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How to train your game in poker
January 30th, 2015 by John Anhalt in

A little more than 11 years ago now, I decided I wanted to learn to play poker. I could see it was starting to just get popular, and that within a few years it would be booming. This was basically right after the Money Maker effect (Chris Moneymaker – first amateur to win the WSOP main event in 2003), even though at the time of my decision, I had no idea who Moneymaker was. I started off on a quest to learn how to win money at this game, and like everything I do, when I commit, I fully commit to something until I feel I’ve mastered it at some high level.

I’ve won a lot of money at online poker. How much you might ask? I’m not telling. :) But let’s just say it’s well into six figure numbers. I don’t play nearly as much as I used to simply because the access isn’t the same anymore post black Friday for U.S. based players. I’m also not comfortable keeping a lot of money online since I still haven’t gotten most of my pre-black Friday bank roll back. I also thought I lost a second bankroll playing post black Friday when it took me 11 months to get my money off another site (that I won’t mention here, because they’ve supposedly gotten better at withdrawals now). Regardless, I like to play more recreational, and not keep a lot of money online anymore. I’ve posted some of my post black Friday stats on other places. I’ll include them here below just so you have an idea that I know what I’m doing. But stats aren’t everything.

Black Friday Poker
John Anhalt – Some Post Black Friday Stats.

 

See, I won at 36.24 bb/100 at 100NL… crushing! lol In  all seriousness I wanted to provide a road map of how I took one $50 deposit to online poker, and turned it into, well, a nice chunk of change. I’ve never gone broke once in 11 years, and I’ve sustained high winrates no matter how much the game has “changed”. This is literally a step-by-step on what I did. My hope is that you can find some things about this process that make sense to use and learn from. This is my poker and business journey:

 

