A few months before I started this blog, I asked my wife (fiancee at the time) if she thought if she was okay with me taking 200 euro out of our savings account to play online poker with. She stared at me for a second. "I don't know,' she replied. "I just don't think we can afford it right now." She was right. At the time we had just moved because our previous landlord went bankrupt. She was still in college and I just started teaching. We didn't really have any money and the money that we did have we desperately needed for our wedding. I had to swear the money would be back into the savings account exactly one year later before she eventually (and reluctantly) agreed to let me deposit the money.
Lately i've been thinking a lot about that conversation. At the time, all I could think about was getting better, moving up and playing at a higher level. I worked full-time as a teacher and during the nights I spent my time studying all the material I could get my hands. The weekends I allowed myself one night off, the rest was packed with playing and studying. In the beginning I struggled a lot. There we're nights, around the time I started this blog, where I had lost and felt like giving up. It was hard. I remember numerous nights where I just stared at the ceiling of our tiny bedroom, asking myself if I'd ever be able to beat the micro's. The only thing that kept me going was my ambition
Now I'm at a point where I don't know what is next. I'm making more money clicking buttons online than I make at my job. But do I want to 'just' click buttons all day, every day? I'm not sure. I don't think I'm made for that. I love teaching and the fulfillment it gives me. I love the interaction, the a-ha moment when the student gets it. I love playing football with the boys during lunch breaks. I don't think I'm ready to give that part of my life up for just playing poker.
Right now I don't know what's next. I'm reducing my hours at work so I'll at least know what it's like to go semi-pro. I don't know if I'll ever go full-time pro thought. Maybe, at some point, I might get into coaching, so I can combine my poker-knowledge with my teaching skills and help others. I think I'd like that. But for now, i'll just stick to clicking buttons.
I'll leave you guys with my very first hand at 500nl.
June 28, 2020 | 10:05 a.m.
I guess I've seen the light
Last month I had my biggest month ever. I've been playing decent volume, especially after the lockdown set in. I managed to get to the 60.000 hands I wanted to play, but I didn't update my topic as often as I wanted, for which reason I'll give PrankCallRiver a free database review :). I'm also going to donate 250 euro to a good course. I'm not entirely sure which one, as I find a suitable one, I´ll let you guys know.
All in all I'm very thrilled since I've come a long way. The question that keeps popping into my head is: what's next? Honestly, thousands of thoughts have popped into my head. The most frequent recurring one: holy fuck, I could actually make it.
What I learned from playing poker all day
Well, that volume is overrated, still. In the beginning of the challenge I changed my schedule, I started playing more, studying less. This caused me to shift my focus more from my process to the results. Normally I have a very rigid study routine, so whenever I have a big losing streak, I can look myself in the mirror and say I'm doing everything I can to be a better player tomorrow, therefore I don't have to worry about shortterm results. After the lockdown hit, I started to let go of my regular schedule and instead started playing all day. In my defense: the incentives we're there. Anyone who's played a hand of online poker has noticed the games looked an awfull lot like I imagine they we're in 2005.
But I realized that just playing all day is not working for me. I like to study, figure shit out, and in return I have an easier time accepting losses as part of the game. On other words: when playing poker is all you do all day, you sorta want it to go well. When it's just a part of your day, it's easier to look at the bigger picture, at least for me.
So, what's next?
I honestly don't know. Within a few weeks my school is opening again and I can't wait to start teaching again. On the other hand I feel like I can do something bigger with my life, something that I couldn't ever do teaching. So, honestly, I don't know. I'd like to go pro one day, but I'll try to stay humble and take it one step at a time.
April 30, 2020 | 11:11 a.m.
It’s crazy what’s happening to the world at the moment. Cities, regions and even whole countries are in lockdown. People are not allowed out in the streets. It all feels pretty surreal. A few days ago we got the news that our country is in a state of lockdown as well. Every day more people are getting infected and every day more people are dying. I’m still young and healthy so I’m not that concerned for my life, but it scares me to think about family members that are already struggling with their health. For me personally this also means I can’t get into work for the next couple of weeks. It sucks, because I love my job, but it also gives me the chance to get some more volume in.
