Why You Should Be Staked by vers

Manhat10ite and I decided it’d be a good idea to start writing some strategy articles. Not only do I think that I can provide a lot of useful information for beginning and advanced players, but I think it’ll be fun too to give the staker’s opinion and perspective on some subjects. Now, it might seem a bit one-sided, I think it’d still be valuable to give several solid reasons for why you should be staked. It doesn’t really matter if you play $2.50 180 man sngs or are a $35 180 man regular… either way, you are probably making mistakes and doing something wrong. Your game selection in MTTs could suck, or you’re lazy, or there are just some concepts you never thought of. Regardless, you can improve and you can learn.

In late 2013, I played some 18 man SNGs mostly because the rake is higher and the $15-$30 load quickly and run often during the day. I’ve taken a few months off from poker throughout 2013 and because of this, I had a bit of a rush at the end of the year to make Supernova. Playing $15 180s and loading the Big 8 just don’t produce many vpps, so making supernova would be tough. Obviously, I made a lot of bad ICM calls and probably had no clue about player’s ranges in many spots, but I know I can at least break even in them. Anyways, back to the point.

Having not recognized many of the regs in the 18s, I used a lot of sharkscope and what I found didn’t really surprise me. At $15/18s and $30/18s, I know there are going to be some players that are probably going to crush me who have played 18s for 5+ years. What I found was an absolute ton of regs who had put in tons of volume, but were still making a lot of mistakes. I know if you play a pure ICM game and you’re not the chip leader 5 handed or less, you are going to get killed. A lot of people probably know that. Making a few –ev calls isn’t going to make you a bad player. What makes you a bad professional poker player/grinder is having stats like 37,000 games played, 10 ABI and 7k profit. You would think that after that many games, you have probably learned a lot of things other people don’t know (especially fish) and that would enable you to crush the games… but often it doesn’t. Being able to 30 table doesn’t mean much if you are barely beating the games. This trend has been going on for such a long time and I of course have done it as well.

 Some of the worst players we have backed have been people who have FPP grinded. We barely made anything off of them and they barely improved. Clearly, not really anyone is improving and benefitting from this deal. Our games aren’t that easy anymore. Sure, you can win at a decent rate, but you can’t 30 table and also win much. At a certain point, adding more tables is costing you money. For someone learning playing an 8abi , playing more than maybe 12 tables is probably a bad idea. Maybe you have played a lot of games lifetime, but if you haven’t thought much about your game or people’s ranges, it’s worthless.

 So, you can take your 20 cents a game and mass table, or you can improve. Clearly, if you’re results are still that marginal after that many games, you’re doing something wrong. Maybe you don’t study. Maybe you think playing is better than studying, so you devote all your time to that. Maybe you think making 20 cents a game is better than giving up 50%+ of your profits to a backer, but that’s very short term thinking. Of course, you are giving up money by getting staked (if you are rolled), but if you want to make a living off of poker, getting staked is a great way to learn (especially when that staking comes with coaching). You give up equity in the short term to set yourself up for the future.

 Sometimes, I’ll also see someone who has played like 60k games and are up $60k at $8abi. Obviously, $1/game for those games is decent, but when you haven’t moved up, changed games, or started mixing in MTTs, something is probably wrong. Maybe the player isn’t rolled to play higher because they have withdrawn a lot of money for expenses. If that’s the case, the player will have little chance of moving up and really crushing the game. That’s another bonus of getting staked, you get to improve your game and play higher and give yourself a legitimate shot at playing stakes where maybe you belong. We have had so many players start at 2.50/180s and now they are playing midstakes MTTs. They’ve been mutually beneficial deals and sure they have had to give up a lot of profit, but who knows what stakes they’d be playing if they were never staked in the first place. Also, some people just play better staked, without the hurt of losing their own money.

