Strategy in Action is a monthly feature written by a ‘recreational grinder’ who’s studying our training material in order to consistently beat $1/$2 and build a bankroll. You can read the introduction here, or check out what happened in the last episode, Plan Ahead Poker.

How long can I go on winning $70/hr at $1/$2?

Over the course of the last 14-15 hours, spread out across 5 sessions, I have made just a few bucks shy of $1,000.

When I set out on this journey a few months ago, I never imagined I’d be sustaining these kinds of results. And I’m quick to not be cocky about it. After all, these 15 hours equal one or two sessions for serious grinders. I would expect them to scoff at drawing any statistical conclusion about the quality of my play from such a small sample size.

That said, my poker lifetime is no small sample size. Over the tens of thousands of hands of poker I’ve played in the last 15 years, I know I’ve never played better than right now. Actually, it’s not even close. I am making the least amount of mistakes, and getting the most amount of value out of others’ mistakes than ever. And every day, I see areas where I can improve even more.

poker note notebook

A page from SplitSuit’s Poker Journal, filled out with my hand notes.

It’s all because I’ve been studying more than playing. I know that sounds simplistic to say, but the work I’m putting in off the table is directly wired to my results on the table. I long for the day when I can play more and study less, but so long as I continue to see vast areas of improvement, I’m going to focus on studying, and then applying those lessons systematically.

Because I’m getting so much out of study, I’m also proud of having applied my newfound commitment to note-taking, capturing three hands in SplitSuit’s Live Poker Player’s Journal. I will be submitting the hands below to coach Doug Hull for our first coaching session, and I welcome you to leave comments here giving your own criticism. That’s the point and the power of taking notes!

And that’s exactly what this episode is about — noting the hands where I have questions so I can get critical analysis from others. I’m doing this to highlight a few things, some of which were inspired by the recent “Finding Balance with Poker” podcast:

  1. Getting better at poker is faster when you get advice on your trouble hands. Putting it all out there takes some guts, because you know you’re probably doing something wrong. But how are you going to fix what you’re doing wrong if someone with experience doesn’t tell you how?
  2. Having experienced coaches and complete strangers point out your mistakes is incredibly constructive because of the intensity of having someone tear apart your thinking. You bet I won’t be making the mistakes they point out anytime soon. I’ve never opened myself this wide for poker criticism, so I might as well jump in the cold deep end and use the shock to my advantage.
  3. I wanted to demonstrate the kind of “thinking about hands” that I’m doing because I increasingly see it as key to my success. It took me a while to realize that you almost have to have an inner dialogue at the table, talking the hand through with yourself as it plays out. That’s plan-ahead poker.
  4. Last but not least, take notes. For live poker, there’s nothing like being able to remember trouble hands in accurate detail for later analysis.

Swimming with Big Stacks

In all my previous sessions, I would be one of two or three big stacks at the table that were above the max buy in. For this session, I was seated at a table with no less than 5 other players over max buy in, most of them hovering around $500-$600.

My first instinct was to play cautiously and contemplate a table change. In terms of game selection, I knew most of the other tables had worse players with smaller stacks. Then, inspired by the recent Red Chip podcast Spotting Live Poker Pros, I decided to embrace the situation and get in their heads. I looked at it as an opportunity to take chunks of their big stacks away.

Running Top Two into a Set

I thought I was going to have a losing session in the beginning. I lost a few small pots and then ran into this hand:

I raise to $8 from EP with AsKc. Instantly I regret this and feel like I should have raised more, like to $12 at least. Even with the big stacks this is turning out to be a really passive table.

In any case, I get called in three spots and the flop comes AdKs8h. I c-bet $25 into a $35 pot. A small stack is next to act and makes a min-raise to $50. They have less than $50 behind. The other players fold, I shove, and the short stack calls with KK for middle set. No ace or running cards come and I pass a big stack of chips across the table.

In the post analysis, I feel like a lot of this is standard, but I wonder if there’s ever a case for me getting away from this hand. A min-raise seems, in a weird way, very strong.

As I start to think that this will be my first losing sesssion, I immediately catch myself myself. If I keep thinking this way, I’m guaranteed to have a losing session. I immediately hit the reset button, pretended like the stack I was sitting on was what I came to the table with, and pressed on.

That’s when the fun began.

Turning the Nut Flush

sands bethlehem pennsylvania

The Sands in Bethlehem, PA. My field of dreams.

My most profitable hand of the night also had many areas where I’m eager to get feedback on my play, wondering if there was more money to be made here.

Three players limped, and our Villian on the hijack raises to $7. These are the kinds of standard raises that are going on at this table — $7, $8, maybe $10.

