Wednesday, July 22, 2009

How To Win At Online Poker

I haven't been writing much on the game of poker itself lately - more trip reports and the like - but have had some thoughts that I think are share-worthy. Here goes:

You're not as good as you think you are.

This is true for virtually every poker player in the world. Very likely all of them. The reason I bring this up is because of a post I saw recently in a forum that said, and I paraphrase but it's pretty close: "I'm a 10bb/100 winner for the whole year, but this last month has been just sick and I can't seem to win!" I have bad news for you, buddy. Unless your win-rate is 10bb/100 AFTER the sick downswing, you're not a 10bb/100 winner for this year. You can't disregard downswings when you look at your win-rate, unless you also disregard hot streaks - and no one does that.

I think it's a fair guess to say that most people lie about their win-rates. Not just to others, but to themselves, too. They think it makes sense to look at the best part of the year and assume that to be their expectation, and then wonder why they keep running so bad.

My tip: Stop worrying about your win-rate. Unless it's negative, it doesn't tell you much that you can use anyway (and if it's negative the implication may be that you should stop playing poker altogether), and there are plenty of things poker-related for you to occupy your mind with that doesn't have to do with win-rates. And stop comparing you win-rate to that of other players; what good can come of that? If you want a pastime with bragging rights, take up golf and compare handicaps or high jump and compare personal bests, but comparing win-rates is like comparing... See, I don't even have a good analogy for it, that's how dumb and useless it is. And it's dumb especially because some people may have low win-rates over a huge number of tables, while others have a very high one playing 1-2 tables only. Why is the comparison interesting? We already know that we give up a little expectation with every table we open.

Which sorta brings me to my next point:

I'm not the best player I know.

I discussed this with Debi in Vegas at some point, and while it hurts my ego a little to admit it, I don't think I'm the best cash game player at CardsChat. Some of you reading this will go "duh!" and that's fair enough, but I haven't gotten to the point yet:

I don't think I'm the best player at CardsChat, but from what I gather, I may be the most consistent cash game winner. Curious, isn't it? And I'm obviously not looking at win-rates here (although if you talk about consistency they may have some merit) but just long term consistent results. Most people, and some of them quite possibly better players than I am, just don't seem to be able to "stay" at 200NL, and I've never left once I got there. So what's the difference?

My guess? Tilt.

Not just angry-spewing-chips-because-someone-sucked-out-on-you tilt, but what Tommy Angelo would define as tilt: Not playing your A-game. Like playing for 7 hours in a row, without a real break. Playing too many tables when you start losing focus and not close a few of them because your ego and pride tells you that you can still win. And lot of this is caused by chasing bonuses and rakeback when your objective should be to win the other guy's money.

The focus on "volume" is so very misplaced. Yeah, you need to put in a certain amount of time every month to make whatever amount it is you've decided you need to make, but volume is the means, not the goal. Once you make it your goal, you're on the path to self-destruction, and it starts by chasing bonuses and things like supernova-status. Because all of a sudden, you distance yourself from your goal of winning money - and you probably already know that you make the most money when you're alert, playing a sensible number of tables and taking real breaks at least every two hours - and instead sit and "grind" until you can't keep your eyes open anymore.

(I wish there was some way of filtering for winnings as a function of how long into the session the player is. My bet is that looking at such a graph would be a wake-up call to many online grinders. On second thought, perhaps I shouldn't wish for such a functionality; it's in my best interest to keep the other regulars tired and desperate.)

Seriously, play your A-game. If you can't play your A-game, don't play. If you're "only 3,000 hands away from making platinum star" and you need to finish that today and you're tired, then shrug and go "aww, I guess I won't be making platinum star this month" instead of desperately trying to get the volume in when you're not in shape to play.

If you tell yourself that you're good enough to beat 200NL while playing your B-game, you're most likely kidding yourself. The 200NL tables at most sites (at least all of them that I've played) are full of people who play for a living, and while your B-game may theoretically beat their A-games, you're not playing a zero-sum game. Over the 250k+ hands I've played at 200NL, I've paid about 5.8bb/100 in rake. So you have to beat your tables by more than that to show a profit at all. I wonder if people understand that. What I'm saying is that it's not enough for you to be better than your opponents, you have to be a lot better, otherwise you won't be a winner - you'll just be the guy who loses the least. Grats, you.

So yeah, while I'm pretty sure there are people at CardsChat whose A-games are better than my A-game, I think I'm the guy who spends the most time actually playing my A-game. Or there are CC members who've won a lot more than I have and just shut up about it - that's quite possible, but is beside the point. I'm not writing this to impress or upstage anyone, but I'm trying to point out that being awesome* isn't enough - you actually have to play awesome just about every second you spend at the table. Playing "ok" won't cut it.


On Monday, before lunch, I had played more hands of poker than in my entire stay in Vegas.


It's good to be home.

* And I know awesome when I see it.


Belgo said...

A lot of truth in this post. As always.

WVHillbilly said...

Great post, Fredrik.

By my definition, playing your A-game more often, tilting less, and recovering from tilt more quickly is what makes the best player. Just having the best A-game isn't enough.

Were the cats happy to see you back?

Fredrik Paulsson: said...

Yeah, uh... The cats could have cared less. :)

Lemlywinks said...

I really like your introspective writing style FP. You bought 10 books in Vegas, ever consider writing one?

Fredrik Paulsson: said...

I'd write a book if I had any kind of coherent idea of what to put in it. Unfortunately, I don't, so I'll stick with the blog until I do. :)

Tildy said...

Humor me here...

1: Playing 7-hour marathon sessions prevents makes one tired and tilty and prevents one from playing ones A-game.
2: I rarely let you play poker for more than 2 hours without complaining and asking if you'll be done soon.
1+2=3: Your awesomeness at poker is really all thanks to me.

-The wife, kidding on the square.

Yorkshire Pud said...

I try to tell a load of people that they aren't as good as they think they are but they don't listen.

One player I know ran up some great tournament results but now the heater is over he has gone busto twice.

Nice post