Since I haven’t been posting a lot here, so I decided to do a little volume challenge. I’m at a stage where I’m making some real improvements and I want to revive this thread a bit so someday I can look back at this journey and see what I was up to.
The challenge will be as follows:
- Play 60.000 hands before the end of april. This might not seem like a lot, but I get roughly 240 hands in per hour, so it actually is a lot.
- Post a weekly graph.
- Post a weekly article about a concept I’ve learned.
If I succeed, I will book a weekend away for me and my wife when everything is settled down.
If I fail however, I’ll donate 250 euro to a good cause and do a free database review for anyone who replies in this topic :)
March 20, 2020 | 7:27 p.m.
Long time no speak
At the end of january I got pneunomia. In itself it was pretty annoying because all I could do is lay in bed for two weeks straight. I didn't get to play poker, didn't get to do much of anything. The most annoying thing was something different though.
I don't remember when exactly, but there was a point somewhere during the year when I realized that this poker thing might just work out if I'm able to give it all. I was still working full-time, so in order to stay ahead the curve I had to be willing to do more in less time. So I spend whole 2019 gradually getting better at living a balanced and structured life. It started with simple scheduling, eating healthier, drinking less. After that I managed to get into a sleeping routine that worked for me, for the first time in my life. I woke up every day at 6, did a 10-minute work out and studied poker while eating breakfast. It took some time, but I got better and better.
At the end of autumn my wife asked my over dinner one time what I wanted to do with my poker winnings if things kept going the way they we're. 'I don't know, maybe start a bussiness,' I replied. She laughed. 'You're not structured enough,' she said. I remember thinking for a minute. In a sense she was right, I had never been a structured person. In most of my adolescent years that was always a problem. But the last few months I had really made steps. 'How late did you wake up today?' I countered. It's weird, I've had thousands of conversations, some of them on much bigger things, but I remember this one vivedly. I think it caused me to see that for me poker might be a way to get the best out of myself.
The annoying thing is that all of that went out of the window when I got sick. Some days I slept more than 18 hours. There we're days where I didn't even think about poker, let alone keep to a reasonable schedule. Now I'm feeling all better, but it takes some time getting back in shape again. Something that BenCB mentioned in a Poker Life Podcast with Joe Ingram helped a lot:
Don't set goals, build a system. Focus on the things that are in your control. Work-out, study on a regular basis, meditate every day, eat healthy six days a week. Don't get too attached on the outcome. Don't focus on 'I want to achieve this within five years'. Just build a system that improves the odds of you succeeding as much as possible and then accept whatever result may come from that.
March 4, 2020 | 6:20 p.m.
Thanks a lot mate! I think you are right if you are assuming that the pool is relatively balanced, but since the pool is not, I think that most study time should be allocated towards finding exploits to that imbalances.
Jan. 16, 2020 | 7:55 p.m.
The ambition-sustainability paradox
The last two weeks I did a mini challenge during my holidays. I didn’t reach the volume target (30k hands), but that’s okay. I still did a lot of things with friends or family and since I work full-time during most weeks, my holidays are also a time where a lot of social activity takes place. I tried to trim it down as much as possible, but in the end it’s also necessary to not let my ambitions and this sense of urgency get the best of me. It’s a strange paradox, because in order to get to high stakes I’ll have to do everything I possibly can to stay (get) ahead of the curve, but in order for my growth to be sustainable, I’ll have to be able to let go from time to time, which is something I have a lot of trouble doing lately. Today my wife told me that she had changed her plans and would go out with friends on Saturday and the first thing that popped into my head was: extra time to play, extra time to study.
Lately I’ve had a lot of trouble sleeping. I don’t fully understand why yet, but I feel like it has a lot to do with the sense of urgency I feel. Half a year ago mid stakes (or even low stakes) seemed light years away. The last few months it all started to become real very fast. There are times where I go to sleep, only to wake up two hours later feeling like I need to do something. Review hands, study ranges, watch a video. Something. I know the answer to the paradox is balance, but I still have trouble finding it, let alone being able to effectively apply it in life. I know taking rest is important, I just want to get to high stakes first :).
