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Playing Plans and Strategies

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  • Playing Plans and Strategies

    I was shocked to see that I’ve been playing poker on and off for over 10 years starting out at Pokerroom and joining Pokerstars in 2015. I confess that I have never really had a proper plan or strategy, merely playing low stakes cash, Sit&Go games and tournaments as they took my fancy.

    In the beginning I can recall making several wins in tournaments. Looking back through my records (sadly I’ve kept screenshots of all my tournament wins) I see I made 3 in 2005, 5 in 2006 and not much since then, none in the last 3 years. My biggest ever win was a $20 tournament at Pokerroom where I won $1020 in 2006. I have never won a tournament at Pokerstars, in spite of entering several hundred.

    Now I find myself playing in a rather frustrating, break-even game and asking why I continue playing given the obvious decline in my success. I have considered giving up but I still enjoy playing for the competitive challenge and the ease with which you can engage in a game with other players with a wide choice of game formats. But, for now, I cannot say I am playing to make a profit. So why has that changed? I guess the simple answer is that the average skill of players has got much better and that improvement has exceeded any improvement I have made. There is so much more educational material available to poker players now in comparison to 2005 and many players can make use of database and software enhancements like heads-up-displays (HUDs). I do not use any of these.

    But perhaps, it is also that I don’t have a playing plan or strategy, I make a bit of money at small stakes and then lose it playing slightly higher stakes or tournaments, maintaining a bankroll that just treads water. I have sometimes made use of the educational and training videos at Pokerschool and elsewhere but probably not as much as I should.

    So now I feel it is time to press the reset button, devise a plan, develop and implement a strategy. I am going to pretend, that I am starting out at poker again, try to empty my head of any set preconceptions of how to play, learn from the beginning and start to manage a bankroll upwards. Devising the plan will involve analysing my recent results, the statistical occurrence of bad-beats and the relationship of these to bankroll management. The strategy will be to ensure that the selection of games leads to an increasing bankroll. I don’t plan to use any HUDs or other software, for now anyway.

    This is the first blog I have written and I shall be using subsequent posts to discipline myself into writing my plan, develop my strategy for bankroll management, review it and then do my best to stick to it for a year.
    Last edited by DrIbbo; Wed Jan 10, 2018, 04:27 PM.

  • #2
    step 1: start following bankroll management... that means that you need to have 100 buy-ins for whatever tourney level you are playing at.
    step 2: don't move up until you prove you can beat a given level of game (positive longterm ROI) over a sizeable quantity of games (1k for example).
    step 3: put in 2 hours of study/review for every 1 hour of playing (watching live training sessions, videos, reading, etc)

    6 Time Bracelet Winner

    Online Poker League
    Can you win the leaderboard?


    • #3
      Thanks, I've got quite a bit of data so I'll analyse that. Also just finished watching all ten of Pete Clarke's 6 max videos which were very useful


      • #4
        Bankrolls, bad runs and charity

        For my plan to drive my bankroll upwards this year I have decided to divide up my bankroll into 3 separate ‘bins’ and not allow crossover between them. These will be cash, Sit and Go and Tournaments.

        I need to decide on a starting bankroll for each ‘bin’ and that should be based on analysis of any previous play I have. On the Pokerschool site there is advice for bankroll management but this can only be general guidance as every individual has a different skill level and this will affect the size of bankroll they need to avoid going bust. Players that are only marginally profitable will need a larger bankroll than those that are better players. For losing players the only sensible bankroll advice is play for fun and don’t invest more than you can afford to lose.

        To see how this works I ran a simple simulation, for three players who won 55%, 60% or 80% of the time, generating random win-loss streaks where a loss represented total loss of the cash buy-in and the win represented a doubling of the cash ‘buy-in’, less the Pokerstars rake. The streaks were generated repeatedly and the percentage of times the bankroll went bust was calculated for each player for different starting bankrolls. The results are in the graph below.

