ceiling on your potential winnings. However, you will occasionally run into some decent players in today's games who use one of these strategies.

The large majority of the time though when you run into someone at the tables who has bought in for less than the maximum (or they are not using the auto top up stack option) they will be a recreational player. The clearest sign of all is when somebody buys in for something like $17.63 on an NL25 table. This is clearly their entire bankroll and you should identify them as a fish right away.

2) Posting a Blind OOP

Anyone who takes this game seriously knows that you should always wait for the big blind to come around to you before posting a blind. The blinds can be thought of like a tax that you have to pay in order to play the game. Nobody would ever voluntarily pay more taxes than they owe.

The only players who disregard this are recreational players. When they sit down at the table they simply want to get playing as soon as possible. They have a limited amount of time to play and they want to get in the action as soon as possible. If you see anyone post a blind OOP you can identify them as a fish immediately.

3) Limping

There really is no justification for limping at the micros in any scenario. Pretty much everybody has realized these days that it simply makes a lot more sense to raise when first in the pot or if there are limpers. If you see anyone open limping then you can immediately identify them as a recreational player.

4) Min Bets Postflop

Another surefire sign of a bad player is a min bet after the flop. While there are some good players who will open for a min raise preflop, especially from LP, nobody who has any knowledge of the game would ever make a minimum bet after the flop. The reason why is because a bet of say $1 into a $10 pot is totally meaningless. Your opponent can profitably call with any two cards.

5) Playing One or Two Tables

Regs will almost always be playing at least half a dozen tables at once (and often many more) since they play tight and therefore have less decisions to make. They also want to increase their rakeback. Recreational players play a lot more hands and their decisions are often based on superstition and emotion rather than logic and repetition. They also generally have no clue about rakeback. Therefore they can often only handle a table or two at a time. Most poker rooms allow you to search a player. If you suspect that somebody is a bad player then search them and note the number of tables.

6) Low Rakeback Status

On sites where it applies such as Pokerstars a big clue to someone's ability is their rakeback status. It is advisable to never show your rakeback status for any reason. Giving out free information at the poker table simply makes no sense at all. However, recreational players don't care about this. If you see somebody showing Bronzestar or Chromestar on Pokerstars for instance, and you are playing NL25 or higher, this is a big clue that they are a bad player. Anyone playing these stakes regularly would have a higher rakeback status.

7) Smart Phone or Tablet Symbol on Pokerstars

Pokerstars intoduced the smart phone and tablet symbols beside each player using them awhile ago. These can be turned off in the options. Once again recreational players are more likely to leave them turned on though. Also, recreational players are far more likely to be playing online poker using a smart phone or a tablet. The large majority of regs would rather use a desktop or a notebook in order to play as many tables as they want and utilize all of their poker related software. Players showing these symbols on Pokerstars are almost invariably bad players.

Tag Them Right Away

If you notice a player that is showing any of these 7 signs then you should tag them as a recreational player immediately. Almost all poker sites allow you to put a color tag or a note beside a player. These essentially last forever and make table selection much easier in the future because you already know who is a fish. On Pokerstars you should go:

Options > Player Notes > Left click player to assign label

This will allow you to tag somebody as a recreational player with one click. Whenever you have down-time at the tables (nothing is happening) you should be making sure that you are on good tables and tagging all the bad players. Always make sure that you tag them as you are closing down your session as well since you will have the maximum amount of information on everybody. Speaking of that, I am going to talk about how to identify recreational players with your HUD next.

Recreational Player HUD Tells

Finding the fish in today's online micro stakes cash games
If you read this blog regularly then you will know that I highly suggest using a HUD in today's games even at the lowest limits. You can certainly still win without one but it is just silly to forgo the kind of information that these programs are capable of providing you with. They will often pay for themselves in a week or two at the most.

The absolute easiest way to spot a recreational player is by VPIP (percentage of hands that they play) and PFR (percentage of hands that they raise with preflop). Bad players will have a VPIP that is at least 30 or more. This goes for 6max or full ring. And they will often have a PFR that is considerably less than this. The true bumhunter specialist is looking for the recreational players with a VPIP of 40, 50 or more though. These are the players who burn through stacks at a truly incredible pace.

Sometimes they will have a PFR of just a single digit (52/7 for instance). This is often referred to as a whale or a "drooler" fish. Sometimes they will have a PFR that is much closer to their VPIP though (52/37 for instance). This is often referred to as a maniac or an "aggro fish." While the strategies to exploit these two player types differ in some ways both are like rocket fuel for your winrate. If you spend all of your time at the tables playing against these kinds of opponents it is literally impossible not to crush these games beyond belief.

Always make sure that you play a few orbits before you make a final decision on somebody. Just because you spot a player with an 80% VPIP doesn't necessarily mean that they are a recreational player if the sample size is only 5 or even 10 hands. It is definitely possible to simply have a good run of good cards over a sample like this. I prefer to wait until I have about 20 hands on someone before I decide for sure whether they are a bad player or not.

Start Your Own Tables

One of the best ways to find recreational players in today's games is to simply let them come to you. The easiest and most well known method of doing this is to simply start your own tables. As I mentioned before, fish only have a limited amount of time to play poker and when they sit down at the virtual felt they want to get dealt in as soon as possible. Because of this they are more likely to choose a table that has empty seats on it. Start your own table and watch them come to you.

Many people do not like to do this because they are not confident in their abilities when it is heads up or ultra short handed. The first thing that you need to remember is that the tables that you start will usually fill up really fast. You will often be playing 6 handed or 9 handed like you are used to before you even know it.

Secondly, even if you have to play a few hands short handed just play your normal game and don't worry about it. We are talking about terrible players here. You win money off of them by making hands and value betting the crap out of them. Therefore the same method to beat them applies whether there are 2 people at the table or 9. Just open with a few more hands than usual and play normal poker after that.

Lastly, if no recreational players show up and you find yourself playing heads up against an obvious reg (he doesn't limp the button, 3Bets a fair bit etc) then simply leave the table or sit out. There is no need to prove anything versus another reg. Just move on and start another table or sit out and wait for the fish to show up.

Snipe The Jesus Seat

This final method is in the arsenal of all hardcore bumhunters these days. It is also highly effective. The idea of starting your own tables to attract the recreational players is not a new idea. Therefore, you will probably notice a few other regs doing the exact same thing. Simply open up a bunch of those tables and observe them but don't sit yet. As soon as an unknown player or a known fish sits down at any of these tables immediately grab the seat to the left of them. There is no easier way to get the most profitable seat in the game.

Don't be afraid to simply hop around the table and grab the Jesus Seat if the table is not full either. This isn't live poker, you won't be hurting anyone's feelings. Don't bother waiting for the blinds to come to you. Just leave the table straight away and rejoin at the seat to the left of the bad player. You want this seat at all costs.

The Importance of Table Selection

I hope that some of the above methods will help you better identify the bad players and get the best seat against them. I have to reiterate that choosing to ignore table selection in today's games is an absolutely colossal mistake. I would go as far as to say that you should be spending upwards of 50% of your actual time at the tables looking for bad players and getting the right seat against them.

You can study all of the latest and greatest poker strategy theories until the sun goes down. Against decent thinking opponents this stuff can only help your winrate in a small way though. You simply cannot crush these games anymore at any level above NL10 if you are not fully committed to finding the worst players and playing with them a large majority of the time.

Many people are stubborn (or ignorant) though and refuse to accept the fundamental rule that you cannot create a big winrate against players who are not making many huge mistakes. The latest fad is GTO (game theory optimal) play. If I can just figure out how to balance my ranges perfectly against every opponent in every situation then I will finally be able to crush these games! You are still trying to draw blood from a stone. The real money in this game will always be in playing against extremely bad (or tilted) players.

Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a poker player, coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes and Modern Small Stakes.

Join my FREE weekly newsletter for exclusive tips and strategy advice on everything related to micro and small stakes cash games.

CBetting the Flop at the Micros (Modern Evolution)

Posted by BlackRain79

CBetting the Flop at the Micros (Modern Evolution)

I don't believe that I have ever really covered CBetting the flop in detail on this blog. Also, CBetting theory has certainly evolved at the micro and small stakes in recent years. Five or six years ago when the games began to tighten up people began to realize that frequently continuing up their preflop raise (regardless of their holdings) was a very profitable thing to do. This is because the play shifted to a weak-tight model where a lot of people thought that being overly tight both preflop and postflop was the way to go.

The pendulum has started to swing back in the other direction though in recent years at least amongst "thinking" players at NL10+. By this I am referring to the better regs at these stakes who are aware that you are CBetting too much and will actively take steps to exploit this. It is important to note that versus most of the regs at lower stakes and against most recreational players at all limits CBetting the flop frequently is still very effective.

So how should we re-adjust on the flop versus the better players in today's games?

Be Unpredictable

Decent regs at the micro and small stakes today are going to rip you apart if you CBet the flop 80%+ of the time against them. They will float you when they are IP and bet the turn when checked to. Or they will simply raise the flop or the turn. If OOP they will check/raise or check/call and lead or check/raise the turn. They know (correctly) that against heavy CBetters they will be able to get folds a lot of the time with these types of lines because their opponent simply won't have a hand to fight back with very often.

The way that we can counteract this though is by widening our check/continuance range on the flop. By this I mean having a range of hands that we check the flop with as the preflop raiser both IP and OOP. However, we are not giving up with these hands. This range should be a fair bit wider when we are OOP in order to counteract our positional disadvantage.

So in practice we do this by mixing in more check backs IP and check/calls and check/raises OOP with a wide variety of holdings. This is really just about balancing our range more in these situations. When you have an active checking range on the flop (that doesn't only include total air) you make yourself much harder to play against. This is because our opponent now faces the threat of being played back at when they attempt to float or check/raise us on the flop or turn.

Now don't get me wrong. We should definitely still be CBetting the flop frequently in many spots against good players. We did raise preflop after all which generally means that we started the hand with something halfway decent. It is certainly still profitable to follow it up with a bet quite a bit of the time. Conversely, we also want to still give up with total air especially when OOP a certain amount of the time.

What this is really about is widening that third part of our range (checking and continuing) that became almost non-existent among the flop CBetting frenzy of past years. In 2014 CBetting 80% and giving up almost always when floated or played back at will not cut it against many of the better regs especially by the time you get to NL25. We need to let our opponents know that a check on the flop is not necessarily a white flag from us. In fact it very well might be dangerous for them. Let's look at some examples of how this might play out.

Example #1 (Full Ring)

TAG Villain: 15/12/3, fold to flop CBet 56%, raise flop CBet 33%

Hero opens from MP+1 with A♥5♥
Villain calls from the BTN

The flop comes:


Most people would just make a "standard" CBet here versus a single opponent on a dry single broadway board like this. But consider the opponent in this situation. We are against a reg who folds to a flop CBet a fairly mediocre to low amount of the time at 56%. He also raises a flop CBet at a fairly high 33% of the time.

Also though, as I mention repeatedly in Modern Small Stakes, we need to adjust for the situation. We need to think about why a good reg like this would choose to flat us preflop in this spot. He knows that our range is wide when opening from MP+1. Most regs will simply go ahead and make a light 3Bet here. When he calls it is at least in part to balance his range and prevent us from being able to 4Bet the crap out of him.

But more importantly it is also done with the full intention of using position to take the pot away from us after the flop. We would do the exact same thing if the roles were reversed here. So considering the situation (he knows that we are weak a lot and at a positional disadvantage) we should probably expect our opponent here to float or raise us considerably more than what the numbers above indicate. How can we adjust to this?

Well, as I mentioned before, this is where having a reasonably wide check/continuance range can really help. Instead of just blindly tossing out a CBet here and getting floated or raised all day why not check/raise here instead? Or how about a check/call and then lead the turn or check/raise the turn line? This puts all of the pressure back on our opponent here. And the truth is, he usually doesn't have anything very good either especially on an exceedingly dry board like this.

If you are capable of taking lines like this a reasonably significant amount of the time then the better regs will have to think twice next time about flatting you IP preflop and trying to screw with you after the flop. It should be noted that we should have a check/fold range here as well. And a traditional CBet range as well. But versus an active reg in a situation like this who is obviously only in the hand to mess with me a lot I am not afraid to alter my frequencies heavily.

It is also very important that you are able to take these lines with much more than the nuts as well. It should be balanced out with draws, middle pairs and even total air like in this hand.

Hero Should:
Check/Raise or Check/Call (with turn followup) 1/2 of the time, CBet 1/4 of the time, Check/Fold 1/4 of the time

Example #2 (6max)

TAG Villain: 22/19/3, fold to flop CBet 52%, raise flop CBet 35%

Villain opens from the CO
Hero 3Bets from the BTN with Q♠Q♣
Villain calls

The flop comes:

Villain checks

We are IP this time and we have the virtual nuts. This is another spot where we need to develop a checking range in order to make it more difficult for the better regs to play against us. Checking behind here on occasion will encourage the more aggressive regs to lead the turn and possibly the river as well as a bluff. It will also make them think twice about check/raising us when we do CBet because they will know that we can show up with hands like this sometimes as well.

In contrast, most of the weaker regs at the micro and small stakes these days will just auto-CBet here and only check behind on occasion with total air. This is extremely exploitable because first off we can just lead the turn no matter what we have and expect to take it down a lot because they have essentially given up. Or we can take a check/call the flop and lead the turn or check/raise the flop and lead the turn line and expect to get a lot of folds because a lot of their range includes ace highs and mid pairs that cannot withstand a lot of heat.

By balancing our range better in these spots versus the thinking regs in these games we can prevent ourselves from being exploited by these lines. We can confuse our opponent and provide no clear path to success for them. This should always be one of your most important goals when playing against good poker players.

Hero Should:
Check behind 1/3 of the time, CBet 2/3 of the time

Final Thoughts

I hope that this discussion has proven useful for some of you who are struggling versus the better players who will play back at you as you move up the stakes. Balancing your range against them is the answer. And as regards the flop this means widening your check/continuance range (especially when OOP) so that your actions are not so black or white and predictable.

I want to be very clear though that none of this really applies at NL2, NL4, NL5 and even NL10 for the most part. The regs at these stakes are still largely beginners and are not thinking much beyond the strength of their own hand. Even versus many of the bad regs at NL25, NL50 and NL100 this sort of balancing is not overly important. This really only applies to that small subset of regs who populate the higher end of the micros, play a moderate or low amount of tables and are actively thinking about how to exploit their opponents.

Otherwise, you shouldn't bother complicating things for yourself. Just making the obvious play is still overwhelmingly the right decision in most micro and small stakes games today.

Let me know your strategies for counteracting chronic flop floaters and raisers in the comments below.

Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a poker player, coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes and Modern Small Stakes.

Join my FREE weekly newsletter for exclusive tips and strategy advice on everything related to micro and small stakes cash games.

Slow Losing Poker Sessions – Here is How to Make Sense of Them

Posted by BlackRain79

Slow Losing Poker Sessions - Here's How to Make Sense of Them

We've all been there. They happen quite frequently even to the biggest winners especially at any stakes above NL10. They are those slow losing poker sessions where you can't quite put your finger on exactly what went wrong. It is not as if you ran into a bunch of coolers or bad beats all at once. That is something that I call a "hell session" where you simply cannot win a hand to save your life. They also seem to have the nuts every time. No, it was just a slow decline. You actually thought that you played pretty well. However, when all was said and done you were a couple buyins worse the wear.

Making sense of these sessions is difficult especially for newer players. It is also hard for people who have marginal or negative winrates because they will happen very, very frequently to them. It is important to realize though that these sessions are a natural occurrence for everybody who plays poker. They are part of the variance that comes with playing this game. The key is to make sure that they were unavoidable and you were not the problem.

The Most Important Stat

The first stat that I always look at when analyzing a slow losing session like this is WSD. In more precise terms this refers to the percentage of the time that you won money (the pot) when you went to showdown. In Pokertracker 4 this stat should already be added by default. The same goes for any other poker tracking program. If it is not, then add it right away.

Most winning players have a WSD that hovers somewhere between the high 40's and the mid 50's (if your WSD is significantly outside of this range then there might be some deeper fundamental issues with your game). If you had a slow losing session then it is likely that you will be in the mid or low 40's. Anywhere below this (in the 30's for instance) is definitely a hell session.

The difference between a winning and losing session can often be a very fine line. Often it will boil down to just a few key pots. However the cumulative effect of losing just 5% or 10% less often at showdown than you normally do can easily make the difference as well.

Win/Loss Ratio of Medium Sized Pots

As I talked about in a post earlier this year about how to conduct a session review it is easy to filter for pots between a certain size in PT or HEM. Again, in these small losing sessions it is assumed that the big pots (you stacked someone or they stacked you) roughly even out. So I want to know what happened in a bunch of smaller pots of roughly 30bb-100bb in size.

Most winning players over the long haul should have a decided advantage in winning versus losing pots of this size. In a slow losing session though you will likely have quite a few more than normal in the losing category. It is key that you examine the losing hands carefully and make sure that the reason you lost them was outside of your control.

As I talk about near the end of Modern Small Stakes there are a number of key questions that you should be asking yourself when reviewing these hands.

  • Could I have won this pot with a different line?
  • Did I correctly make use of all the HUD data that I had on my opponent at the time? (i.e. imbalances that can be exploited)
  • Did I put my opponent on a correct range based on the action in the hand and the player type?

If you are satisfied that in the majority of these hands that there is no better way that you could have played it, then you just have to move on and accept the results. If not then this is the time to note the mistakes that you made and make adjustments in the future.

The Long Run is Long

As we know winning poker is just a series of good decisions made over the long run. At limits above NL10 where the winrates for most long term winning players are typically not above 5bb/100 a sizeable number of your sessions are going to end negatively even if you did everything right. It is important to understand that this is simply a reality in today's games.

As long as you are confident that you made good decisions most of the time (nobody is perfect) then you have nothing to worry about. I often don't even bother reviewing these types of sessions anymore. The WSD stat usually tells me everything that I need to know. But for newer or struggling players it is a good idea to review your medium sized losing pots frequently. This is often where the difference between winning and losing players is found.

Anybody can stack someone with a set when their opponent has an overpair. Everybody goes broke when they run KK into AA. These pots play themselves. You need to make sure that you are doing everything in your power to win the pots when nobody has anything (or at least anything very good). Everything else is just a part of the natural cycle of variance in this game that we all go through.

How do you approach slow losing poker sessions?

Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a poker player, coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes and Modern Small Stakes.

Join my FREE weekly newsletter for exclusive tips and strategy advice on everything related to micro and small stakes cash games.

Announcing the Release of my 2nd Book “Modern Small Stakes”

Posted by BlackRain79

The Release of Modern Small Stakes


Well, it is nearly 7 months now after the promised release date but I am extremely happy to officially announce the release of my 2nd book, "Modern Small Stakes." This is indeed the long promised "CTM2." I chose to go with a completely different title because this is a completely different book. Modern Small Stakes focuses on higher limits (NL10-NL100) than Crushing the Microstakes (NL2-NL5). It is also far more advanced in theory and depth on every level. This book was infinitely harder to write and turned out to be double the length of its predecessor at over 500 pages.

When I first started to work on Modern Small Stakes about a year and a half ago I set a goal to write the best book ever written on these limits. I really felt (and still do) that the literature out there is really lacking at these stakes especially regarding today's games.

In retrospect this goal of mine was  probably a bit foolish because it made me demand perfectionism at every corner and ensured countless revisions and alterations of the text. It also made the length of the book far greater than I had originally planned. I felt that this was necessary though in order to get across everything that I wanted to say about these stakes.

These are two of the main reasons why it took so long for me to release this book. I sincerely apologize to all of those who have been waiting for months on end and asking for updates. On the bright side, I am confident that I accomplished my goal.

I believe that Modern Small Stakes will be a game-changer in the poker world for full ring and 6max small stakes NLHE cash games. It covers every aspect of the game at these limits in extensive detail from HUD setup, player type analysis, game selection, 3Betting, 4Betting, 5Betting, balancing your range, CBetting frequencies, barreling frequencies, bluffing frequencies, intentionally tilting other regs and so much more. With over 100 highly detailed examples involving real opponents and real situations at these stakes, every effort was made to explain how to translate the theory into practice.


Table of Contents 
(right click and open in a new tab to enlarge)

Before I say anything else about the book let me post the table of contents so that you can get a better idea of what is included. The table of contents is also featured in the official Youtube release video for Modern Small Stakes.

The heart of Modern Small Stakes is teaching how to break down your opponent at these limits to the finest detail. This is why there is extensive discussion of effective HUD use throughout this book. In MSS I also assume that your opponents are reasonably good thinking regulars 95% of the time. Therefore, issues of balancing your range in all situations play a heavy role as well.

Whereas CTM consisted of a playbook macro type approach to exploiting the terrible players who populate the very lowest stakes, MSS is about micro managing versus fairly good players. What becomes evident to the reader early on in the book is that all players at these stakes really do have fairly significant leaks. They just aren't as readily noticeable as they are with the massive donkeys who dominate every table at the lowest limits.

This is why Modern Small Stakes is extremely example heavy (102 of them to be exact and roughly 50% 6max and 50% full ring). As you move up the stakes success becomes more and more about throwing the "standard play" out the window at times and finding the line that yields the highest EV for this particular opponent, in this particular situation. Therefore, there are a lot of outside the box, "advanced" or "fancy plays" suggested in this book. But they are always made for the right reasons.

My hope once again with Modern Small Stakes is that it takes your game to the next level. More precisely, that it improves your bottom line at the tables. This is why you will find the same linear and practical approach in this book as you did in CTM. There is a vast amount of information presented in this book which covers every aspect of the game. Modern Small Stakes is by no means a casual read. It was created for people who take this game very seriously and are ready to put in the hard hours studying its contents and then applying it at the tables.

I want to thank everyone who supported me on my blog, via email, here on DTB, Facebook, Twitter and many other places throughout this (frankly insane) project. You helped me during the countless times in the past year when I didn't know if I would ever be able to finish this book.

Modern Small Stakes is massive and comprehensive. It was meant to be the "be all end all" definitive guide for these limits. It was absolutely the hardest thing that I have ever done in my life. I am finally satisfied with it now though. I hope you are too.



(right click and open in a new tab to enlarge)


Purchasing Information

The official sales page for Modern Small Stakes is located here.


Modern Small Stakes Technical Details

  • Please be aware that Modern Small Stakes is only available in the PDF format right now. One of my first priorities will be to start working on the Kindle, iPad and tablet versions of the book. Just like before with CTM, when these are released they will be made available free of charge to all previous buyers.
  • Bonus materials that are likely to be released alongside Modern Small Stakes in the coming months will also be made available to all previous buyers at no cost.


***Please leave a comment below, send  me a PM here at DTB or email me at if you have any questions about Modern Small Stakes. 

Pages: 500

Word Count: 81,263

Copyright © 2014 by Nathan Williams

What is a Good Win Rate at the Micros and Small Stakes?

Posted by BlackRain79

I get asked about win rates perhaps more than any other topic. That or how many hours do they need to play to make $50 a day. These questions usually come from people who are new to online poker. I often reply with something along the lines of it depends on your skill level, the stakes and the volume that you put in. It is totally impossible for me to answer this question without this information.

Also, I take the time to remind them (or perhaps inform) that they are thinking about the game all wrong. Poker is not like a regular job where if you show up for X amount of hours you get paid X amount of money. Most people lose in the long run in this game in fact. In other words they go to "work" and their paycheck is a negative amount.

Show Me The Money!

Anyways, while these types of questions do seem really silly to me, I have gotten enough of them by now to know that people want to know about win rates no matter what. So let's get into it! Now the question always gets phrased to me as "what is possible." So let's start there.

In my opinion the top 5% of the entire player pool are the ones who are the long term big winners. These are the guys who are doing "what is possible." So that is who I am speaking about below. Also, I will be assuming that they are religiously game selecting (both table selection and seat selection) when they have the time for it. Elite players tend to always be doing this anyways.

