Tuesday, March 29, 2011

When I started shortstacking, it was at NL50 (.25/.50, $10 buy in) on Pokerstars, the 20-50bb and CAP tables. I have no illusions about this time. I was terrible at it.

Still, I played. A lot. At first my rakeback kept me afloat. I got some excellent coaching from a full-stack player named Barry Clark, and he helped me fix the worst of my bad poker habits. He didnt shortstack so I only had a few sessions, but those sessions were enough to drag me from loser to marginal winner at NL50.
So, my 40,000 hand per week playing regimen began, and my bankroll and experience grew. I wanted to take a shot at the next level up. There was one thing no one told me: If you short stack, NL100 ($20 buyins) is specifically designed to kill you.

The first thing to understand is that rake is a monster when it comes to poker, and shortstackers feel it the most. Just checking my stats for the month, over 60% of my winnings have gone to the rake. If I could play rake free, Id make more than double the amount of money. Online poker sites make more per month from me playing poker than I do, and I make enough to do this professionally. Its no fluke thats how it works every month.

Never forget which side of the hustle you are on.
Also, I'll lay you five to one odds you can't tell me which one is the UNO Draw Four.

So, one way to get more is to pay less rake.

The other way, of course, is to find softer competition. The dumber the players in your game, the more money you are going to take home. In online poker, $60 is typically the magic number. The sites take 5% rake up to $3, so any pot larger than $60 has a portion of it that is rake free. So once you are at 1/2 and above (40 dollar stacks) you start getting discounts on the rake. NL100 and below, you are at the mercy of the poker site, because it is very rare that any pot will exceed $60.

But wait if you start to short stack a .01/.02 game, youll make a killing. But the site is hosing you on rake, isnt it? Yes, but the more you move down, the worse the competition gets, so the more money you make to compensate. This makes NL100 the worst of all worlds. It has the toughest possible completion before you start getting discounts on the rake. You are getting hosed by the site for the maximum while also playing the best opponents (relative to the other stakes with a functionally uncapped rake).

When I tried NL100, I started losing. A lot. I figured I was bad, and started looking for a winning shortstacker to study and learn from. I only had one problem: There werent any.

You read that right. I looked at all the regs in my game, and all of them were either losers or totally breakeven. Thats right the big winners in my game were walking away with pennies.

Dont panic yet, though. There is life beyond $20 buyins, and you dont have to be stuck at $10 buyins forever. Basically, to survive this as a shortstacker, you need to change your long term plans to spend as little time as possible sacrificing to NL100.

- When playing at .25/.50, be particularly conservative with your shot taking. Get comfortable. Make some money. Theres no shame in that. Enjoy the profits.

- When you do move up to .50/1.00, be very aggressive with your shot taking at 1/2. .50/.100 is not a place you want to be. It is not where you want to spend your time. At best, its a stepping stone to 1/2.

- If you can handle it, just skip the level entirely. Yes, this means spending a long time before your shot taking sticks. I couldnt do this when I was playing the jump from shoving $10 to shoving $40 was just too much. But if I could go back and do it again, Id know this was the most profitable way.

Additionally, there are some strategic changes you need to make.

- Pay extra attention to the amount of fish at the table. Id recommend not sitting unless you can identify three other players (in a six max game) that are going to be donating to you.

- Avoid aggressive flipping regs as much as possible. When youre at 1/2 and higher and you flip, you can the guy you flip against should be giving each other high fives you both stand to make a marginal amount of money off the play. At .50/1.00, however, that flipping guy is not your friend. Every time you flip, you come away with less money, thanks to the rake. The flipping guy is taking you down with him.

Before hacking his starfleet command test, Kirk was banned
on Pokerstars in a similar incident.

However, its not like you can just start folding everything when he raises you. Youre quickly in a situation where youre forced into a loss no matter what you do. If he forces you to flip just four times in 100 hands, youre losing the equivalent of 3bb/100 (more, if one of you is in the blinds for the flip). Can your winrate take that kind of hit? Mine cant.

Its possible to move from the micro stakes to the big time. Just dont get stuck in the quicksand of .50/1.00, and you can make it work.

Lucky for him, Global Thermal Nuclear War has fewer
consequences than paying that much rake.

This entry is cross posted at the poker blog Short Stack Hero, where I contribute.

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