Bluffcatching Basics

Hey folks, first video is up on YouTube below. The next video in the queue will be using ICMizer to discuss Nash equilibrium and when it is appropriate to use and when to stray. There will be more videos to follow and I am happy to take suggestions for what you guys would like to see next. First 17 likes will receive a free coupon for an Arby’s roast beef sandwich (just kidding).

How to play more tables at a time

How many tables should I play?

I get asked this question often and there is not a one size fits all answer. There are a number of aspects to consider before you decide what you are capable of and how you are going to optimize it. It should go without saying, but if you are a breakeven or losing player, do not add more tables. Focus on getting yourself established as a winner and then consider table adding strategies.

Add gradually

Anyone who is capable of 30 tabling did not get there by making a big giant leap in one day from being a 6 tabler. It happens gradually. If you regularly 4 table and you have a bit of dead time between hands add another game or two to see how it feels while being aware of the mistakes that come along with it.

These mistakes show themselves as misclicks, timing out, losing track of the action, and not playing your intended ranges. When these things begin to occur more than normal it’s time to scale back.

I scaled back, now what?

So you’re normally a 4 tabler and you tried to 6 table because you realized you could improve your hourly rate by 50% if you just added 2 more tables! Seems trivial right? Struggled a lot with 6 tables and now you feel bad and don’t know how you’re ever going to add that 50% to your hourly right? Don’t worry!

Start by looking at your game and seeing how it can be streamlined. Most professionals have streamlined strategies for a wide array of preflop and postflop decisions. If you ever find yourself taking 20 seconds to decide whether to open raise A9s in the cutoff, you may want to consider creating some ranges you can trust and play without any extra thought. Think about what flop textures you can c-bet with a near 100% frequency for a small size. Take some extra time studying basic preflop shoving and calling ranges if you find yourself timing out facing a 4BB shove in the BB with KTo.

Take a close look at situations that are causing you to take more time than normal and ask yourself if a better player would struggle with the decision as well. The ability to play several games at once isn’t just about making quick decisions, it’s also about making high quality decisions.

Multitabling software

If you feel like your strategy is sound and you are comfortable with it (I’d advise making sure of this before continuing onto this step) look into multitabling helper programs like TableNinja, Stack&Tile, or TableOptimizer. If you are a gamer, there are programs out there that can configure your game play with an XBox controller.

If you are unfamiliar with these programs there may be some growing pains with the initial setup and getting used to how everything works, but within a few days you will be flying and wonder how you ever played without it. If you need any help configuring your multitabling software, please don’t ask me!

So now you’ve trimmed the fat in your strategic decisions, you’re all set with a multitabling software you like, it’s time to give ‘er heck and add some tables. It’s reasonable to expect up to a 25% increase in table count if you do this properly.

Happy grinding!

Exploitative strategy: BB vs SB limps

BB strategy facing a small blind limp is an area of the game not enough players take advantage of. The average player limps too weak of a range, limps too often, and folds out of position to small c-bets with a too high of a frequency. This is universal truth at low stakes anywhere from heads up to 9 handed play.

As an example, in a spin and go tournament with 25 BB starting stacks, the equilibrium BB strategy would be to isolate a SB limp with 35-40% of hands. This would include most of the top 20%, a split frequency of the secondary portion, and then a tiny frequency of every other hand for the sake of board coverage.

This would be a fine preflop strategy to employ, but it misses the point of exploiting what most of the player pool does rather than try to develop a perfect GTO strategy. If the pool overfolds to isolations and overfolds to small c-bets, how can you possibly not choose a hyper aggressive strategy?

How to determine sizing?

Sizing depends on effective stack sizes. It’s reasonable to begin jamming vs limps at around 15BB or less. With premium hands at that depth, min isolating will be more profitable than jamming.  At 20-30BB, 2-2.5x is appropriate, and 30BB+, 2.5-4x depending on strength of range and looseness of opponent.

Once you are closer to 75BB and facing an opponent who you know will limp call 6x with 2 cards, be sure to jack it up 6x when you are strong and push your equity edge. It’s important to be able to spot especially loose (both preflop and postflop) players here so you can adjust your strategy towards larger sizing and reduced bluffs.

Dealing with limp raises.

If you notice a player begins to limp raise your isolations you are going to want to develop a more polarized isolation range that includes premiums that are happy to get limp raised, as well as weaker hands that are happy to immediately fold. Isolating a player who employs limp raise strategies with middling hands like J9s or A5o is playing directly into their hands.

SB limp raises are generally done with a strong range and should be respected. Be on the lookout for any players who limp raise fold, or limp raise and show a weak hand at showdown. You can adjust to this strategy by going to war and 4 bet bluffing this opponent when stacks allow, or you can simply choose to no longer bluff preflop.