        In this simulation the player that wins 55% of the time would need a starting bankroll of 25 ‘buy-ins’ to reduce the risk of going bust to 1%. The figures for the 60% winner are 14 buy-ins and those for the 80% winner 4 buy-ins. The graph also shows that no-one can ever guarantee their bankroll won’t go bust, there is always a small percentage chance any bankroll will be insufficient. The simulations also highlighted some very long bad runs, for the player that won 55% of the time, 9 losing events occurred consecutively on 3 occasions and even the player that won 80% of the time had 5 consecutive loses on one occasion. This is something like AA being cracked by JJ five times in a row. Bad runs like that can cause tilt or a sense of hopelessness in anyone although it helps me to see the simulation produce the bad runs in a comparable way to real play.

        This simulation cannot be used to select a bankroll, as the over simple design does not represent the vagaries of real play. The purpose of the exercise is to demonstrate how important it is to analyse your own performance before deciding on the bankroll you need to survive at that level. If you are a marginal winner you’ll need a larger bankroll than if you crush your game.

        So now I’ve analysed my data to help me with the plan for my cash game. I’ve most recently played full ring, 1c/2c Pot Limit Omaha and have data on over 22,500 hands played over 410 sessions. On each occasion I start with $2 and play until I lose it all or stop. I have treated each session as an independent observation and, for a set of different starting bankrolls, simulated play of 1000 sessions using random selections, with replacement, from my real data, repeating the exercise 1000 times. Then I counted the number of times I went bust for each starting bankroll and converted that to a percentage.

        As the graph shows I need 25 ‘buy-ins’ or $50 to reduce the risk of my bankroll going bust to 1%. If I felt like being braver I could increase my risk of going bust to 5% if I only used 18 ‘buy-ins’ or a $36 starting bankroll. I’m going to start with $50, as I hate losing my bankroll. Incidentally, the advice from Pokerstars is that cash players start with a bankroll of 10, 20 or 50 ‘buy-ins’ depending on whether they are recreational, serious or professional players. Looking at my simulations the bottom two look a bit light if players are to avoid going bust frequently.

        One can never be sure, but I feel reasonably confident I can beat the 1c/2c PLO game with a historical average of 12.5 BB won per 100 hands and leaving the table a winner 58% of the time. Perhaps it is time for me to think about moving up a level, so my strategy now is to start my cash plan with a $50 bankroll, play the 1c/2c PLO game until I have enough profit to buy-in to the 2c/5c PLO. If my bankroll falls below $50 I’ll keep playing the 1c/2c PLO game. AND I’ll keep analysing my play at both levels as well as invest time watching training videos and reading educational material.

        I’m also going to make a commitment to charity, so if at the end of 2018 my bankroll has more than I need for play in 2019, I’ll cash the excess out and give half the money to charity, probably my local children’s hospice.

        Next I’ll analyse my SNG and MTT stats to see what bankrolls I’ll need for those.
        Last edited by DrIbbo; Sat Jan 13, 2018, 12:38 PM.


        • #5
          Hi, I would say if you are looking to play omaha you will need alot more than 50 buy ins, I would say like 100 and that even still isnt safe.

          I would recommend this website to have a look if you want to understand the variance of the tables a little more. Its actually pretty scary when you start having a look at it.

          Gl on the grind


          • #6
            Thanks, yowagwan. I've had a look at that site. It does give some pretty scary results as you say much the same as my simulations. I did run my data through it as best I could but the use of the standard deviation (BB/100 hands) as a measurement tool isn't always appropriate with poker data. This is partly to do with poker data not conforming to a Normal distribution and partly because win rates per 100 hands don't accurately reflect the behaviour of poker players. For example, if I decide to play with $2 each day and either stop when I lose it all or once I've become tired, then the data is reduced to each day being a single observation with wins ranging from -$2 to infinity. If I lost $2 in one hand, that would give a loss of 10,000BB/100 hands and artificially inflates the variance, whereas that event is identical to losing my $2 after 10000 hands which would give a loss of 1BB/100 hands. The only real difference between the results is I spent alot more time playing poker in the second example. I suppose where all players at the table reset their stack to the max 'buy-in' at the start of every hand, this type of analysis would become more valid, provided the results fitted the Normal distribution, but I don't think many people do that consistently. I deliberately don't re-buy each hand because I know that will increase my variance because it removes the cap on my loses and in any case why would I want to continually reload when I'm losing at a table.