Result-wise I did pretty good. I made some pretty big technical changes, but overall I just ran very hot.
Also made one really thin value shove I wanted to share :)
Jan. 9, 2020 | 6:41 p.m.
With the last hours of 2019 approaching, I thought it would be as good as time as ever to look back on my goals from last year. It's pretty hard to imagine that only a year has passed. Just reading the first post in this topic gives me the feeling decades have gone by. I sort of crushed all the goals I've set in the topic. I don't know exactly how many hands I've played, but probably around 250k hands. I'm in the process of getting all the handhistories in one database, but it may take a few days. I also have moved up from 10nl to 50nl and I even took my first 100nl shot yesterday, which at this point still feels pretty surreal to me. I don't know, it feels like I actually have a shot getting to mid/highstakes.
Goals for next year
In general, I want to approach poker a bit more professional. I definitely didn't get all out of it. I can't even count the number of sundays I sat down at the tables with a pretty severe hangover from the day before, feeling tired and nauseated. I think if I want to take the next step in poker and in life, that's gotta stop. Seeing the health of my mother decline pretty steeply last year sort of urges me to make changes as well. I'll start of by not drinking in january and then sort of see where that leads me. Besides that, I decided to start working one day less. It might not seem like much, but everything I've accomplished the last months I did while working full time. If I want to give myself a real shot at higher stakes, I gotta have more time. Some actual numbers:
- Play 500.000 hands in 2020.
- Move up to 100nl and take shots at 200nl by the end of the year.
- Review every pot over 10bb won/lost.
- Buy a house.
Dec. 31, 2019 | 3:55 p.m.
Mini december challenge
The end of the year is near, a time of reflection is upon us. But before that, I want to do one more quick challenge. I have two weeks off from work and besides the holidays and spending time with the wife, I want to spent most of my time playing and studying. I've set some study and poker goals, the main goal being a volume goal:
- By the 6th of january I want to have played 30k hands (at either 20nl or 50nl) playing 4 regular tables max.
Dec. 21, 2019 | 12:12 p.m.
Line (raise in position in 3b pot) is (very) overbluffed by fish, even when they barrel turns and rivers. Then this guy was a raging volatile, so his base rate of bluffs is in general (a lot) higher in every single line compared to your regular fish. The blocker fact is kinda nice, but the very small valuerange doesn't really apply here because when you look at the range composition of this player type you'll see that they also raise a merged component here (top pair no kicker) and barrel it on turns and rivers. Wouldn't be surprised to see something like A9o at showdown from time to time. For that reason vs normal fish, it's probably better to just call down medium to strong TP or better.
But vs this guy, who seemed to be going crazy, I figured it would still be a moderately EV+ call down with second pair.
Dec. 21, 2019 | 11:19 a.m.
A few things I’ve learned from dropping 30 buy-ins on 50nl
Well, the first one is pretty easy: I’m not as good as I thought I was. My grind on 20nl has been smooth sailing for the most part, but since I’ve moved up I’ve hit nothing but brick walls. When you fall as hard down on the face as I did, it’s only natural for the ego to tone down a bit and humility to take over. I mean, sure I ran bad, we all do sometimes. But I must have done some things horribly wrong, right?
Well, the short answer is yes. But the last few weeks I’ve tried to find an more thorough answer to that I wanted to internalize in order to prevent this thing from happening. Here are a few observations:
So why did I lose as much as I did? The games are certainly not that much tougher and I did not run that bad either. The first answer is simple: performance stress is real. Every time I moved up I endured a lot of stress. It’s only natural. Where on the previous stake the result of a single session didn’t affect my mood in any notable way, enduring a 4 buy-in losing session on a higher stake definitely does have a considerable effect on both my mental state as well as my game. Suddenly I’d ask myself all these questions: am I good enough? Will I win this back? What if I keep playing and keep losing? Should I change something?
All these thoughts and insecurities creep in the mind and take over like supernatural parasites. Win rate isn’t a static thing. It depends on a lot of factors, like your skill level, the skill level of your opponents, your mental state of that particular day and a lot of other factors. If you’re in a spot where you’re enduring a lot of stress and you don’t take the necessary precautions, it can easily turn a positive win rate in to a losing one.
