Let’s face it: COVID-19 has been tough on everyone. However, it has given me the chance to strive for self-improvement in many aspects of my life. Back in March when I started this poker clothing brand, I told myself it wasn’t enough to be the CEO of a startup. If I was going to be the face of Felt U, it required an important element:
I had to become a better poker player.
If you haven’t seen some of my poker exploits, I’ll spare you the details: it’s been a rollercoaster ride. I tried the “do nothing but play poker” thing twice before with literally no success. That’s because, quite frankly, it was more about the money than getting better. I was the fish at just about every table, sticking out like a sore thumb as I played more on emotion than an actual strategy. If you’re even a halfway decent player, you know the type: overplaying one pair; chasing draws without immediate or implied odds; bluffing big because you didn’t like someone’s face, etc.
This time around I’m proud to say—barring a mid-five-figure swing playing micro to small stakes in the next week (possible but unlikely), I’ll have my first winning year as a poker player. Small accomplishment, I know, but at least now I can say I’m a winner! I’ve gone from the worst player in my 10-handed home game to top 10 easy.
Jokes aside, how did I do it? How did I go from a joke of a poker player to a less funny joke? Here are three big reasons.
Most poker players make the mistake of trying to narrow their opponent to a specific hand. Sometimes, it works. When a tight, 80-year-old man four-bet shoves, it’s probably natural to put him on aces. However, even in that example, this old man could also have kings or queens and might be fed up with your shit.
Hence, I’ve worked tirelessly to understand ranges in three aspects:
- My range – One of the reasons I struggled up until this year with poker was I used to fly off the handle with my pre-flop decisions. “I’ll raise my 9-4o on the button without thinking about what happens if I get called.” Based on position, I now have an improved—but not perfect—understanding of what hands to play in what position based on various factors. I’ve played around with different hand charts and have found a style that prevents me from getting too out of line.
- My opponent’s range – Poker 101: you should know that a person’s range will be more narrow in early position and wider in late position. The degree of “narrow” and “wide” will vary from player to player as well as game structure and limit. For instance, 10-handed poker will play way different than six-handed (I prefer six, but that’s just me). Along the same line, you’ll see far more three-betting at 2/5 live than you will at 1/3 live. That said, you’ll probably see more three-betting at .25/.50 online than 1/3 live, but that’s a whole different can of worms. Through HUDs and observation, you’ll get a better understanding of your opponent’s range, allowing you to make better decisions pre and post-flop.
- My perceived range – How do others at your table think you play? Does your UTG + 1 range contain enough combinations of 8s to pull off a river bluff on a 8-8-7-7-J board? For anyone reading this, I feel like I do. However, just because I think I do doesn’t my opponent feels the same. Thinking with this mindset has helped my game.
These three factors inspired me to create the Limitless Range poker t-shirt you see above. I’ve said it in different forums, but shirts like that (see also: our Below Average Reg poker t-shirt) are definitely a mind fuck at the table.
There’s a fun debate between the merits of playing GTO (game theory optimal) vs exploitative. In summation, GTO is more evidence-based, i.e. you should do such and such whenever you’re in this situation. Exploitative gameplay ultimately banks on your opponents making mistakes and, you guessed it, exploiting them. It’s a fun debate, and players succeed using both schools of thought.
My two cents: GTOers are gonna GTO. However, against someone who uses a more exploitative style, you don’t want to have too much of a lean toward LAG (loose-aggressive) or TAG (tight-aggressive). In a perfect world, you would be somewhere in the middle with an understanding of what LAG and TAG players do. Perfect analogy: there have been sessions where I have folded for HOURS only to wake up with K-5o in the small blind and decide to three-bet the UTG raisor (please don’t do this).
Thus, in an attempt to pay homage to my new-found balance while confusing opponents, we designed the LAG vs TAG poker t-shirt. If the tee doesn’t work with your wintertime attire, we also have a sweatshirt.
I don’t care who you are: losing isn’t fun, and it can make you question your abilities. Am I insane for even trying this again after two infamous failures? Maybe.
One thing I’ve learned, however, is that the process of watching myself get better has been rewarding… mentally and financially. I may never “make it”—whatever “it” is. My goal is to just keep grinding and get a teensy bit better every day. Royce Da 5’9″ said it best:
“Never lost… record in wins and lessons, y’all.”