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5 points

4 Reflections at the start of a downswing

Yes, it happens to us all. All of us. Genuinely. Every single one of us. I'm serious.

Poker has this amazing knack of making you run into so many bad things that you are sat there thinking: "There is no way anyone can run as bad as me. There's just no way other people would settle for this. I must be one of the most unlucky. For sure." How many times have you explained how bad you are running to someone and felt like saying "no but you don't understand!" There we go then. I actually have a lot of sympathy for this view - when you have a significant downswing it really can feel quite unfathomable. Have you forgotten how to play poker? Are you extremely unlucky? Or worse, were you always terrible and you are suddenly being found out? With downswings come uncomfortable thoughts.

This week, I've run terribly. The fun part is it's only a 10BI downswing so tomorrow we could jump right back up or we could keep going on this road for another 20BIs or so before I start to get really uncomfortable. And even then, my level of discomfort will play no role in whether it ends or not. So, given it's fresh in my mind, I thought I would share a couple of things that, in my experience, have been useful to remember when at the beginning, middle or end of a downswing.

And, for a bit of light relief, here's the graph for the week.

1. It's ok to take a break: I actually forget where I read this so if any of you are able to give the credit, let me know. Essentially, I read once that for poker players a tough downswing (of any amount) is akin to an athlete picking up an injury. The answer is almost certainly not to continue and grind and grind and grind until you can't go any more. Clearly, clearly that's not the answer; but, in my experience, too many people do. So, the first thing that has helped in my journey is to take a day away, do something else and get some perspective back.

Particularly in the current fast formats of the game, it is so easy to enter a sort of autopilot mode and just play on and on. Eventually, we do regrind out of a downswing (and doing so is extremely satisfying) but the best way to get there probably isn't to try to get out of it the same night it started. Like an injury, it takes a bit of time to recover. Be kind to yourself, take some time away, the tables will always be there.

2. Try to remain objective: One of the most challenging things with poker is that short term results are not an accurate reflection of your skill level. It's just noise. I try to retain balance by admitting when I am on a 20BI upswing that I am the same player who a few weeks ago went on a 10BI downswing. Both events are noise. Although difficult, try to keep your objectivity. Review hands you felt important the next day in fresh light and come to a view on whether you felt that it was either a) luck, b) a mistake or c) you're unsure but it's on your list to study. c) is entirely acceptable for what it's worth. We can only do the best with the knowledge we already have.

3. Don't just blame variance: This one might be a bit controversial actually. Something I have always tried to do is to not simply blame variance. A lot of the times it will be. However, if there is an element of your game that is letting you down, then your winrate will be lower and you'll go on more downswings. Simple. I have seen many players sadly excuse terrible results over a long period of time as just "the brutal swings of this game." It's an awkward conversation to have when they have the downswing part but not the upswing one. Try to be a bit better than this and, linked to point 2 above, scrutinise your game in a constructive way. Consider where your game could be stronger, what you are not implementing as well, are you rushing, are you on autopilot, could you play some focus sessions to reduce intensity and volume for a bit - after all, back to the injury analogy, an athlete doesn't return from injury and go back to full speed. They take some time to get back into the swing of things. So should you.

4. STUDY!: I wrote this in caps with an exclamation mark because I wanted you to imagine that I shouted it. It's that important. The top players study hard when they are on downswings. It's as simple as that. They use it as a fuel to find new things that will actually improve their game in this period. They drill to become more accurate, they do threshold work, they dig into some part of population data they haven't looked at in a while, they do detailed hand reviews. If, on a downswing, the first thing to drop is your study, then you can improve your approach to this. Really try to channel that energy into something productive. Think of it this way, one of two things are true. The downswing you're on is down to bad variance (most likely) - studying during this time will make you a better player and your next upswing may be bigger and your next downswing may be shorter. Win. OR, the downswing you're on is down to you having some leaks in your game and study will help plug those leaks making your game better in future. Win. I've left this until last because I really do think it's the most valuable way to work on your game during a downswing.

Reduce the volume a bit, be kind to yourself, study and pray to all things holy that it doesn't go on too long.

March 24, 2024 | 8:15 p.m.

Six skills to work on to help move up stakes Part 02

Following on from yesterday, let's get that list finished off.

4. Fortune reversal tilt

I think this is a tilt commonly experienced by players at the lower end of the stakes. What I mean by 'fortune reversal' is they start with a strong hand, let's say AA or they even flop two pair or a set; BUT tragically by the end of the hand the relative hand strength of their holding has been significantly reduced. Both coming to terms with this from a mental game perspective and understanding how to proceed is tricky and something a lot of player get stuck on. Calmly being able to assess that 'my hand was strong, but now it's a bluffcatcher in an underbluffed line and so I must fold' is a trait exhibited by stronger players.