 If I wasn’t playing poker, I’d be living in a house in the suburbs of Toronto, Canada with a girl I didn’t really want to end up with… just because I thought it was the right career and life path to follow. Every day, I would drive to work for at least an hour. I would wake up at 6am, get home at 7pm, have dinner, watch tv, or maybe play poker for 2 hours (for whatever games might load from 9-11pm), go to bed, then repeat for 4 days just to get the weekend off. Then on Monday, I would talk to my co-workers about how our weekends flew by and how we were so busy catching up on errands or how we got the privilege to see our friends and have a couple of drinks… for one night only. Sure, I’d be getting a stable paycheck and not have a losing year, or long break even stretches, but I’d be working for someone else, doing presumably repetitive work, just to wake up and do it all again.

I have to get back to a pretty easy question: what do you want to accomplish with poker? How are you going to get there? If you have statistics like my example, clearly you are doing something wrong. Solid regs are going to demolish you (and laugh about it HU). You are going to experience a lot of negative variance because your edge is small compared to how big it could be.

 Without trying to make this sound like a huge advertisement and recruitment letter, I still need to stress how important it is to learn from people who are better than you, from people who have been in your place before. Manhat10ite and I got pretty lucky because when we started out, we put in a reasonable amount of time studying, we could play a ton of tables and just print money. But that’s not the case anymore. When I see applications for staking and the player says they can 30 table, that doesn’t really impress us at all. In fact, we dislike it. Of course, I want players to be able to play more than 9 tables, because otherwise you just can’t get solid volume in. But you have to understand there’s a middle ground where you can still play very profitably, understand people’s ranges and have solid game play overall. It always surprises me when I see midstake MTT players hand histories and see blatant errors in their hhs like not overlimping 55 in level 1. I’m not trying to say I don’t make mistakes, because clearly I do. I know I make a lot of bad plays (and –ev shoves, often very intentionally), but regardless, everyone can learn and everyone can improve. If you’re not willing to put in the time, you don’t have much of a place as a professional poker player. It’s a gross lifestyle, especially if you are playing mtts for a living, but when you look at the alternative, it’s not really even a choice.

 We coach, we stake, we improve players, we have around 2,000 videos, we tell you about game selection, we are a community. If you’re serious about playing poker and improving, join us. But if you think you can 30 table and keep up with the ever improving gameplay, good luck keeping your 20 cent per game win rate.

Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Early Game

I see these mistakes so often while reviewing hand histories. It’s very simple things, like missing a setmining opportunity in level 1 or 2 that many players are overlooking. I suppose they figure that they have too many tables to pay attention to a game at 15/30, or that they won’t expect to make that many chips by making a certain play.

As games are getting tougher and regs are making more plays for pots and not letting themselves get run over, it becomes more important to be playing pots, especially early on with marginal players or fish. Often when you try to setmine, you lose 1bb, or maybe 3bb and it’s an extremely easy hand to play. The upside is stacking a fish, being double stacked and getting to make even more chips off of crappy players. Even slightly more speculative hands like calling JTs on the btn (or SB/BB) vs 2 random players for a small raise (especially in a 3 rebuy) is going to be great. Often us sng mtt players probably think that flat calling/being passive in pots is losing play, but playing good multiway hands in position vs players who will make a lot of mistakes is going to be a good play all the time.

A few problems result when you play so nitty (and miss easy calls early on). You don’t improve your postflop skills and you autopilot a lot more decisions, not really thinking about how you can improve your game or improve your hand reading. You probably play too quickly and your game stays very stagnant. You might say playing 20 tables is better than playing every early game pot well, but as we have seen the games get tougher and evolve, I think that a very good argument can be made for cutting tables and getting better and playing postflop/hand reading and pots early on.

It’s always surprising when I see players just folding in the sb with like KTo or A5o when it’s folded to us. Or when an active player in the SB opens and we fold a hand that can definitely be ahead, play ok postflop and we have position.

I guess the main point here is to stop autopiloting, be less scared to play postflop, try to play more pots vs marginal players and see your hand reading and overall postflop skills improve. Being on tons of other tables or not being “arsed” to play a certain hand is a pretty bad excuse for sloppy play.