            I used a more appropriate bootstrapping technique for the analysis of my data where each visit to the table is counted as one observation and the simulations randomly sample the real data, replacing them each time. Repeating the simulations with that technique thousands of times gives a more accurate estimation of the confidence intervals because it is a better representation of player behaviour, so I'm confident my analysis works.

            Of course you do need a large sample size for the analysis and one can never guarantee not going bust with any bankroll, there is always a small chance that can happen, but I'm going to be content selecting a bankroll that only leaves a 1% chance of going bust according to my bootstrapping analysis.

            Just started playing the 6-max PLO instead of the full-ring game and my initial impression is the variance is lower as one might expect.

            Last edited by DrIbbo; Sun Jan 14, 2018, 03:01 PM.


            • #7
              In my last blog I analysed my Omaha PLO cash play and decided I needed to start with a bankroll of $50 to play at the 1c/2c level and be 99% certain of not going bust. Now I need to decide how much of a bankroll I need to play Sit and Go Tournaments (STTs). This is going to be more difficult because I haven’t played as many STT sessions as cash. Nearly all the games I’ve played have been NL Holdem or Omaha PLO.

              The first difficulty with the analysis is the huge variety of STT games that are available for the micro stakes players at Pokerstars. Ignoring the heads up games in NL Holdem there are 7 ‘buy-ins’ ranging from $0.02 to $4.50, with games for 6 to 360 players, with 6 max and full ring tables as well as hyper, turbo and normal speeds and games with 50/50, knock-out and standard win structures. That is a huge array of STT variants bound to satisfy any need.

              Unfortunately, although I have played quite a few of the variants I haven’t collected enough data on any individual variant, except the 10c, 360 man, to perform any useful analysis that would give me some idea of how much of a starting bankroll I would need. The advice from Pokerstars is that a serious player would need to start with 30x the ‘buy-in’ and a professional would need 100x the ‘buy-in’.

              I like to play the 10c, 360 man game sometimes in front of the TV when I don’t have to concentrate very much. It is not very representative of the other STTs and with the turbo structure and looser than average play the variance is high, so I’m not sure the analysis has much value but here goes anyway.

              From playing 125, 10c games I have a profit of $0.54, which is an ROI of 4.3%. After running a bootstrapping analysis of the results over 1000’s of simulations I conclude I would need around 190 ‘buy-ins’ to reduce my risk of the bankroll going bust to 1% (see graph below).

              Clearly the variance in the 10c is high, so I’m going to ignore this and move to a game with a lower variance and collect data for one STT variant before repeating this type of analysis. My choice of game to start is going to be the $0.23 + $0.02, 45 man STT. I’m going to take a slightly more conservative approach than the Pokerstars advice and start with a bankroll of 40x the ‘buy-in’ which is $20, and hope that will be enough for me to play 100 games before the bankroll expires. I’ll watch some training videos before I start.

              ​​​​​​Together with my $50 cash game bankroll that will make $70 and next I’ll review my bankroll needs to play tournaments.

              Watched a nice video on PLO from Dale ‘Daleroxxu’ Philip today.


              • #8
                My main games are sng's... I use 100 buy-ins for my bankroll management. When playing these, you WILL have sets of them where you will lose 25-35 of these in a row (and will still turn a nice profit longterm if playing them correctly.
                I'm going to finish a challenge I was hoping to have done by the end of the year of playing 1000 9-man STTs, but on the site I have to play mine on (I'm in the US, so can't play the cash ones on PS) they don't always have games running, so I'm only in the 900's for games played. I've had multiple streaks of the 25-35 losses (have had sets of 100 games anywhere from a -35% ROI to a +35% ROI) and will most likely finish with an overall ROI of just under 10%.

                If you want to play sng's (especially STT's), then what you'll need to study and work on is ICM play.

                6 Time Bracelet Winner

                Online Poker League
                Can you win the leaderboard?


                • #9
                  Thanks JWK24, I was definitely going to do a fair bit of studying before I get stuck into these. I'm also mindful of the rake levels as they seem to vary quite a bit even within Pokerstars.