Now of course the big thing with game selection is that when you are playing 18 tables at once you simply do not have anywhere near as much time to pay attention to it as someone who is 6 tabling for instance. The same goes for the quality of your actual poker decisions. This will drastically affect your potential win rate. So I will break down the win rates below into three different volume categories.

Lastly, what follows is just my opinion from playing at all levels of the micros and small stakes for years. If you fail to achieve these numbers (or have already surpassed them) please don't send me hate mail!

Top win rates possible for elite players who play 1-8 tables.

NL2: 30bb/100
NL5: 20bb/100
NL10: 15bb/100
NL25: 12bb/100
NL50: 10bb/100
NL100: 10bb/100

Top win rates possible for elite players who play 9-17 tables.

NL2: 20bb/100
NL5: 13bb/100
NL10: 10bb/100
NL25: 8bb/100
NL50: 7bb/100
NL100: 7bb/100

Top win rates possible for elite players who play 18+ tables.

NL2: 12bb/100
NL5: 8bb/100
NL10: 6bb/100
NL25: 5bb/100
NL50: 5bb/100
NL100: 5bb/100

So there you have it! You can multiply these amounts by your projected daily volume to find out what the best possible average earnings per day are at your limit. You can also multiply them by your average hourly volume in order to find out what the best possible average hourly is at your limit. This is all pre-rakeback of course as well which can add up to thousands of dollars per month for high volume players at NL25 and higher.

The Let Down

Alright, let's inject some reality into this conversation now. The average win rate and daily earnings of a random person just getting started in online poker are both in fact negative numbers. Many people get caught up in the spell of the dream poker lifestyle. They have seen the millions being tossed around on TV and they figure that since they dominate their buddies every Friday night or have "been killing it" at the local 1/2 game for an inconsequential amount of hands that online poker is their's for the taking.

The vast majority of them find out the hard way that it doesn't quite work like that. Let me now list the win rates that are much more common for these stakes. Keep in mind that at least 3/4 of people who play poker actually lose in the long run. So these numbers represent the average win rate that a winning player (only 1/4 of the player pool) can expect to attain at the various stakes.

These are the average win rates for 1-8 tables.

NL2: 10bb/100
NL5: 6bb/100
NL10: 4bb/100
NL25: 2bb/100
NL50: 2bb/100
NL100: 2bb/100

These are the average win rates for 9-17 tables.

NL2: 6bb/100
NL5: 4bb/100
NL10: 3bb/100
NL25: 2bb/100
NL50: 1bb/100
NL100: 1bb/100

These are the average win rates for 18+ tables.

NL2: 4bb/100
NL5: 2bb/100
NL10: 1bb/100
NL25: 0.5bb/100
NL50: 0.5bb/100
NL100: 0.5bb/100

You can pull out your calculator again and multiply these numbers by your projected daily volume and hourly volume in order to get your daily and hourly earnings. I hope this article proves valuable to all of the financial planners out there who want to know exactly how much they are going to make before they even get started!

Unfortunately though, poker doesn't actually work this way.

Your time would be much better spent simply forgetting about all of your future riches for months at the very least. You should instead focus on playing as much as you can and working hard on your game away from the tables. You should aim to develop the work ethic, discipline, emotional control and dedication to continued learning that are all necessary for long term success in this game.

I am not here to encourage the dreamers who send me these emails asking about how much they are going to make. These are the people who are all but guaranteed to fail in this game.

I am here however to encourage realistic people with the hunger to learn and improve to go pursue their passion for this game. People with no ego who want to earn it like the guy who I interviewed in my last post. It's fine to have big dreams in this game but put that aside for now. It is time to get to work.

Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a microstakes grinder, poker coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes. Now available in Spanish and Russian as well.

Struggling at the Micros? Just Getting Started in Poker? Join my FREE weekly newsletter for exclusive tips, articles and more!

Interview with DragTheBar member and Rising Poker Talent Willian “KhalDragon” Mates

Posted by BlackRain79

One of the great things about being so involved with poker over the years from both a playing and teaching perspective (and now living overseas amongst a ton of professional players as well) is that I have had the chance to meet a lot of talented players. I have been wanting to start doing a few more interviews on my blog here from time to time. I thought there was no better person to start with than Willian "KhalDragon" Mates.

He has been a friend of mine and a regular poster on my forum and at DragTheBar for nearly two years now. He also has had outstanding success rising through the ranks from the very lowest stakes online NLHE cash games to now knocking on the door of mid stakes. He is an example of what hard work and dedication can do for you even in today's supposedly "tough" games.

Without further ado.

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

Hello, my name is Willian Chaves Mates. I am 31 years old and from Brazil. I’m a production civil engineer. Currently I’m doing a master thesis on logistics and transportation. I have worked as a production manager in a factory and also have taught soil mechanics at the university.

How and when did you first get introduced to poker?

I think it was about 7 years ago, playing with friends but only for fun. Things were not serious back then, but I was very competitive as I always have been about almost everything that I get involved with. However, I did not play for real money or against more skilled opponents until much later.

What stakes did you start out at? Did you have success right away?

Online I played play money like 5 years ago. Just about two years ago I started playing on Pokerstars at the lowest stake level 0,01-0,02. That was exactly when I bought Crushing the Microstakes. I read it many times, made as many notes as I could, made lots of excel tables, and posted almost every day on BlackRain’s forum. Nathan I really gave you a lot of trouble back then!

[BR79: Haha, no worries! You were quite the prolific poster back then but it is a testament to your dedication to the game and why you have seen such great progress].

I had a tremendous amount of success right away easily getting about 20bb/100 playing at 0,01-0,02 over a sample of over 100k hands. I remember being on vacation on my second or third month after reading CTM and I was able to have a 600 USD month playing 0,02-0,05. It was about July. In December of the same year (2012) I had a 1k+ month playing 0,10-,25. It was part time and I was not sure of how far I wanted to go with poker. Actually I kind of stopped for a while after that but I saw the possibility of making some real money playing this game.

What stakes do you play at now? What was the journey like for you to get to this point?

I’m playing a mix of 0,5-1 and 1-2 right now. Well from the point that I stopped in the last question, I had almost no poker activity in 2013 until July. By the end of June my contract with the university ended and sadly it could not be renewed. However, I had some savings for the upcoming months and a lot of free time. So I remembered that I had some success with poker in the previous year and decided to take another shot, a more serious one.

I only had 200 USD in my bankroll at this moment (previously cashed out all the rest) so I decided to play 0,05-0,1 full ring, and played only this game, since that has always been my best game. In one month I managed to get a healthy enough bankroll to play 0,1-0,25 so I moved up. I proceeded to play at this level and a few months after that moved to the next level. I think it is important to note that I played no SnG, no MTT and almost zero short-handed, I kept focused on full ring cash games.

December came and again a huge boom. There was a huge volume of deep stack games, lots of fish and I ran incredibly well. I ended up over 5k USD in earnings on the month, which was huge for me. The beginning of 2014 was not so good. I bought a nice car and overall increased my expenses a little bit but then I fell ill a couple times. I also had some bad runs (actually I think I played bad, both because of being sick and because of having some new money pressure).

So although I had some really good results instead of moving up I was indeed going to move down. At that point I had a conversation with Paul Ratchford, an incredibly skilled high stakes pro, and he told me that my skill was far greater than the level I was playing and it would be a huge waste of time if I moved down. So he mentioned Staking Pros, a site which is run by Hunter Bick, the CEO of Drag The Bar. They have been kind of my home for poker. It is for sure the place where I learned the most in the past years. I had a conversation with Hunter and we started a staking arrangement where I would play at 0,5-1 and we agreed that if I manage to get good results then I would quickly move up to 1-2. That is exactly the point where I’m at now.

[BR79: Here are some recent graphs that Willian posted on his blog that show just how dominant he has been at the tables. First one is mostly NL50 near the start of this year. Second one is NL100 from last month, April].

(Right-Click and Open in  a New Tab)
Interview with rising poker talent Willian Mates
Interview with rising poker talent Khaldragon

Do you have any advice for people just starting out in poker or who are currently struggling at the lowest limits?

I think that people should realize how important focus is. People that really want to go to the next level should probably focus on a single game and commit to it. Playing less tables is also something to consider. By reducing the number of tables not only the focus on each table will increase but the game selection will improve drastically since you will be playing less marginal tables. What you will essentially be doing is trading those extra marginal tables for focus on the really profitable ones.

Do you have a blog or any social media accounts where the readers can follow your progress?

I have recently started a blog at It is kind of new but I plan on doing two posts per week, both talking about my struggles at the new levels and about the strategies that I’m using. You can also find me on Twitter here.


I want to thank Willian Mates for taking the time to do this interview for the readers here at I think the sky is the limit for this guy and once again he is a perfect example of where you can get with dedication and focus in this game. I would encourage all readers to go check out his blog. I am subscribed and looking forward to reading all of his future posts!

If you have any questions for Willian please leave them below or ask him directly on his blog. Also let me know if you like seeing interviews like this and want to see more!

Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a microstakes grinder, poker coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes. Now available in Spanish and Russian as well.

Struggling at the Micros? Just Getting Started in Poker? Join my FREE weekly newsletter for exclusive tips, articles and more! 

The Professional Poker Player Lifestyle

Posted by BlackRain79

Many people picture the professional poker player lifestyle as one of fame, riches, Bentleys and private jets. Maybe for a handful of live players running really good in tournaments of late. Or for another handful of nosebleed online players who are at the top right now. But this is just not the reality for the vast, overwhelming majority of people who play this game for a living or as a side income.

Their poker lifestyle is one that you are probably more familiar with from your own day to day life. It is one of hard work, sacrifice and commitment. Sure, there is the freedom to set your own schedule that comes along with being a professional poker player but be careful what you wish for in this regard. Many people use this as their ticket to just be lazy all day. I know this because I did it myself for many years! Make no mistake you have to put in the work if you want success in this game and a lot of that work is actually done away from the poker tables.

Winning at poker does not just revolve around the decisions that you make once you sit down at the tables. How you manage your life away from the tables can actually have a much bigger impact on your results than you might think. I think there is a changing of the guard coming with online poker players at least. It is a very competitive environment these days and the best know that you can no longer half ass it and expect great results.

Work Ethic

First off, everything starts with work ethic. If you can't get yourself to sit down and play each day (or at least most days) then you are never going to make it in this game. Playing poker professionally or semi-professionally requires dedication and the ability to play even when you don't feel like it. And there will be many days when you don't feel like it for a variety of different reasons. You have to be able to cut through all that and get yourself going.

Eric Thomas (a now famous motivational speaker who I have followed for years) likes to talk about just showing up. Just showing up is half the battle. Many people "go pro" and think that they will love playing every day forever. It will be so easy. Wait until you hit that 100k+ hand soul ripping downswing. Then tell me how much you feel like playing. Wait until you are burnt out from months or years on end of mass multi-tabling and the new Call of Duty has just been released.

You are your own boss and you need to be able to force yourself to show up on these days. Just because you have this "freedom" to determine your own hours does not mean that you get a license to abuse it. You would never do this at any regular job and it needs to be the same with poker.

Make Time for Regular Play

If poker is a serious part time or full time pursuit to you then it needs to come first before anything. One of the best ways to help yourself in this regard is to set a regular schedule each day for when you play. I find that my mind is the sharpest in the morning and I also live in Asia and so that is when the games are the best. So I tend to simply schedule my poker sessions for first thing in the morning. Some people are different and prefer midday or nights though. It doesn't matter, just set a schedule and stick to it.

Make Time for Regular Study

I recently talked about how to conduct a poker session review and a database review. You need to schedule time for these each week as well. I prefer to make some time for each of these in the afternoon on weekends. I will review hands or entire sessions from the previous week and look into ways to improve my overall game. During a couple of week nights I will make time to watch and take notes on a training video, read and take notes on a poker book or catch up on some poker strategy forums and post hands.

Taking Care of You

Poker is not like a regular job. You can't just show up and run through a bunch of mundane tasks that you were told to do while checking Facebook. Poker requires constant focus and attention to detail. It requires you to be mentally sharp and prepared at all times. In order to consistently be in this state we need to work harder than most people on taking care of our mind and body. This is an area that I think a fair number of elite level serious online grinders are starting to wake up to. However, the large majority are still woefully inadequate.

Being prepared both physically and mentally requires three things above all else: a healthy diet, regular exercise and a good nights sleep. I don't want to go too much into detail on any of these because you have probably heard it all before, but I can tell you from firsthand experience that this stuff really does work! So I will have a bit to say.

Eat for Performance

First off, simply don't allow yourself to buy crap at the grocery store or market. If you load up your fridge with fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats then that is what you will eat. Secondly, cut out the fast food and soda drinks completely. Nobody serious about their life in general (let alone poker) needs to be eating that garbage. There are plenty of healthy options out there if you are in a rush that does not include a big mac, fries and a sugar bomb drink.

We all enjoy eating. It is one of life's greatest pleasures but you have to remember that what we eat affects us deeply on so many levels, especially mentally. In a game like poker that requires multi-tasking, fast and accurate decision making and steady emotions neglecting this area is just crazy. I choose to eat for performance in life for the most part. This doesn't mean that I don't occasionally "cheat" and have some pizza or ice cream but it is very rare. Remember that these are momentary pleasures. My health, the clarity of my mind and achieving my goals in life and at the poker table are much more important.

Get Active

Regular exercise is another big key. I know from meeting a lot of poker players here in Thailand that many of them workout and/or do cardio regularly. I have also done this for years and the benefits are just huge. The biggest key is getting yourself to do something that you like. I am a naturally athletic person so this is not difficult for me but I know that plenty of people just don't like to do physical things that much. Well, there must be something that you enjoy doing!

How about joining a rowing club and being out on a beautiful lake early in the morning while getting some exercise? How about hitting the pool more often? Who doesn't like swimming? How about buying some cheap tennis rackets and learning how to play with a friend? One of my personal favorites is mountain biking. Descending down a beautiful mountainside and breathing in that fresh crisp air can be an awe-inspiring experience. The key thing is to just get out there and do something that you enjoy and then it won't seem like work to you. Getting in shape does not require endless hours on a treadmill.

Get Enough Sleep

I am pretty bad at this one I must admit. And I know that a lot of people suffer from some form of insomnia at least once in awhile. I think the key is just learning how to shut your brain off. I know that this is my biggest problem when lying awake at night. Some things that help me hit the mental off switch are to meditate before bed, take a hot shower or read a boring but useful book.

Poker is a Business

From the above it might seem that the poker lifestyle is a bit on the boring side. What happened to all of the partying at the hottest clubs and sipping cocktails on exotic beaches all day? Well, the lifestyle of your typical online poker professional is a lot different from this in reality. Don't get me wrong, there is a time and a place to go a little bit wild but if you really want to get real results in this game then you need to treat it like a business.

The real truth about being a professional poker player is that it is a lot of hard work and sacrifice. This is why so many people try it and fail. They only think about the freedom part. They forget that it entails just as much responsibility (way more in my opinion actually) than a regular job especially if you want to be highly successful.

I just hit the 7 year anniversary of when I quit my last "real job" but believe me it has not been all roses and sunshine. It took me years to start taking this game as seriously as I should and start putting in the work. I scraped by in those early years but I could have accomplished so much more.

Having big dreams about poker is great. The are many awesome things about playing poker professionally that I didn't even get a chance to touch on in this article. I am so happy and blessed to have found this game. But understand that this is also a very demanding job that most people are simply not cut out for. You really have to want it.

As they say, and no truer words were ever spoken about it, "poker is a hard way to make an easy living."

Let me know in the comments what the professional poker lifestyle means to you. 

Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a microstakes grinder, poker coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes. Now available in Spanish and Russian as well.

Struggling at the Micros? Just Getting Started in Poker? Join my FREE weekly newsletter for exclusive tips, articles and more! 

5 Lessons That I Have Learned From Moving to Thailand as a Poker Player (Two Years Later)

Posted by BlackRain79

5 Lessons That I have Learned From Moving to Thailand as a Poker Player (Two Years Later)

This isn't a travel blog but my post last year about what it is like to move to Thailand for poker players has quickly become one of the most popular in the history of this blog. Several people have contacted me since then who are moving here at least partly because of it or they were already coming here anyways. Online poker players continue to migrate around the world in large numbers and not just to Thailand although it is by far the most popular destination.

As I have now officially spent two years over here I thought that I could discuss a few of the lessons that I have learned for some of the newer guys planning the move. Here are the top 5 things that I have learned since coming to Thailand as a poker player.

1) Choose Your Poker Friends Wisely

Many people come over here because of the large amount of poker players that are already living here. As mentioned, it is easily the most concentrated group in the world. And we all know how much easier it is to talk with someone who "speaks your language" in this regard. Discussing poker with someone who doesn't at least play the game seriously as a part time income is almost always a waste of time. They don't understand the game. They think it is all luck etc.

However, unfortunately not everyone in the poker community here is of an upstanding character. A lot of poker players who come here are marginal winners at best and get caught up in the nightlife (I will get to that in a minute don't worry lol). They quickly become huge degens constantly looking for a stake or any other handouts or scams they can pull off on somebody else.

Choose your poker friends wisely and don't think that just because you both play this game that you have some sort of special bond or something. I have met some great people from the poker community here who are great influences on me and will be friends long after this. I have also met many who I thought that it was best just to avoid completely however. One of the easiest ways to separate the two is to find out how much time they spend on my next topic.

2) Thailand Nightlife

After Two Years What I Have Learned From Moving to Thailand as a Poker Player
Walking Street, Pattaya, Thailand
(The most degenerate place on earth)

Ok, let's just call it "nightlife." It is no secret that this country has an enormous party scene and with that comes Thai girls and lots of them. Heck sometimes they aren't even girls! Whether it be in the clubs, the bars or even on the internet and massage parlors there are seemingly young, attractive women everywhere falling all over you. It is very easy to go down the path of getting caught up in that at first.

You need to remember that not everything is always as it appears. Many of these girls are "working" to some degree and you are either a short term or long term paycheck to them. You are not really an actual love interest (yes even if they tell you how much they love you 10 times a day). Of course there are always exceptions but with these types of women this is the norm.

After all (and this is a big shocker to many white guys who come over here and think of themselves as an Asian girl's dream) most Thai girls first choice in a partner is in fact a Thai guy for fairly obvious reasons. If they have gone down the "farang" (white foreigners) path now it is often because they are not that desirable to their number one choice anymore. And it is important to remember that as a white foreigner Thai people will always assume that you are rich. This is just the way it is.

Luckily for most of the poker players over here getting messed up badly with these types of women isn't too big of a problem. It is the old guys (50 years old+) who often believe that these girls are really in love with them and open up their heart and life savings in the process. A lot of the younger guys (which represents pretty much all the poker players) are actually playing the girls for the most part as they know the score before going in. Even so, many of them still wind up spending way too much time and money on them that could be much better spent grinding or doing literally anything else.

There are of course plenty of decent Thai girls out there if you actually want a real relationship. Just like in your home country they aren't found in bars, clubs or on the internet for the most part though. It takes time and effort to meet them. Often even more so here because the good ones usually speak little to no English at all. One of the easiest ways to spot the type of girl that you don't want a relationship with is the level of her English and how many farang "boyfriends" that she admits to having in the past.

If you want to mess around a bit and you know what to expect going in with these types of women then go ahead. But if you don't know then please do yourself a favor and read up a bit on the internet about Thai women before coming here and losing your mind with one. Play the game and you will be fine. But that takes knowing what the game is first. Like nearly everything else in life has a huge amount of information on this topic.

3) Travel Around the Country First!

After Two Years What I Have Learned From Moving to Thailand as a Poker Player
วัดพระธาตุดอยสุเทพ Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Chiang Mai, Thailand

So many poker players who come here often head straight to their "grindhouse" with some people who they only know through the internet to live in an isolated little bubble. This is dumb on so many levels. I am going to get into the grindhouses in a moment but let me first say this about Thailand. This is a large country with massive differences from region to region. It is really silly not to explore them all first before deciding which one that you want to live in.

Most poker players here live in one of three places: Bangkok, Chiang Mai or Phuket. These places are all extremely different and it is up to each individual person to decide which one is best for them. Do you like the big city or a small one? Are you in love with the idea of living near the beach or can you make due without one? What sort of budget do you have? Do you want to live in a touristy area with inflated prices but more Western type conveniences or can you live among the locals? You can't answer these questions without first going and having a look at all of these places first. And I truly mean that. You have to see it for yourself. No amount of watching Youtube videos or reading about it on the internet can replicate the real thing.

My advice is always to set aside enough money to just be a complete tourist for your first month here. Honestly, this is one of the most amazing places on earth for the quality of experiences that you can have anyways. You can go visit ridiculous temples on the top of a mountain, go to some of the best beaches in the world, party on one with 20k other people, ride elephants and zipline through jungles, explore a mega city like Bangkok, chill out with some tigers in the north, check out world class diving and rock climbing in the south. And on and on and on.

Be a tourist when you get here and just have fun! Head straight to Khao San Road in Bangkok (backpacker capital of the world) and meet up with some backpackers who are going your way. Go with them and have the time of your life. Or don't take my advice and head straight to your room in somebody's grindhouse and miss the boat on what this country has to offer completely.

4) Don't Join a Grindhouse

Ok now this one might ruffle a few feathers but I will say it anyways. And please remember like before with the Thai women that there will be exceptions. A grindhouse may in fact be an amazing life changing opportunity for you. However, I think they are a bad idea for most and here is why.

Firstly, there are some small time scams going on with these places that I have noticed popping up lately where they are charging enormous amounts of rent because the newbie doesn't know what the prices are like in Thailand. For instance, I have seen multiple listings pop up in the 2+2 travel forum in the last couple of months regarding Chiang Mai where they are charging the same amount for a room as I was paying for an entire house of the same size that is also quite a bit closer to the city.

Do a little bit of research about the prices before moving into one of these houses. Google "house rentals [area of Thailand]" and you should have a pretty good idea within a matter of minutes by checking out some listings. To the grindhouse guys credit though they often do help you get set up, adjusted, and take away the leg work that comes with finding a place. That is certainly great and all but the price that you are paying for this "service" is still often very exorbitant in my opinion.

Secondly, a lot of guys coming over here dream about what it would be like to live with a couple other elite young grinders and the learning opportunities and motivation that that would provide. In some ideal scenarios that is the case. But as I stated, there are many more degens in this country that will often just annoy the shit out of you in general. And even worse will actually be -EV for your poker game because they are borderline break even players at best.

If you can somehow find a great group of solid grinders then that is fine. But most of the time you are moving in with 3 or 4 guys who you barely know anything about in all actuality. This just does not cut it for me. There is nothing wrong with finding a place on your own and grinding it out just like you did in your home country. You certainly won't be lonely because you can often afford to live right in the city in this country for next to nothing. And by all means go hang out with the poker crew regularly. There are many regular meetups for sports, dinner and the like. Just don't live with them. This has worked for me at least.

5) Realize How Lucky You Have it Every Day

After Two Years What I Have Learned From Moving to Thailand as a Poker Player
Not my actual work station. But it could be!

I have woken up pretty much every day since I arrived here with a smile on my face. It is hard not to when it is sunny and 30+ degrees basically every day of the year. I am looking at a beautiful beach as I type this from my condo that costs a laughable amount per month.

Also, I am very blessed to be able to do what I do and work anywhere in the world. This is something that most people dream about. Just wait until you start posting the pictures on Facebook and the comments that you will get! Truthfully though most people can actually do this. They just don't want to take the steps to make it happen. You took the huge first step by just getting on the plane. Have a blast but don't take it for granted once you get here!

I still don't really even want to go back "home" after two years. I mean I eventually will for sure because I certainly miss my family and friends back in Canada. But I know that it won't be long before I am sick of the exorbitant prices and terrible weather again to name a few things. I will soon be back on a plane to Thailand, or perhaps exploring another similar location in South America, because sometimes the grass really is greener on the other side.

