Poker’s 1% Excerpt: Is This Relevant In My Small Stakes Game?

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This is the first of two excerpts from my forthcoming book, Poker’s 1%: The One Big Secret That Keeps Elite Players On Top, which releases on March 11, 2014.

Elite players (the 1%) and everyone else (the 99%) think about poker in completely different ways. It’s not like the 99% just need to get incrementally better at what they’re doing to join the 1%. They need a massive overhaul. They need to tear much of what they’ve learned down to the ground and rebuild their thought processes the right way.

I don’t claim it’s an easy thing to do. Some people will read my book and say, “You know what, that’s not for me. I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing.” It’s a perfectly reasonable reaction. But a lot of people will read the book and be inspired. They’ll want to do the work for the promise that they may possibly someday become truly elite at this game (and reap the rewards).

But here’s where lots of players run into an immediate roadblock. They’re trying to learn to think like an elite player, but they’re still playing in $1-$2, $1-$3, and $2-$5 games with the 99%. How do you use an elite-type thought process in these everyday games? That’s what this excerpt is all about.

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Is This Relevant In My Game?

“I play $1-$3 at my local casino. My opponents don’t know a flush from a straight. Is any of this relevant to me?”

My short answer is, yes, this is relevant. I think it’s relevant in three major ways.

First, let’s say you play $1-$2, $1-$3, $2-$5, or a similar game. Your opponents are not elite (understatement alert) at poker. Yet I’m guessing if you’ve been playing these games for a while, you have your share of frustrations with the game. These guys you play with, they make plenty of mistakes. This you know. But somehow you aren’t pulling $70 an hour out of your game. Why not?

I believe the answer is almost always twofold. First, you unwittingly make some of the same mistakes your opponents make. So even though they make a mistake, when it’s your turn to be in the same situation, you also make a mistake and give back your edge. Second, you fail to take advantage of many of the mistakes your opponents make. So even though the money is there for the taking, you don’t take it.

I believe the heart of this problem is the same as the problem with the generous craps table. A pass line bet wins 49.4% of the time. The difference between 49.4% and 50% is the house edge. If you were to find a magic craps table where a pass line bet wins 50.6% of the time, the house edge would be all yours. All you’d have to do is max bet the pass line repeatedly and eventually you’d be ready to buy the New York Yankees.

But even if the magic table were sitting right under your nose, you wouldn’t notice. It’s hard to tell the 49.4% table from the 50.6% table just by eyeballing it. It’s impossible if you’re not specifically looking for it. It’s even more impossible if you don’t even know what to look for.

The reality of the situation is that your opponents are making many, many mistakes that you are unable to identify because you don’t know what to look for. You also make many mistakes that you don’t know are mistakes because you don’t know what to look for.

Any mistake in no-limit hold’em can be identified and explained from a frequency-based perspective. What does this guy do wrong? Well, he bets the flop 80 percent of the time, but, when called, he only bets the turn 30 percent of the time.

Bam. That’s a huge error. How do you take advantage of it? Well, you could call the flop bet 70 percent of the time like you’re supposed to. But, because this error is so large, you can formulate an exploitative play to take even more advantage of this error. You could actually call this flop bet 100 percent of the time—yup, even with the no pair, no draw hands. Then the 70 percent of the time he checks to you on the turn, you bet.

If you’re like most of the rest of the 99%, this adjustment is one you don’t currently make. You never think, “Hey, this guy’s betting percentage plummets between the flop and turn. I exploit this by calling all his flop bets and torturing him on the turn.”

If you’ve read my book, Playing The Player, you’ve seen a series of similar adjustments that work to destroy typical live no-limit hold’em cash game players. I could explain every one of these adjustments from a frequency-based perspective. One of the big adjustments I recommend in that book is to exploit tight-aggressive players who like to bet-fold too frequently. For instance, on the turn their default play with a hand such as top pair will be to bet, planning to fold to a raise.

Well, what it means is that they are failing to defend 70 percent (or whatever the appropriate number might be, given all factors) of hands against the turn raise. They are failing consistently and predictably to defend in this specific situation. So what do you do? You raise, raise, raise. You raise two blank cards if the frequencies are off by enough.

And you print money, because they are not obeying the basic math of the game.

If you play live poker, your opponents will make enormous frequency-based mistakes on nearly every hand. It’s not like they are folding 40% of the time when they should be folding 35% of the time. They are folding 65% of the time when they should be folding 35% of the time. Gigantic mistakes, these. They make mistakes because they have no idea what the correct frequencies should be. But, more importantly, they make these mistakes because they play way too many hands before the flop.

If you play way too many hands before the flop, it is impossible to play after the flop with the correct frequencies.

When you add hands preflop, you are adding junk. None of the hands you add are good ones. They are all weak hands—hands that are, theoretically, too weak to be playing. This weakness carries forward through to every street. Therefore, it is nearly impossible not to fold too frequently on the turn and river when you are playing too many hands and you are up against an opponent who plays correctly.

Nearly everyone who plays live poker plays too many hands preflop. Therefore, nearly everyone who plays live poker will fold too frequently in many situations on the turn and river.

I believe that most of my edge in today’s live games comes from bluffing the turn and river in situations where I know my opponents fold too frequently.
Therefore, I believe that the most important reason to learn the frequency-based strategy if you play small stakes live poker is so you can systematically identify the massive mistakes your opponents make. Watch their frequencies. If they bet the flop and you call, how often do they bet the turn? Is it most of the time (i.e., 60-75 percent) or is it not?

When you call the turn, how often do they give up on the river rather than follow through? When you raise a flop continuation bet, do they call 70 percent of the time or much less? What types of board textures create what frequencies in your opponents?

If you pay attention to what your opponents do from a frequency-based perspective, you will very quickly see that your opponents’ frequencies are often way, way out of whack. Once you observe this, it’s a slam dunk that they are exploitable. The way to exploit them should also be similarly obvious. If they fold too much, you bluff. (Frequently, the theoretically correct bluffing frequency in these situations is 100%.) If they give up too frequently on the next street after one of their bets is called, you increase your calling frequency of the first bet and you bet the extra junk hands when they give up.

The game can become very simple when you view it from this perspective. You’re looking at frequencies, and you’re trying to find frequencies that are out of whack. When you find them, you adopt the simple counterstrategy. Then you profit. It’s really that easy. (Of course, the profit is served with a nice hunk of variance on the side. This is, after all, poker.)

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Order Poker’s 1% today. The PDF e-book format will ship on March 11, 2014. Other format e-books and the paperback will be ready a few weeks after that.