  1. The game begins pre-flop. So duhh, I better learn how and what kinds of hands I should be getting involved with. Now when I made my very first deposit, I started playing limit holdem. I eventually switched to no-limit full ring, and then 6-max and short handed. BUT, what I learned from limit was really important. If you’re currently playing no-limit, I wouldn’t say go out and learn limit, but it couldn’t hurt. There’s a lot of valuable things I used to apply to my game. Especially about how to look at a hand from a showdown perspective. That really helped because I needed to think about what kinds of hands I could get to showdown with and win, and what not to get involved with VERY early. What I still see in a LOT of players games is REALLY REALLY poor pre-flop decision making. Everything from card choice, to raise and re-raise sizing. And this is your first real decision when you’re in a hand. If you’re already fucking that part up, how do you think the rest of the hand is going to go? :)
  2. So what did I do? I first read a couple of books on limit holdem. I realized I needed to really understand pre-flop play if I was even going to really start at this game. So before I played my first hand for real money, I found an excel spreadsheet by a limit player back in the day that created a bunch of random scenarios and asked you if you should call, fold or raise. It was really crude, but it was based on Sklansky hand groupings and it made sense based on other information I was reading at the time. So I played and played that thing until I got the answers right. And if I got something wrong and didn’t understand, I asked someone in a poker forum. And when I say I did those drills, I mean, I did them on my lunch break, I did them when I got home for an hour or two when I could, and I thought about it. Because of how important I think learning this part was to the success of my game, I created Ace Poker Drills pre-flop trainer. A much more sophisticated version of the rudimentary excel spreadsheet I learned from. And I made a no-limit version that worked for full ring and 6-max. I believe that training in this way and mastering this part of your game, it will create the solid foundation you need so you’re not compounding mistakes, and getting into post flop situations you never should have been in to begin with. If you haven’t checked out the APD poker quiz training application, I suggest you do. It’s not just a shameless plug, but it’s literally the reason I created it. I know how invaluable it was to my success.
  3. I played one table at a time, and took EXTENSIVE notes. I literally sat with a pen and paper and tried to guess hands based on bet sizing and how the action was developing. I wrote about what kind of player I thought each person was, and thought about what I could do to exploit that style of play. I had pages and pages of notes and hands, and I reflected on my own play, mistakes I made or things I could have done better.
  4. I invested in a poker database. Which at the time, there was really only Poker Tracker and Poker Office on the market. Holdem Manager didn’t exist yet, and wouldn’t for some time.
  5. I started logging my hands, and replaying every hand I was involved with. And this is where the poker bomb started to explode for me because I was like, wow, I can create a lot of really cool filters. Oh, and certain players who are clearly good have a certain range of stats for each of these spots. DING… this was my first poker enlightenment if you will, and one of the insights that eventually led to Leak Buster. People didn’t want to believe at the time how crucial certain ranges of stats were, and some people believe it or not, still don’t. Those people are too kool! Oh…. and I still only one tabled. :)
  6. I discovered 2+2 forums through some of their books, and started posting hands and asking lots of questions. I couldn’t believe there were people breaking down hands and analyzing them like this, and I quickly joined the nerd festivous!
  7. I began making the transition into no-limit games, and started crushing those games pretty quickly. I actually had a winrate at 25nl and 50nl of over 22bb/100 for over 200k hands at one point. I lost a lot of my old database info, but I have a couple of snap shots from back in the day. Note, these winrates are calculated in big bets, and not big blinds. So the bb/100 is actually double what’s shown.
  8. Old winrates from PokerTracker.
  9. I made some poker friends, and we started a chat channel on IRC (people use skype now, but Skype didn’t exist at that point). We’d discussed lots of hands, and also sweated each other live while we played. I began multi-tabling and started playing more 6-max.
  10. I answered as many questions about hands from other people as I could, and started thinking and analyzing a lot of common perceptions about no-limit holdem. I realized there were tons of gaps in how people looked at the game, such as check/calling and leading the turn, and 3-betting to strengthen your perceived range. Believe it or not, a lot of people and regulars still didn’t really 3-bet bluff. 4-bet bluff? Ha… almost never.
  11. I began replaying hands and focusing A LOT on range. I’d take an entire session and filter in my database for every hand that went to showdown. I’d then hide my opponents hole cards, and replay the hand. I wrote out what I thought their hands were on the turn and river with a pencil and  paper. I’d also estimate what I thought my equity was against that range. I’d also circle one or two hands, and see how often I could guess their exact hand. I’d then take out poker stove, and punch in that range and see how close I was.  This was my next poker enlightenment because I realized how often I could find profitable bluffing situations where my equity was still high. I started breaking down what kinds of situations and board textures carried those high equity spots and started studying them extensively.
  12. I started moving up stakes pretty quick and was beating 1/2nl over a large sample and started moving into 2/4 and 3/6NL.
  13. I discovered a site called real poker training. It was mainly for tournaments, but it gave me an idea. I could do something similar, but much better and focus mainly on cash games. I began writing lots of material and recruiting my poker friends to write content. PokerZion.com was soon formed.
  14. I started doing some coaching, and wrote a ton of strategy articles for 2+2. Many of those are still “welled” on their forums. Between PokerZion, coaching, and playing, I was making decent money. Unfortunetly, this was going to be the boom of poker training and material, as Cardrunners and other upstarts would hit the field with lots of money and top players.
  15. I realized that there was going to be a lot of good players, guys I played against and respected, getting into this market and it was going to get saturated. So I began thinking about poker training software. I was doing a lot of coaching and realized a lot of the same stat pattern problems in students games. The birth of Leak Buster began.
  16. I analyzed hundreds of thousands of hands and looked at where the optimal winrates resided for most winning players. I founded Ace Poker Solutions and we began developing the first version of Leak Buster which was a crude version of the steps 2 and 3 that exists in it today. It would basically just tell you when you were in or out of range and if it was a leak and then score you. Very basic, not much advice or training content, but students loved it, and soon there were lots of people seeking me out to do this analysis.
  17. I started compiling millions of no-limit hands for 6-max and full ring and we wrote programs to analyze peak win and loss ranges for a series of stats and positionally. Through this analysis I realized a ton of little things about my game and continued to make adjustments. I was playing 5/10NL then and 10/20NL at times as well.
  18. We began to expand on leak buster and developer ace poker drills. I wanted a program that could help show students how I figured what was a profitable bluffing spot, or narrow value bet. So I developed Ace Poker Drills Equity Trainer. It was a simple way to get people to drill on these spots over and over. I realized it was difficult and complex to understand all of the range situations, so I wanted something that people could develop and start to understand at an unconscious level as well. Playing a game with incomplete information, you’re never going to know for sure unless you see your opponents cards. So you have to do a lot of estimating, and this was a great way to take what probably took me over a year or more to learn on my own, and get students to understand it in a couple of weeks.
  19. I continued to develop other software and make friends with Roy from the original Holdem Manager. Roy, who was also a high stakes poker player loved leak buster. We came up with a way to integrate it into Holdem Manager 1, and I was the first integrated application, with table finder right behind.

 

Sooooo…. I will leave it at that for now. There’s more to this story, but this should get you an idea of how you can approach learning holdem. I weaved in a bit of my business story so you can get a sense of how things developed at Ace Poker Solutions as well. For now, I’ll end this, and continue to root for your success!

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