Thanks for reading. Let me know about your experiences traveling or relocating as a poker player in the comments below!

Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a microstakes grinder, poker coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes. Now available in Spanish and Russian as well.

Struggling at the Micros? Just Getting Started in Poker? Join my FREE weekly newsletter for exclusive tips, articles and more! 

How to Effectively Conduct a Poker Session Review

Posted by BlackRain79

How to Conduct an Effective Poker Session Review2


"How do you do a session review?" is one of the most common questions that I get asked. Since I have never covered this topic here on my blog before I thought I could put something together now.

When I answer this question often this first thing that I say (to their dismay) is that I don't actually do a session review most of the time. At the risk of sounding condescending I think that regular session reviews are better for less experienced players who are having trouble in spots that they are not overly familiar with. More experienced players who are better at making adjustments on the fly or have simply seen all the spots before won't benefit nearly as much.

I have played something like 7 million hands of poker online and 99% of my decisions (at least at the micros where I play the vast majority of my hands) are automatic. If I am playing a different format or taking shots at higher stakes then sure I will review my hands after most sessions. But after a typical session at NL25 for instance the vast majority of the time I do not look at anything unless I am in a really bad downswing which I will talk about a bit more later.

The reason is that due to having played so many hands at these limits I have been through the same spots versus the same player types many times before. I have probably reviewed it in the past and come to a conclusion on the best line to take. Therefore reviewing the hand later would not really serve much purpose for me unless I thought that my conclusion was wrong. My approach to these games only changes slightly over time. Yes the games are always changing, as everybody loves to point out, but the actual changes on a month to month or even year to year level (at the micros at least) are negligible.

With all of that said, I do think that regular session reviews are a very good thing for less experienced players (I used to do them much more often) and for everybody when in a downswing or moving up.


The Value of a Session Review

Newer players should review their sessions to find out what mistakes they are making that are either costing them money or not allowing them to get enough value. But really the biggest reason that they should conduct session reviews is in order to think about the game themselves. Those who have been through my book will know that it reads like an instructional manual of sorts (if A...then do B etc.) because this works at the lowest stakes. However, nearer the end I implore the reader on several occasions that learning how to think the game through on their own is the only path to big success in this game.

You can only follow what a book, training video or coach tells you to do for so long before you get to levels where the players are too sophisticated to fall for "ABC" or even so called "advanced" strategies. This is because the elite players are able to detect your strategy and find ways to counter it on the fly. Your book, training site or coach won't be there in real time with you to help you counter-react. And this is the real value of conducting a session review. Learning how to think about a hand quickly and determine for yourself what the most profitable line is to take is how to succeed in this game.

This is a scary concept for many people. Many people seemingly want someone to hold their hand all the way to the big game these days. I am sorry but it doesn't work that way. My own experience at the micros clearly shows this. There was no "Crushing the Microstakes" or equivalent for me to read when I was starting out. There were no training sites or micro stakes coaches either. I had Pokertracker 2 though (the best poker tracking program at the time) and developed many of the strategies myself that would later give me huge success at these stakes and be detailed in my book.

I spent hours pouring over hands in PT2 finding out what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong. I also played a ton of hands so that I could utilize huge sample sizes when looking at the profitability of certain spots. This allowed me to be statistically near certain in my conclusions.


Keys for Conducting a Session Review

Ok so I have already kind of alluded to how I go about a session review but let's break it down a little bit more.


1) Mark Hands During Play

This is the obvious starting point. Most of the hands that are going to be of interest to us in the session review are the ones that gave us trouble. Hands where we were sort of lost as to what to do. It obviously makes sense to simply mark these hands for later review during play. This way you will not encounter problems later on remembering which hands they were and where they are in your database.

I use Pokertracker 4 because I think it is the best poker tracking program available right now in 2014. Marking hands is super easy with it. On the poker table just hit the tag button at the top left beside the PT4 emblem chip.

From there you can simply select a recent hand and choose "review" from the dropdown menu. You can also tag hands that are in progress and/or that you aren't even involved in. Just because you aren't in the hand doesn't mean that it won't be useful to you especially if a good reg is involved (more on that later). This process is very simple in Hold'em Manager 2 as well.


2) Review Marked Hands

Now that you have marked your hands during play you can go look at all of your hands for the session in PT4 and click the box "Show Marked Hands Only" to narrow it to only those ones that are of most interest to you. If you have used multiple tags then you can select from the menu box to the right also.

(Right Click Image and Open in a New Tab to Increase Size)

I don't want to waste time on bad beats so I like to have the All-In Equity there. So for instance the hand above where I lost several stacks getting it in with a set of Jacks won't be worth looking at because I had 82.42% equity when the money went in. It was just a bad beat.

What I am really looking for are hands (usually medium sized losing ones) where I felt lost in the hand or I feel that I got outplayed. Coolers and bad beats happen to everybody. Learn how to differentiate them from the hands that matter and don't spend much time on them unless there is a legitimate theory concern.


3) Ask Myself Questions

So as I said, the hands that interest me the most are ones where I felt that I was lost and/or got outplayed. They aren't always losing hands but generally they are. What I want to do now is take the time to accurately configure my opponent's range. More specifically I want to ask myself questions such as:

  • Given my opponent's actions throughout the hand thus far, our relevant history (if any), my image and the board texture what range of hands is he likely representing here?
  • Give this range did I take most profitable line in this hand or was there a better option?

This is the thinking through the game yourself part that I was alluding to before. You have all the time in the world now to consider the situation. Put your opponent on a range yourself. Given the board texture, your hand and any relevant history what is the most profitable line to take against him?

This is the heart of the session review and what will carry you forward in the future to become a better player. There is no point in just spamming all of your marked hands on some random forum and getting a bunch of crappy advice and a tiny bit of good advice. If you are truly lost even after reviewing the hand then fine, post it. Or better yet ask somebody who you know who is a strong winning player what they think. But above all, you need to take the time yourself to find the most profitable line. This is how elite players approach the game.


4) Big Losing and Winning Hands

The newer you are to poker the more that this next step will matter. If you tend to stack off with overpairs or top pair hands when your opponent has taken a line that is so obviously a two pair or better hand then you are going to need to spend a lot of time looking over your big losing hands. This is something that I had to do a lot of early on before I smartened up and learned to make correct folds.

Something that is also a big problem for a lot of newer players is not getting enough value out of their big hands. If this is the case for you then you need to spend some time looking over your biggest winners and ask yourself if there are portions of your opponent's stack remaining that you could have gotten. If the answer to this question is frequently yes then that is a big problem for your winrate.


5) Small/Medium Losing and Winning Hands

Same thing here. Another big problem for a lot of newer players is not getting enough thin value bets in and calling river bets when it is obvious that they are beat. You need to ask yourself the same questions. Could I have gotten more out of this player if I played it a different way? Or conversely could I have lost less in a certain hand if I took a different line or analyzed his range a bit better?


***Question from the comments of this post (on my website): How do I sort by pot size?***

You could just use filters. In Pokertracker 4 go:

More Filters > Hand Details > Pot Size and Stack Depth > Pot Size and Stack Depth - Hand Total. Enter the amount and click "Add to Filters."

(Right Click Image and Open in a New Tab to Increase Size)

I would probably make it between like 30bb-100bb for small/medium sized pots and 100bb-500bb for big pots.

Or if you don't want to bother with filters then you can just click on the "Won" column above where the hands are and just find the 30bb-100bb pots yourself. When reviewing hands in the replayer I prefer to just grab a bunch at once. You can do this by left clicking on one hand, holding down the "shift button" on your keyboard, and clicking on another hand to highlight several. Now right click anywhere in the highlighted hands and add them all to the replayer.


When in a Downswing or Moving Up

I do think that it is a good idea for everybody to do regular session reviews when in the midst of a bad downswing. I know that this is the time when I am playing my worst and therefore I use these session reviews to keep myself in check more than anything. So I will be heavy on #4 and #5 above. Is it really just all coolers and bad beats or is there tilt on my part? If the latter, what steps can I take to prevent it from happening in the future? If the former, then it is out of my hands, there is nothing that I can do except try again tomorrow.

I also regularly conduct session reviews when I move up or play higher stakes than I normally do. My opponents will be better and may present me with problems that I have not seen before. Also, given the relative lack of information that I will have on my opponents the answers aren't quite as easy to arrive at in real time.


Database Review

It would probably be better if I just devoted an entirely new article to this (I will actually do that next time) but the next step is doing an overall database review. This involves using filters for broad spots where I think I am having trouble. This can be as vague as hands where I simply raised preflop to hands as specific as I had AKo OOP, 3Bet preflop, missed the flop, fired a CBet and got called.

Lastly, something that I have always been big on is reviewing the games of those at my stake who I think are better than me. It amazes me that so few people take advantage of all the free information that they have on the top crushers in their own game. Never I am looking to completely copy their game. My own play style is what works for me already. What I am trying to do is incorporate those aspects of their game that I feel they do better than me, into my own game. Or perhaps just spend some time understanding how they think about the game in general. This can only make me a better player.


That is all I have for now. I hope you guys are having a great start to 2014! Please leave any comments below that you have concerning session reviews and hit one of the share buttons below if you liked this article!

Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a microstakes grinder, poker coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes. Now available in Spanish and Russian as well.

Struggling at the Micros? Just Getting Started in Poker? Join my FREE weekly newsletter for exclusive tips, articles and more! 

Setting Poker Goals for 2014

Posted by BlackRain79

Setting Poker Goals for 2014


First off, I hope you all had a very merry Christmas! New Years is a time of big dreams and goals for many poker players. You will see new blogs or old ones get re-invigorated with lofty plans for the new year. Many of them with unrealistic projections spurred on by the excitement of the moment...the "new start." But like the legions of lose weight resolutioners most people have given up after a few weeks when the initial enthusiasm wears off. In this article I will talk about how to make sure that this doesn't happen to you. It all begins with proper planning.


Rakeback Goals - Start Planning Now

In the case of online poker making goals at the beginning of the year actually makes a lot of sense. This is because many poker rooms (and particularly the biggest site in the world - Pokerstars) work on a yearly based system for the upper echelons of their rakeback program (Supernova and Supernova Elite). This means that it is much better to start towards your rakeback goals at the beginning of the year as opposed to halfway through or later.

As regards cash games, Supernova Elite is something that is only realistically achievable for a very small amount of players already playing close to mid stakes (at least 1/2) or higher with big volume. This is a microstakes blog so this will probably represent a very small amount of my readership.

Supernova however is achievable at low stakes, as low as NL25, or maybe even NL10 if you are a truly sicko grinder. For a lot of people struggling at the micros I often recommend that they make a plan to get to NL25 as soon as possible, although with a proper plan and bankroll management strategy in mind. It really makes all the difference in the world. So many regs in the NL25-NL200 range especially are kept afloat through the cash bonuses, milestone rewards and more available to you when you become a Supernova on Pokerstars.

The rakeback levels at lower tiers such as Goldstar, Platinum star etc. are just not comparable. Also, VPP accumulation and thus FPP accumulation is almost non-existent at NL2 and NL5 and not so great at NL10 either. This is of course balanced out in some way by the much higher winrates that are possible in those games. But it just doesn't come close to making up for all that free rakeback money that you are missing out on.

Not everybody plays on Pokerstars of course but similar programs exist on other sites. Many sites still use a "traditional" rakeback format where there are no levels to achieve though. You just get a standardized cut of your rake paid back, 30% for instance. If you play on a site where this is the case then you should just skip ahead to the next section of this article on table profit and moving up.

If the site that you play on has a yearly based rakeback system though, and you play low stakes, start planning and going after your rakeback goals now, not in July. It is very easy to do this by getting a rough idea of how many points you earn as you play. For instance, if you play 10k hands of NL25 on Pokerstars then just divide that by the number of VPP you gained in order to calculate your VPP per hand at this stake.

So say you gained 1200 VPP in those 10k hands. 1200 / 10000 = 0.12

Your VPP per hand is 0.12

Since it requires 100k VPP in order to achieve Supernova on Pokerstars you will need to play approximately 834000 hands over the course of the year in order to get there.

0.12 x 834000 = 100080

You could break it down further by volume needed per month.

834000 / 12 = 69500

You will need to play 69500 hands per month at NL25 in order to achieve Supernova by years end.

So as you can see it is very easy to calculate how many hands you will need to play in order to achieve a certain rakeback level even down to the exact number of hands needed per month. This also assumes that you stay at the same stake all year - hopefully not! Obviously higher limits mean much higher VPP rates. Please note that the VPP rate used above was just an arbitrary number used for the example. You will need to play a certain amount of hands yourself in order to see what your VPP rate is. Probably just a few thousand hands will be good enough.

For more on all of this including milestone bonuses and FPP multiplier rates at each rakeback level you should refer to the Pokerstars VIP page on their website. Or if you play elsewhere then check your poker rooms equivalent page. The important thing here is to plan now.


Table Profit Goals and Moving Up

But enough about rakeback. Table profit is why you should be playing this game. A forgotten concept amongst so many of the mediocre regs who fill the micro and small stakes tables these days.

First off, as I have stated in many previous articles, including my "State of the Games 2013" post a few months back, we need to understand that online poker is not as easy these days. I don't think the games have gotten considerably tougher in the past couple of years but they are quite a bit harder than they were in the so called golden days of 2005-2009 roughly.

If you want to take this game seriously and develop a solid side income or even a full time one then you will need to be prepared to work hard in today's online poker climate. The vast majority of people out there are simply not willing to do this and they will get left behind.

The key thing to remember is that there will always be a pecking order in this game and it is all completely relevant to who you are playing against. If the hypothetical 6th best player in the world sits down at a table with the 1-5 best players in the world then he/she will have a losing EV (expected value) in the long run in this game. In other words, the 6th best player in the world would be the fish in this game.

The beautiful thing about poker though is that you only need to be better than most of the players that you are playing against in order to have a long term positive EV. Nobody is a world beater at the micros and small stakes these days. In fact most of the regs are downright terrible. If you exercise a little bit of table selection and work hard on studying and improving your game then you can certainly do just fine in these games.

Also, as I have been preaching for awhile now, mass multi-tabling, though good for rakeback goals, will simply bring down your EV in a big way. Many of the regfish that populate these games are bad simply because they are playing so many tables at once and do not have enough time to explore the most profitable lines in certain situations. That plus the fact that they simply have to play much fewer hands overall. You can't win if you are always folding preflop. It is important to find that sweet spot where you play enough tables to keep your volume decently high but have time to make quality decisions and table select effectively as well.

If you are new to online poker or do not have at least some history of winning online then I would suggest that you start at the lowest stakes. That would be NL2. It is very difficult not to win at this stake in the long run. You would have to have major fundamental problems with your game in order not to. NL2 will allow you to find that out for sure and at a very cheap price and then make the appropriate adjustments. Stay committed to consistent play (every day if possible) and slowly move up. If you aren't winning then study the game more to improve, be it training sites, reading books or hiring a coach.

Also, set aside some time to study the issues that you are having in your game in either Pokertracker or Hold'em Manager on a regular basis. Both of these programs provide a plethora of great information on every detail about your game. Perhaps even better they both have fantastic filters that allow you to look at any conceivable situation in detail. Having trouble in 3Bet pots OOP (out of position)? Apply the filter and look specifically at 3Bet pots where you were OOP!

Equally as important and often overlooked is to study the games of the best players at your current level. What are they doing better than you? What parts of their game could you perhaps incorporate into your own? How are they playing in 3Bet pots when OOP differently than you?

Lastly, take controlled shots at the next limit when ALL of the following conditions are met.

  • You have been consistently winning at your current stake over a significant sample size (20k or 30k hands bare minimum)
  • You are currently feeling confident in your game and not in a downswing
  • You have a sufficient bankroll for the next stake (at least 20 buyins although preferably much higher for most people who take the game seriously and/or are professionals)

A controlled shot means that you are prepared to potentially lose X number of buyins in order to take a shot at sticking at the next level. If things do not go well for you then YOU WILL move back down and regrind what you lost and rinse/repeat the process in the future.

I wish you all the best in 2014 and let us know what your poker or even life goals are in the comments below!

Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a microstakes grinder, poker coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes. Now available in Spanish and Russian as well.


Beating the Regs

Posted by BlackRain79

As I continue to work away on my new book I have developed a deeper understanding than ever about the multitude of different regs that populate the micro and small stakes levels of online poker these days. More specifically their strengths and weaknesses. In the book, which is literally ALL about how to beat the regs at these limits, I have broken them down into six different categories:

  1. Super Nits
  2. Nits
  3. TAGfish
  4. TAGs (Tight and Aggressive)
  5. SLAGs (Slightly Loose and Aggressive)
  6. LAGs (Loose and Aggressive)


Good Regs and Bad Regs

I refer to 1, 2 and 3 as the "bad regs" and 4, 5 and 6 as the "good regs." However, with the LAG category I was certainly a bit hesitant to include them as good regs because many of them have huge leaks at these stakes as well. TAGs and SLAGs are generally fairly solid and among the biggest winners although you can almost always still find ways to exploit them as well if you dig around deep enough.

Keep in mind that these are just generalizations. There are plenty of Nits for instance at these stakes who are solid winners. As a whole though, most of them are not big winners and are often breakeven or losing and propped up by rakeback. This is even more the case for the Super Nits and TAGfish. They are almost never big winners and without rakeback they could not survive.

On the flip side, there are certainly many breakeven or worse TAGs and SLAGs as well. There are factors such as tilt that the HUD stats cannot tell us about that can affect the winrate of an otherwise solid looking player in a huge way. But in general these players represent the strongest opponents at these stakes. They are the ones who you will have the most difficulty exploiting.


Bad Regs ARE the New Fish

Since blatant fish (the 40%+ VPIP guys) become harder to find at NL10+ the bad regs really are the new fish at these stakes. You should be going out of your way to play against them. The great thing is that they out number the good regs by a fair margin at these stakes so it is not that difficult to find them. By using a combination of my new HUD setup and making liberal use of the popup display I am able to find ways to exploit them pretty easily.

But in the fast paced world of online poker which often involves 12+ tables at a time we don't usually have much time to check out every single little detail on our opponent. For this reason I am going to limit the discussion below to just the use of my HUD display (i.e., what is already on your screen). If you have not read my article on my new HUD setup which includes free downloads for Pokertracker 4 users it might be a good idea to at least skim it first so you know what the numbers refer to.

I will also be limiting the discussion to just the HUD stats because I want to show you how ridiculously easy it is to find huge leaks in your opponents at these stakes literally in a matter of seconds.

I am going to discuss all six reg categories below but I will use just a single example from either 6max or Full Ring for each so that this article does not get too long. All stats below are taken from real people in my database at NL25-NL100 cash games on Pokerstars. The player names are masked in PT4 for privacy.

Lastly, many of the stats that I discuss below, especially the turn, river and 4Bet ones, require big samples. You need to check the sample size before making use of these at the tables. I am not a statistician but common sense tells us that if your opponent's Turn CBet is 100% but the sample is only 1 that this is literally meaningless information. If the sample size was say 10, well now we are talking.

When in doubt hover over the stat in PT/HEM or make use of the popup display. You should always be doing this when making use of turn, river or 4Bet stats unless the sample on your opponent is literally like 10k+ hands.


1) 6max - Super Nit

There are tons of these kinds of players at NL2 and NL5. At NL10-NL100 there are less but enough of to still include a category for them. They are clueless beginners. Somebody on a forum, in a book or in a video told them to play tight and they took that as the holy gospel. They play far too few hands and throw away tons of potential EV as a result.

We can see that this particular player above has stats that are too tight for Full Ring let alone 6max. He plays just 12% of his hands. I suggest aiming for about double this in 6max. And he only raises with 8%. I suggest having a little bit tighter of a gap between VPIP and PFR and of course raising with way more hands in general.

These players are generally way too passive as well. The 4 point gap between VPIP and PFR, the Total AF of 2 which is actually ridiculously passive considering how few hands this guy plays, the 4Bet of 0 over a decent sample size etc.

Way too tight and way too passive sums these players up.


Here Are a Few Ways to Exploit This Specific Player

  • Steals his blinds with any two cards (Fold to Steal of 88%)
  • 3Bet him wide (Fold to 3Bet of 75%)
  • Triple Barrel (100% Fold to River CBet)
  • Float all day (Massive drop in CBet between the Flop and Turn of 40 points)

2) Full Ring - Nit

So here we have the classic Full Ring Nit. He plays 12% of his hands and raises most of the time that he enters the pot also at 10% of hands. His Total AF is 2 which is fairly passive but considering how few hands these players play, it is really  passive.

These players tend to be way too weak just like the Super Nits. They fold to CBets and 3Bets too much, they don't 3Bet enough, they don't 4Bet enough and they wither to floats and additional pressure beyond the flop if they don't have the nuts.


Here Are a Few Ways to Exploit This Specific Player

  • Steal his blinds with any two cards (Fold to Steal of 84%)
  • 3Bet him wide (Fold to 3Bet of 72%)
  • Float the flop a lot and take it away on the turn (28 point difference between Flop and Turn CBet)
  • Float the flop a lot and raise his Turn CBet (Fold to Turn CBet Raise of 100%)
  • Float the turn and bet the river (Fold to River Float Bet 100%)


3) 6max - TAGfish

The TAGfish is aptly named because it is a player who appears to play a solid TAG game but is actually very weak both preflop and postflop. This player type is pervasive at all levels of the micros and you can make a nice profit by applying pressure on them in the right spots.

The easiest way to spot them is to look for players who play about the same amount of hands as a TAG. This will be roughly 18% to 22% in 6max and 13% to 16% in Full Ring. And they will also have a small gap of 2 or 3 points between their VPIP and PFR just like TAGs.

That is where everything changes though. The rest of their stats will often be highly out of line with winning ranges often erring towards the weak side but sometimes too aggro as well such as with the player above.


Here Are a Few Ways to Exploit This Specific Player

  • Steal his blinds with any two cards (Fold to Steal of 89%)
  • Double Barrel every time (Fold to Flop CBet is 0% but Fold to Turn bet is 60%)
  • Float often (35 point drop between Flop CBet and Turn CBet)
  • Raise the Flop (Fold to Flop CBet Raise of 75%)

4) Full Ring - TAG

TAGs are generally among the stronger players at these limits. They aren't found in quite the numbers as TAGfish and Nits especially at NL10 and NL25 but they do appear plenty. Their ranges are usually pretty well balanced across all stats and finding huge glaring weaknesses in their game is not nearly as easy as it is with the player types that we looked at before.

They still do have a tendency to be a little bit lost on the big money streets (turn and river) at the micros though. This is usually represented by being too weak when facing aggression and barreling far too aggressively when they have the betting lead. Tilt can definitely be a factor as well with this group as it is with all micro stakes players. I don't go out of my way to play with these guys but they are unavoidable at these stakes so you should have a close look at where the holes are because all players at these stakes have them.


Here Are a Few Ways to Exploit This Specific Player

  • Steal his blinds often (Fold to Steal is 82%)
  • 5Bet shove with a bit wider range than normal (4Bet of 3% is significantly higher than most Full Ring regs at these limits)
  • Triple Barrel (Fold to River Cbet of 100%)


5) 6max - SLAG

SLAGs are also among the biggest winners and strongest opponents that you will face at these limits. SLAGs however are found in fewer numbers than TAGs and don't start regularly appearing until NL100 and higher. They are certainly still worth talking about though.

Like TAGs, these players generally balance their ranges well and have strong stats across the board. At the micros though everybody has weaknesses.