Knowing how to take shots is important
One more thing I definitely did wrong is not have a solid game-plan for taking my shots. I’d just decide to play either at 50nl or 20nl based on my mood on that given that. Sure, I moved down for a few k hands after losing a ton, but I didn’t have a framework in place to guide me when things got tough. When everything comes pouring down, it’s inevitably going to cloud your vision. If you don’t have a solid framework to fall back on, it’s a slippery slope to keep playing just a little while longer to avoid the embarrassment of having to drop down. After doing some research, I found a few tips that seem very basic, but I still didn’t apply properly.
1. Choosing a proper stop loss. For me this is going to be 5 buy-ins. If I lose them at 50nl, I’ll just drop down to 20nl and try to recoup them.
2. Take shots when you’re feeling well. Like I mentioned before, win-rate isn’t a static thing. Shots are important, so why would you play half-tired and a little hangover from drinking the day before?
3. Take shots when the games are good. On the same token, why would you play on a Wednesday afternoon vs 4 capable regs and one tight fish while you can just postpone your shot to Sunday and play vs a way softer field?
Changing your strategy takes humility
Every time your changing your strategy, wether it’s a minor change or a big shift, it’s inevitably going to affect your game. Say you did a database review and you find that you’re not 3betting enough out of position. So you create new ranges based on a few valid sources and after that you start playing again. But then a few spots come up, spots that you’ve never in before because normally you’d already have folded. It’s totally unrealistic to expect to be able to navigate through all these spots while you are playing at a higher stake. And yet I did. I made considerable changes to every part of my game after I joined PokerDetox, but I lacked the humility to just drop down while I was getting accustomed to those changes. And it cost me a lot of money because of it.
Where I’m am at now
Right now I’m in the process of recouping some of my losses in order to take another 5 buy-in shot at 50nl, and since I can’t seem to lose a hand at 20nl, luckily that has been a pretty smooth process up untill now. Next shot I’ll definitely take on a Sunday, after a good night sleep and a healthy breakfast, and maybe this time around things will be different.
I’ll leave you with two fun hands I played the last couple of weeks. I think my next entry will be a live play video, since I’ve been recording a bunch of them lately. My main goal for this blog is being able to track my progression when I move through the stakes, so I think a video would be kind of cool to do.
Dec. 20, 2019 | 2 p.m.
How To Use A Solver #1: Using A Manageable Framework
A quick disclaimer: I’m NO expert. If you want expert material, take a RIO-subscription and browse through the library. There is more than enough expert content over there on this subject.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s start. Say you’d want to investigate how to respond to check-raises on the flop, how would one go about that? One of the first things most players do, is see what equilibrium looks like and study that like it’s a vocabulary. Not that long ago this is what I did as well. But is this really the smartest way to go about things? We know that humans deviate a lot from what solvers like to do. Even the best players in the world can’t replicate something that even remotely looks like equilibrium. It’s just too complicated. So while the game is solved on an AI level, on a human level, we don’t even come close.
Forming a base-line
What we can do, is try to find a more human threshold and use that as a baseline. We do that by diving into our database using Holdem Manager or PokerTracker. Let’s roll back to our defend vs check-raise example; say we’d like to know how often our population check-raises vs our cbet. First, we can group a bunch of regulars from our database into an alias. Since we want to use node-lock later stage to develop counter strategies, we’ll have to filter for a specific formation (in this case we’ll go for BTNvBB). That means we need a lot of hands to get an somewhat accurate base-line. Depending on the size of your database and the size of your pool, you might want to go group regulars very liberally, ensuring you have a large enough sample. Another way to go about things is to use Hand2Note and do mass-database analyses, but since this option is a little bit more complicated and more expensive, we’ll stick to HM2 or PT4 for now.
When I created an alias with ~300k hands and ran the filter (our population is on the BB and there is one preflop raises who is from the BTN), these we’re the results:
(Note that I’m playing on a partly anonymous site, so I had the option of including ‘Player 1’, ‘Player 2’ etc. in one alias, making life a lot easier.)