C-bet strategy when called

For the sake of simplicity you can go ahead and c-bet your entire range for 1/3 pot. There are times when it is appropriate to adjust from this strategy, and usually it is when you have strong but immediately vulnerable value on a wet/drawy flop. Most players will be over folding as well as under check raising in this spot, so exploiting this tendency with frequent betting is important. For the times when you choose to check back preflop, you’ll want to frequently stab the flop against checks. When a weak player limps preflop and checks, that’s a sign of massive weakness and it needs to be taken advantage of.

HUD Stats

You can use HUD stats (SB limp fold%, Fold flop vs c-bet OOP%) To help determine how aggressive you’re going to be vs a given opponent.

In a non ante game, a 3x isolation only needs to work 50% of the time (risking 2 chips to win 4) to show immediate profit not counting the likely profit from c-betting. Look out for loose high vpip opponents who make it their lifes mission to see every flop but play fit or fold postflop. They may have an avatar that says, “Please iso me and stab every flop, you’re a good person and deserve my money.” Regulars who have limp fold stats higher than 50% should be attacked, but remember to be careful if they begin to adjust.

A 1/3 pot c-bet strategy only needs to work 25% of the time to show immediate profit. The majority of the player pool across pretty much all sites and stakes is going to under defend vs that strategy. It’s important to realize that typical players employ a strategy that involves raising good hands and limping bad hands, so they’re behind the 8 ball from the start. When a player limp calls a raise in the SB and then check calls the flop, he obviously has something but is still displaying incredible weakness and is susceptible to being barreled off on a lot of turns depending on board texture.

Sooooo, how much should I iso?

40% should be a minimum benchmark for your own isolation frequencies. Putting the pedal to the metal and going higher than that is absolutely fine so long as you stay aware of who begins to adjust. Hint: barely anyone will actually adjust. Most players have rigid strategies and even if they think you are up to something they will tend to under adjust, and often times they will adjust incorrectly.

If you’d like to learn more exploitative tendencies that can help you crush sng’s please check out the coaching section.

The Power of Discipline

I remember vividly 13 years ago 3 tabling $6 sng’s on Pokerstars. I desperately wanted to make enough money playing poker so I could afford $300/month rent in my 8×6 room (no joke) with some extra leftover for golf, gas, and pasta.

I was in the middle of a session, took a bad beat, and reflexively went to pile my chips in with no hand. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks, a voice from the heavens, “Dude, you cannot do undisciplined garbage like this and expect to make a living at this game.” It was a sad realization to know the intentional gamble aspect of the game had to be set aside, but I knew to succeed I had to be disciplined in those tough moments.

While I view discipline as perhaps the most important trait to success in poker as well as in life, discipline in poker is far more expansive than simply not dumping your chips into the middle every time you get upset.

Study habits

When it comes to study habits it’s important to determine what your goals are, how much effort is required to achieve those goals, and how much available time you have to spend on off table work. Once that part is figured out, it’s so important to stick to your daily or weekly quota. For more on this, check out this great article on Jerry Seinfeld.

Ok great, you want to move up 2 levels in 6 months, it’s going to take you 30 minutes a day 4 days a week. Hold yourself accountable by having a regular study partner, tracking it in excel or a notepad, or by having a supportive friend who you can use as an accountability buddy. Tell him or her, “Hey look, I want to improve my poker game so I can triple my earnings the next 6 months. It won’t be possible unless I work at least 2 hours a week. At the end of each week I’m going to let you know how I did on my time invested to keep myself honest.” It might sound silly but the data backs it up. Folks who track their goals achieve them at a far higher rate.

Now for the hard part of studying. It’s got to be uncomfortable. If you’re not in at least a bit of mental anguish while you’re studying, you’re not going deep enough. You need to deeply engage, deeply struggle, spot real weaknesses and figure out how to bridge those knowledge gaps. I used to review literally every HH I ever played hunting for errors in my shoving and calling game. I quickly realized a study strategy of simply spotting a mistake and checking to see what the right answer was was incredibly weak. The strategy I developed and still use now when I see a spot that I am unsure of is to write down or type out in detail what I think both Nash ranges for each opponent should be. After that I consider how various opponents may deviate from an equilibrium strategy in that situation and determine the best response. Only then do I allow the ICM program of choice to show me an answer. If I am right or close, great, I’m smoothing things out. If I am completely off base I look deeper into the spot and ask why. Usually it is a function of stack setup issues.

The same strategy applies for postflop hands as well. Determine reasonable ranges for both opponents, and just go deep. Do not mindlessly click through hands in a “yes, no, yes, good, fine, no, shrug, bad” manner. When you’re done a study session, even if it’s just for 30 minutes, your brain should be sore and you should feel like you got better.

Bankroll management

I’ve seen countless solid players blow massive bankrolls over the years by playing stakes and opponents well beyond their means. While most know it is obvious to move up gradually and only once you’ve proven yourself at a given stake, lots of players struggle with it. Not only can it deplete your bankroll in a flash, but any fleeting success at a level 10x what you’re used to will give you a false sense of competence. To think for a moment, “Hey, even though I’m a breakeven $10 grinder, maybe I’m a great $100 player after all.” Once the bottom inevitably falls out and you come crashing back to earth it takes a lot to pick up the emotional pieces.