Here Are a Few Ways to Exploit This Specific Player

  • Steal his blinds often (Fold to Steal is 82%)
  • Get it in preflop a bit lighter than normal against this player (3Bet is fairly high at 8% and 4Bet is really high for these stakes at 4%)
  • Double Barrel a lot (Doesn't fold much on the flop at 38% but does give it up 50% of the time on the turn)
  • Raise or float lighter than you would against most players on all postflop streets (This player is extremely barrel happy with a Turn CBet of 71% and a River CBet of 67% - he has air a lot)


6) Full Ring - LAG

There aren't that many LAGs at these stakes and as mentioned they often have significantly leaks. They can be among the best or the worst regs at these limits so it is a bit difficult to make generalizations. The player above is an example of a reg who is among the best though.

LAGs play a lot of hands and they play them aggressively. This is why they drive a lot of people crazy. But often there are big leaks in their game such as we saw with the TAGs and SLAGs above. This usually boils down to taking the aggression too far in certain spots or getting too shy when somebody fights back on the turn or river.

Here Are a Few Ways to Exploit This Specific Player

  • 3Bet him much lighter than most in LP steal situations especially (ATS is extremely high at 56%)
  • Triple Barrel (Likes to hang around a lot on the flop and turn but has a 70% Fold to River CBet)
  • Float the flop and turn and bet or raise the river (Fold to River Float Bet of 83% and a high River CBet of 68%)


Final Thoughts

I hope this article helped show you that all regs at these stakes have weaknesses in their game that we can find and exploit. With the bad regs it doesn't take much effort at all and that is why I will go out of my way to target them specifically. With the good regs you have to dig a bit deeper but there is always something in there that you can take advantage of as well. Effective HUD use is the key.


Let me know in the comments how you go about battling the regs at these stakes. What do you think of my categories? Would you add more or delete some?


Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a microstakes grinder, poker coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes. Now available in Spanish and Russian as well.


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Crushing the Microstakes 2 Update

Posted by BlackRain79

Crushing the Microstakes 2 Update

As a lot of people know, I am writing a new book which will be a sequel of sorts to Crushing the Microstakes. I provided a brief update on my newsletter the other day and I wanted to share that here on my blog also. are not on my newsletter? FREE strategy articles, tips and more on everything microstakes poker every week straight to your inbox. Click here to subscribe!

And now on to the update.

First off, last week I asked my newsletter subscribers to email me with their comments and suggestions on what they would like included in the book. A big thank you to everyone who took the time to write me. I wrote down every single suggestion that I received and I will look to include them in the book if they are not already in it. Please continue emailing me - - with your ideas or leave a comment below.

Here are some concrete numbers on the progress of "CTM2." It is nearly the length of my first book Crushing the Microstakes already at around 200 pages. Here's the kicker though: I am not even done with the preflop section yet! It may be 500+ pages by the time it is finished. I am not going to leave any stone un-turned though so I don't care what the final number is. I am going to create the best book ever written on these stakes as CTM was meant to be for the stakes that it covered.

Some other notes. The book will be extremely example heavy with tons of analysis (perhaps over a 100 by the time I am done). While I try to speak in general terms in order to provide guidance to struggling players at these limits (NL10-NL100) it is just not possible to provide a satisfactory one size fits all answer much of the time. Factors like your opponent's player type, the dynamic between you and him, the action in the hand, the players left to act and balancing considerations are all usually much more important at these stakes and higher. So I feel like all I can do is just add more examples to hopefully cover every possible situation.

I should add that this book is all about regs. I have broken them down into 6 different categories and 95% of the examples are about them. I make big use of HUD stats throughout to find the specific weaknesses in each player type and how we can go about exploiting them. Several of the emails that I received last week asked for this specifically. Don't worry, that was the main focus of the book from the beginning!

I am also specifically breaking the book down this time in many sections by 6max and Full ring which will add to it's length. There is quite a bit of crossover between these two games and so sometimes I feel like I am repeating myself but I think it will be more useful in the end. I implore the reader to check out both sections anyways since I believe that knowing how to play both games well is of vital importance especially as you move up the stakes where game selection becomes a bigger and bigger issue. Anyways, that's enough for now. I need to get back to writing it anyways!

One last thing. Here is my standard line now on release date questions, "before the end of this year." Thanks for all the continued support and well wishes!

Let me know in the comments below what YOU would like to see in the book. What are the biggest problems that you have at NL10-NL100?

Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a microstakes grinder, poker coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes. Now available in Spanish and Russian as well.

How to Optimize Your HUD for Today’s Micro Stakes Cash Games

Posted by BlackRain79

First off, I have written about this before. A pair of articles which you can find here and here. However, the information contained in those articles is a bit dated now and also simplistic because it was specifically focused on the lowest stakes, NL2 and NL5 cash games. The games at all levels have changed a bit in the past two years also. So in this article I am going to give you my thoughts on HUD setup as it applies to today's games and with more emphasis on NL10+ this time.

Your HUD (heads up display) is arguably your most important weapon at the poker tables especially after you get beyond NL2 and NL5. You have to play against regs much more frequently and many of them don't have the obvious glaring leaks that they do at lower limits. Having a good HUD setup that allows you to get the information that you need as efficiently as possible can make all the difference in the world to your bottom line.

My New HUD!

Recently I have overhauled my HUD and I want to share it with all of you, my blog readers!

When thinking about redesigning my HUD I had two main goals in mind:

1) I wanted only the most important stats to be displayed (i.e., the ones that I use the most)

2) I wanted it to be efficient and compact to avoid information overload on my screen

I am confident that I achieved goal #1. Goal #2, perhaps not so much but I can live with it. I also created a "lite" version though which does accomplish this.

Anyways, let's get to it!


I am going to just give you the download link to my new HUD setup first before going into any further analysis. You will receive a pt4hud file upon download. I use Pokertracker 4. I think it is the best current poker tracking program and HUD on the market. Don't worry if you don't use PT4 though. I will get to that in a moment.

If you also use PT4 then you can simply import the file as a new HUD profile and it will be all setup and ready to go for you. Just go HUD > Edit HUD Profiles > Options > Import Profile.


You can download my PT4 HUD profile here.

You can download the Lite version of it here.


Here is what the full version looks like in the PT4 HUD profile editor:

Right Click And Open in New Tab to Enlarge      


And here is what the lite version looks like:

Right Click And Open in New Tab to Enlarge                                                   


Full or Lite?

The full version includes a mountain of stats which may seem overwhelming at first. They will all be thoroughly discussed in this article. It is best suited for NL10+ cash games where you have large samples on most of the regs.

If you play NL2, NL4 or NL5 I would opt for the lite version for now. It includes all of the most important stats for success at these stakes. It does not include the ones which are better suited to the more aggressive NL10+ games and which often require a very large sample size anyways.

And as mentioned, don't worry if you don't use PT4. I am going to go over my new HUD step by step in a bit. You will just have to manually enter the stats into Hold'em Manager or whichever other program that you use.

This article will obviously be all about stats which some people may not be familiar with. So I am going to list every one that will be used in this article below before I get started. I will be using the abbreviations and descriptions as defined by PT4 in their statistical reference guide which can be found here.

You can also go Configure > Statistics within PT4 at any time to get the full list and definitions as well. If you are not new to HUD stats then you can just skip over the next section.


HUD Stat Definitions

Player: The player's name.

Hands: The total number of hands the player has played.

VPIP: The percentage of hands the player voluntarily put money into the pot preflop out of all hands. This does not include posting any blind money.

PFR: The percentage of hands where the player made any raise preflop.

Total AF (Aggression Factor): A measure of how aggressive or passive the player is across all post-flop streets. ( Total Times Bet + Total Times Raised ) / (Total Times Called )

ATS (Attempt to Steal): The percentage of times the player made a steal raise (attempted to steal the blinds) when they had the opportunity; i.e. raised when folded to in the cutoff, button, or small blind.

Fold to Steal: Percentage of the time that a player folded when in a blind and facing an open raise from the cutoff, button, or small blind without any other players being involved.

Fold to PF 3Bet After Raise: Percentage of the time that a player folded to a preflop 3Bet (re-raise of an initial raise) after they opened the pot.

Fold to PF 4Bet After 3Bet: Percentage of the time that a player folded to a preflop 4Bet (re-raise of a 3bet) after they made a 3Bet.

3Bet Preflop: Percentage of the time that a player 3Bet preflop when given the opportunity to do so.

4Bet + Ratio: Percentage of hands that a player 4Bets with.

Fold to F CBet: The percentage of times the player folded to a continuation bet on the flop.

Fold to T CBet: The percentage of times the player folded to a continuation bet on the turn.

Fold to R CBet: The percentage of times the player folded to a continuation bet on the river.

CBet Flop (Continuation Bet): The percentage of times the player followed their preflop raise by betting the flop when they had the opportunity to do so.

CBet Turn: The percentage of times the player followed their flop continuation bet by betting the turn when they had the opportunity to do so.

CBet River: The percentage of times the player followed their flop continuation bet by betting the turn (and bet again on the river) when they had the opportunity to do so.

Fold to Raise After F CBet: Percentage of the time that a player folded to a raise on the flop after having made a flop continuation bet, given that he had the chance to do so.

Fold to Raise After T CBet: Percentage of the time that a player folded to a raise on the turn after having made a turn continuation bet, given that he had the chance to do so.

Fold to T Float Bet: The percentage of times the player folded when facing a turn float bet. A float bet is calling behind on one street and then betting if checked to on the next.

Fold to R Float Bet: The percentage of times the player folded when facing a river float bet.


So let's go over my new HUD setup line by line. Here is an example of what it actually looks like on the poker table

As you can see I now include abbreviations on my HUD. Since I have more than doubled the amount of stats that I use now (19 in total) I sometimes need these to remind myself of what each number means. I don't bother with the first three stats in blue because these are just the classic indicators of overall play style (VPIP/PFR/Total AF) which I will discuss below.

The 4th and 5th ones in green are Fold to Steal and ATS which are also good general indicators of player type. However, they are more useful for determining preflop ranges in LP (late position) battles so I use a different color to differentiate them. Lastly, you will notice that a couple of the stats are shaded gray. PT4 sets it to that color when there is no information available at all. I have chosen to just leave it as is. Well, truthfully I could not figure out how to change it! But it looks fine.


Custom Pokertracker 4 HUD Configuration

But alas, if you don't like something on my HUD setup just change it! My use of colors, background color and layout is just what works for me and I will probably tinker with it in time anyways. You can easily customize any of it for yourself in Pokertracker 4. You can add, remove or move stats if you want as well.

Right Click And Open in New Tab to Enlarge

Arrow #1: Click on any stat box and drag to move somewhere else. Right click to delete the stat altogether

Arrow #2: Add new stats and add new lines

Arrow #3: Change the background color of the entire HUD

Arrow #4: Show everybody's stats including your own or only show your opponent's

Arrow #5: Change the opacity of the entire HUD

Arrow #6: Click on any individual stat box (arrow #1) and then adjust the color here

Arrow #7: Remove the prefixes (abbreviations) that I have used or change them to something else

The best way to test all of this is to open up a replayer window in PT4, make a change in the HUD profile editor above and click apply. You do not have to close the window. The new changes will update in the replayer window. Or you might want to see how it actually looks on whatever poker network you play on as that is ultimately what is most important. Open up a table, and mess with settings in the HUD profile editor. Hit apply and see how it looks.

Alright enough of all this. On to my HUD analysis!


Line #1

Player / Hands / VPIP / PFR / Total AF / Fold to Steal / ATS

On the first line I have all the most necessary stats. First is player name. It is obviously of crucial importance that you have the right stats associated with the right player! Sometimes when something goes wrong in this regard it has nothing to do with a layout mistake that you made. If a player leaves the table and the seat is filled right away by somebody else most poker tracking programs will still display the old stats for a hand or two. The only thing worse than no information is completely wrong information!

For this reason I have the player name listed before anything else and I actually set it in Pokertracker 4 as the same color (silver) as it displays on Pokerstars. Already done for you if you downloaded and imported my HUD profile above.

Next is number of hands, the second most important stat. Every individual stat that you use relies on it. A misunderstanding of how important the sample size is to the usefulness of specific stats is probably the number one way people misuse their HUD's. More is always better. Some stats need far bigger samples than others. I will talk about it throughout this article.

Next is VPIP. The percentage of hands that your opponent plays tells you 90% of what you need to know about them. This stat comes close to it's true value over a sample size of just 15 or 20 hands.

After that I have PFR. Obviously another crucially important stat. The gap between this stat and VPIP tells us a great deal about the opponent as well. Large gap means passive which usually leads to passive postflop play as well. Small gap (a couple points or less) means aggressive which usually leads to aggressive postflop play as well. Like VPIP, it comes close to it's true value over just 15 or 20 hands.

Next is Total AF. This stat is a great overall indicator of how aggressive or passive a player is. It is very important to remember that VPIP plays a big role in this stat though. A total AF of 3 on a 50% VPIP player is far different than 3 on a 10% VPIP player. The first player is far more aggressive overall since his range is usually much weaker. As applied to the huge glut of regs in the 10-15% VPIP range in full ring (15-20% in 6max) though this is of little concern. I like to have about 100 hands on the opponent before putting a lot of stock into their Total AF.

Lastly I have Fold to Steal and ATS. As mentioned these two stats are good overall indicators of player type and preflop ranges in LP battles. I use it routinely so I want it in a prominent position. I use just VPIP, PFR and Total AF when I want a quick snapshot of the player type though so that is why I have differentiated them by color.

This first line tells me nearly everything that I need to know about a player and allows me to categorize them immediately as a nit, TAG, LAG, fish etc. I think it was Nananoko who said that these handful of stats are pretty much all he uses and we all know what he has accomplished in this game. To be honest I base a large majority of my decisions off of just these stats as well. It is always good to know more though.


Line #2

Fold to PF 3Bet After Raising/ Fold to PF 4Bet After 3Bet/ 3Bet Preflop / 4Bet + Ratio

This line is all about preflop. And as you will see throughout my HUD setup I am always most concerned about their reactions to my aggression. As I continually talk about in my book Crushing the Microstakes, having the initiative is one of the two pillars of success in this game. I have it the large majority of the time that I play a hand so obviously I want to know how they are likely react to my aggression before anything else.

First is fold to 3Bet After Raising. Simple enough. I want to know if they will fold when I 3Bet them. After about 100 hands this stat is pretty reliable. Fold to 3Bet is highly useful at NL10+ where the preflop aggression is much higher than at stakes below this. Many regs routinely fold to 3Bets far too much. Good to know.

Second is  fold to 4Bet After 3Bet. This is the first stat where sample size concerns can definitely be an issue. But since I expect to be playing against regs a lot more frequently especially at NL10+ I will often have thousands of hands on them. In general though you are going to need about 200 hands minimum on someone to get useful information from this stat. If you are in doubt, just hover your mouse over the stat at the poker table with PT4 and it will give you the sample size. I am not a statistician but common sense tells us that 10 opportunities to perform X action will provide a lot more useful information than 2 for instance.

Next is their 3Bet. I want to know what their range is when they 3Bet me. Regs run the gamut of nuts only to retardedly over aggro at these stakes so this stat helps me determine how to proceed. Now I would love to break it down to include 3Bet by each position or situation but one of my goals was not to have way too much clutter on my screen (there is already more than enough!). This is one of the areas where the popup helps us out. Simply left click on a player's name in Pokertracker 4 and the full display comes up.

As you can see in the highlighted area we have the information on this player's 3Bet percentages at every position at the table. When I want a more detailed breakdown of my opponent's 3Bet in a specific situation I will refer to this. This popup is also highly useful for determining a player's VPIP by position (3 lines up). I use it frequently especially when a reg opens from EP (early position). Lastly, I also use the full popup a lot when I want specific stats on a blind vs blind battle for example. You can hit the "preflop" tab in the upper left corner and get tons of information on that.

The last stat that I have on line #2 is their 4Bet. Again players at these stakes run the gamut from pure nuts only to A3o why not. It is good to have this information not only to determine their likely range but also to find out if a 5Bet is profitable or not.


Line #3

Fold to Flop CBet / Fold to Turn CBet / Fold to River CBet

Sticking with the logical progression line 3 is all about their postflop reactions to my aggression. Can I get them to fold to a CBet, a double barrel or even a triple barrel? Once again sample size concerns can definitely be an issue with some of these stats, especially the turn and the river ones.

With the player above for instance we can see that at 10/10 (VPIP/PFR) this player is almost never the preflop caller. He has only had 9 opportunities in 3400 hands to fold to a CBet! He has only had 1 opportunity to fold to a turn CBet rendering that stat all but useless. Lastly, he has never even had a single opportunity to fold to a river CBet.

Now the player above is an extreme example. Nobody actually has a VPIP that is identical to PFR except for this guy. I certainly don't recommend it. But it is important to note how these stats will have different levels of reliability depending on the player type. You can get solid information on most fish for instance on all three of these stats over as little as 100 hands since they play a lot more hands, tend to go into the later streets more and are often the one without the initiative in the hand.


Line #4

CBet Flop / CBet Turn / CBet River

This line is all about how my opponent plays postflop. I want to know what percentage of the time he bets on each street. Sample size is definitely an issue as I have preached throughout this article. However, as long as you know that the numbers are reliable then finding the weak spots is pretty easy.

The easiest and most classic one to spot is a big gap between CBet Flop and CBet Turn. Most players have a gap of about 20 points between these two stats. Some are in the 30 or 40 range though. These players are prime targets to float and then take it away on the turn.

There are many barrel happy players at these limits as well though but the vast majority will not fire the third bullet without the nuts unlike at higher stakes. Having the CBet River stat in there helps to identify those players if I want to float twice and try to take it away on the river.


Line #5

Fold to Raise After F CBet / Fold to Raise After T CBet / Fold to T Float Bet / Fold to R Float Bet

This last line is all about the effectiveness of different lines that I might take against an opponent when I am the preflop caller. Again, this is not a situation that I am in all that frequently and so that is why I put them on the last line. However, fighting for the initiative preflop does not always make sense in every spot for a variety of reasons. These stats are highly useful in helping you outplay your opponent in those situations.

The first one is simple enough. How often do they fold when we raise their CBet? Most players are right around 50% with this. However some are significantly higher or lower. Good to know.

The second one concerns how often they fold when we raise their turn CBet. Most players do not fold very often at these stakes, around 1/3 times. However some do fold more often making it sometimes profitable to raise light.

The third stat let's me know how often they fold when we float the flop and then bet the turn when they check. I use this stat in conjunction with CBet turn above. I want to know firstly if they frequently check on the turn instead of barreling before I make a plan to float on the flop. Secondly I want to know that they give up when I bet a lot. This stat tells me that.

Lastly, fold to river float bet let's me know how often they give up when I float both the flop and turn and then bet when they check the river. Like with the previous stat I use this in conjunction with CBet river on the 4th line to find the barrel happy regs who get shy on the river. Then I use this stat to find out if they fold a lot when I bet. I have found that this is a huge weakness in even some of the very best regs at these stakes.


Final Notes

And that is it! Obviously I have a lot more stuff on my screen now but this is because I need detailed information to find the holes in the regs and outplay them. In the absence of terrible players everywhere you need to dig deeper and learn how to exploit decent opponents. Nobody is a world beater at these stakes. Nearly all of them, even the top winners, have huge leaks. Using your HUD effectively can help you identify those mistakes and exploit them.

Because I include so much information on my new HUD some people have expressed some difficulties fitting it onto their screen. If it is too much for you then you can remove some or all of the prefixes (FFCB etc.) to clear up space. See arrow #7 above. I include them now just because I am still getting used to the new layout and all of the new stats. I may take the training wheels off at some point.

Or simply use the lite version of my HUD which only includes 12 core stats instead of 19 and takes up less screen space. You can delete the prefixes on that one as well for even more space.

In any case here is a screenshot of me testing out my new full HUD (with all prefixes) on Pokerstars with 4 tables tiled with overlap on my 15 inch laptop:

Right Click And Open in New Tab to Enlarge


Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a microstakes grinder, poker coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes. Now available in Spanish and Russian as well.

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Taking on the Micro Stakes Nit Army

Posted by BlackRain79

taking on the micostakes nit army

Everybody knows that once you get to even NL5 these days the games play pretty tight. With even the slightest bit of table selection NL2 is still primarily a circus. But that level is basically the only stake where that is the case anymore. So people ask me all the time how to beat the tighter games once they move up. Many people seem to think that they are impossibly difficult because everybody is a nit!

Here's the reality

The vast majority of your opponents at NL5 and NL10, and many even at higher stakes, only have one general strategy - "play tight." Therefore, they are only one step removed from being a total beginner. Now this is definitely the biggest step of all. There is nothing that I can tell you or that you will learn in any book, forum, training site etc. that will allow you to beat nits for the winrate that you beat that fish at. But many people seem to equate being tight with being good or at least hard to make money off of. Harder than fish sure but still profitable? Absolutely.

How to Slay Nits

So the first thing that we know about nits is that they play tight. And often at these limits they play way too tight. The beautiful thing about poker is that when your opponents play at extremes like this there is always an answer for it. The obvious answer in this situation is to just loosen up and take advantage of their tightness! The people that come to me and complain about their 1bb/100 winrate at NL10 in the "impossibly tough" games there don't seem to realize that the reason they aren't having any success is because they are a nit like everyone else!

Does anyone get ahead in life by following the crowd? By being like everybody else? No, of course not. If you want to play like a weak nit you are basically just going to trade money back and forth with all of the other weak nits at these stakes. If you want to actually maintain a solid winrate in these games then it is time to play a few (or a lot) less tables for awhile and learn how to play poker.

I go full on LAG in these games and it leads to very high winrates. By this I mean that in a full ring game I am playing around 20% of my hands and in a 6max game closer to 30%. They want to fold preflop all day? Cool, I will steal their blinds all day. I open up from all positions. Yes, even from early position (EP) although I don't go too crazy. My play opens up the most from around the button.

I also 3bet far more. Close to 10% in either game. My 3betting is mostly on or around the button as well. As I always say with 3betting, pick easy targets! And there are plenty of them at NL5 and NL10. These are the guys who fold to 3bets 80%+. These are the guys who also fold to cbets at a similar high rate. They are fit or fold, weak players basically. Don't be afraid to fire another barrel on the turn or river as well if they start to get frisky with you and put on their sheriff's hat. The key is to keep the gas pedal to the floor against weak players like this. It's been said a million times but this game is not about the cards that you hold most of the time. It's about how you play against your opponents. It's really, really hard to make the nuts.

Other Options

There are many other ways to approach abusing the nit army as well though. For instance, many times it just makes no sense to 3bet them especially if they opened from EP. We know that their range is very tight so it is not very profitable to mess with them unless we have the nuts ourselves. Instead of just folding your suited connector on the button however try calling with it instead. Make sure that you are doing this in position (IP) and not with dominated hands such as broadways or even suited aces though. Now if we can hit something (especially two pair or better) that is obviously awesome. But that is just a bonus. Our intention in calling preflop was not to play fit or fold like them and only continue when we have a pair or better. That is losing poker. Our intention instead was to outplay them after the flop and win the pot with the worst hand a lot of the time. This is much easier to do IP.

So the nit is of course going to make his cbet like 80%+ of the time. Yawn. Check your HUD stats on him right away. How often is he barreling the turn? If it is 40% or less then just call the flop and bet the turn when he checks to you the majority of the time. Most nits will just give up here even with the middle part of their range which includes stuff as strong as small overpairs. Instant profit!

Or, we could take a different line on the flop. What is their fold to cbet raise %? If it is over 50% then it will obviously be profitable to just raise it up right now and take it down. This is just a straight numbers game that will earn profit for us in the long run. Lean on your HUD in the tighter games at NL5+. Once you know how to set it up properly and effectively use the stats it can allow you to find profitable spots like this so much more easily.

I have recently done a complete overhaul of my HUD with a thorough examination of the most important stats for success in 2013 microstakes cash games. I will be making it available as a free download for all of my blog readers in a future post.

That's it for now. Thanks for reading as always and all the best at the tables!

Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a microstakes grinder, poker coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes. Now available in Spanish and Russian as well.

Crushing the Microstakes 2?

Posted by BlackRain79


Hey everyone, thought I would drop a line or two here about some new stuff happening on my website. First, I just want to formally announce that I am indeed writing a followup to Crushing the Microstakes. I said I would never write a book again but the response to that one has been so much more than I ever would have imagined. And of course one of the questions that I get asked on a regular basis is when are you going to write another book focusing on higher stakes.

Well I am writing it.

I have been technically working it for nearly 6 months now. This book is far different in scope and much more difficult to write though. I actually wrote CTM in about 2 months albeit I was working on it nearly every day for sometimes as much as 8-10 hours. This includes the editing time as well which I did all myself.

CTM is a book for beginners and people struggling at the lowest stakes though. While many strategies within it apply at all levels of the game it is most directly applicable to NL2, NL5, NL10 and the lowest limit live games. The games where the straight forward, unbalanced and highly exploitative style of play discussed in CTM still yields big winrates.

By NL25 things change quite a bit though. Fish are more scarce and the regs are much, much better than at the lower stakes. These are the first limits where you need to start figuring out how to balance your range, assess your opponent's on the fly, 4bet light, bluff raise, triple barrel, float effectively and so much more. There is simply so much more that goes into "crushing" these stakes that writing a book about it is a lot harder.

I am up for the challenge though and it does feel good to be writing again. My goal is to create the best book ever written on these stakes. It will be massive and comprehensive. I have no timetable for it's release but I am definitely hoping and expecting to make it available before the end of this year. My plan for the next month or two is just to work on it everyday. I will keep you all up to date.

For those curious, there is no title at this point. I prefer to figure that out after it is written anyways. It will very likely NOT be called Crushing the Microstakes 2 though. If anyone has any suggestions feel free to let me know in the comments!

And lastly, I have recently created a newsletter to accompany my blog. I plan to send out tips, info, articles and maybe some videos on a weekly basis on anything and everything micro stakes. I think this will help me stay connected with my regular readers and add a little bit more value that cannot be found on the blog. I will also be able to keep people updated on the progress of the book. You can sign up for the newsletter here.

That is all that I have for now.

Let me know in the comments what you want included in the book or in the newsletter!

The Top 5 Signs of Bad Poker Players

Posted by BlackRain79

Top 5 Signs of Bad Poker Players

I discussed the top 5 tell tale signs of bad poker players in a recent video for DragTheBar. I thought I would bring it up here on the blog also. As I mentioned recently in my state of 2013 microstakes cash games article table selection in today's games has nothing to do with table averages anymore since fish are scarce and all the nits bring down the numbers. It is important to know how to quickly identify fish especially as you move up the limits. You could always just sit down at a random table and play a few orbits until your HUD shows you which players have the high VPIP and low PFR. Or you could identify them in a hand or two by looking for any of the following top 5 signs of bad poker players.


1) Limping

As most people who are at all serious about the game know by now, limping is bad. There are almost no situations where it makes any sense at all. Having the initiative in the hand is just much more +EV in nearly all spots. So if you see someone limping, especially open limping from MP, LP or the SB, there is no question that this is a weaker player. Some regs will still open limp from EP or perhaps overlimp or complete the SB with a speculative hand. I don't always note that. I am looking for chronic open limping especially from positions where it never makes any sense to do so.


2) Posting a Blind Out of Position

This really is a dead tell. Basically every reg in the world knows these days that you should wait until the big blind comes to you before posting your blind. Since poker is a long term game and you can think of every session as just a continuation from the last one it simply makes no sense to pay for blinds more often than you need to. Some regs may post in the CO in a full ring game especially if there are known fish at the table. I do this myself sometimes. But if you see someone posting their blind from ANY other position it is without question a bad player.


3) Buying in For Less than 100bb

Since Pokerstars got rid of the ability to buyin for 20bb a few years ago on its regular ring game tables and exploit the well known short stack strategy there simply is no reason to ever buyin for less than 100bb. There are some people who swear by some sort of "mid stack strategy" but in my opinion this is just leaving money on the table. There were some legitimate strategic advantages to playing with a 20bb stack such as being able to ship over regs who open or 3bet too light. This is not the case with 40bb, 60bb or any other weird stack size. These stack sizes require post flop play. And if you are going to play postflop why wouldn't you want the most ammunition on hand possible?

More specifically though as regards fish one of the easiest ways to spot them is a bizarre buyin with cents in it. Buying in for instance at an NL10 table for $6.43. It is clearly their whole bankroll and obviously no good player would ever have their whole bankroll on the table. I generally just mark anyone with a sub 100bb buyin as a fish straight away.


4) Under-betting the Pot Postflop

This is another pretty clear tell to a weaker player. Especially when they are betting amounts such as a 1/4 of the pot or less. No good player would ever do that because it gives the other player(s) almost no incentive to fold at all and clear odds with basically any draw. Even bets of 1/3 have very little applicability in a NLHE cash game. Smaller bets certainly have merit in MTT's due to shallower stack sizes but in a cash game you should be betting at least 1/2 of the pot in almost all circumstances.


5) Mini-Raising Pre or Postflop

A 3bb open is pretty much the standard in online cash games everywhere now. There are some people who swear by mini-raising from LP and it has some merits. But anyone who is chronically mini-raising from other positions is almost always a weaker player.

The same goes for mini-raising postflop. There are some arguments in favor of it in certain spots but I think at the micros (especially NL2 and NL5) you should be raising for value most of the time. Mini-raising is therefore just leaving money on the table.


6) 1 Tabling

I know I said the "Top 5" but here is one more way that really should have been included. Credit to Willian Mates in the comments. Most poker sites give you the ability to search a player and find out what other tables (if any) that they are playing. Fish will be much more likely than regs to be playing just a few tables and often just one. It is not easy to 24 table when your VPIP is 78!


Final Notes

It should be noted that by tagging people immediately as fish if you notice them taking any of the above actions you will find out later that several of them are actually nits. This is because many regs at the microstakes will do some of the things above also. This is fine, just change the tag from fish to bad reg once you notice the low VPIP. Very few good regs would ever do any of the above and it is good to know who the bad regs are because we can make lots of money off of them as well.

Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a microstakes grinder, poker coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes. Now available in Spanish and Russian as well.

Online Poker Players Living in Thailand

Posted by BlackRain79

Poker Players Living in Thailand

In recent years there has been a growing number of online poker players relocating to different places around the planet. Mostly because they can. One of the big benefits of playing online poker for a living is that you are location independent. All you need is a laptop and an internet connection. Black Friday accelerated this trend in a big way as thousands of American professional players faced difficulties playing in their own country. Thailand has undoubtedly been the number one destination of choice for online poker players. The thread for Thailand in the 2+2 travel forum is the most popular of all time with nearly six and a half times as many replies as the 2nd most popular thread. Since I have lived in Thailand for nearly a year and a half now and have met many people from the online poker community I figured that I could speak a little bit about what it is like to relocate here.

I want to be clear that I am in no way advising anyone to just pick up and move halfway around the world on a whim. For many people this is just something that they would never even consider doing due to a variety of different reasons such as family or work commitments. For many people also it is just simply too crazy of an idea in the first place. That is fine. This article is for the small subset of adventurous people who would consider expanding their horizons or for anyone who is curious in general.

Also just because you "move" to a different country does not mean that it is in any way permanent. Many people go back to their home countries after a certain amount of time or travel somewhere else. I certainly did not come here with any intentions beyond staying for a few months. And like most of the poker players I know here I do not have any long term plans at this point.

The profile of the standard online grinder who lives here is overwhelmingly in their 20's or early to mid 30's and almost always unattached at least before they come here. And obviously they belong to the relatively small amount of online poker players who are consistent long term winners.

However, it is important to note that their is an enormous expat population all over Thailand and online poker players make up a very small percentage of that. There are many more English teachers, small business owners, non-poker online professionals and retirees, both single and attached, kids and no kids, and in many cases north of 40 years old. So you do not have to fit the profile of the 23 year old SnG whiz kid if you choose to check out this country or any other one for that matter. If you want to make it happen, you will.

Lastly, this post is just about Thailand. There are many other great destinations all around the world for anyone looking for a change of pace. The most popular are almost always in South East Asia and South and Latin America due to the low cost of living and great weather.

In this post I am going to try and give as much information as I can on all of the day to day details of living in Thailand. If I forget anything (which I surely will) just ask me in the comments. Also, this post will be geared towards online poker players relocating here as this is a poker blog. I will try my best to answer any questions related to non-poker business here as well though.


Benefits for Online Poker Players Moving to Thailand

  • The ability to play online poker (Americans especially)
  • The weather
  • The low cost of living
  • The food
  • The beaches
  • The people

I will discuss some negatives about living in Thailand at the end. I don't want to paint this country as some magical wonderland. There are many great benefits to living here but it is still a developing country and has some of the problems associated with that. Also, any time you are living in a foreign country there are additional issues for you to deal with such as cultural/language differences and visa hoops to jump through.


Playing Online Poker in Thailand

Playing online poker in Thailand is relatively easy. I do need to mention first though that gambling of any sort (except on Muay Thai) is technically illegal in this country. But there have been no cases ever as far as I am know where an online poker player has been even harassed in any way. While it may be technically illegal to play online poker here the authorities do not care at all. It would not be the #1 destination in the world for migrant online poker players if there were any problems with that.

As usual though, when in a foreign country, or even in your own country, just keep it on the down low. Nobody needs to know what you do for a living besides the other online grinders who you know. As we all know the vast majority of non-poker people won't understand it anyways so it largely just a waste of time. Just say that you work on the internet. If they press further say you build websites, do affiliate marketing etc. and the conversation will usually end there.

Live poker is a different story. You will not find a casino anywhere in this country. There are plenty of underground games of course which are often organized by some of the online poker players who live here. I would avoid these though. There have been some cases of these games getting raided by the police. Macau, China (the gambling capital of the world) is a short flight from Thailand. And there are many other SE Asian nations such as Cambodia where you can find live games in casinos as well.

I have never had any issues connecting to any online poker room here. You do not need a VPN. For Americans, simply change your address on Pokerstars and at every other poker site to your new Thai residence. I would probably send the poker site an email informing them of this also. Say goodbye to Black Friday!


The Weather

The weather in Thailand is very different than what you are probably used to if you come from North America or Europe. It is a tropical humid climate with high temperatures year round. There is a rainy season between the months of June-September (this varies a bit depending on where you live in the country). The rain here is generally extremely heavy when it comes down. Life (which is already at a very slow pace in Thailand) sort of stops for 20 minutes or so. The rain then subsides and dries up quickly due to the heat and people go on with their day. You can expect this to happen once or twice a day in the rainy season.

The rest of the year is hot and mostly dry. From October to May you will see much less rain. Again, this varies a bit depending on where you are. Rainy season lasts longer in the southern islands. During the peak tourist months of November to February there will likely be no rain at all and the temperatures are a little bit more moderate although still fairly hot. For me, coming from the rainy and cold Pacific Northwest (Vancouver) the weather is so much better here.


The Food

I think everyone knows about Thai food already. It is one of the best cuisines in the world. I don't know anyone who comes here and doesn't like it. It is often very spicy though. Say "mai pet khrap" (not spicy please) when ordering if this is not your thing. Most of us eat Thai for most meals. A noodle soup, Pad Thai or rice based dish can be had for as little as one dollar in the ever present markets and street side food stalls here. You can get a bigger portion and a more skillfully prepared Thai meal in the wide range of restaurants here usually for a few dollars at most. People eat out far more often in Thailand than in western countries. In fact many are surprised to learn that most apartments here don't come with a kitchen at all, just a small fridge.

Western food will cost more. It is everywhere though and will still cost quite a bit less than in your home country. The chain fast food joints are everywhere here also, McDonalds, Burger King, Starbucks etc. I don't go to these places very often but I believe the prices are somewhat similar to what they are in the West.


The Cost of Living

This is a huge thing for many poker players, especially those grinding the micros. One of the best things about living here is that it will cost you far less than in your home country. You can effectively double your quality of life over night. Using the power of geo-arbitrage we make money in a currency (USD or EUR) that is worth far more than the currency (Thai Baht) in the place that we live. At the time of this writing you will get about 30 Thai Baht for 1 American/Canadian/Australian dollar. You will get about 42 Baht for 1 Euro.

Where I live in the northern city of Chiang Mai a small but modern centrally located furnished studio with air con, tv, wifi, private bathroom, balcony and a pool can be had for as little as $100 a month. This is unheard of in any western city. In Vancouver you couldn't get a place in someone's backyard shed 30 minutes from the city for that amount. Of course many of us pay much more (like $300 lol) and get a much larger nicer place. Keep in mind that Chiang Mai is the cheapest major city to live in in Thailand. Prices will be about 25% higher in Bangkok and between 50-300% higher in Phuket depending on the season and proximity to the beach.

Electricity and water are very cheap and largely not even worth mentioning. Food as mentioned before is very cheap as long as you don't mind eating mostly Thai. Other costs will be a motorbike (Read scooter: Honda Click or Wave etc) if you want one. Motorbikes represent at least 50% of the vehicles on the roads here. In Chiang Mai you can get one for about 80 dollars a month. A better choice might be to just buy one for about 500 or 600 dollars if you plan on living here for awhile. Since you can affordably just live right in the city though often there is no need for one.

Prices for clothes are very cheap here in the markets and reasonable at the malls. But since you don't need much more than flip flops, shorts and t-shirts here year round you won't need a huge clothing collection anyways.

Expect to pay about the same price for electronics as you would in your home country. So don't come here thinking you are going to get a great deal on a new laptop, tablet or phone. If you need a new phone I would probably buy it in Thailand though just to avoid all those issues with unlocking when you get here. Mobile data and calling plans are very cheap. Use Skype when you want to phone home. I have 400 minutes a month to any mobile or landline in Canada for 5 dollars a month. Of course Skype to Skype calls are always free. is a great site for comparing the costs of living in cities anywhere in the world. Plug in where you live and compare it to Bangkok, Chiang Mai or Phuket.


The Beaches

There are lots of them here and many of them are stunning. You can just live at the beach here if you want as well. You will pay a premium though because often they are located on islands where they need to ship goods in. Also, the property values are a lot higher of course. But there are many places in this country in non-touristy beach locales where you can live for very little. I spent a month in a beach town in an 11th floor fully modern condo with a beach view for $233 a month a couple of months ago. It is a spot dominated by Thais and not foreign tourists so the prices are much lower. Places like this (no I will not say where, I have to keep some secrets!) can be found if you look around a bit and stay clear of the popular backpacker/tourist spots.

Many of us choose to live in a major city like Bangkok or Chiang Mai though for the modern amenities. We can just go on frequent vacations anyways. Domestic flights are very cheap and of course it takes no time at all to arrive in a world class beach resort in places such as Phuket, Koh Samui or Krabi.


The People and the Language

Thailand is often nicknamed LOS "The land of smiles." This is a country which is 95% Buddhist. The pace of life for most Thais is far slower than what you are probably used to. Family is huge to them. Having "sanook" (fun) at whatever they do in life is a top priority. They are quite a bit happier and more hospitable than people in most western countries. The smile is not fake. They are often genuinely happy to see you and talk to you (there are exceptions in the heavy tourist areas). This is a breath of fresh air for me.

The Thai language is very different than any of the Western languages and difficult to learn. The good thing is that you don't actually have to learn it to live here. Most Thais, at least in the big cities, speak a reasonable amount of English. At least enough so that you can order your food, apartment etc. in English and have no problem. Also since there are so many expats here from places like England, America, Canada and Australia you could literally just surround yourself with people who are native English speakers all the time anyways.

However, you will probably want to learn the language if you plan on staying here for a long time. It will enrich your experience so much more if you can have conversations with Thais that go beyond "Hi, how are you?" They will generally be happy to help you out with words that you don't know and will be honored that you are even trying to learn.



For people from any Western country, if you arrive in Thailand on a plane you will be able to stay here for 30 days. If you arrive by land, 15 days. So your best bet if you plan on staying here for awhile is to get a visa. I would suggest getting a tourist visa (get a double entry if you can) from the Thai embassy in your home country before coming here. Each entry will effectively give you 3 months here. You can go to any neighboring country such as Laos, Malaysia or Cambodia to get a new visa when it is finished.

The visa process is a bit confusing and annoying at times but this is just part of living in a foreign country. Just jump through the hoops every couple of months and do what you have to do. You should generally budget about 50 dollars a month for visa fees, flights or buses to a neighboring country etc.

An option that many long term grinders here use is to get a 1 year education visa. You pay up front for the year at a cost of roughly 50 dollars a month still. The benefit is that you only have to report to the local immigration office once every 3 months and no visits to other countries either. AND, you have also paid for Thai language classes for a year. You don't actually have to go if you don't want to. But it is a good way to learn the language and meet friends also.


Hospital Care and Insurance

This is a big area of concern for many people. There is a whole range of medical care here from small shady clinics to top notch hospitals with western educated doctors that would rival anything in your home country. The prices, like with nearly everything else, are also far cheaper. Many people (especially Americans) come here specifically to get big treatments done at a fraction of the cost of back home. That said, it is still a good idea to get some sort of insurance if you plan on living here. A couple of stitches or a checkup won't cost you anything but if you break your leg or something which requires some inpatient care it will still add up.

Insurance is cheap and can be found very easily through a quick google search. Be aware though that most insurance plans DO NOT cover motorbike accidents. By far the biggest reason that foreigners will require medical treatment here is due to a motorbike accident. If you choose to drive one please use your common sense and never drive drunk. Also, the driving culture is far different here (other side of the road if you are from America or Canada) and it will seem like complete chaos to you at first.

I recommend learning how to drive in a quiet location first and not a big city. Always wear a helmet as well even though many Thais and even foreigners do not bother with them. And like I said before, just live in the city and you won't even need a bike. Bangkok has an outstanding skytrain and subway system and who would ever want to drive in the crazy traffic there anyways? It is very easy to get around Chiang Mai with the local taxis for very cheap ($1 to cross the city). Phuket is a little bit more of a adventure and the taxi prices are much higher. I should mention that you could just get a car or truck but they are a lot more expensive than a bike and I don't know anyone who bothers with that.


Meeting People

As I mentioned before there is a very large expat population here already. And also the number of tourists from Western countries is extremely high as well. So meeting people who speak your language (or are even from your own country) is not difficult at all. The major poker communities are in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket. There are Skype groups for all three of them. Get yourself invited to one of them and you can easily become friends with and meet up with all the grinders there. There are tons of regular sports events, meetups and the like in all three communities.

Many grinders here choose to live in big mansions "poker houses" with 4 or 5 of them and live the baller life. Make friends online and offline with the poker community and you should be able to get into one of these houses or set one up yourself no problem. Many people choose to live on their own though as well especially if they have a Thai girlfriend.


Negatives of Living in Thailand

  • The visa leash
  • Language
  • Internet
  • Ability to degen hard
  • Political atmosphere/Police corruption

I have touched on a few of these issues a little bit already but I will say a bit more. With regards to visas and the hoops that you have to jump through yes it is annoying but it is just part of being a foreigner. As of this writing it is extremely difficult to impossible to ever become a citizen in this country. You can get a retirement visa if you are over the age of 50 but that does not apply to the vast majority of people reading this blog. Relying on tourist visas means trips to a foreign country and the local immigration office once every few months. An education or business visa makes things quite a bit easier though.

The language is very different and very hard for most Westerners to pick up. It is a tonal language and the same word can have 5 different meanings depending on how you pronounce it. There are sounds which are not used in the English language and the sentence structure can be very weird at times. In the rural areas of Thailand there will be very little English spoken. As long as you stick to the main big cities though you will be fine. However, most foreigners living here tend to have very few Thai friends besides their girlfriend due to language issues. Many expats have made the commitment though and learned it. It is not impossible.

With the internet do not expect the blazing speeds that you are used to on a broadband connection in America, Canada or Europe. However, Thailand is not a third world country and you can certainly get decent broadband connections in nearly any city. Definitely enough to play poker on. Many grinders choose to have a backup connection though just in case. Wifi connections can of course be a little more unstable. But most people coming here to grind will want to set up a plan with a local ISP and get a dedicated connection anyways.

I do need to mention this. As most people know the partying/girls scene here is very crazy. If you don't keep your life in order it can be very easy to get consumed with that. There are tons of old expats here wasting away especially in towns like Pattaya, the most degen place on the planet. Most of the younger guys, which includes almost all online poker players, keep it in check though. It is fine to go a bit crazy when you first get here, most people do. And you should travel around anyways to see where you want to live. But after that have a plan to settle into normal life. Get a place, a grinding routine, a gym membership etc. and keep the nightlife at a minimum.

Thailand is a relatively stable but young democracy. There is still a lot of corruption across all levels of society though. The bribery system is very common here especially in dealings with the police. However as long as you keep yourself out of trouble, as you probably already do in your home country, none of this stuff should affect you on any level.

Just a couple final notes. The king of Thailand is the longest serving monarch in the world. He is like a living god to most Thais. Don't say anything disrespectful. Don't even think about doing drugs here. The penalties are extremely harsh throughout all of South East Asia.


Final Thoughts

Relocating abroad is definitely not for everybody. But for me and many of the other grinders and expats here it was a great decision. Living in Thailand is very much like a dream at times. It doesn't even seem real. There is stuff that I didn't even mention, since this article is already long enough, such as $5 an hour Thai massage and the incredible Buddhist architecture all over the country. I think the pros far outweigh any cons. And seeing how the "other side" lives will also broaden your perspective immensely. This doesn't mean that I am here permanently though and I still love my home country of Canada. I can travel back whenever I want.

This leads me to a fairly big "con" of living abroad though that I did not mention because it applies to any foreign country and not just Thailand; missing your family and friends. Obviously this is something that everyone who relocates abroad must deal with and it IS difficult. Although the power of technology these days (Skype especially) does make it a little bit easier. Thailand is a long, long way from home though if you are from North America or Europe.

I will lastly say this. All of the reasons that people list for why they cannot try living abroad for awhile usually aren't anywhere near as difficult to overcome as they think. You only live once and you have far more to gain than you have to lose. The hardest part really is just getting on the plane.

As mentioned, if anyone has any questions about Thailand please feel free to leave them below. I will do my best to answer them. 

Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a microstakes grinder, poker coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes. Now available in Spanish and Russian as well.

The State of Micro Stakes Online Poker in 2013

Posted by BlackRain79

The State of Micro Stakes Online Poker in 2013

Online poker is continually evolving. And the micro stakes are no different. I get asked a lot these days about the state of the games in 2013 and especially if my winrates in the past are even possible anymore. The answer is yes and no. Blindly opening 24 random tables of NL2 and expecting to auto-pilot to a 30bb/100 winrate is not possible anymore. Likewise, you cannot mass table NL25 and expect to maintain 10bb/100 these days. You would need to be one of the absolute best players to even achieve half of these winrates in today's games with that amount of tables and no regard as to who was playing on them.

On the other side of the coin, these winrates are still possible in today's games if you are committed to cutting down on the amount of tables drastically so that you can make much higher quality opponent specific decisions. And also by vigorously table and seat selecting which I will get into more a bit later. Of course achieving these winrates still requires an exceptional understanding of the game and excellent emotional control. I am talking about what is possible in this article because that is how the question is always phrased to me. People want to know what the absolute best players can achieve.

I would be remiss not mention a little bit about the state of the micros for American players in 2013 before I continue. While site selection and thus table selection is quite a bit more restricted than for people from many other countries things are not all bad. I still continue to play on several sites from time to time that are open to Americans. If the games were so bad at these sites then I wouldn't play on them (I am Canadian). I haven't found there to be much of a difference at all in skill level across the board at these sites when compared to the bigger online poker rooms. The only difference is that there are less tables to choose from. Everybody hopes the situation will resolve itself sooner than later and American players can once again play on any site that they choose to. But many options still remain for American poker players in 2013.

