I discuss the 5 essential concepts for poker profitability: EV, play the player, bankroll management, table selection and the mental game.
In episode 206, I answered 4 questions about studying apathy, the SPS archive, JTo and learning from showdowns.
The 5 Essential Concepts of Playing Profitable Poker
1. EV Decision-making (2:55)
EV stands for expected value, and it’s the value of a prospective play.
Why is EV Decision-making important?
Thinking in terms of EV means that you’re giving more than just some casual thought to your next button click. If you’re working with an EV mindset, you’re trying to think at a deeper level when making decisions. You’re considering all of your options, and you’re thinking about the value of each of them.
Poker is one big math problem so EV decision-making gives you a more logical mathematical approach to playing poker.
Here’s a common non-EV approach to a hand: a player looks down to see that they have a flush draw. They get a little excited and think to themselves, “Geez, I hope I get my flush on the next street.” Then they unthinkingly call the flop in an order to see the next street.
But somebody with an EV mindset will instead think, “I have a flush draw, and I’m out of position. What’s my best play here? Should I just check/call? Should I check/raise to bluff them off the pot? Or, should I donk bet in order to make them think I hit a really strong hand?”
The person who plays with an EV mindset is going to consider all of their options before they click a button, and they’re going to go with the most +EV option.
Every decision you make lies along an EV spectrum.
Right in the middle of the spectrum is neutral or 0EV. This is a decision that neither makes you money nor costs you money in the long run. It’s like folding your hand on the BTN 1 million times. You haven’t committed any chips yet to the pot, so whether you fold AA or 72o, your chip stack is the exact same at the end of the hand. So, the EV value of folding on the BTN is $0.
To the right of the 0EV center are +EV decisions, the ones that earn you some amount of money. And some decisions are more +EV or profitable than others. Consider AA. 3betting with AA preflop is definitely +EV. But, there might be times based on the opponents, bet sizing or tournament conditions that calling could be a more profitable move.
To the left of 0EV on the spectrum is -EV. These are all decisions that cost you money in the long-run. Sure, you might hit your flush on the next street this time, but if it’s mathematically not profitable for you to call on the flop, in the long run you’re just handing money over to your opponent.
How can you practice EV decision-making?
On the felt, you can put a focus on considering all of your options before you click that button. Too many players auto-3bet or cbet or call in different situations. Your goal in playing with an EV mindset is to place each decision along the EV spectrum and choose the one that is most +EV.
The other way you can practice an EV mindset is off the felt. As you review your hands, take the time to really consider your decisions and gauge where each decision lands on a EV spectrum. You can print and laminate the screenshot and use it off the felt for practice. Take the time to determine which option is most +EV and resolve to make that play in the future.
The final thing that you can is use an EV calculator as you review hands. SplitSuit at RedChipPoker.com has a great free and easy to use EV calculator to get you started: https://redchippoker.com/simple-poker-ev-calculator/
2. Play the Player (7:20)
Why do you want to play the player?
Beginning players are at Level I: they think only about their cards and their hand strength in relation to the board.
Level II players think about the other player’s hand and their tendencies. Their goal is to understand the villain in an effort to exploit them by bluffing them off pots or gaining extra value. When you understand your opponents, you realize that there are many +EV options available to you.
When a Level I player flops a 2p hand, they’re prone to just bet, bet and bet again.
But, if a Level II player knows their opponent’s tendencies, they’ve got other options. Maybe Villain hates to bet then fold post-flop. So, the Level II player exploits this by checking then raising on the flop. Villain is predisposed to call, which builds the pot for bigger turn and river bets. This earns a Level II player more than a Level I player would’ve made.
How do you put “play the player” into action?
Study player types at your stakes. There are LAG’s, TAG’s, Nits and Fish of varying degrees. How do each of these player types choose their hands pre-flop? How do these player types play post-flop? You want to look for tendencies in the various player types at your stakes so you can devise ways to exploit them. You might know of a lot of TAG players who cbet almost every flop, but they double-barrel only when they’ve got the goods. Great! Against these players, call every one of their flop cbets when IP, then fire the turn when they check. Bam! Money-making exploits put to use.
Also, utilize your HUD. It isn’t there just for looks. Use the percentages to gauge your opponent’s tendencies then find opportunities to exploit them.
3. Bankroll Management (12:05)
Why is bankroll management important?
You’ve got to have money in order to make money and without bankroll management, you’re likely to lose your bankroll. Profitable poker involves building up your bankroll so you can safely move up in stakes and make even more profits. Somebody who’s a 10bb/hour winner is going to make a lot more money at $5/$10 than at $1/$2. The higher the stakes, the more potential profit.
Also, bankroll management keeps you in control of your money and doesn’t let your emotions get in the way. Here’s something I’ve done before. I lost 5 $7 SNG’s in a row. I was tilting and angry, so I decided to play a $30 SNG in order to turn a quick profit. I wasn’t rolled for it nor was I ready for that level of play. Of course, I lost and compounded my losses for the day with that stupid -EV choice.
What are my recommendations for bankroll management?
If you’re cash game player, I recommend having 40 to 60 buy-ins for the level that you play. This can be hard to do for LIVE players. Even at $1/$2 stakes, a standard buy-in is $200, x40 means you need $8,000 to play these stakes. So, 40 to 60 bi’s is definitely a good rule of thumb for online, but for LIVE players, you’ve got to do the best you can.