5. Exploitative play

This is a bit more advanced but ultimately is where a lot of the EV we get at the tables come from. It's very tempting for players learning the game to want to play a maximally exploitative strategy; however, maybe controversially, I would caution against this. I think players at the stakes we are talking about would do well to try to play exploitatively; but understand how that is grounded in theory. A player who just decides to range bet "because I think it's good exploitatively" is weaker than a player who understands that in theory, villain should defend X% of their range including hands like pocket pairs and in reality think they will overfold here so the EV of bet will be higher than the EV of check. The player who can articulate the latter understands the theory, understands what mistakes people make and understands how to deviate to exploit those mistakes. That player will go far.

6. Hand reading

Finally, this is a skill which I think isn't focused on enough; but strong players can understand how the action and texture so far in the hand has manipulated the ranges at play such that some things won't add up. I remember a hand I played recently where villain bet a small size on the turn and then 2x potted the river from IP. I won't go into the hand history but that sizing structure given the river card made his value range so tiny that I deduced he must be overbluffing and called. The reason hand reading becomes important is because you are able to get past these vast over-generalisations such as "big bets are always value heavy." That clearly is not the case. There will of course be cases where a line is severely underbluffed and we should fold all of our bluffcatchers - knowing how to hand read to a higher standard to separate one case from the other, and not having to rely on generalisations is another trait of strong players.

Imagine for a minute you became 3x as good at everything in this list overnight and I guarantee you would be having much more success at the poker tables. There are, of course, other important elements like table selection, understanding the context of the games you're in and so on; but from a fundamental poker perspective, this list covers many of the big points.

March 21, 2024 | 3:49 p.m.

Six skills to work on to help move up stakes Part 01

I am aware that my last two posts on here have been fairly long, so I've decided to split this next one into two parts which are more bitezise. Don't worry though, I've already got the second half written so it won't disappear into thin air. I'm going to post it tomorrow - check back then to find it.

I was recently asked what fundamental abilities players in the 25/50nl range of stakes and below would need to improve to help them move up the stakes. I set to work thinking about what categories I felt could be most important and came up with the following:

1. Polarisation

In my experience, players at this level would do well to understand how to polarise more accurately. This comes from understanding the theoretical fundamentals of the spot they find themselves in. How the texture, action and sizings used so far have adjusted the ranges of the players in the hand. Oftentimes, I see players get confused about playing their range rather than their hand, or just not understanding that they have merged with their hand. So if I could wave a magic wand and improve their accuracy when it came to understanding polarisation, that would be a massive help. This is not easy though and players at these stakes shouldn't beat themselves up for polarisation errors as they try to improve.

2. Range Geography / Thresholds

Linked to the above, but more relevant when facing bets, players understanding more accurately where they are in their range, what the threshold hands will be for calling, raising or folding and where their hand fits in that range would allow them to continue in pots much more confidently and accurately. An added benefit of being strong on this is that the mental fatigue of playing poker is reduced. Once you know what the thresholds are, you can relatively simply decide to fold/call/raise and not expend loads of energy getting there. The work for this is done off the table.

3. Understanding relative hand strength

This is the simple ability to recognise what the relative hand strength of your holding is according to relevant factors such as action, texture, position, sizing and so on. This is a crucial skill which anyone hoping to climb the stakes must be able to implement and too often weaker players will get wedded to the absolute hand strength of their hand.

That's it for part 1, tomorrow I'll be adding fortune reversal tilt, exploitative play and hand reading to the list!

March 20, 2024 | 4:50 p.m.

The most important thing to ever happen in my poker journey

Study groups. 4 traits of a good one and 4 steps for getting started.

I’m starting big. These big blinds won’t win themselves and we don’t have time to mess around. Having said that, whilst you may love the idea of a study group, if the very notion has made you feel ill, I’ve included a bit of a hybrid for you at the end.

The reason I’ve chosen to start with this topic is that a fantastic study group was/is the most important thing to have happened in my poker career so far – and it’s not even close.

So, whilst I will write about many topics in this blog, all of the advances I have made have been within the context of a great study group. I would highly, highly recommend you become part of one.

In terms of structuring this post, I’m going to start off with a short story before moving onto what a good study group looks like and, crucially, some steps you can take to finding one. If you’re already in one, hopefully some of the points raised will help cement or improve the one you are in.