A gradient approach
Now that we have our numbers, we can compare that with the check-raise frequency in equilibrium. We can obtain them by running a large sim with a lot of different flop textures and taking an average check-raising frequency for the out of position player from all. The average check-raise frequency a solver uses for this formation is roughly 15%. Compare that to our number and you can see that the population is check-raising (a little) less then optimal. Since we can’t just assume every player is check-raising 13% on the flop, one more thing we should do is to create two more thresholds: one for players that are likely to be check-raising less than average and one for the more aggressive subsection of regulars. That way, we can investigate how to counter three different strategies:
1. Villain check-raises 10% (less than the population)
2. Villain check-raises 13% (the average for the population)
3. Villain check-raises 16% (more than the population)
We’re not done though. We still need to compare the solver strategy to what we think most humans will do. Here we have to rely on some assumptive work. Since we want to use a framework that is manageable, we’ll go through a sim of 15 flops that are a somewhat accurate representation of the 22100 possible flops. The goal is not absolute accuracy, but rather finding a base-line solution within a framework that is manageable. A higher number of flops would increase the accuracy of our research, but it will also increase the amount of time we spend on this. Time we can’t spend on other important spots.
When we go through a number of grids, two things stand out:
1. Our population doesn’t seem to check-raise as depolarized as the solver would (meaning they check-raise less of the mergy subsection of hands like weak top pair, MPTK etc.)
2. Our population doesn’t slow play as much as a solver would with the strongest hands in their range. This makes sense from a practical standpoint; the population also doesn’t barrel off enough as the in position player vs check-calling ranges, therefore check-raising early on is more incentivized.
Off course these are just assumptions and unless we do a range composition analyses in Hand2Note we can’t be sure of what our opponents range looks like, but I’m pretty confident that these assumptions are at least somewhat fair and should be weighed in when we node-lock our opponent strategy. The idea here is that including them will more likely than not increase the accuracy. One thing to keep in mind is that although our assumptions may seem reasonable, they are still assumptions and therefore should be always be weighed in to a certain degree. Over-adjusting the solver strategy might taint the results.
So when we node-lock villains strategy, we will make sure we only node-lock to a slightly less depolarized strategy and a slightly higher check-raising frequency with the nutted subsection of hands.
Running the script
One last thing we have to do is to get create a spreadsheet and play around with the check-raise frequency for the 15 flops we’re investigating to make sure the averages of the three strategies are close to the 10%, 13% and 16% benchmarks we’ve set out:
(Note that the average check-raise on these 15 flops is a bit lower than when we'd use a larger, more accurate subset of flops. This is something we have to account for moving forward.)
After that we’ve got a check-raising frequency for all three strategies on all 15 flops and we can use node-lock to match those frequencies, while also weighing in our assumptions. In the end we’ll end up with three different scripts, each one matching one of our benchmarks.
And then, all we have to do is investigate :)
Nov. 30, 2019 | 4:09 p.m.
Signing with PokerDetox
Today a big dream of me has come true: I've signed a deal with PokerDetox. It still feels surrealistic. Ever since Saulo pointed me towards their direction, I've eaten up every tiny bit of their content, slowly progressing day by day ever since. And now I'm just super thrilled to be taking the next step as a part of their CFP.
Since I've reached most of the goals from the beginning of this journal, I figured this would be a nice turning point. So I'm setting some fresh goals:
- Start working a day less to get some more time for poker.
- Learn to effectively plan study/playing time on forehand and follow that schedule rigidly.
- Play 500.000 hands before the end of 2020.
- Beat 50nl and 100nl with a significant win rate.
- Write at least one entry in this journal a week and focus them more on strategy and random thoughts and a little less on how things are going with the grind.
Nov. 19, 2019 | 11:14 p.m.
Well I'll tell you what Saulo told me: 'If you follow Nick Howard's content, you' ll be Allright. '
The direction you should towards is simplifying your game tree and finding out where the population is deviating from equilibrium. Find for instances spots where the population overfolds or underbluffs and adjust accordingly. There are a lot of free videos on the Pokerdetox YouTube channel that can help. Also read Saulo's blogs here on RIO, with the Postheumus of a Microstakes grinder in the Pursuit of Balance blog as a highlight.