Reducing the Amount of Tables

This is something that will be different for everybody. Some people can competently play many more tables than others. But what is true for everyone is that the less tables you play the more time that you will have. The more time that you have, the more opportunity you have to make higher quality decisions. And especially decisions tailored specifically to the opponent that you are facing. I 24 tabled the micros for years and basically just took standard lines against everyone. I would change things up a little bit between regs and fish. But generally speaking I was just auto-piloting with no regard to issues such as balancing my range versus thinking opponents, diving deeper into their HUD stats or taking account of any relevant history..

Once I started making videos where I wasn't allowed to play more than 4 tables at once and started experimenting with 4-6 tables in my regular play as well I noticed that my winrates were the same or even higher than before in today's supposedly ultra tough games.

LAG Play Wrecks the Micros in 2013

By reducing the amount of tables I immediately started playing way more hands. My full ring game went from a 14/11/3 with a 4% 3bet to a 21/18/3 with a 6% 3bet. My 6max game went from a 20/17/3 with a 5% 3bet to a 30/27/3 with a 7% 3bet. I immediately started discovering so many more profitable spots to just take pots that the 24 tabling HUDbots didn't want to battle me for.

I remember a player (I won't name him) that I started out playing with many, many years ago. We actually met on the play money tables! We both moved over to real money at around the same time, became good friends and talked about the game a fair bit. While I was still working my way up through the micros I remember him absolutely destroying the small and midstakes games (NL100-NL600) at winrates that have probably never been equaled to this day. He preferred 6max and played way more hands than anyone other reg, something like a 40/35/3. Nobody knew how to combat it. He simply ran the games over as the regs, who were incredibly passive at the time, would not fight back without the nuts.

This is the way that the micros play today. Especially NL2-NL10. Most regs are multi-tabling nits and will not put big money in the pot without the nuts. In game conditions like this you don't even need fish to maintain a high winrate. Just keep abusing the regs way more than they are used to and they will either lay down to you (often the case) or go on tilt and hand a couple stacks to you. By playing far less tables I have been able to do just this in 2013 games especially at the lowest stakes.

If you want to play like everybody else then expect everybody else's results. Poker is all about adjustments and a table full of passive regs is by no means a bad table if you know how to exploit it properly. You need to open up your game in order to do this.

Table Selection and Seat Selection

While playing against bad regs can be profitable there is no substitute for playing with really bad players. As I mentioned last time, whales, as they are often referred to, lose money at a far faster rate than anyone else. They are the main engine that drives the poker economy since if they lose money faster than anyone else it follows that they will need to deposit money more frequently than everyone else as well.

Using the table VPIP averages that many sites display as a guide for table selection is not something that I do at all anymore in 2013 games. The micros have tightened up considerably in the last 3 or 4 years and especially at the lowest stakes there are an absurd amount of what I like to call "super nits." These are guys with a VPIP of like 9 at a full ring table and 12 or 13 at a 6max table. All they know how to do is play absurdly tight.

What these guys do though, and nits in general, is bring down the table averages so much that you don't even realize that the 40 VPIP whale is sitting right there! So I much prefer to simply sit at tables with people who are unknowns to me and wait an orbit or two for the stats to come in. If I see a whale (it only takes 10-20 hands to get a relatively reliable reading on someone's VPIP) then I tag them immediately and stay. If I see that it is all tight players then I leave.

The Jesus Seat

The "Jesus Seat" is a term that popped up a few years ago especially among high stakes players to refer to the dream situation where you have the huge fish on your direct right. If you manage to find yourself in this situation, even by sheer luck, you should not leave that table until the fish does for any reason.

What many people fail to understand with game selection or table selection is that finding the whale is only half the battle. Your EV (expected value) versus that player jumps considerably when he is on your right. You can get involved in so many more hands against him with the benefit of position and literally just isolate him every single time. You can get all those extra bets in on the end and not waste bets when he chooses to finally fight back.

When the fish has position on you you have to play way tighter, you will get floated way more, annoyed way more. The power of position is something that people still fail to fully realize even in today's games. Give one player direct position on another player of his exact same skill level and he will destroy him in the long term. Just because the fish is much less skilled than you are doesn't change this basic law of poker. You are likely +EV versus him no matter what seat he is in. But your EV changes in a big way depending on your position vis a vis him.

Start Your Own Tables

I know I have mentioned this many times in the past but it is worth talking about again. I start tables all the time now when I play especially at the begininng of a session when I have the most time. Almost all the good players that I know who crush the micros these days do the same thing. The reason is very simple. Fish do not like to wait to play poker. They don't use waiting lists, regs do. They want to start splashing their chips around right now and so they choose tables that have lots of empty seats on them. This is one of the easiest ways to just make fish appear out of nowhere in today's games.

And don't worry about playing heads up for a bit. I think a lot of people are scared to start tables because they are ring players and don't want to play any heads up. I am a ring player too! I don't particularly think of myself as any good at heads up either. But the reality is that usually the table will fill up very fast. And even if you do end up with a heads up match just play a couple hands and quit if you want to. In many cases it will just be a random reg who wants to play you for whatever reason and you can actually use this as an opportunity to work on your heads up game a bit (if you so choose). Remember most other regs are really bad at heads up also.

A Couple Final Thoughts

I hope this article gives you guys a little bit of insight into the approach that I take with micro stakes cash games in 2013. People have been complaining about the games getting tougher especially on forums for a long time now. Like at least 5 years. Yet there are tons of people who still make a solid living or side income playing this game. So the bad players must be somewhere right? The games can't be that impossibly hard to beat can they?

It does take more effort to win at online poker in 2013. That is the plain truth. And some of the insane winrates of days gone by are not possible anymore especially if you want to mass multi-table. But rakeback programs have improved and there is still good money to be made if you really want it.

In order to win in today's games you need to be consistently updating your skills (studying on your own and using instructional materials, books, training sites, coaching etc). This is not unlike how it works in many areas of the business world. You also need to practice working on your emotional control. Understanding and accepting variance as part of the game.

And lastly, as discussed in this article, you need to be paying attention to who your opponents are and where they are seated at the table more than ever. You need to adapt to who they are as well. Even if you bumhunt all day long you are still going to have to play some hands versus regs. It is on you to figure out how to outplay them. Luckily at the micros this still isn't too difficult of a task these days.

If you have any questions or comments please feel free to leave them below. All the best at the tables!

Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a microstakes grinder, poker coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes. Now available in Spanish and Russian as well.

Playing Against Bad Poker Players

Posted by BlackRain79

Playing Against Bad Poker Players

I hang around online poker forums from time to time to keep up on the microstakes scene and offer any advice on hands or more general topics where I can. A common sentiment that I have seen many times from newer players is that they would rather play against good poker players because they can "read them better." This is so crazy that it makes me laugh and/or cringe every time.

It is understandable why they think this way though. For newer players superstition and crazy beliefs centered wholly around the short term are the norm. Much like most of the general public they are just one step removed from believing that the entire game is based on luck! Hopefully this article can help clear up this one misguided belief a bit.

You Want to Play Against Bad Poker Players, Trust Me

Above all else, bad poker players are the ones who will support your winrate in the longterm. You don't make much money off of the players playing tight and trying to win like you. Bad poker players, or fish as they are commonly referred to, support the entire industry.

They lose their money extraordinarily fast with loss-rates commonly around 20bb/100 or more depending on how bad they are. Even the worst regs by comparison rarely lose at more than 5bb/100. So from a purely logical and mathematical point of view you obviously want to be playing against the players who are losing their money at a far faster pace than anyone else.

But I Can Never Put Them On a Hand...They Drive Me Crazy!!!

Yes, bad poker players play a lot of different hands and can have damn near anything in many situations. This is actually a good thing, not a bad thing. And yes because of this they are going to catch their miracle 2, 3 or 4 outers and other ridiculous nonsense far more often than any other player type. Again, this is a good thing, not a bad thing.

Firstly, you don't need to be able to put someone on an exact hand or range of hands in order to play well against them. The great thing about fish is that they actually play incredibly straightforward. They are extremely passive and usually only raise big when they have something very strong.

They will make silly small bluffs from time to time and you can easily just pick those off. I am not talking about those. I am talking about big bets where it is obvious that they want to play for stacks or a very big pot at least.

So it is quite simple actually. If they raise you big (especially on the big money streets, turn and river), just fold, unless you have a huge hand yourself (two pair+). You don't need to waste your time figuring out what they can have. They have something that beats you. That is all that matters. End of story and move on. Who cares about the details?

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, you need to remember all the times (the vast, vast majority) when they failed to hit their 2, 3 or 4 outer and you got all those extra bets out of them. Those are bets by the way that the "good players" will never call. Because they are good players after all and don't chase 2, 3, and 4 outers.

People tend to remember a bad outcome in a given situation a lot more readily than a good one and not just in poker. They then often like to make unfounded and hasty conclusions that this outcome is what happens all the time. In philosophy this is often referred to as the fallacy of the vivid example.

Just because you bought a Honda and it broke down after a few months does not mean that it makes sense to go tell everyone you know that Honda makes terrible cars and they should never ever buy from them. They are one of the biggest car companies in the world for a reason. They tend to make quality, long lasting cars! You just happened to get the proverbial lemon in this particular instance.

As is the same in poker, just because the fish caught his trips on the river versus your aces this time does not mean that this happens all the time. Far from it! You know full well that the vast majority of the time they brick and pay you off with their middle pair or whatever. The math simply dictates this. Open up your favorite equity analysis tool and plug in the hands on the flop. So they hit their 17% shot this time but they were likely to pay you off 100% of the time all the way to the river irregardless. Seems like a good deal to me!

Fish = $

The bottom line is that these players give away their money at a faster rate than anyone. The industry as a whole would cease to exist if the fish stopped playing tomorrow. This tells you how important they are. Their donations to the poker industry get filtered up the stakes and they create action, indeed whole games, anytime they sit down. There must be a reason for this.

Learn to accept that bad poker players will cause you more frustration from time to time than other players. But also understand that they are precisely the reason that you are able to make money playing this game. Nothing comes easy right?

View poker from a long term perspective and don't get wrapped up in the short term variance that they can create. Don't even view them as individuals as I suggest in this post. Taking the feeling of being personally wronged by some particular player can go a long way to your understanding and acceptance of the long run in this game.

The other thing you can do is simply don't pay them off when they hit their miracle! As mentioned before, passive players rarely go nuts on the big money streets without a big hand. Fold unless you have two pair+ and you can literally play perfectly against them. There is no such thing as a crying call.

Play as often as you can against bad players with a wide range of hands preferably in position and you will print money. In fact the #1 skill in poker is learning how to separate a fish from their stack as quickly as possible. If you don't know how to do this then it is time to get back to the basics. Betting big and often when you have it and learning to lay off or fold when they start fighting back in a meaningful way, are the two keys to success versus them.

If you have any questions or comments please leave them below. Thanks for reading!

Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a microstakes grinder, poker coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes. Now available in Spanish and Russian as well.

Balancing Your Range at the Micros

Posted by BlackRain79


Something that I get asked about a fair bit is if you should balance your range at the microstakes. Anyone who has read my book Crushing the Microstakes, watched my DragTheBar videos or followed this blog knows that at the very lowest stakes I don't really see the need for it much. In fact I think it is even counter productive in most cases. This is because most of your opponents will be relative beginners or recreational players who don't really understand the idea of what a range is in the first place, let alone what balancing it means. A lot of people tend to want to over think versus these types of opponents and then wonder why their results aren't where they expect them to be. The most straight forward big value lines will always be the most effective against beginner level opponents who are primarily only focused on what they think about their own hand.

What is a Range?

So before we can talk about balancing a range we need to know what a range is. A range in poker is the entire spectrum of hands that you or your opponent can have in any given situation. I think most people intuitively understand this concept at least to some extent. However newer players tend to overlook it at key times. For instance, they will convince themselves that because the turn brought the flush card and their opponent bet again that they always have the flush. The reality is that their opponent will have plenty of other holdings as well such as top pair, an overpair, middle pair, the naked ace of the flush suit, some other draw or even total air. The frequencies with which their opponent will have these particular holdings always boils down to the player type and any potential history.

The main point here however is that you should always view each move that your opponent makes based on the entire range of hands that they can have. All players have a range and you should always be thinking in terms of it. Superstition and whimsical thinking have no place in this game. Rather than saying to yourself "Healways has the flush here" you should instead be analyzing the situation in terms of the frequencies that you predict him to show up with different holdings. So instead, "Based on my opponent's HUD stats and my past history with him I think he will show up with a flush here around 40% of the time. He will have top pair or some other draw 40% of the time. I have noticed that he is on tilt so I expect random air or weak draws to make up the other 20%. Therefore, this is a very marginally profitable call/shove (depending on stacks) with my overpair."

Now I should mention that at the very lowest stakes there are many players who I like to call "super nits." You have probably seen them on the NL5 full ring tables on Pokerstars for instance playing 8% of their hands with an AF (aggression factor) of 1. These players are unique in that they generally have what they are representing an overwhelming amount of the time. But even these players are prone to random flip outs or overplaying a top pair or overpair from time to time. So yes, even these players have a range.

While it is absolutely true that there are many extremely tight regs at the lowest stakes who you should absolutely fold to in the face of aggression because their range is so nut heavy you should still consider their entire spectrum of holdings. This will be especially important as you move up the stakes and the regs become a little more imaginative and have lots of stuff that isn't the nuts in their range.

So What Does Balancing Your Range Mean?

It simply means consciously trying to populate your range with a wide variety of holdings. However, this stuff is not an exact science as is the case with nearly every other aspect of NLHE. And it can be especially difficult to do this while playing many tables at once. And harder yet is trying to give an individual opponent a different look every the time. So this is why I think the best way to go about balancing your range at the microstakes is to just focus on how you play each set of hands each time.

As a simple hypothetical example, if you wanted to check/raise and lead in equal frequencies with your sets when OOP (out of position) then just alternate your action every single time that you are in this spot. Over the long run it will balance out versus all opponents and they will get lead into or check/raised in equal proportions when you have one of these holdings.

Why Should You Balance Your Range?

Simply put, you should balance your range because it makes you harder to play against. Achieving success in poker could be summed up as finding and exploiting the patterns in your opponents play. Once you find the patterns, exploiting them is the easy part. If your opponent has folded to 3bets in 9/10 opportunities thus far that is a pattern that is pretty easy to exploit; 3bet him nonstop. Everyone is always going to leave some sort of pattern in their play to some extent because every person has their own unique style and quirks. But the best players work meticulously on removing any traces of repetitive actions from their play in order to make it as difficult as possible for their opponents to get a read on them. This really is what balancing your range is all about.

Balance Your Range Versus the Drunken Monkeys at NL2?

Now as I said before, I really don't think any of this stuff matters too much if you are playing NL2, NL5 or even NL10 to a fair extent. But at NL25+ there are quite a few more regs and some decent ones at that who take the game fairly seriously. NL25 is the first limit where you can start making some decent money in poker and many of the regs will be using a HUD like Pokertracker and some may perhaps even be studying your game away from the tables.

It is very important to keep them guessing in order to maximize your success versus them. To use the same example, if you just check/raise your set when OOP 100% of the time some regs at these stakes will eventually figure this out and then be able to play perfectly against you. This will especially be the case if your check/raise percentage is really low, like 10%, on their HUD. So you should aim to check/raise, check/call and lead in fairly equal proportions in this spot in order to always keep them guessing. To take it a step further you should be capable of doing this with hands such as top pair, middle pair and draws as well.

I should mention that I don't balance my range much versus fish or relatively bad players at any limit. I just play them straight forward and take the biggest value lines possible when I have it. So all of the examples below will be versus regs. And specifically good regs who may be capable of figuring out the patterns in our play. Versus bad regs (and there are certainly lots of them) I don't vary my play that much. But I am not as transparent as I am versus fish either.


Blinds in all hands = 10c/25c

Stacks in all hands = 100bb effective

Full Ring

1) We open with A♥Q♦ from the CO. A standard 15/12/3 reg with a 5% 3bet% 3bets us from the SB. What should we do?

As I said before, our goal should always be to mix up our play at NL25+. Folding isn't ever going to be a very good option here because we are probably ahead of our opponent's range most of the time. Keep in mind that this is an LP battle so his range will be a fair bit wider than 5%. Also we have position which is huge. But this doesn't mean that we should 4bet him every single time. We want to let him know that we are capable of just flatting with a hand this strong as well and playing some poker.

Also, we have one of those hands that while strong is probably going to be in bad shape versus a 5bet. So in this spot I would tend to flat probably about 2/3 of the time. But I also want him to know that I will 4bet on occasion with non-nut hands like this also. So I will try to consciously flat most of the time when in this spot but throw in the occasional 4bet as well. Non of this is an exact science as mentioned before but hopefully this will allow me to come close to the frequencies that I want over the long run.

2) A standard 15/12/3 reg opens from MP. We decide to just flat from the BTN with A♣J♣ because there is a big fish in the BB that we want to come along. He does come along as predicted.

The flop comes 5♠T♦2♣. The fish checks and the reg cbets. What should we do?

I think there are arguments to be made for all three options in this spot but we should never do one of them every single time. I am not a huge fan of folding here with our two overs, three backdoor draws (2 straights + flush) and position but it certainly wouldn't be terrible by any means. We don't have to get involved in every single pot.

I think raising is a pretty good option here and just trying to take down the pot right now. Calling and betting the turn when checked to or raising the turn are both decent options as well. The latter might be the best option in fact if the reg is barrel happy but folds everything but the nuts when raised on the turn.

So ideally I would like to raise or call in this spot the majority of the time and fold from time to time as well. Maybe, 40%, 40% and 20%. But again, obviously this is not an exact science and we will never hit these hypothetical goals exactly. But if you simply alternate your play each time and fold on occasion then you could come close.


A standard 22/19/3 reg opens from EP. A fish flats from the CO and we just flat from the SB with 4♣4♦

The flop comes 6♦4♥J♦. We decide to check. The reg cbets and the fish folds. What should we do?

Obviously our decision here is between raising and calling. While I said before that we could do well to balance our play evenly in this spot there are some other factors that we should consider. Board texture is one. Is it a heavily coordinated board with multiple draws where plenty of turn cards could kill our action or worse yet allow our opponent to make a better hand? In this spot, not really. It is true that he could have a diamond draw but overall his range is going to be heavily populated by missed overs, middle pair type hands and a few top pair hands.

Also, we should dig a little bit deeper into our HUD and assess our opponent's tendencies. Does he fold a lot when his cbet gets raised? Does he barrel a lot? If he folds a lot when his cbet gets raised then we should be more inclined to call. If he both folds to flops raises and barrels a lot then we should definitely be more inclined to call the flop and check/raise the turn. If he doesn't fold to flop raises much then we should just go ahead and check/raise him on the flop.

Lastly we should consider any history with this opponent. Often with regs that you battle with day in and day out at NL25+ there is a lengthy history and it can in some cases make the HUD stats almost irrelevant. If we have been battling with him a lot of late and winning several of the pots then we should definitely play it more aggressively in this spot. If he tends to get the better of us or has been winning a lot of late then we should play it slower and allow him to try and barrel us off.

Now obviously when you are playing a ton of tables you won't really have the time to look at all of these different factors. So for mass multi-tablers alternating their play every single time unless it is a heavily coordinated board is probably the best strategy. But if we have time, we can really tailor our decision to the individual opponent. This doesn't mean that we should always take one particular action but sometimes all of the factors may lead to one being the best in this particular instance.

2) We open with J♥J♣ from the CO. A standard 22/19/3 reg with a 6% 3bet 3bets us from the BB. What should we do?

Folding is clearly never an option here as we are well ahead of his range. 4betting for value is probably going to be the best option here. But we should be able to flat with a hand like this from time to time as well in order to blur our ranges in these spots. We want the reg to be confused as to what our 4betting and calling ranges are in these spots. The best way to do that is to have premiums in both of them and mediocre to strong hands in both of them as well.

As we saw in example #3 though, there are plenty of other factors that may influence our decision in this specific case as well. But in the absence of any time to look over that information I would probably be 4betting about 2/3 times in this spot for value and flatting 1/3 of the time. So I will try to consciously 4bet most of the time but remember to flat from time to time as well.

Leave your questions and comments below about the discussion or the hands. What are some strategies that you use to balance your range?

Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a microstakes grinder, poker coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes. Now available in Spanish and Russian as well.

How to be a Bully at the Poker Table

Posted by BlackRain79

How to be a Bully at the Poker Table

Poker is mental warfare. You should use whatever weapons that are available to you in order to be successful. Getting under people's skin, being a dick basically, is something that is frowned upon in general in our society. But in poker and some other sports it can be a key difference between winning or losing.

I come from a hockey background which presents a good analogy. Everybody hates to play against a "pest" but would love to have one on their team. A pest is the guy that won't stop chirpin' after the whistle (trash talk for you non-Canadians). He is the guy that gives you an extra little slash, jab or punch just to piss you off. Basically, while mostly sticking within the rules of the game, he tries to do everything in his power to get you off of your game and focused on him. The very best pests will go after the other teams best player in an attempt to get them so mad that they start a fight. Now not only has that good player completely lost focus on what he does best which is scoring goals. But he will also be spending at least the next 5 minutes in the penalty box as well. Score!

And likewise in poker, one of the best ways to create a +EV (expected value) situation for yourself is to put your opponents on tilt. Tilt literally runs the industry. It is a state of mind in which someone becomes so agitated that they start making irrational or emotional decisions and thus bleeding money. With fish this is really easy. They tend to flip out after you play aggressively versus them and win just a couple of pots. You are that "bully" that they hate so much!

With regs it can be a fair bit harder. While there will be many exceptions at the micros, especially with the hordes of bad regs in today's games, in general terms they are still quite a bit more disciplined and harder to get off their game. However you will play many more hands versus them than fish over time and the bad ones will tend to always remember that one or two times where you played like a maniac versus them. This will ultimately pay off for you at some point in the future. So you can think of it more as a long term setup.

Bullying the Fish

I will start with the fish though. It is really quite easy to set them off. It is amazing how many regs at the micros though either don't bother to go after them near enough or don't understand how to do it properly. It is of such vital importance to your winrate that I devoted a large section on it entitled "fish psychology" near the end of my book.

I should mention that I don't just mean massive drooler (52/5 type guys) when I am talking about fish here. I mean that huge array of SLP (semi-loose passive) players that populate these limits as well. They will have stats like 25/7. The reason that I suggest raising these players up nearly every single time that they limp and even light 3betting them a bunch in the early going is because you want to create an image of yourself as a maniac in their mind right off the bat.

When a fish sits down at the table (or you sit down at their table) your entire goal should be to get their stack faster than anybody else. So the earlier that you can get them thinking about you, and focusing on you, the better. It is then that the game begins. The great thing is that people in general are much more likely to give you credit in the early going when they don't know much about you. And so you are likely to get away with some shenanigans several times no matter how ridiculous your holdings.

After this is where most people go wrong though. It just boils down to psychology. People don't put up with abuse forever. Once you have been picking on someone for awhile you need to understand that they are going to start giving you far less credit. Expect this to happen much sooner with fish than with regs. You will need to readjust your ranges accordingly.

So when I first see a fish doing his limp or mini-raise thing I will just iso-raise or 3bet him nearly 100% of the time unless I have some totally ridiculous junk hand like 83o, 92o etc. After I get away with it several times by either taking it down preflop or on the flop I will start to adjust my play. I will up my standards a bit and let him get away with a few limps so that I can enter the pot with a stronger hand. I will also sharply reduce my light 3betting frequency versus them to almost a regular 5-6% type range as well.

I will still cbet nearly every flop especially in position. But I will also start to barrel a little bit lighter because I know that they will call me lighter. I also expect them to start flipping out a bit at this point. Therefore I can start to make a few hero calls with light holdings as their bluffing frequencies increase.