Let’s go.

1st April 2021

I had just finished a Coaching Chris stream when out of the blue I received a discord message saying that if I wanted any help with the homework Pete had set me (on defending flops) they’d be happy to help. After a short exchange, they said some of the most important words I’ve been told in my poker journey: “one of the best ways to get good at poker is to talk to other people!”

Little did I know it but the ‘short’ call we set up for the next day would end up lasting 3 hours and it would be the start of essentially the most important thing to happen in my poker journey. Over the next year, my new study partner and I would talk daily, having online calls most days for varying lengths of time discussing every bit of poker you can imagine.

After about 12-18 months, we both had another great stroke of fortune when a third person joined the group and added new life to what was already a great dynamic. Between us since then, the three of us have made huge strides in the game and I’m immensely proud of the fact that my two study partners are, frankly, crushers in their pools. It’s been really quite insane to witness. Shocked, I tell ya.

The problem with study groups

Despite my euphoric experience, I can already sense the well-founded suspicion from some of you about the effectiveness of study groups. We all have experience of groups that start well before slowly losing that initial spark, limping on and then slowly but surely inevitably drifting into “we should really study sometime.” In the worst cases, you can feel as though your own journey is now being held up by the unreliability of others. In even worse cases(!) you’re left doing all the work and talking into the void. Nobody wants that.

The good news is, to some extent study groups are trial and error. I very much hope the one you are in or the one you find works amazingly well; but please accept that it’s OK to have a partner or a group where it works for a short while and then the fit isn’t really what you thought it would be. Know when it’s time to move on, and accept that actually you probably got a fair bit of value from the study you did anyway. With enough trial and error, you’ll find your people.

However, we don’t want to be searching forever, so what traits do I think a good study group will have? I’m glad you asked.

4 traits of a good study group

  1. They are small. The larger the study group, the less effective it is. I would advocate for a maximum of three people. I actually think three may be the perfect number as it means if one person is away, the other two can still carry on. Equally, if you share a discord server, then while one of you may be busy with other things, the others can still have dialogue which can then be caught up on and commented on by the third. For me, three is the sweet spot.

  2. You are different. I had to think about this one but I do believe that if you are all slightly different, then likely you will have skills that complement each other and you can share tasks and support each other in a harmonious way. If you all love spending time on PIO but hate doing hand reviews, you may well neglect a beneficial part of your study time. However, linked to this is trait 3.

  3. You have the same philosophy / mindset. This one is crucial. I think you all have to want to think about poker in the right way and you also have to have relatively similar goals. If one of you wants to reach the highest stakes they can and the other is looking for a side income to support their job on weekends (both respectable goals), I think it’s unlikely that a study group with you both in will reach its maximum potential. You just want things that are too different. Equally, if you both have similar goals and you want to think about poker in the same way – say for example you both want to get very strong theoretically in order to have a solid foundation to build an exploitative gameplan as a group, then you are going to do very well indeed.

  4. You have the time to commit. Show me someone who is progressing at poker and I will show you someone who is consistent. It is a prerequisite of success at this game. Good study groups will have regular calls to focus on areas of study and in between those calls, work will be being done constantly by members to progress the knowledge of the group as a whole. In our case, we would have calls once per week, with discord channels dedicated to what we discussed and regular check-ins. If I’m honest, because of points 1, 2 and 3 being so strong for us, point 4 kind of came on its own. We always wanted to discuss poker, so it just happened naturally. Hopefully for you it does too. If it does, I think it’s one of the clear signs you are onto a winner.

4 steps for starting a study group

Ok, you’re sold. You’ve considered the above, you’re feeling motivated but you’re not entirely sure where to start. The following would be my suggestions:

Step 1: Join some discords. More and more poker communities are popping up on discord. If you’re not on there, you are probably missing out on some really good poker discussion. I imagine your favourite streamer or poker YouTuber has a discord. Start there.

Step 2: Take a bit of time to settle in. It is surprising how different the cultures can be in poker discords and, being poker, some of them are great and some of them are…well…not so great. Along with point 3 above, the philosophy and mindset of the discords you join should align with your own. If you feel uncomfortable by the conversations happening, or you think they are approaching the game the wrong way, don’t feel like the problem is necessarily you. I joined a number of discords before I found Carrot Corner.

As a caveat, Carrot Corner requires you to buy some form of (relatively expensive) coaching in order to get access to their discord. Whilst a barrier to entry, it is also a filter and tends to self-select for serious people who are willing to commit to the game. If that’s you, then joining a discord which has some form of purchase-before-entry could well be what you are looking for.