The button calls and I call in the small blind with AdTd. Looking back, this seems like a good spot to 3-bet to something like $25, and at least isolate the raiser, even if I am out of position. I could play relatively fit or fold.

I don’t see calling as awful because the whole damn table is likely to call, and if I’m playing fit or fold, I might as well give as many players a chance to flop second-best to my nut flush, nut flush draw or top pair (assuming I “fit”).

Four players call and when the flop comes AsKdJd I am psyched. Top pair with a nut flush draw. At the same time, there are 4 players in the pot and hands like AJ and QT could be floating around. The fact I hold the ace makes AK, AQ, AJ less likely though, so I feel really confident I have the best hand here, most of the time. I also feel like the preflop raiser is c-betting almost 100% of the time I check to him. I’ve seen him c-bet a high percentage of the time, and if anyone at the table is playing a little aggressive, it’s him.

I check, and it checks around to Villain, and sure enough he throws out a $12 c-bet. This is less than half pot, so when it gets to me, I pop it up to $40. I’m not sure if the weak c-bet means he wants a call and figures it’s hard for the other players to hit this flop, or if he’s trying to take it down now, or if he has a draw. All I know is I still figure to have the best hand.

He thinks for about 15 seconds and makes the call. We’ve now got about $120 when the turn 2d fills up my flush.

I elect to check here, and looking back that might have been a mistake. At the time, I didn’t want to lose the fish on the line. But looking back, he has plenty of hands that might call a turn bet: AK, AJ, QT, worse flushes. I really think I missed an opportunity for value by checking here.

When the river came a 9s, I had to try to get some value out of this hand, so I slipped $80 out as a 2/3 pot bet. Villain tanked for a solid minute. I thought I might be losing him, so I made a furtive glance to telegraph weakness. It must have worked because a few seconds later he called and groaned when he saw my hand.

My turn check probably helped get a river call, but I also think there’s a high likelihood I get that call on the turn, and maybe eke out another call on the river.

Turning Garbage to Gold

One of my last hands of the night was thoroughly enjoyable, but again, I wonder if I missed out on max value.

In the big blind with 6c2d, I checked after 6 players limped. Flop comes 6s6dTh, giving me trips.

It’s hard for any of my opponents to hit this flop, but then again, there are six of them, and they all limped, so who knows. Still, betting out here feels like a suspicious move on my part after checking the big blind. I elect to check and it checks around to the cutoff who bets $10. Villain in this hand had been pretty tight, even nitty, so this bet means something. It’s not a steal. I feel like they likely hold a ten. I call. I guess I could have raised here and gotten called by a ten. More missed value? Another player calls and we see a turn with about $44 in the pot.

When the 3s hits, I decide I’m done beating around the bush and bet $40. I had been loosening up at the table and I wanted this to look like a steal, or like I was trying to bully the other player out of the pot. I was saying, “I don’t believe you have anything, sir.” It just didn’t seem like something a player with a 6 would do, and that was my thinking when I made the bet.. that Villain wouldn’t believe me, and I’d get a call out of any ten. Looking back, that probably should have been my thought process on the flop when I could have check-raised!

In any case, Villain calls the $40 bet and we see a river brick 4s.

Now I’m wondering what the hell this guy has. AT? KT? T3? Not a whole lot makes sense. Do they really have the case 6? In that case I could run into some kicker trouble. That chance seems so remote. Maybe he just didn’t believe me and was trying to be a hero.

poker chips sands

In $300, out $555.

The pot was $124. All the doubt in my mind was translating into doubting he’d call any bet on the river. So I pushed out a wimpy $50 bet to continue selling the idea I was trying to steal this. He counted chips for about a minute, looking really confused, and finally called. He mucked after I showed. I asked what he had and he said, “Something good.” Maybe we was making a weird move like slowplaying JJ? I am still perplexed by this hand, but when you scoop a pot of over $200 with 6c2d, the results-oriented person in me has to LOL.

Study Time

This month, our study time will be a little different, because I’ll be seeking coaching from Doug on these hands and other questions, and will rely on him to point me towards areas of study. Naturally, I’ll be devouring all the most recent Red Chip Poker PRO videos. And I’m also taking some of the applications on the Best Poker Analysis Software 2016 article for a test spin. There will be no shortage of study to report on next time.

I still definitely have some work to do on board textures. I feel like I could watch those videos all again. And the recent podcast with Ed Miller and Doug Hull on “streets of value” really has me thinking.

I’m feeling good, playing confidently, constantly improving… things couldn’t be going better. Well, I could be playing more poker! Soon enough. I booked my Vegas trip for June, when I’ll be joining the rest of the Red Chip Poker community for the annual member meetup. Hopefully I’ll be seeing you out there… and taking your chips so I can write articles for you about it!

Showing 10 comments
  • Steve C.