                  GL with your final 100


                  • #10
                    Once I get home, I'm going to start streaming sng's again on my twitch channel, so if you're free when I stream some, take a peek. While playing, I give my reasoning for making plays, take ?'s, etc. I'll post a schedule on my channel in a couple days.

                    6 Time Bracelet Winner

                    Online Poker League
                    Can you win the leaderboard?


                    • #11
                      Thanks, I'll look out for those although I'm about to go on holiday for a little while and won't be back until Feb


                      • #12
                        Previously, in a couple of posts I wrote about how I decided on the bankrolls I needed for PLO cash games and NLH STTs. Now it the turn of deciding how much I need to play tournaments without going bust. My target tournaments will be micro/low stakes NLH and Omaha. Ideally to make any kind of sensible analysis I need to have a good data set for recent past tournament play. Not surprisingly my play has been across a range of stake sizes so in order to analyse it I’ve had to standardise the results to a single stake size by dividing all wins and losses by the stake size, thus converting all tournaments to a buy-in of 1 dollar.

                        I’ve decided to play mostly PLO tournaments and so I’ve stuck to analysing those results. I am marginally profitable over 142 tournaments and have an ROI of 6.2%. These aren’t great stats but I haven’t won any, have an ITM score of 26.8% and only been placed on a final table twice. Looks as though I can get to the money frequently enough but can’t break one.

                        So using a bootstrapping analysis of my results over thousands of simulations it looks as though to be 95% certain of not going bust I’d need 90 buy-ins and to be 99% certain of not going bust I’d need about 110 buy-ins (see the graph below).

                        This is somewhat higher than the advice from Pokerschool that suggests 50 ‘buy-ins’ for ‘serious’ players and 200 for professionals, but my higher assessment results from the higher variance of PLO and my somewhat marginal profitability.

                        We should treat the analysis of tournament results with some scepticism when it comes to bankroll management because the results are so skewed to finishes in the top 3. If I had managed to fluke one win in my data the assessment of ‘buy-ins’ needed would be much lower.

                        So lets settle for 110 ‘buy-ins’ which since I play micro/low stakes I’m going to set at $2.20, which amounts to $242, plus my $50 for cash play and $20 for STTs, a total of $312.

                        I’m committed to improving my game through review and training. I’ll update as I go through the year and if at the end I have enough to cover next year’s bankroll I repeat my promise to give half of the excess winnings to charity.


                        • #13
                          I play sng's by the hundreds (just did a blog on a block of 1000 of them). I use 100 buy-ins as my baseline for all of my non-hyper sng's and mtt's.

                          6 Time Bracelet Winner

                          Online Poker League
                          Can you win the leaderboard?


                          • #14
                            Right so you’ve been playing low stakes poker cash games for a while and you’ve made a profit and you’re thinking of moving up a level. Wherever you look the advice is make sure you are winning at your current level and you’ll know this because you have been keeping records of all your play and you have played the benchmark number of hands, usually stated as being between 10,000 and 30,000 hands.

                            Am I a winner?

                            Should be easy, work out your win rate and standard deviation in BB/100 hands. Assume all the data is a sample from the same population, the population distribution approximates the normal distribution (looks like a bell-shaped curve) and that you have sampled across the population randomly. But lets pause a minute, is it easier to ask,

                            ‘What is the mean length of ants?

                            Let me explain. I’ll use my own experience of playing 22,600 1c/2c PLO full-ring cash game hands. Lets imagine that is 22,600 individual measurements of ant lengths.

                            The first assumption, in our analysis, is that the data is sampled from the same population. I’m certain this isn’t a correct assumption. In those ‘full-ring’ cash games I might be playing anything between 2-9 players and those players might be playing with anything between 10BB to 200BB or more stacks. No-one can say they play the same on a 3-handed table against short stacks as they do on a 9-handed table where everyone is filled up. Stack sizes are critically important because we are measuring our results in cash and you can only win or lose what you and your opponents have behind you. So we shouldn’t lump all these different situations into the same population. Further the position of the stacks is important in determining your play as well. Even if we simplify this by saying there are three stack sizes large, medium and small and distributing these around 9 players we derive potentially 19,683 combinations of the 3 stack sizes and position. To this we need to add combinations for tables with 8 or fewer players. If there are 8 players the stack size/position combinations are 6561, for 7 it is 2187 and so on bringing a total of 29520 combinations of stack sizes, position and table size. Compare this to the number of ants species estimated at around 12,000. In the treatment of ant lengths we would probably consider each species as a separate population to sample, because it is difficult to sample adequately across 12,000 species.