Also, almost invariably when the fish gets pissed off enough they will pull the old "donk, donk, donk" play on you. This is where they will limp/call preflop as per usual and then lead all three streets with something silly like top pair no kicker, middle pair, bottom pair, some draw or even total air. If you have middle pair (good kicker) or especially top pair this is a perfect spot to just call down the whole way. Do not raise them at any point as their range is pretty light and you want them to keep tossing in their dead money.

Eventually you will make a strong hand versus them however and this is where the game really pays off. Your hand does not need to be a set or better by any means. This is another area where people get mightily confused. Again it is just about psychology and ranges. Top pair (any kicker) is easily enough to play a big pot if the fish is sufficiently agitated enough.

There are some common signs like donking into you a lot or limp re-raising that usually give it away. But with experience it will become second nature for you to understand where your opponent is at mentally in regards to you. He will be more than happy to stick all his money in the middle with a wide range of stuff that top pair no kicker is ahead of. You should always accommodate them by putting in the money by yourself (bet, bet, shove).

This is a recipe for success that I have used on countless occasions. You don't even have to stack them with a big hand. You can just slowly chip away at their stack until they have 20bb's or less left and start open shoving pre or postflop. But often you will eventually make a big hand and they will either just go crazy bluffing into you or call you down the whole way with bottom pair or worse. It's a very simple formula.

I think a lot of regs at the lower limits fail to realize that the fish are scarce these days and you have to go get their stack faster than the next guy. Sitting there waiting for aces and sets versus them (which is what everybody else is doing) won't get the job done. This is why I am so big on table selection and knowing where the fish is at at all times. I don't even bother tagging anyone else anymore. I am only there for one reason.

Pissing off the Regs

Putting regs on tilt is a little bit harder because as mentioned they tend to be quite a bit stronger mentally than fish. They play the game to win after all and they understand the discipline and patience that poker requires at least to some degree. With that said, as I mentioned previously, there is a wide range of regs in today's games. Many are borderline fish in their own right so it is difficult to make any sweeping generalizations on the entire player type. With many of the bad regs you should try to get under their skin in much the same way as with the fish. Play very aggressively versus them pre and postflop especially in the early going.

I will often just pick one particular bad reg at the beginning of each session that I have position on and just be as annoying as possible against him. Often these guys will put up with an incredible amount of abuse before they start to fight back so it is important to deny the natural urge to lay off the gas pedal. If you have 3bet him 3 times in the last 10 hands and he has folded every single time just keep doing it until he starts showing signs of life.

Usually at some point they will wake up and start 4betting you light, floating OOP or other stuff like that. Many bad regs in low stakes games are actually incredible calling stations as well so be careful not to take it too far. The main goal is just to get this disturbance in their mind for future encounters. You will play versus this guy again and again. At some point he will be running bad and prone to tilt. Who do you think he is going to dust off a stack against? You, the guy who annoyed the crap out of him last week or some faceless 13/10 nit who he has very limited history with?

There is almost like this camaraderie especially among the bad regs in today's microstakes games. They grind out their miniscule winrates or breakeven for rakeback every day. They will make a light 3bet here and there, bluff a turn from time to time. But in general they are all just automatons doing the same thing. In essence, their whole goal is to stay out of each other's way and get their small piece of the pie.

If you want to rise above this mediocrity then you will need to take a different approach. Although I should say that it is still commendable to win at poker by any means given that perhaps as high as 80 or 90% of people lose in the long run after the rake. So I don't mean to bash the rakeback pros by any means. Often they have good hourlies mass tabling so good for them. If you want to be in that top 5% or so however who truly crush the game then you are going to have to get in people's way and actively create confrontations at times.

There is a natural inclination in humans to not want to "rock the boat." They want to fit in with the crowd, collect their small reward and move along. Exceptional people do not think this way. Take a look at the two arguably most popular online poker players of all-time, "durrrr" and "Isildur1." Why do the railbirds go crazy over these two guys? Because they are both batshit insane at the poker table on a regular basis. They do stuff that is just unheard of and they most certainly enjoy rocking the boat. Did he really just 3bet ten high all in on the turn? Yes he did. They look like massive idiots or huge geniuses on a regular basis. They embrace the outside of the box and tilt the hell out of their opponents on a regular basis.

Now this is the microstakes that I am talking about here and trying to imitate either of these two highstakes players at these limits is a surefire recipe for disaster. The point though is that if you want to get ahead then you need to be willing to get aggressive in some spots where most other people would just give up. And this mostly involves pounding on the fish and bad regs even when it feels like you are totally out of line. Just to be clear again, I am talking about the small money streets here (preflop and flop). I am not advocating barreling the big money streets with weak holdings against bad players who are on tilt and love to call.

I should lastly mention a bit about the good regs. Luckily there aren't too many of them at the micros. It is generally pretty hard to get them really tilted. They are among the best at the stake for a reason, they don't tilt that much. Versus these types of players I try to avoid getting in too many spots with them in general. But I will be 3betting and 4betting them light from time to time (as they will to me as well). And I will do some crazy stuff like float and semi-bluff ship turns once in awhile (as I also expect them to do to me). I don't really use the 3bet them every hand type stuff that I talked about above versus the bad regs because I expect them to adjust much quicker and not make too many big mistakes.

No Friends in Poker

As a sidenote, it should be fairly clear from this article why I often recommend not making too many friends in poker and especially with the regs in your primary game. You don't want to have any reason to like anyone at the tables. Never having the chat turned on should be a given. It is -EV for a variety of reasons. Getting friendly with the locals is just one of them. Even worse is getting drawn into the incoherent rants of someone who doesn't think highly of your game. As you choose to play more hands and play more aggressively overall more and more people will not think highly of your game anyways.

Also, don't hang out in those silly "reg chat threads" that are popular on forums. They are mostly populated by bad regs anyways sitting around complaining about their "variance." You won't learn anything worthwhile. If you want poker friends find winning higher stakes players or even people who play in completely different formats (MTT's, SnG's etc).

You are That Guy Now

That's right. We have all seen these guys. I have gone on tilt and blown off countless stacks to them many times. I often just straight up leave the table if one of them gets a seat on my left.

I eventually just learned to play like them. At the micros these days most regs are in fact not too far removed from the total beginner level. For many of them, literally all they know how to do is play tight. At NL10 and below this is for sure the case. They are very easy to get off of their game and that is why I think a LAG (loose and aggressive) or SLAG (semi-loose and aggressive) style of play is absolutely optimal these days at those limits.

Not as easy to do if you want to mass multi-table so I don't really do that very often anymore. Anytime I play these games these days if I am not playing at least 20% of my hands in full ring or 30% in 6max and 3betting up a storm then I know that I am doing it wrong. I recently finished up a 12 part series on Zoom for DragTheBar at NL2-NL10 (full ring and 6max) and purposely played as LAG as possible with good success.

Don't be afraid to push the boundaries in your game and explore new territory. Many people are frankly too afraid to do this and they ultimately get left behind because poker is always changing. In order to be successful you have to change with it. You can push your limits by experimenting with new forms of aggression. If you find that something works and you start doing it all the time then you will wonder what the big deal was before.

I started out as a horrible nit like many other people. Many of the biggest breakthroughs in my game such as opening up my 3bet and LP range just came about through experimentation. It didn't feel right at first but when I eventually saw that it was working, it became normal to me. It was not weird or crazy anymore. It was just a "standard line."

Let me know in the comments below what kind of strategies you guys use to get your opponents on raging, monkey life-tilt. Or, if you are frequently the victim of such abuse tell us what sets you off.

Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a microstakes grinder, poker coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes. Now available in Spanish and Russian as well.

House of Cards Radio Interview

Posted by BlackRain79

Here is the interview that I recently did with House of Cards radio based out of Boston, U.S.A. I thought it turned out great! Big thanks to Ashley Adams for having me on.

Ego and Poker

Posted by BlackRain79

ego and poker

I know that one of the biggest problems that I have struggled with at the tables over the years is being too competitive or maybe too egotistical. Ya I have a big ego I said it. Every time I sit down at a poker table I think know that I am the best player at that table. I don't sit in games where I am not 100% sure of this. I expect to win every single time. Yes, every time. Call me delusional, it's ok, it wouldn't be the first time.

I have had this feeling ever since I was a kid. I simply can't stand to lose at anything. It didn't matter what it was, video games, board games or sports. I have always been a really sore loser. I don't mean that I complained and threw a tantrum every time I lost at something. Perhaps a few mice, hockey sticks and cookbooks have gone astray or into walls over the years when playing poker. But really, when I lose at something it is more that I feel like my soul has been crushed. It can take me hours or days sometimes to get over it.

This is not all bad though. Well it kind of sucks when you are playing monopoly with the family at Thanksgiving. But for many top level athletes and poker players this is actually a very useful personality trait. Since they hate that feeling of losing so bad it often propels them to work even harder to make sure that it doesn't happen again.

I Have to Lose Sometimes...WTF?

But the problem of course is that poker is different than most other games and sports. As I talked about last time, poker is a game where bad beats and coolers (i.e., things that you can't control) are simply going to happen and they will obviously impact your short term results. And there is no end to them, ever. Even the best player in the world could lose to the worst player in the world on any given day with a bad run of cards. But of course we know that he will not lose over the long term.

While losses are a given in any other sport or game as well I think poker has more of a short term luck factor which makes it even harder for a highly competitive person to deal with. If you take the game of chess for instance which is based almost 100% on skill, a high level grandmaster is hardly ever going to lose a match. There is literally no way that you can get lucky versus him. Now that is an extreme example but I am still not aware of any chess grandmaster who has ever gone undefeated in his career. They all lose eventually.

At least they can blame it on themselves though. In poker this is often not the case. I personally can't accept this fact (that I just have to lose sometimes) and probably never will. But I think I can still be aware of it even though I don't accept it. There are some steps that can be taken to reduce the impact of this over competitiveness while playing at least.

Don't Put a Face to Your Opponents

I think one of the biggest things for me has been learning to not put a face to my opponents. I try to think of them as one big donk. The individuals are all just one part of the same monster that I need to beat. So I turn all avatars off, I never use chat and I try to play a lot of tables at once so I don't see the same person too often. Zoom poker actually aids in this greatly since you rarely get involved with the same people that often.

But still, I know that this attachment to individual players has been one of my biggest problems (and I suspect that it is for many others as well) over the years. Especially when the same player has stacked you a few times in a row with something ridiculous a lot of people will snap and focus all of their concentration on this one guy in a desperate attempt to get their money back, but more importantly, to save their ego. And to that end, they usually start playing very wildly and badly towards this person. The key of course is to actually put other people on tilt towards you. I will have much more to say about this in a future article.

But back to the topic at hand, you really should try to think about the game in the same manner as the casinos think about all the tourists that frequent a place like Las Vegas each year and dump millions to them. It's all math. They don't put a particular face to any bet. It's simply X amount of people walk into the casino each year and wager Y amount of money on average in a game like roulette. The mathematical edge on the roulette wheel for the casino is some number above 50%. They will win over time, the simple math dictates this. They don't care about tourist Joe who came in there and picked the right color 5 times in a row and walked away with a fistful of their money. Because there are a million Joes. They will all collectively lose to the casino eventually.

And so it is the same in poker. One of the things that I find most interesting is when people complain about someone who "hit and ran" them. Now I know that this often happens with HU players which is a very high variance and emotional game. But I still chuckle when I see hugely profitable high stakes regs complaining about this all the time on forums and how it is such bad manners etc.

They are putting a face to the player. "That donk bad beat me!" I need to get him back! Why? Another donk will eventually sit down and dump it all back to you and more. Or maybe that donk will bad beat you too and it will be the next one who gives it all back. The point is, you know the money is coming back to you eventually. Why get so worked about an individual match? Casinos don't get all bent out of shape like this. Neither should you.

Don't Bring Your Ego to the Tables

Now I am not advocating some sort of Buddhist philosophy here. But I am in a sense. You need to learn to let go more at the tables. As a result of not putting a face to our opponents we can learn to say "gg sir" and move on. If somebody is consistently beating you at the tables it really is ok to just get up and leave. Whether you move to another table or just quit for the day is up to you. And yes, you can do this even if it is a complete donk! If you know that you are steaming and playing badly versus him, you actually become the donk.

Something that I regularly do is leave the table if I have an aggressive 3bettor on my direct left. A lot of people will advocate going to war with him and showing him whose boss with a bunch of light 4bets and such but why? He is probably a halfway decent player if he knows how to use aggression like this. And we know that it is difficult to make money off halfway decent players. They shouldn't be the reason that you are at the table. Fish should be the reason that you are at the table. Number two, and perhaps more importantly, you won't be able to overcome the positional advantage that he has on you. Given two players of equal skill levels the one with position will always have a big edge.

So hopefully a few of these tips will resonate with some of you guys at the tables. Remember to not get too wrapped up about beating individual players but rather think of them as one collective whole. If you leave a table because you are steamed at someone or they are 3betting the shit out of you all you are really doing is making a strategic adjustment versus the mass of players that you are playing against. People who think only "pussies" get up and leave don't understand the game correctly and it usually shows in their results.

As for accepting losing, meh, can't help you there. I am terrible at it. My tips though:

  • Try not to break anything too expensive.
  • Don't play next to windows. Can be too tempting to toss the computer out of it!
  • Only play poker with cheap mice and cheap keyboards if you have a tendency to caveman smash.
  • If you know that you are tilting badly...for the love of God just quit!

Next time I am going to talk about quitting and stop losses in more detail.

Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a microstakes grinder, poker coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes. Now available in Spanish and Russian as well.

Tilt at the Micro Stakes

Posted by BlackRain79

tilt at the micro stakes

The 8 million pound elephant in the room when it comes to poker, and especially with less experienced players at the micros, is tilt. It's something that everybody talks about and suffers the effects of to some degree, but hardly anybody really knows how to go about dealing with it in a truly effective way. I have worked with over 50 people now in the year and a bit since I started coaching. I get every student of mine to fill out a short questionnaire before we get started and one of the questions that I ask is "list your weaknesses as a poker player." After briefly skimming over the answers to that specific question from all past students I would estimate that about 90% of them listed tilt as a weakness. And not just any weakness. Almost invariably they listed it first before anything else!

Now I am not a psychologist. I can teach the technical side of the game and when I work with people "what to do with AK in this spot" type discussions comprise the vast majority of our time. I wrote a 251 page book on the micros but there is a reason that only 6 pages at the very end actually focus specifically on how to combat tilt. I haven't made a single DragTheBar video focused solely on this subject and have scarcely discussed it in detail on my blog.

Tilt is just such a difficult subject to approach. And that is reflected in the amount of literature, training videos, and forum talk on it. So it's not just me. But managing tilt is at least have the battle in this game! In fact it is closer to 100% for many people especially at the micros. So I am going to try and talk about it in a bit more detail over the next little while starting with this article.

Everybody Tilts and Everybody Runs Worse Than Everybody Else

The truth is that nobody is tilt-free in poker. As long you are human you are going to tilt. So the main issue here is controlling the extent to which you tilt. And that is where there is a wide gap between the winners, breakeven players and losers in this game. I have tilted off god knows how many thousands of dollars in my poker career. I would like to have that money back but my emotions at the time chose to give it away instead. Poker is a game that will drive anybody mad at certain times. Just give it some more time if you haven't seen it yet or even if you think you have. Here is an example of a very experienced, solid winning player going through a 3 month soulcrushing downswing right now at NL50 and NL25. Fun stuff!

I get emails all the time from people complaining about all the bad beats and coolers that they get and that if it would just stop they could finally become the winning player that they know they are. They tell me that they must be the unluckiest person in the history of the game. And they ask me if I have ever heard of a run of cards this bad before. No, in the 6 million+ hands that I have played it has all been roses and daisies! I have received so many of these types of emails now that I actually just created a canned reply, "bad beats happen, coolers happen, the best players rise above them blah blah blah" so I don't end up wasting so much time responding to them anymore.

I am always reminded of one of my favorite poker quotes of all time from an extremely old post by "Irieguy" on 2+2.

"Everybody will eventually run worse than they thought was possible. The difference between a winner and a loser is that the latter thinks they do not deserve it."

For the vast majority of newer players who think they run bad one or both of the following two statements is very likely to be true:

  • You haven't run nearly as bad as you think
  • Even if you have, you ain't seen nothing yet!

Predict the Future

The thing is, you just have to accept variance at some point. When you start taking this game seriously you need to look at it as if you signed a contract. You are in it for the long haul. And the long haul in theory is whatever amount of time you continue to play this game for. For many that will be years, decades or even a lifetime. The long term is actually over at that point, not before it.

If you play a reasonable amount of volume you know full well that you are going to get horrifically bad beat and coolered every single day. Back when I used to grind like a maniac I would actually prepare myself mentally for sessions by simply quantifying this. I would assure myself that today I will run KK into AA 3 or 4 times. I will get stacked by two outers a similar amount of times and fish will nail their flush or straight draws on me at least half a dozen times. Also I will stupidly pay off a nit or two which actually tilts me more than anything!

All of these things are going to happen. Predict the future. You will be right! So why get mad about it when it happens? You knew it was going to happen right?

All Sounds Easy in Theory

Yup, sure does. It is easy in theory but nobody executes it perfectly in real time. I can say all these things to myself before my session begins and even foresee it all. Nostradamusaments. But I still tilt to some degree and throw away some money nearly every time that I play. It is just not possible to not get mad at least a little bit. But I would say that I have had my tilt under control for the most part for quite some time now. When I tilt, it is more like mini tilt. A bad call here or there. I might play a few more hands than I should, 3bet a little bit more, make a silly 4bet bluff from time to time and double barrel in some bad spots.

In essence I make small mistakes here and there but am able to prevent myself from making the crippling mistakes that hold so many back. Barreling off stacks on wild bluffs is not something that I do. Making desperate hero calls in big pots with marginal hands is really rare. Open shoving, nope. Jumping stakes, definitely no.

Quitting for the day, shutting the computer off and going to do something completely different when I know that I am just banging my head against a wall...yes, most of the time. But I am pretty stubborn as well so sometimes I will just power through 10k hands playing my C+ game trying to break it as well. Usually to no avail but the key thing is that my D, E or F games never see the light of day no matter how tilted I am. I am always at least marginally +EV.

Some Keys to Reducing the Impact of Tilt

Confidence in Your Abilities

Firstly, I know that I am a winning player because I have clear evidence of my success. And let me preface that some more. I know that I am a winning player in the games that I play in which are the micros NL2-NL50, nothing else. I have overwhelming evidence based on millions of hands to support this. So no matter how bad it goes in the short term, I know that I will show a profit in the long run. This creates confidence, the most powerful force on earth in my opinion, no matter what the endeavor.

What if you don't know if you are a winning player though? What if you just started a few months or even a year ago, are a fairly low volume player and your results are no better than breakeven or worse? Well this is a problem of course, a big one in fact. I think this is something that only you can know based off of your experience playing the game. Do you honestly feel like you are a winner in that game? And don't bullshit yourself by chalking it all up to bad beats. Are you actually a winner in that game? Unfortunately the only way to find out for sure is to put in the hands. I would suggest 100k at a bare minimum. They don't all have to be at the same limit though.

Trust the Process

Secondly, and as a result of the previous point, I trust the process. I know that the fundamentals that I have developed over the years and the tweaks that I continue to make to my game both at the tables and away from them simply work. When a fish sucks out on me I think about how I made money on that play even though I lost in this specific case. I know that mathematically he is giving me money if we run this exact same scenario 10, 50 or 100 times. And the great thing about the long term in poker is that you get to do exactly that! And maybe not against that specific player but against the collective multitude of bad players, you will. I will have a lot more to say about this next time when I discuss not putting a face to your opponents.

Math (even though I am not very good at it) is a beautiful thing. I remember sitting through philosophy lectures in college and the prof would be rattling on about how 2+2 always equals 4 in any conceivable universe. It is an a priori truth. That is, it is true regardless of any physical factors. And so it is the same with math as it relates to poker. If the guy got it in bad versus you and happened to win this time so what? No amount of voodoo or wishful thinking can change the fact that he is simply giving you money over the long run. That is the reality of the situation.


A lot of people say that having a big bankroll is key to fighting tilt as well. I am not sure that it matters as much as it used to though. I think proper bankroll management is kind of a given these days. I think at the micros downswings by winning players (6max or FR) above 30 buyins are pretty rare. Most people who play for a living or are serious side income grinders all have more than this and get pumped up by rakeback anyways so it is not that big of an issue. If you have been living under a rock or think that 5 buyins represents a solid bankroll strategy then this will apply to you though.

Rigged? Lifestyle Choices and State of Mind?

Obviously everything that I have discussed above assumes that you are past rigtard theories. Also, I don't really want to discuss lifestyle choices and state of mind when playing either because I have also discussed all of that before. Online poker is not rigged and you should never play drunk, tired, angry etc. Eating right and regular exercise will also go a long way. I think most professionals and serious side income grinders know this kind of stuff these days. You can't just show up and expect to crush anymore. If you want to have success and make good money at online poker then you have to have a solid commitment to it both away from and at the tables.

Next time I am going to discuss some of the key factors that can lead to tilt such as personal entitlement and ego especially as it relates to your opponents. But for now I just wanted to lay the groundwork for how we should approach tilt in general. First, recognize that it is a problem that everybody faces and a massive one at that. You are not alone. Second, having confidence in your own abilities and trusting the long term process that poker is will be paramount in any tilt reduction strategy.

Over to You

What kinds of strategies do you use to keep yourself in a positive state of mind and reduce your tilt? How big of a factor do you think tilt plays in your game?

Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a microstakes grinder, poker coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes. Now available in Spanish and Russian as well.

Zoom Poker and Life Update

Posted by BlackRain79


Haven't updated this blog in quite some time so here goes. Life wise I am living in Thailand still. It does not suck. The only thing that can actually be tilting about this place at times is the internet. But I tend to move around a lot and when you do that you pay the price with crappy wifi much of the time. If I actually stayed in one place for awhile (but where is the fun in that?) the broadband situation here actually isn't that bad. It isn't as good as Canada but it's like maybe 75% as good in Bangkok and 60% as good in other major cities. Still easily grindable.

I have been able to meet many poker players here now. There are tons of grinders from a lot of different western countries, the US, Britain, Germany, Canada and France being some of the most common. There are in fact huge communities and "poker houses" in all the major hotspots in Thailand (Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai especially). It is really cool to be able to speak the same language so to speak and by that I mean poker. I have always maintained that trying to discuss this game with someone who isn't a professional or serious side income grinder is kind of pointless. They won't understand. At all. Or they will just tell you a bunch of bad beat stories and go off about how rigged it is.

Pokerwise I have been switching over to Zoom lately on Pokerstars. I thought it was just a gimmick for a long time and never really played much of the old Rush poker on FTP either. But it actually is a lot more fun in my opinion. It is very fast paced, something that I am already used to from years of 24 tabling, but there really never seems to be any stop to the action as the fast fold button eliminates any time spent on hands that I will never play.

I actually do think there are more fish playing Zoom than regular poker. I think Zoom/Rush is the new big fad and so it naturally is going to attract more of them. I think they love the speed of it also and the ability to get to their big hands faster so that they can play them badly. Zoom also appeals to the bad regs and nits. They can now fold even faster which means that I can steal their blinds and cbet/barrel the hell out of them with even greater efficiency!

But probably the best thing of all that I like about Zoom is no more damn table selecting! My game the past few years has been built heavily on playing musical chairs. When playing regular tables I literally am spending more time these days looking at the lobby than at the actual tables. My philosophy towards the game is based on the maximum exploitation of the fish and it just isn't 2005 anymore where you can be guaranteed to have one or five of them on your table at all times. Zoom eliminates this. I constantly tag fish as I play and I can easily look at the player pool in the Stars lobby and determine if I want to play or not. I haven't found it to be an issue at all. The Zoom games are always stock full of fish and bad regs.