Having said that, the biggest mistake I ever made in my poker career was to spend too much time in the early golden era at low stakes. The best year I ever had was when I found the courage to 4x my ABI and went for SNE. If you are anywhere near the top players at your current stake after a reasonable sample it’s important to know that is a sign you’re good enough to move forward to the next level. The game is not so different from one level to the next. If it’s frightening to move up even with great results and a large sample, take it slow, but make sure you make the move upwards and don’t allow yourself to stagnate in comfort.

Sticking to your strategy

Ever face a difficult river decision and then ask yourself “Why am I even in this hand to begin with?” Often times the biggest mistakes we make come from a lack of discipline in a basic preflop situation that we know we should avoid. You have to have set preflop ranges that you can rely on. Of course allow for some exploitative fluidity, but if you don’t know your preflop starting ranges it’s important to figure that out before you develop your postflop strategies. If for some reason you are going to drastically veer from the strategies you have chosen (eg, don’t bluffcatch vs river raises), make sure it is done for a good reason (villain is insane), otherwise it will send you into an awful tilt spiral.

If you’re unsure of what kinds of ranges and strategies you should be using, that’s a good sign that you need to get better and seek out answers whether it’s in the form of asking a more skilled friend, watching training videos, or getting coaching.

If you find yourself struggling hard with discipline in poker or life in general, I strongly recommend this 1 minute clip from former RIO pro Nick Howard. Hopefully it helps you to view things from a more positive point of view and how you want to act rather than staying stuck in negativity.

Poker is dead

No it dang heck crap turd is not! If you love poker and want to put in work and make a lot of money at it it will likely always be there for you, whether it’s online or live. There are a number of excuses (and real reasons) why the game has become more difficult to win at than it used to, and the ability to clearly see these things for what they truly are is what will determine how much success you will have.

GTO Paranoia

For some reason so many players, regs and recs alike (myself included) assume that because someone has even heard of Piosolver that they will play a perfect GTO game. This is generally a poor assumption. First, the player in question has to be skilled in using this program. Second, the player has to put in hundreds of hours studying thousands of spots and adjusting ranges in the process. I know this paranoia exists even at low level sng’s because players have told me about it first hand, describing situations where they make large foolish bluffs and calls they knew were terrible for no other reason than “it seemed like a ‘GTO play’ ”

Yes, it is a great and useful tool, but absolutely far from the be all end all, and unless you’re a high stakes reg your time is likely better spent in areas other than attempting to become an unexploitable GTO robot.

*Extremely nerds voice* “My rakeback!

Ok, Pokerstars jobbed everyone with their 2014 SNE bait and switch. Lots of sites have reduced or removed their rakeback offerings. This is the way it is now. To anyone still hung up on this issue, I offer you 2 choices. 1) Accept that this is how it is now and devise a solid plan going forward, or 2) Continue to whine about how you were wronged 4 years ago and you hate Bill Frist and the DOJ and Chris Ferguson and carry all that negative energy with you in every hand you ever play until your poker career sputters into a sad negative puddle.

I don’t deny that it sucks. It hurt my bottom line when it happened and it effectively stole millions in future earnings from the SNE poker playing community. It also forced out a lot of mediocre regs and created softer, more fun, lower variance games. Use it as a chance to try out other networks, other formats, use rakeback websites to find out which reg filled sites still offer decent rakeback. Always be looking for solutions.

Can’t win, everyone is solid

People have been using this tired excuse since not long after I first started playing online poker 13 years ago. It was far from the truth then and it’s far from the truth now. When I have felt this way in the past, it was simply my way of saying “I don’t want to face the discomfort of putting boring effort into improving my game, so I’m going to whine about it instead.”

It’s comedic how many posts I’ve seen on 2p2 and elsewhere when a toppish reg will make a marginal play and get called out like “WHAT WAS POKERGUY69 EVEN DOOOOOING HERE?” As if anyone who is half decent is held to this standard that everything they do has to be perfect, but not only that, the person watching the hand is blessed with this fantastic paranoia so when they see an objectively bad play from a decent player, they also know this player is a perfect GTO bot so it immediately creates this cognitive dissonance that results in a massively broken brain and a toilet spiral of outer directed focus.

It’s as simple as, oh hey look, Pokerguy69 clearly doesn’t use basic charts, or is tilting, or is distracted, or is human??? The bad plays that poor players regularly make should be encouraging enough, but if you need a little extra encouragement, keep your eyes on the decent winners. View it from a clear non paranoid lens and you will quickly see some marginal plays.

The days of dozens of guys making $50k+/year part time grinding a $15 abi may be over, but that doesn’t mean it is no longer possible. Keep your eyes open for what formats and what sites have regular games going. What are the biggest winners on Sharkscope playing? How are they doing it? Do they have a blog that describes any information that could be valuable if you tried that too? The dream is still alive fellas! The path to becoming a world beater is not as easy as it was 10 years ago, but it’s there for the taking if you want it.