The MTT Lifestyle by Vers

(written late 2013)

I’ve been playing MTTs on and off for about 3 years. The week before I hit the Sunday Brawl a few years ago, I was learning 6 max PLO 25, convinced that SNGMTTs were dead. Then I hit the brawl, had some other MTT success, played a few EPTs and never played a hand of PLO online since. It has been amazing and at times, pretty awful. I think I’ve always been rolled for whatever I played and I always had money saved up, if I had a really bad downswing. But even still, it’s been pretty terrible at times. My game selection was sometimes pretty messed, like 6x registering the $640 million guarantee on FTP once a month. Those multientries killed me and maybe I was a bit too degen thinking I could get 12th to break even on the tourney. But anyways…

The major problem with MTTs (and poker in general to a lesser extent), is that your success is not directly correlated to how much time you put into improving. You could bink a tournament playing pretty poorly. Obviously, that’s a pretty big pull for a lot of recreational players, but on the flip side, you could study and play your ass off playing very high value MTTs and just get killed and see no results. I’ve done terribly this year and it’s been rough, but I continue to play them. What is really frustrating is that if you played pool for 6 hours a day, every day for a year, you would see a lot of improvement and your skill increase would be very evident. Basically, the more effort you put in, the better your results. But MTTs don’t work like that, and it’s good and bad in a sense. Often, people will ask what I think your ROI could be in a tourney and it’s a silly question many times because how can you ever really know. Our players, as well as myself have experienced some downswings I didn’t really think were possible. Then others have had a killer week and won like 50k+. You’re going to feel like trash 99% of the time and probably lose like 80% of sessions, but when you hit, it’s amazing. It’s almost like a sick contest, who can hold out the longest, playing their A game, waiting for a hit. It’s hard to deal with for myself and I can only imagine how brutal it would be for someone who needs to win to pay their bills. I know of a few HSmtt TLB grinders with over 100K in makeup. They are amazing players and have that much MU. It’s a gross game.

I’ve played about 3k MTTs at a $29 abi and lost $22k this year. That’s pretty sick when I think I’m only playing high value tourneys this year. Maybe I haven’t quite kept up with the game as much as I should and I didn’t really play much for 1.5 years before that, but that’s pretty sick. I have won one MTT this year, a $5.10 hyper turbo for about $1500. I made a bet with myself that I wouldn’t shave until I won an MTT earlier in the year. I didn’t win anything for 3.5 months, got too itchy and shaved it off before I won a MTT. I won that hyper about a month later, but still didn’t feel satisfied.

In June, I went to Vegas to play 1-table Sit N Go Satellites where winner takes all. Usually I had played $250-$500 sats and they had been so LOL soft in the past. I played 28 and won one of them. Simply put, you can run worse than you ever may have imagined. Maybe you’d say the gameplay and strategy I’m using is pretty flawed, but when I see many people use a similar strategy and destroy, I know I can’t be that wrong.

Late 2013, I final tabled both the Big 55 and Big 109, with 16k and 20k up top respectively. There was one winning player at each table. I busted both in 8th. Pillows were thrown. Objects were thrown off our balcony. I was not happy.

But every time Stars runs a big series, I know I’m going to play it. I’m not so deluded to think I’m going to ship it, but it could happen. And that’s why we play. That’s why we put ourselves through all of these sick runs. You could get crushed for a year (or more) and then have a killer weekend and all of that studying is going to pay off. That year of you getting killed is going to seem so trivial. 

SNGmentors History by Vers

Around 5 years ago, Manhat10ite and I were part of a SNG MTT forum that was very active and had some very amazing players in it (many of which are very high up on the TLB or have had a lot of online/live success). A lot of us didn’t really know what we were doing at the time, but our strategy worked and we were killing SNG MTTs in 2008. The forum founder invited myself and about 7 others to put in $1000 each to start a staking fund. I had done a little bit of staking on Parttimepoker, but aside from that, I really didn’t know much. But for $1000, I figured, why not try to back a few people and see what happened. It’s really funny how some very small life choices really affect your future. Over the years, we’ve gone from 8 management partners to 2. We’ve had coaches, lost them and added new ones for a variety of reasons. What really pleases me is that now, we have such a great group of coaches and players and that the vision manhat10ite and I had so many years ago has come to fruition. We started with 3 low stakes players, playing $3/18s and I think our high point has been 85 players. Oh, and one of those original 3 players got 2nd in a WSOP event this year.