If you’re an MTT or SNG player, I recommend between 100 and 200 buy-ins, preferably closer to 200. We all know the variance involved in tournaments, so 200 bi’s isn’t an unreasonable target. This just makes for a great safety cushion as you grind them tourneys.
It is okay to take occasional shots, especially if your bankroll is over the required amount. If you play with the 40x bi requirement for cash games, and you’re at 50x, great! Throw in the occasional buy-in at the next level to see if you can’t earn some extra profits and gain some experience.
And if at all possible, don’t withdraw your money from your bankroll. Your goal is to build your bankroll so you can move up safely to the next level and make more money. If you continually withdraw money and you’re always at 40 buy-ins, you’ll forever be stuck there.
For more bankroll management, check out this post from TopPokerValue.com.
4. Table and Seat Selection (15:15)
Why is table selection so important?
The players that you play with are a huge factor in your profitability. Let’s look at a couple of extreme examples.
The 1st example is you’re at a FR table with 8 highly skilled players who’re all better than you. Being the worst at the table gives you a very low probability of making any money this session.
Next, let’s look at the other extreme: you’re the single best person at the table with 8 other first-time poker players. Yep, totally profitable situation to be in.
You are going to make poker more profitable by sitting at tables with many players who are worse than you.
Seat selection example: you’re at a FR table with 2 equally skilled players on your direct left and 6 other fish. It’s going to be tough to make money and exploit the other players at the table because these 2 are going to exploit your exploits as much as possible. But if the other 2 players are to your right or directly across the table from you, you’ll have more opportunities to exploit them and the fish.
How are you going to practice table/seat selection?
Look for profitable tables and profitable seats. If you’re an online player you must go by the rules of the site, but do your best to leave unprofitable tables and find profitable ones. If you’re a LIVE cash game player, it’s a bit different. Put your name on the wait list then observe the tables. If you get sat at a good table, stay there. If the one next to you is more profitable, then request a table change. If you’re seated in a bad seat, wait for a good one to open up, throw a chip across the table, announce “seat change” and make your move. The key thing here is to not stay at unprofitable tables or unprofitable seats.
Life is too short to play in unprofitable poker situations.
5. The Mental Game (17:40)
Why is the mental game so important?
The mental game is important because it’s the most insidious, costly, and yet hard to fix issue for most players. Most players know that they suffer from some kind of anger or tilt issues, but they often don’t know how to resolve them. Let’s look at how tilt can affect the other 4 concepts already mentioned.
The first was “EV Decision-making”. Anger kicks EV decision to the curb. You begin making your plays based on your hand, the board, your hatred of your opponent or your eagerness to finally win a pot. You stop thinking through things and act on emotion, which leads to chip spew.
The second was “Play the Player”. We’ve all done this: we’re tilted because the donk over there sucked out on us, so now we target him and play every hand he does in order to get revenge and earn our chips back. We put ourselves in terrible situations with crappy cards, and we spew off chips to get them to fold or in hopes of catching our miracle river 6 high back-door straight draw.
The third was “Bankroll Management”. Anger can easily cause you to spew stacks off, or like I mentioned earlier, buy into games too big for your roll and you’re not even mentally prepared to tackle that bigger game so you lose more money.
The final aspect was “Table and Seat Selection”. Exhaustion, distraction or anger can cause you to miss the fact that you’re at a terrible table or seat. These factors can also cause you to stay at the casino longer then normal and play at a sub-par level. You know that you should be leaving, but your inability to think straight is causing you to stay longer to try to win back your losses.
What can you do about this mental game issue?
Once you are aware that you have an issue you can work to fix it. I recommend that you start journaling on what sets you on tilt. When you notice your emotions rising, take a breath and tag the hand for later review. What happened to get your heart beating? What did you do or your opponents do to get you angry? What situation is setting your emotions rising? Whatever it is, journal about it so you can start to deal with those issues.
Next, prepare for how to handle eventual anger/tilty situations. When you know the situations that tilt you, you can create a plan to deal with them in a safe and sane way.
I recommend that you read books or listen to mindset-type content. Start with anything from Jared Tendler and Dr. Tricia Cardner: they’ve both got books and podcasts to help you out.
And lastly be honest with yourself and confront your tilting demons. Don’t act like it’s no big deal. Tilt and mental game issues cause major losses and poker setbacks. Don’t let yourself become a poker mindset casualty.
Here’s my challenge to you for this episode: Use Splitsuit’s EV calculator to run some EV calculations with your own hands. Maybe look for good 3bet bluff opportunities, check-raise semi-bluffing opportunities or simple flop bluff cbet opportunities. Run the calculations to see the EV of the play you’re considering. You’ll learn a lot from this exercise, especially if you’ve never considered the profitability of individual plays before.
Now it’s your turn to pull the trigger and do something positive for your poker game.
Support the Show
Daniel Koffler supported the show by picking up PokerTracker 4 through my affiliate link. I sent him my Smart HUD in appreciation.
Hai Le is working to become a math master by purchasing and studying the Poker Mathematics Webinar that I did with Mark Warner. This webinar is full of critical math concepts that help you make the best decisions at the tables.
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In episode 208, I’m going to discuss making the transition from TAG to LAG play.
Until next time, study smart, play much and make your next session the best one yet.