If you want to talk some more, just hit me up via PM. I've been coaching another guy from RIO for a non-premium fee. And even if you're not going to be able to, I'd be happy to point you towards the right direction.
Nov. 15, 2019 | 1:33 p.m.
At the beginning of this year, I set some goals for myself. The most important was beating 10nl and 25nl. The first few months I struggled. I felt like I lacked direction. I had the energy, the time and the determination, I just didn't know where I was heading. I studied actively, watched videos, took notes, but still I felt like something was missing, hence the title of this journal. I came to a point where I realized I needed help. After reading Saulo’s blog, I decided to contact him to see if I could get coaching, but given the fact that I still pendled between 10nl and 25nl, I quickly came to realize that I wasn’t going to be able to afford him. So I explained my situation and asked him for advice. Generously enough, he took the time to give me just that and a little bit more. And it changed my trajectory completely.
For a while, I didn’t have a clear end game for poker. And as a struggling microstakes player, there’s not much more to fantasize about than getting yourself to a point where you are actually winning. For me, looking beyond that seemed pointless. Now that I found direction and the results are getting there, I can allow myself to look past the micro’s. I know I still have a long way to go. I’m nowhere near where I want to be. But seeing the progress I’ve made, I can finally admit to myself that some day I'd like to wake up and see if there are any games running at 500nl+. It’s still a long way, and maybe an endless one, but the last few weeks I started to realize that if I keep working hard, if I keep improving, it just might happen one day.
Moving up is hard
After moving up to 50nl, I found myself struggling again. I ran bad, but the games are tougher as well and it took me a while to adjust to the higher stakes. Now I’ve settled a bit and I feel way more comfortable. And even though the results are still not very good, I remind myself every day that learning the maximum every day is way more important than winnings this month. That’s also why I’ve applied to two CFP-programs (PokerDetox and BRPC from Saulo and Zinhao). Both seem like a good fit and even though I realize getting accepted a longshot, I feel like it’s the right path for me now. Let's hope they feel the same way!
Nov. 12, 2019 | 6:08 p.m.
Good luck man. One quick tip: use the lock-feature of GTO+ and don't focuss to much on how solver would play vs solver in a specific hand, because the population plays very imbalanced to begin with. It's also very easy to get lost in details of a specific hand that way:)
Oct. 15, 2019 | 5:12 p.m.
Crushing through 20 and hitting brick walls after
Last week I played a lot (for myself) on 20nl and I've crushed pretty hard. I've been working on keeping focussed and don't get distracted by my phone or the internet while playing, which has helped a lot. The fact that I couldn't lose a flip helped a lot as well, haha. I won a lot and by the end of the week I figured: why not take a few shots at 50nl again? My bankroll was sufficiënt, I had a lot of confidence, so why not dip my feet in the pool and see what happens?
It didn't went as fruitfull as hoped. The games we're pretty good, but especially in the beginning I got way to emotional. It's something I've strugled with every time I moved up and it's something that fades over time, but every session, every flip I felt like I had to win. Like the money suddenly mattered. I didn't play very good and lost quite a bit back over 3 sessions this weekend. There's light at the end of the tunnel though; over the stretch of these sessions I could feel myself getting more comfortable. It isn't that much harder. I'll get there.
The last few months I've thought a lot about what my endgoal is for myself in poker. I don't want to eventually turn pro. I have a wonderful job and I know that the stability that I need the stability and general happiness that it offers me. Yesterday I had a realization though: I think I might want to work a bit less, maybe offer coaching some day. Who knows.
Oct. 15, 2019 | 5:03 p.m.
Just bet 1/4th. You don't need a lot of folds. Just simplify your strategy and bet range here for 1/4th. You'll probably lose some EV, but it's better to play an imperfect strategy perfectly than to play a perfect strategy imperfectly. Besides making your strategy easy and his pretty hard (what does he have to peel for 1/4th?), you'll also have a very clear idea of what you range looks like on the turn.