    Just wanted to drop you a note and let you know I love your SIA articles. I am also a NY guy, down on LI, And also get over to the Penn. rooms occasionally. Maybe one day we can meet up and talk a bit about the game and this awesome community. Anyway, just wanted to drop in and say hello and also let you know I am a fan of the articles. Keep up the great work.

    All the best,
    Steve C. (ChipXtractor)

    p.s. I am also going to be out in Vegas during the series and will be at all of the RCP events. Look forward to talking and playing together then. 🙂

    • Zac Shaw


      You know I love all the ChipXtractor content! Keep up the great work, man. I’ll for sure see you in Vegas & looking forward to grinding some sessions with you in NY or PA when our schedules align.

    • Douglas Thomas

      I would love to see a passive table like this. My main room I play at is Daytona Beach. Every day they have high hand promotions some are 1,000 every 1/2 hour some are 500 per 1/2 hour. This year I have won over 6,000 on high hands alone. Our 1/2 tables play like 2/5 with 15 bucks as an opening raise if that low. People will call 40 dollar opening raises with 44.

      No one hardly folds any pair or suited connectors, one and 2 gap suited connectors. Reading Ed Millers Serious Course has helped me win big amounts of money. I am not paying people off anymore and bet every street unless something strange happens. Thank you Ed for such a great book I paid for the cost of the book my first session. And I too spend more time studying than playing.

      • Zac Shaw

        Sounds like a very profitable game once you adjust and exploit… as long as you are rolled for the bigger swings. If you’re exploiting this game, I’m sure you will run into some bad beats when the fish suck out, but you should also be able to get their money in bad most of the time.

        I’m with you, I prefer the passive tables. $1/$2 is still shot-taking for me. I feel like I have the skills to win, but my bankroll is about 1/3 of what I’d like it to be. At the same time, one thing I’ve learned from Red Chip is finding a way to win vs. challenging opponents is very important. So taking shots and playing at tough tables is something that should be embraced, not avoided. Sounds like you’ve embraced the challenge and are making it work, so congrats!

        Good luck & thanks for reading.

  • Jerry Monaco

    I have a few poker friends in other parts of the country who I send weekly emails too: I have noted your series to them and I hope they check you out. But here is what I have written:

    “Zac Shaw at the Red Chip Poker site is charting his study and playing time in a series of monthly articles, called “Strategy In Action”. He is using SMART goals, study sessions, and targeted practical strategy sessions. He doesn’t get to play often so the articles he writes are only monthly. But I find his journey well documented and informative. It is a journey of learning in process.

    “The reason Zac’s journey fascinates me is that I think he began at about my level, but with a lot more experience in NLHE than I have. He is quickly getting better by focused study. I think anyone at our level or even a bit better can learn from what he is doing and can take inspiration from his journey.”

    I hope this little review gets around among my poker friends and I hope more people discover what you are doing. It will be helpful to them. Thank you.

    By the way I intend to go to the Sands two or three times in the next few months. It will be a break from my usual trips to the poker cardrooms in Midtown and Queens. Is there any place I can leave a message to tell you when I’m going so that perhaps I can say hello to you there?


  • Jerry Monaco

    P.S. I have been taking notes on my sessions, as well as I can, since I started playing NLHE. But with your inspiration I bought SplitSuit’s poker journal from Amazon a couple days ago. Can’t wait to get it so I can use it at upcoming sessions.

    By the way, has any player gone on tilt simply because they saw you taking notes during a session? That has happened to me twice in the past year! Maybe it is a reason in itself to take notes! It’s the weirdest thing. A Russian guy, very aggressive, a limper, loosey-goosey, exploded when he saw me taking notes. “You can’t do that. In my neighborhood we’d beat you up for doing that! Writing down what we do! That’s illegal!” I told the guy: “I’m trying to improve and learn from my mistakes. That’s why I take notes during a session.” The dealer told him: “Taking notes is what some people do to improve. There is nothing against the rules about it. You should do it to.” Then the guy proceeded to blow his stack of 200bb half in my direction and the rest on the following hand. Very strange.

    I hope you get a little laugh from this story. But the point is, don’t let social pressure stop you from taking notes. In some places it’s considered weird if you do so. Let them think you are weird because you take the game seriously.

    The beauty of chess, the game I have put in the most hours of study and play, is that all moves are recorded. If only we could do that in poker, the knowledge would grow quickly.

    • Zac Shaw

      Jerry, thanks for the kind words, I really appreciate it.

      Next time you’re headed to Sands shoot me a Tweet (@zacshaw). I only make it once a month these days but I’m hoping to increase frequency. Let’s run up some stacks!