                            Next we have to consider the different types of players there are and how they might be distributed across the table. Pokerstars provides 8 coloured labels for annotating different poker player types and at a 9-ring table there are 8 opponents, which could be any of the eight types. Potentially that is over 16.7 million combinations of opponent types and position. In comparison, I think there are only 6 ant types: egg, grub, worker, soldier, male and queen. Their position in a nest might be important for sampling.

                            Have we sampled randomly? Are we happy with our sample size? The answer is probably not in both cases. We often select tables, avoiding regular good players or based on table activity. That is not random sampling. How do we feel about sample size? In PLO, there are 270,725 (52C4) possible hand combinations. At a 9-handed table after the first player is dealt 4 cards the next player could have 194,580 (48C4) possible hands combinations, the next 135,751 (44C4) and so on. This gives a total of 1.45x1042 potential distribution of cards at a 9-handed PLO table. This then has to be multiplied by the 87,360 possible outcomes for the flop, turn and river. I know that some of these hands are equivalent and are therefore not strictly different, but we do get the idea that we are dealing with a very large population and who knows, some players might play hearts more often than spades. The total number of ants in the world is estimated to be far less, somewhere between 1x1020 and 1x1022 individuals and some of these will also be virtually identical in the same way as AK in clubs is the same as AK in hearts.

                            Interestingly, I had a quick look at Pokerstars and so far only 1.8x1011 poker hands have been dealt altogether. Only a small proportion of those would be PLO hands so the sample of hands dealt is as yet nowhere near the potential population. Every hand/situation combination we are going to be dealt in the future is likely to be different to anything we have seen in the past.

                            So before giving too much credence to your poker stats and the analysis of it, ask yourself. How would you measure the mean length of 1x1022 ants distributed amongst 12,000 species? Would you be happy with a non-random estimate derived from 22,600 measurements. That being said what choice do we have but to analyse the data we have, provided we know it does not answer the question. ‘Will we be a winner over the next 10,000 hands?’

                            Turning to my own poker play, this is a blog after all. I have played 22,600 1c/2c PLO cash games with a win rate of 12.2BB/100 hands and s.d. of 107BB/100 hands. That gives me ‘95% confidence intervals’ that lie between -1.71 and 26.1BB/100 hands, and ‘90% confidence intervals’ that lie between 0.53 and 22.9BB/100 hands. So I can be 90% confident that I am a winner, provided I believe I can measure the mean length of ants with 22,600 measurements.


                            • #15
                              Just suffered two bad beats in two consecutive hands (74% favourite in first and then 92%) at low stakes PLO 6-max to bust me out, so time to write a quick blog to calm down.

                              At the end of last year I finished about 22,000 hands playing full ring 1c/2c PLO cash and showed a profit of around $57. Whilst I was quite pleased with this, I looked at the grind data and noticed I was up $86 after 17,000 of those hands meaning over the last 5,000, I down $29. The graph looks horrible, like an upturned V.

                              I remember this phase quite distinctly, I had a couple of bad beats to start it off and feeling I had the game beat, combined with a sense of ‘boredom’ from the grind, I started to chase the lost money. I think I forgot that bad players get good cards as often as everyone else. I played too many starting hands and stuck with pots for too long and no matter what I did I couldn't seem to get any strategy to work.

                              I’m now in the middle of a new grind with the target of playing 10,000 hands at 6 max 1c/2c PLO cash. At 6,600 hands I was up $44, but over the course of the next 800 hands I managed to lose $4. Even though I love playing PLO cash I began to think I was about to go through another long phase of ‘boredom’ tilt. So, reluctantly I gave up poker for two days before returning to the grind. The result was I returned fresh and got my recent loses and more back over 400 hands. I was up $46 after 7,800 hands. That was until the afore-mentioned bad beats that have knocked it back to $44. Got to laugh and resist a different kind of tilt now, I’ll take a break for the rest of the evening I think.



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