Step 3: Get involved. Once you’ve settled in a bit and found that the poker discussions are the ones you would like to take part in, it’s time to start contributing yourself. Hand discussions will take place in every poker discord, so either post your own or start discussing the hands that other people post. If you immerse yourself in this sort of discussion, you will relatively quickly find people you have good conversations with about the game. Well done, you’ve just got your first potential study partner.

Step 4: Make contact. Then, as simple as that, once you’ve spent some time engaging in hands, had some helpful discussions and found some people you connect with, there’s no harm in suggesting setting up some more focused private study together on the topic you’ve just been discussing. At worst, working on a specific thing together will help both of your games and at best, you’ll do it again…and again…and again.

Sure, Chris; but I really don’t want to join a study group

I feared you might say that. However much I might advocate for them, I have to accept that people have different ways of working. If you’re one of those people and you’ve made it this far, kudos. Being able to listen to a different point of view for this long will probably set you in good stead for anything, including poker.

If the real truth is you just don’t want to have a study partner or group and you really feel you work better alone then who am I to tell you otherwise. Providing you can be accountable to yourself, build a study plan, execute that study plan and track progress all on your own, then hats off to you. I still think going on the journey with people is more fun than doing it alone; but we are all different.

If you are the lone wolf, I would still encourage you to do steps 1-3 above. Being active and involved in a poker discord / community will be very unlikely to hurt your game and instead will allow you to hear perspectives, discuss hands, learn about topics and give your study direction that you wouldn’t have if you went at it entirely alone. So, you don’t have to totally go for it and have a full on study group; but do put yourself out there a bit. I promise it’ll improve your game.

A concluding remark

All of the above can be summed up with a proverb. Amusingly, I had always attributed this as an African proverb; however, having done some research in advance of this post, it’s a bit disputed as to what it’s real origin is. The spirit is still nice anyway.

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
- Unknown

Good luck at the tables and see you next time.

March 18, 2024 | 6:41 p.m.

Thanks Will - if we were all half as structured as you 200nl-2knl in 6 months might just happen!

March 16, 2024 | 11:31 p.m.

March 15, 2024 | 4:27 p.m.

Yeah buddy! Loving the support as ever

March 15, 2024 | 11:53 a.m.

Thanks Mark - great to have you following!

March 15, 2024 | 11:51 a.m.

“I should have a blog on Run It Once.” There comes a time in every aspiring poker player’s career where they sit, stare wistfully out of the window and have that thought. Today, I join those ranks. With misty eyes and enthusiasm by the boatload, we’ll see if we can make this one as enjoyable and useful as the ones by Freenachos, MatoStar, Marinelli and the like. Small steps, Chris, SMALL. STEPS.

My main intention of this blog is to bring value to the poker community. Yes, I will chronicle my own journey in the world of poker; but constant general musings about my own game would verge on self-indulgent. Instead, thinking about how my poker journey can be used, broken down and articulated in a way that makes it relevant and valuable to other players – now that’s something I’m interested in.

I’ve broken the rest of this post down into sections to signpost where we’re going with each part.

Who am I?

I’ll start by introducing myself. I’m Chris, I’m 31 and I am based in the U.K. I gained the nickname ‘ShockedChris’ relatively early in my poker career because of my propensity to be flabbergasted by every. single. thing. that happened in a poker hand. I quite liked the name as it captures my personality traits of being expressive and enthusiastic, so it ended up sticking.

Who this blog is for

Before I really start breaking down the stuff I think has been fundamental to my poker career so far, I want to briefly address who I think this blog and these posts will be aimed at. I’ve put a fair bit of thought into this and I feel like the person who I could most valuably write for is the type of player I was 12-18 months ago. The player who had been playing poker for a while, took it very seriously, cared extraordinary amounts but was still breaking even at their current stake (25nl and 50nl). I was just about profitable after rakeback. If you are currently treading water at 25nl-100nl, then I’m writing to you.

Today, I play 100nl as my main stake and I am starting to play 200nl more and more regularly (I actually played around 35 hands on a particularly soft 500nl table a few weeks ago - insert ‘I’m kind of a big deal’ gif). If you’re currently playing at 100nl and 200nl then I have no doubt this blog will bring value to you as well but it may well be from a perspective of “yeah, I know how that feels.” If you’re playing 500nl+, enjoy the ride and know that one day I’d love to be sat at a table playing poker with you.