      It’s encouraging to see that so many people are in the same position I am — taking poker seriously, too far from a casino and too busy with other things to be a reg, but committed to studying and being the best. I definitely have been playing poker for a long time, and have studied here and there, but I can tell you that these last few sessions of being in ‘study mode’ have transformed my game more in a few months than anything I’ve done in the last 15 years. Simply by studying as much as you play, you are already better than the majority of players, who as you point out, aren’t playing the game as seriously as us. If one can learn to apply that study, one can win consistently.

      To answer your comment, I think it’s very common for players to want to avoid taking notes and drawing attention. I didn’t feel socially awkward — to me, it’s kind of an alpha dog move to whip out your notebook. The reason I feel self-conscious taking notes at the table is purely strategic: I feel like it’s saying to the table, “Hey, I’m paying really close attention to you, so you should be paying really close attention to me.”

      Now, at this level, the truth is players aren’t paying that much attention, even if you raise a red flag like taking notes. And to be fair, there are a lot of other things I’m doing (winning pots, never showing, almost never limping… in other words, doing all the things bad players don’t at this level). So I think taking notes is ultimately a very small strategic risk.

      Nonetheless, I take notes at the table on my phone, and then immediately transcribe them into SplitSuit’s journal the first moment I get. This way, nobody knows I’m an additional threat because I’m taking notes. It just looks like I’m texting. But I agree with your general sentiment, taking notes at the table probably doesn’t make as big of a difference strategically as one might assume.

      Love your story of stacking the guy criticizing your note-taking. Mental game is a huge part of poker, and by displaying confidence in the face of his criticism, you might have opened up a profitable mental game leak him. Great work! I love this line: “Let them think you are weird because you take the game seriously.” Words to live by.

      GL & thanks again for the support.

  • Patrick Lawler


    Just wanted to drop you a quick message to say how much I’m enjoying this series. Keep up the good work!
    You need to get out of my head… every time I think of a new subject to work on that what you’re doing the next article haha, seems like maybe we’re on the same poker journey.

    I was wondering though; are you still working with the original ranges set out in ‘The Course’? And, if so, how do you feel about them? i loved it for a while but have gone through a few sessions recently where I just couldn’t hit a hand because the ranges are relatively tight (mainly due to the omission of the unsuited hands).

    Would be interesting to hear your thoughts.

    • Zac Shaw

      Patrick, I appreciate your support and hearing that we’re on a similar poker journey. It’s comments like yours that keep me going.

      It’s looking like the next episode might be about bet sizing, in case you wanted to pre-load that into your head! =)

      My feeling is that if you’re not bored by folding at least a few times during a session, you’re probably playing too loose.

      In fact, I wrote a whole article on dealing with boredom productively:

      It sounds kind of silly to say “expect to be bored, and plan strategically for this by having a game plan for when you’re bored that actually gives you an edge”.

      I don’t really go into it in the article, but boredom is a huge leak related to the other topic you asked about, open range. How many times have you limped a hand you shouldn’t have and then kicked yourself later? I know this was the story of many, many of my losses prior to studying The Course. After learning “Don’t pay people off”, I realized the key to it was in the open ranges. The big reason you never limp is that you get to avoid the situations that players who limp into pots go broke on. That means folding the vast majority of your hands, there’s no getting around that.

      The other thing I’d mention is that you should be deviating from the “ABC” open ranges when you see opportunities to do so. This can be one of the best things to do when you’re bored and card dead. Use that time to identify a position at the table where, when it is folded to you, you can open light because the players to your left are folding and limping lots of hands. All of the sudden, you can raise KJs in middle position, because most of the time you’re getting 1 caller that will fold to a flop c-bet if they don’t connect, which most of the time, they won’t. And even if they call that flop c-bet, you know on most boards they are folding to a bigger turn bet.

      To an extent, you can build those plans (“lines”) in your head off the table, and have them pre-loaded to fire at exploitable players. This way, you can be more aggressive and play more hands outside of the standard open ranges.

      At the end of the day, playing poker at a professional level really seems to be about knowing exactly when to fire these pre-loaded lines that exploit specific spots or types of players. If everyone played ABC poker, we’d just be pushing money around the table. The great thing about live $1/$2 is that many people are playing worse-than-ABC poker, so even if you stick to the open ranges like a robot, no one will notice and you’ll still be a winner… Just not as big a winner as if you were also firing aggressive lines at exploitable players… but with that comes greater variance too. I am very proud of my low-variance poker style, mainly because my bankroll is less that half what it should be to play $1/$2. Nonetheless, I am incorporating more and more of these exploitative lines, which allows me to play and win more hands with minimal risk.

      • Patrick Lawler

        wow thanks for the great reply, will definitely try to make better use of the ‘downtime’ at the table.

        I look forward to being convinced that I need to learn more about bet sizing next month 🙂