I should mention that my newest series on DragTheBar will be all about Zoom both full ring and 6max. People have been asking me to do this for a long time so it's finally going to happen. Same format as the Crushing the Micros series' of the past. I will do a couple videos at several microstakes limits starting out at NL2. The first ones should be coming out later this month.

Lastly I should mention that I will soon be embarking on a huge project of which I will say absolutely nothing about right now :)

Crushing the Microstakes for Kindle

Posted by BlackRain79

Crushing the Microstakes for Kindle

I am happy to finally announce that Crushing the Microstakes is now available on Kindle and for other e-readers. All sales through my website will now include a mobi, epub and pdf version of the book.

If you are a previous buyer and want the mobi or epub versions please just email me at and I will send them to you. Thank you for all the patience!

Update: Traveling, Affiliate Program, Translations, Articles

Posted by BlackRain79


Haven't written a blog post in awhile. Wanted to provide an update. Have been traveling a bit lately around Thailand (pic is from Lamai beach on the island of Koh Samui where I am now). Been a welcome getaway. And especially as I had never really gone anywhere before besides the west coast of the US and a little bit in Canada. It's really an eye opening and amazing experience to visit a totally different culture and climate and it certainly is that with 35c weather every day. Thailand is heavily trafficked by foreigners though and Thai people are incredibly nice and speak decent English in many cases so it is a really welcoming and easy country to go to. The beaches, the prices, the food could go on and on. Just go there!

My book "Crushing the Microstakes" has continued to receive a lot of great comments on 2+2 and elsewhere in the 5 months or so now that it has been released. I really had no idea what to expect when I wrote the thing so I am extremely grateful to all those who took the time. The success stories of people who turned their winrates and graphs around because of it are especially awesome. While no author writes a book without some financial interests in mind I am very happy to know that it has helped so many people. That really makes makes the time and effort that I spent working on it worth it.

So in order to increase the exposure of my book besides putting it on Amazon (still up in there air) I have been meaning to create an Affiliate Program for a long time. It is done now and anyone who signs up may begin promoting my book and earning a 50% commission on each sale. I have had some additional offers and requests to have the book translated into a bunch of different languages but I am not sure about the feasability of that still. I am working on it and will keep you posted.

I have also received many requests for the availability of the book in the Kindle format. This is absolutely on my to do list and I am actively working on trying to figure out how to get this done as well. I don't have any new news on the physical copy front. This involves a lot of time and costs and all I can say is maybe one day but probably not soon.

Lastly, I wanted to mention that I am writing a series of beginner level articles for The first one can be found Here and the second one should be released shortly. Thanks for all the continued support and well wishes and all the best at the tables.

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When to Double Barrel

Posted by BlackRain79

when to double barrel

I wanted to write a bit about double barreling. When to do it and when not to. Something that I consistently see with the students that I work with is a tendency to bet the turn too much or in the wrong spots. There is definitely a strong theme these days in poker literature, on forums etc about the benefits of being aggressive but I think the problem is that some people take that a little too far and end up causing even more problems for themselves. I call it betting for the sake of betting.

Aggression in itself is never a bad thing in poker but when you are being aggressive just because you don't know what else to do, it is very easy to see through and counter. Versus habitual barrelers I will sometimes just take a hand that has some equity, call the flop and raise them on the turn. You won't face this very often at the micros but much more often you will be barreling in a spot where your opponent can only continue with better (versus a nit for instance) and so you are burning money just the same.

I figured that I would just toss out a couple of examples here and try to generate some discussion on it in the comments. But before I do that I just want to list a few of the factors that I think we should be thinking about when choosing whether or not to double barrel:

  • our hand value
  • our position
  • villain's player type
  • the turn card

These are probably the most important factors to consider. Having a hand or at least some outs is important in poker no matter the limit. And especially at the micros where there are a lot of calling stations it is especially important to have something. If you have absolutely nothing you really should be just giving up most of the time. Always leave yourself with some outs because why wouldn't you?

Our position is important because when they check to us it tells us a lot about the strength of their hand. When we are out of position we are just kind of playing the guessing game.

Villain's player type and the turn card might be the most important factors of all though. Versus nits who have a very narrow continuance range on the flop we should really only be double barreling with strong hands most of the time because they almost always have a big hand themselves. Versus all other player types their range can be quite a bit wider. Although some moreso than others. Your 65/5 drooler fish can have half the deck for instance, all sorts of ace highs, totally ridiculous draws etc. A TAG won't have nearly as wide of a range.

And lastly, the turn card is a huge factor. In general big cards (broadways) will be good for us and low cards will be bad for us. And this is just because when we raise preflop big cards are what we are representing. So oftentimes barreling versus a stationy reg for instance on 9974 is bad because if he called the flop with his 88 why would he fold when the turn is a meaningless 4? If the turn was a T, J, Q, K or A it is a much more difficult spot for 88 to continue however.

So with all of that said I am going to list a bunch of examples and ask you to please leave your comments below. Double barrel or not? I won't leave my response for a few days.


Hero is dealt K♥Q♦ in MP, raises and gets called by an SLP (semi-loose passive) in the SB.

The flop comes,


Villain check/calls our cbet.

The turn comes,


What should hero do?


Hero is dealt 4♦4♣ in EP, raises and gets called by a TAG in LP.

The flop comes,


Villain check/calls our cbet.

The turn comes,


What should hero do?


Hero is dealt 8♥9♥ in LP, raises and gets called by a fish in the BB.

The flop comes,


Villain check/calls our cbet.

The turn comes,


What should hero do?


Hero is dealt 8♥9♥ in LP, raises and gets called by a nit in the BB.

The flop comes,


Villain check/calls our cbet.

The turn comes,


What should hero do?


Hero is dealt A♠K♠ in LP, raises and gets called by a fish in the SB.

The flop comes,


Villain check/calls our cbet.

The turn comes,


What should hero do?

Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a microstakes grinder, poker coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes. Now available in Spanish and Russian as well.

How to Play From the Blinds

Posted by BlackRain79

How to Play From the Blinds

Something that I get asked about quite a bit is how to play from the blinds. So I thought I would write a bit on the subject. Before I say anything though it should be understood that nobody wins from these positions. So really this whole post will just be about how to hopefully get you losing less. But we shouldn't think about this in a negative way because the old adage of a "penny saved is a penny earned" absolutely applies to poker as well. If you can shave off a couple of bb/100's of your lossrate for instance, this will have a noticeable effect on your actual winrate.

So how should we approach playing out of the blinds?

Blind play is really tricky because it so often depends on how the action plays out before us. Since the blinds act last preflop we will be reacting to others a lot of the time. So the range of hands that I will play (and how I choose to play them: complete, raise, check or fold) will almost always depend on factors such as

  • did someone raise before me?
  • what position were they in?
  • what type of player are they?
  • what is their stack size?
  • were there multiple players?
  • what is my hand strength?
  • what is my image at the table?
  • how much will I need to make my raise?
  • or should I just complete or check?

You just don't need to ask nearly as many questions from the other positions at the table. So that is why giving an exact range or VPIP number is so difficult to do. I will probably need to break down blind play by many different situations.

So fair warning: this blog post will be lengthy

Having checked my stats I can see that I am playing about 16% of my hands from the SB and about 11% from the BB. Now keep in mind that these stats are for full ring and mostly mass multi-tabling. And also keep in mind that I advocate a pretty tight approach to blind play overall. My stats for 6max will probably be something like 20% and 15% repsectively.

Why do I advocate a tight approach to blind play?

Because you lose so much from these positions duh! Well that would be the simple answer anyways. And really I guess that is also most of the answer. If you simply choose not to play that many marginal hands from these positions, then you can't lose nearly as much. I think one of the first things that a lot of people need to get over is this idea of fiercely defending their blinds.

The old saying "some battles just aren't worth fighting" really applies here. And I should be clear that I am talking about the micros here and especially NL2-NL10. Very few people are really going to notice that you are playing super tight from these positions and furthermore have the know-how to take advantage of it. I certainly don't think it has affected my results.

Now I am not saying that you should fold every time somebody raises your blind and you don't have a premium hand. But you definitely don't want to be calling a bunch "because you have an ace" or "because you have pot odds." These are misnomers that cost people a lot of money. Until you really look at the numbers in HEM or PT over a big sample it is hard to really understand just how important position is in poker. And the same thing goes for initiative (i.e., being the preflop raiser). It is very important to learn to approach poker as a long run pursuit and try your best to stop focusing on particular situations.

We can easily trick ourselves into thinking that a bad play is actually a good play because we happened to flop well and win a couple big pots recently. Position and initiative are the two most important keys to success in poker and that is why I begin my book by talking about them at length. But this is unfortunately a lesson that it takes many newer players a long time to learn. I know it did with me. It is only in the past couple years that I have really began to develop a total commitment to being aggressive and trying to have position a large amount of the time.

Drills and experimenting

What I have learned especially is that even if you think you are aggressive and use position well there is probably a lot further that you can take it. I made some videos recently for this blog about abusing late position (Part 1 and Part 2). I was playing around 50% of my hands from the button and cutoff. I didn't really do this on purpose but trying some of these "drills" so to speak at low limits might be a good exercise in pushing your boundaries and experimenting.

Just go to 1c/2c and literally raise or re-raise every time you are in late position and try to severely limit your play from most other positions. Watch how others react to you. See how much easier every decision you have to make is when you have position. Stretch your mind to a new level with regards to position and initiative and your regular game will adjust a little bit in this direction as well.

Anyways back to the topic at hand here of blind play. So my main approach to playing the blinds is to play a fairly conservative range in most situations but not quite as tight as from early or middle position. And the reason is that you have already put a little bit of money in the pot and you should fight for it in some instances. Also, often it will be a steal situation where you know your opponent's range is pretty wide. So a hand like AJ or AT might be played for value versus them.

However as I already mentioned the twin pillars of success in poker are position and initiative. The first one we cannot change. We are in the blinds. It sucks. It is what it is.

But the second one (initiative) we can change. And we will of course do this by 3betting. When called we will still be fighting uphill a little bit postflop due to our positional disadvantage. However by having the initiative we will be able to take down many more pots with a simple cbet. Or even just take it down preflop. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that!

So I think what I am going to try and do here is go over a couple of common situations in the blinds with examples rather than just toss out some completely random scenarios. Because like I said before the blinds are by far the trickiest positions to play at the tables and cannot be easily discussed in a vacuum.

Limped pots

Limped pots will happen quite a bit at the micros, especially the lower sections such as NL2-NL10. And there is even a difference between these limits these days. Every time I play NL2 it still blows my mind how much limping goes on, even in 6max! And it is like an epidemic once somebody does it. Then the whole table gets involved like a domino effect. As I often preach on about, limping is bad in almost all situations. And in a 6max game I would go so far as to say that you should never limp. And even at full ring there will be very few situations where I would advocate it.

So how do we react when these spots arise and we are in the blinds? In these situations I like to open up my range a bit and take advantage of all this weakness. That is what limping is. It is weakness. I can't count the amount of times just in one session especially at NL2 where I will see a bunch of limpers, notice that I have a reasonably decent hand, raise it up and just take down an easy 3 or 4 big blinds uncontested. Either that or one of them calls, I fire a cbet and usually take down an even bigger pot. Win/win. A lot of people will just limp along here instead. I believe this is a pretty big mistake.

Versus a single limper

But it depends on the number of limpers of course as well. With just 1 limper I am going to be pretty liberal in the amount of hands that I choose to attack with. Obviously all of my premiums (TT+ and AK), all of my pairs and any ace or suited ace above A8 or so. I will probably also raise a bunch of suited connectors. Especially the decent ones like 78, 89 and JT. And I will raise with most broadways as well.

In the case when somebody open limps from the SB and I am in the BB I will raise about 50% of my hands. This is an incredibly weak play on their part and they will fold a large majority of the time. And when they do call we still have position and initiative, the two keys to success in poker.

Multiple limpers

Versus multiple limpers I will tighten up my range a bit and maybe ditch some of the weaker aces and get rid of all the suited connectors from the SB. And by get rid of I mean just fold them for the most part. I think the whole complete the SB for "pot odds" idea simply does not stand up to the mathematical data. I will discuss this more in a bit however. The only time that I will just complete is when I have a small pocket pair just because sets are so valuable and I want to always see the flop with them if I can. These hands can be difficult to play OOP unimproved and so just completing can be ok. But even then, I sometimes still just raise them.

How much should you raise it?

This is an area of concern that I often see with students of mine and players at these limits. And the concern is almost always that they do not raise a big enough amount.

You always want to put someone to a choice when you make a raise. If they feel 50/50 about calling or folding then you have made it the right amount.

If they insta-fold or insta-call then you have made it the wrong amount. Most of the time people make it too little and their opponent insta-calls. While this isn't the end of the world as you still have the initiative you want to let people know that there is a premium to pay if they want to try and limp your blind. By making your raise too small you are really just encouraging action and building a bigger pot when OOP with a hand that isn't always amazing.

In general I advocate raising 3x (where x is the big blind) in all situations. However you should add 1 big blind per limper. And you should also add one more additional big blind per limper if you are out of position. So here are a few examples of this.


In the big blind you are dealt,


There is a single limper from middle position and the small blind folds.

You should raise it to 5x. 3x as your standard. 1x for the limper. 1x for your positional disadvantage. As an aside, if the small blind had of limped as well I would have made it 6x.


In the small blind you are dealt,


There are two limpers from middle and late position. The small blind also limps.

You should raise it to 9x. 3x as your standard. 3x for the three limpers. 3x for your positional disadvantage.

Don't worry too much about getting all of these numbers correct in every situation. The truth is that I don't count every limper or always make it the same. Just remember to increase your raise size if there are limpers (and depending on the amount) and also if you are out of position. Your raise size from the blinds should always be quite a bit bigger than your raise size from the other positions at the table.

And lastly don't worry about raising it up with some sort of marginal hands like these. Like I said before, you will be amazed at how often they simply fold. But secondly, remember what I said about limpers being weak. Usually these players are fish or SLP (semi-loose passive). They are bad players who just like to limp and fold a lot. You should be taking advantage of this. If they have something they will let you know.

Facing an early position raise

Another scenario that you may encounter is when somebody raises from early position (EP). In this spot your range should be a lot tighter than in the limped pots we talked about above. The reason for this is that a raise from EP usually represents the strongest range for a someone regardless of their player type. While it is true that the majority of opponents that you will play against at the micros will not be positionally aware, I believe that people will just naturally or instinctively play less hands from these positions. So you should respect these raises some more.

Versus an EP raise you should be 3betting with the upper end of your premium range QQ+ and AK and calling to set mine with all your other pairs. I would fold everything else. A few examples.


In the small blind you are dealt,


A nit raises in EP.

You should call.


In the small blind you are dealt,


A TAG raises in EP.

You should fold.


In the big blind you are dealt,


An SLP raises in EP.

You should 3bet.


In the big blind you are dealt,


A TAG raises in EP.

You should call.

Facing a middle position raise

Middle position (MP) ranges will generally be a little bit wider than EP raises so we should adjust our play towards them a bit as well. You should 3bet a little bit wider especially against opponents who have a decently wide opening range such as TAG's and some fish. A hand that we folded above like A♠J♠ for instance I might 3bet now from time to time against these player types. But for the most part my strategy is pretty similar to when facing an EP raise in these spots. That is I am mostly just set mining with my pairs, 3betting most of my premiums and folding everything else.

Facing a late position raise

When facing a late position (LP) raise things change a fair bit. I think from these positions people generally have a lot wider range. You will find many 10/8 nits these days who even know that they should be stealing from the cutoff and button with some pretty light holdings. So I will be 3betting quite a bit more in these spots. But as I said before, my range is still pretty tight overall. We don't want to be going nuts here.

So I may add a few more aces and broadways to my range (as compared with my versus EP and MP raises range) and simply 3bet them. I may 3bet some suited connectors as well. Mostly just the good ones like 78, 89 and JT. I will muck the smaller ones. And lastly, instead of calling to set mine with my small pocket pairs I will often 3bet with them as well.

I should note that I will still just call with a lot of my middle pairs (77-TT). I don't often want to 3bet with these hands specifically because they hold so much value and can't stand a 4bet. However, I won't be playing them strictly as a set mine either (i.e., folding if I miss my set).

The reason for this slightly wider range and increased 3betting versus LP raises is really simple. Like we said before, having the initiative in the hand is of vital importance in poker. Since we know that our opponent likely has a very wide range we can 3bet him and get away with taking it down or at the very least wrestling back the control a lot more of the time.

The reason we should just call and try to set mine most of the time versus EP and MP raises is because those are versus tighter opening ranges and we will likely have a lot of implied odds. But also our 3bet isn't nearly as likely to work. We will get played back at more often due to their stronger range.

Lastly, one of the biggest reasons to 3bet more versus LP raises is because we do not have anywhere near the implied odds that we think we do. A lot of players at these limits make the mistake of thinking that they can set mine and call with a whole bunch of other speculative hands here, try to flop a monster and win a big pot.

What they fail to consider is that a lot of the time their opponent will have absolutely nothing to pay them off with. If you saw those abusing the button videos that I mentioned earlier you will know that I was in there raising with beauties like K3s, T5s. Even if you finally hit your set or big hand versus me it is very unlikely that I will have anything to give you any action with.


In the big blind you are dealt,


A TAG raises from LP.

You should 3bet.


In the small blind you are dealt,


A nit raises from LP.

You should just call.


In the small blind you are dealt,


A TAG raises from LP.

You should 3bet.


In the big blind you are dealt,


A nit raises from LP.

You should 3bet

Versus a raise and caller(s)

The last situation that I want to talk about is when somebody raises and there are one or more callers. This is a spot where you could consider squeezing and taking down some of the dead money. We touched on this during the limped pot section. Preflop callers are usually weak and can't stand a 3bet so the logic goes that if we can make the original raiser fold, then the others will usually be easy folds as well.

I should mention that I have not included 3bet sizes in this article. The reason is that I don't want to make this thing any longer! But similar to what I discussed before, you should always try and make your raise sizes enough so that it puts your opponent(s) to a real decision of whether to call or fold.

Usually the standards sizings that will get this done with 3bets are 3x the original raise when you are IP and 3.5x or 4x the original raise when you are OOP. Similar to the discussion in the limped pot section though you will need to add more when their are other people in the pot and you are thus "squeezing." And similarly adjust upwards depending on the number of them.

Back to our range in these spots however. For the most part I do not advocate a wide squeeze range at the micros. I think you should experiment in a couple spots but don't go overboard. Similar to our approach before of basing our range on the position of the preflop raiser that should be the main factor when squeezing as well. We don't want to be squeezing versus EP openers very often and only sometimes versus MP ones. It should mostly be versus LP raises.

And lastly, as I mentioned earlier a big problem that I see among players at these limits is "calling for pot odds" in these situations. It really is a big mistake to call with suited aces and connectors and such here just because there is a raise and three callers. You will not hit the flop anywhere near enough of the time and even when you do it will be difficult to extract due to your having to act first on every street. Also you can get yourself into plenty of bad spots where you hit a pair with a not so great kicker and you end up spewing off some money.

You should be folding in these spots for the most part. If you want to call for pot odds do it when you are IP, not when OOP. There is an enormous difference in your profitability in these two situations. With that said there are of course always some "it depends" situations in every poker spot. If it is a mini-raise that you are facing (which will happen frequently at the micros) then it can be ok to call from time to time with a few speculative hands. But even further to this try and base your play on who is in the pot. If there is a big fish and especially if you might have position on him (i.e., he is in the SB and you are in the BB) then it can be a call. In general I see people calling too often in these spots though.


In the big blind you are dealt,


A TAG raises from MP and picks up a caller.

You should squeeze.


In the small blind you are dealt,


A nit raises from EP and picks up two callers.

You should fold.


In the big blind you are dealt,


A nit raises from LP and picks up a caller.

You should squeeze.


In the small blind you are dealt,


A fish raises from MP and picks up two callers.

You should call.

I hope this discussion proves useful for you all. Blind situations are not easy and I should also mention that when I say "You should do X" above there are other options which are sometimes close or just as good as well. This may come down to player type, specific stats, recent history, your image and a whole other list of variables. But I don't want to write another book with this blog post. I hope this post gives you guys a sort of survey of my approach to playing from the blinds.

As always if you have any questions or comments please leave them below.

Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a microstakes grinder, poker coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes. Now available in Spanish and Russian as well.

How to Approach Donk Bets

Posted by BlackRain79

how to approach donk bets

Hey guys, sorry I haven't been posting much of late. I have had a lot of other things going on. I am going to be doing some traveling soon so I have been really busy setting that up. My coaching requests have continued to be very high since the book release. And with the book itself, I am still doing interviews and such and answering emails has become a job in itself haha. And trying to play some actual poker from time to time as well!

So a lot going on but I wanted to try and post some more strategy related stuff on here from time to time as well as make it more interactive. More on that in a bit. I have a big list of topics that I would like to get to and several of them were user requested. I actually have a whole section in my forum dedicated to stuff that you want to see me blogging about. So head on over there if you have any suggestions.

Oh by the way, like a complete donkey I managed to totally miss the WBCOOP entry on Stars. It's been on my to do list for a week. I just found out that there is a $5k prize for being voted the best blogger or something as well! When I finally got to it today it said that the final date to enter was yesterday. Sick beat.

However I am officially backing EVhero. I just met this fellow Canadian blogger and poker player recently. He is funny as hell and I love his videos on Youtube (even though he recently misclick deleted them all! haha). So go vote for him.

Back to this blog entry. In this post I wanted to talk about what to do when you get donked into. This is something that happens a lot at the micros. It is a play that is really popular with bad players and of course the micros is full of them!

What is a donk bet?

A donk bet is a bet (often small, half pot or less) that goes against the flow of the action. Usually when somebody raises preflop it is assumed that they have a strong hand. And it is further assumed that they will follow up on that with a continuation bet. So when somebody bets into them it kind of throws a wrench into things.

What do donk bets mean?

This depends on the player type. As I said before, donk bets are usually made by bad players. With bad players (high VPIP and big separation between VPIP and PFR) donk bets can mean a lot of different things. They can be anything from a draw, an overpair, middle pair, the nuts or complete air. With tighter players or regulars (low VPIP and not much separation between VPIP and PFR) a donk bet will often mean one of two things: a weak overpair/top pair type hand or the nuts.

So it is important to have a look at the player type before you make your decision on how to react versus these types of bets. While it is a good idea to look at the donk bet stat on your HUD I am just going to work off the previous assumptions here in the following examples. I am going to list a bunch of common spots and ask you guys what you would do. I will give my answers later.

They really are just completely random. I made them up and have no clue what I would do yet. I don't think the stakes really matter. Just assume microstakes (NL50 or less) and little or no history between hero and villain.


Hero is dealt A♥K♦ in MP, raises 3x, and gets called by a nit in the SB.

The flop comes,


The nit donks for 1/2 pot.

What should hero do?


Hero is dealt 8♣9♣ in LP, raises 3x, and gets called by a fish in the BB.

The flop comes,


The fish donk bets 1/3 pot.

What should hero do?


Hero is dealt J♦T♦ in LP and 3bets an MP TAG opener.

The flop comes,


The TAG donks 3/4 pot.

What should hero do?


Hero is dealt A♠Q♦ in the BB. An SLP (semi-loose passive) limps the SB. Hero raises 4x.

The flop comes,


The SLP donks 1/3 pot.

What should hero do?


Hero is dealt A♠2♠ in LP, raises 3x, and gets called by a nit in the SB.

The flop comes,


The nit donks 1/2 pot.

What should hero do?

Please leave your comments below.

Nathan Williams aka "BlackRain79" is a microstakes grinder, poker coach, DragTheBar instructor and the author of Crushing the Microstakes. Now available in Spanish and Russian as well.