Breaking through the stakes

It is always going to be hard to move up to any stake from the stakes you are at. The money is bigger, the regs are tougher and the fish are either better or not as common. In my experience, though, one of the biggest jumps in difficulty is between 25nl/50nl and 100nl. 100nl is where you start getting players who are playing to put food on their table – they’re out here playing for a living. It therefore makes sense for it to be one of the bigger leaps in poker in terms of skill, experience and grit.

I have been fortunate enough to make that leap. A lot of what I write about here will be focused on the things I have learned in the last 12-18 months. The things that worked. The things that took me across that line to establishing myself at 100nl. I have waited until I have started to play 200nl before writing any of this because I wanted to be confident in myself that I am writing about things that have brought value to me on my journey - things that have ensured that I am firmly on the right path.

The good news

Here's some good news - I am not the best poker player you’ll come across. The stories I write won’t be about how I went from 200nl to 2knl in 6 months (maybe I will actually? Who knows. We can dream). They won’t be about how I never missed a shot before I got to 500nl. They won’t be about how I ‘came up’ in the golden era where everything below 1knl was a fishpond.

And that’s valuable.

I know what it’s like to constantly miss shots, I know what it’s like to think you’re winning, go on a 30BI downswing and think all is lost. I know what it’s like to feel like this game is just determined to beat us down until we throw in the towel. And, thankfully, I now know how to build a roadmap to help us get through that as best we can. My purpose with this blog is to give you the tools to do that too.

Bringing you up to speed

In terms of my poker history, I started playing poker in December 2020. Before then, I had never played a hand of poker in my life. I wasn’t sure if a flush beat a straight and I likely would have thought having 5 cards of the same colour was some sort of made hand. I was that bad. So if you’re reading this and you think you’re bad at poker, I was worse. Trust me.

I spent my first few months playing at the heady heights of 2nl and 5nl reg tables on PokerStars. For those of you wondering, yes the real fish play on reg tables. I had no idea what “Zoom” was. At the same time, however, I was absolutely and completely trying to immerse myself into the poker community (I’ll likely write a more detailed post on this at some point). I was watching YouTube videos, listening to Podcasts, reading blogs, finding people I liked, finding people I aspired to be like and so on.

My first, and maybe biggest stroke of luck, came about 3 months in where I watched a podcast with Pete Clarke as a guest. At the time, Pete was extremely focused on the theoretical side of poker and it made total sense to me that as someone who was completely new to the game, trying to understand the fundamental theoretical building blocks had to be the first step – I’ll likely write about this too; but any exploitative strategy (and we should play an exploitative strategy) is grounded in theory – so if you want to be good at exploiting, you gotta understand the theory.

I decided to pull the trigger and start getting some coaching early in my career. I thought why wait until I’ve learnt all the bad habits before learning the better ones, an approach that has paid dividends – but don’t worry if you have a lot of uninstalling and relearning to do. That’s extremely common and I've seen plenty of people conquer that particular challenge.

My Twitch debut

After a bit of coaching (3 lessons), in around March 2021, Pete asked in his discord whether anyone had any ideas of poker content they’d like to see on his channel. I decided to pitch him an idea in private where he would coach me on his Twitch channel. To his credit, he immediately saw the appeal and loved the idea. The concept of taking a brand new poker player and attempting to build their foundations live on a Twitch stream was unbelievably exciting to us both. We agreed to do weekly sessions focused mainly around me playing (entertainment) and him coaching (value for me and the viewers). I’ll now sound like Troy McClure; but you may well know me from Coaching Chris. If you don’t, it was a blast. We did it every week for about 18 months and it is one of my favourite parts of my poker journey. One surreal moment that stands out is when BenABadBeat (a player I have huge respect for) swung by the stream to watch a couple of times and I felt like a tennis novice who just had Djokovic turn up at his training.

I still do stream on Carrot Corner with Pete, so keep an eye out if you’ve never come across it. However, given the progress I have made, the format is now less of an intense coaching vibe and more discussion-based.

And that was the start of everything.

What’s next

I’m conscious of how long this post is becoming; but it was important to explain in some detail how I got started in this game.

The rest of my poker journey can be explained more briefly and will likely be the focus of future posts. In short, it includes a whole lot of consistency, hard work, volume, studying, setbacks, a brilliant study group, a solid poker community and, genuinely, an insatiable drive to understand this game as best as I can. How far I will go is yet to be seen. 100nl for a long time was the ‘Castle on the Hill’ for me, so to now be getting beyond that is something that I am excited by – some might even say I’m shocked by it.

That’s it for intros. Let’s get to work.

March 14, 2024 | 10:59 p.m.

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