It’s really amazing what you can accomplish with hard work and a bit of luck. There were definitely times where I was doing a $2.50/180 HH review at 3am wondering what the point of it was. But it’s paid off. We’ve seen the site grow so much in the last 2 years, both in terms of how it is run and how our players have evolved. We started so many guys at 2.50s and now they play mid and some high stakes MTTs. Sure there are a lot of players that don’t work out and often Manhat and I have no idea what someone may become. Of course, there is a lot of variance and luck involved in your possible poker career, but the players that always move up the quickest and have great results are the ones that are watching every video, putting in the time studying and actively thinking about their game (and helping out other players. I think I posted in every 9 man SNG thread on 2p2 for all of 2007). Staking $2.50 players is kind of like throwing darts blindfolded. You take a shot and just hope it works. That 2.50 player is hoping that hard work is going to pay off, just like we hope the time we put into coaching that player and making content pays off. It’s always rewarding to get to see a player really develop and crush the game, but at the start, we really don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s kind of similar to how the whole site started. We started with a lot of coaches and investors, some worked out, some didn’t, but manhat10ite and I, who stuck with it and always saw a vision have built something we can be very proud of.

Sure there are many times when I had my doubts and every time a new Wcoop and Scoop happens, I wonder if our bankroll can survive it. I remember in late 2011 when I couldn’t even reload a player for $500. Maybe we expanded too quickly, or had a bad run, or were still hurting hard from Black Friday. If we had hit a downswing at that exact moment, I’m not sure we’d be here today. We just had no idea how much money would be needed to sustain some swings. I’ve spent a lot of nights worrying about when the next score was going to come or when a player was going to clear makeup. We have had months where I just wanted the Wcoop to come to an end so I didn’t have to keep sending out massive reloads. I think this is where a lot of staking funds go bust and end up having to sell or drop their players. They just have no idea how badly people can run, how much work it is to manage a ton of players or how much money is needed to stake even a small amount of players. It’s nerveracking and frustrating (especially to see good players play fair below their capabilities), but it’s fun and rewarding so much of the time as well. Just like I am sure some of our players and graduates who are up well over 100k sometimes forget they started at $2.50s, I often forget that 5 years ago, I started with some basic ranges, $1000 and a vague idea of what staking was and decided to form a staking and coaching site.

End Of Year Thoughts On MTT SNGs by Vers

Most of my volume this year has been 180 mans on Stars and low-mid stakes mtts. I’ve been playing 180s on and off for about 5 years and I’ve seen the level of play and regulars change a lot. I remember 5 years ago some of my ranges and it’s funny to think just how insanely wide and profitable I could shove from late position. ATC for 15bb on the BTN was a very standard play for me, even into 2 regulars and I was convinced that was good because you just never got called by Ax. Now, when I am shoving 10bb on the BTN, I expect k7o to snap me in the BB, and he’ll probably be correct.

A few weeks ago, I wanted to see just how tough and how good the general field in a 15 180 was. I have played so many 35 180s where the total profit of the final table was probably 2 million. That’s pretty silly for a $35 tournament online. But surely, the $15s wouldn’t be that hard. Out of 180 people, I had about 60 people up somewhere between $0 to $15k. About 60 were losing players or had below a 60 rating (basically a losing player on Sharkscope). About 10 people had over 100k profit. The field wasn’t quite as tough as I expected, but what surprised me was just how few fish there were. Sure, there were a lot of marginal players, but it’s not like they were giving their money away. They have some idea about ranges, they don’t completely blind themselves out and they don’t stack off super light in early levels. Clearly, it’d be great if these marginal players/regs weren’t as good as they are, but what we probably forget is that they also drive the games as well. They are largely the reason why the games load as fast as they do. I’d rather be loading a $15 with a bunch of marginal regs every 5 minutes, then loading a $15 with fewer marginal regs every 15 minutes.

Often, I’ll hear that there are just too many regs in the game and that’s why everyone’s win rates are dropping. While that may be true, just because you see someone in a lot of your games consistently and you identify them as a reg, that doesn’t mean they are a solid player. They just have a general idea of what to do, they aren’t a total whale, and a 180 for example is just their favourite/preferred game.  Maybe they have figured out how to play 16 tables, but they haven’t really found out how to win. It surprises me to look up a player who I’ve played a few hundred hands with just to see they’ve played 40k games total. Then I get shorthanded against them and see just how many leaks they have and maybe this wouldn’t be so clear if I was mass tabling like them. There are so many decent players I play against everyday and I recognize the screenname, I might know their total profit, but have no idea what their ranges are in spots. So I end up using generic ranges against them and surely make some awful isos or calls with hands that probably aren’t even in their range.

 This is definitely a mistake I see in a lot of our student’s HHs. They think just because this guy plays volume, he is shoving super wide in such a spot. If the player is solid, it’s not a bad assumption, but it’s basically just a big guess. What helps me out so much is having specific notes on ranges, otherwise, I might pass up on a spot that is clearly a +ev call. If you’re playing a ton of tables, you’re probably going to miss out on stuff (like what hands go to showdown). I definitely think the 180s are getting tough and have been for a long time, but the best thing about them is they are just great games for players to learn if they want to eventually transition to MTTs and build a roll. You deal with deeper stacks, you get a lot of FT experience, you play against some very solid players (who are probably going to crush you) and you learn how to deal with variance.

For the last few weeks, I loaded more 45s and 18s, mostly to get supernova and make more VPPs. It really sucks that the 45 mans pretty much died, because they used to be my favourite game… especially the 75/45s on FTP. Now, on a lot of days, I was lucky if I got 3 $30/45s to load. Still, the $15s went off often, were generally very soft and nothing is more fun that abusing the bubble and actually getting folds (and seeing people fold 88 face up 8 handed). The same kind of thing applies for 18s. You can run over a table and it feels so awesome. I got 4 handed in one yesterday and had about 90% of the chips in play. I got HU with a 26550-450 chip lead. What I’m trying to get at I guess is just how fun it can be to mix other games. I really like playing 180s and MTTs, building chips, getting stacks, but everyday having pretty poor results gets demoralizing. Mixing up games, playing different payout structures and seeing different situations keeps your mind more active and gives you a new set of problems. It’s not that the 180s and MTTs were getting boring, but every so often, it’s fun to change your routine, try something new and maybe you’ll see that you’re better suited for another game. Even if you’re not, it’s still great to have other options for games you can play.

Whenever Golden Sng week comes along, the 180s, especially higher stakes ones become harder than ever, so why put yourself in a game with 80% solid 180/mtt regs (like the 35 or 60 180s), when you can play another game format that might be softer. I probably played 500 games this week and got 1 golden SNG, and that was a money back one. They just don’t come that often, but everyone thinks if the $60/180 goes off just once, you’ll be rich. But for the other 99.5% of the time, you’re just going to be sitting with 7 other great players, half of which will probably crush you.

 Until something drastic happens, like the US gets poker back, our SNG MTTs will probably keep getting harder. I know staking groups are to blame as well and I’m not complaining, it’s just what’s going to happen. But if you want to keep playing and winning in them, your game has to evolve. You have to try new things, see what works and see what doesn’t. If you’re playing robotic and are afraid to make some bad bluffs or non-standard moves, I don’t think you’ll have much of a chance. I know I definitely have blasted my chips off on some 3 barrels where I was just convinced the opponent could never have it (or call me down). But at least I don’t still shove ATC for 15bb on the button anymore.