Hi Red Chippers, my name is Zac Shaw and I’m a pretty average small winner at $1/$2 NLHE, like I’m sure some of you are. But that’s all changing now.

My secret weapon is that I’ve been working with the folks at Red Chip Poker, handling some of the day-to-day branding and outreach operations, and as a result I’ve had an opportunity to study their deep catalog of training videos to gain a much sharper edge.

I like to think of myself as a recreational grinder. I don’t get to play poker as much as I’d like. Similar to many of you, I’m strapped for time. But it’s not just that. Online poker is a big pain in the ass in most American states, particularly my home state of New York. And live poker isn’t much easier where I’m at.

There are four great casinos/poker rooms at my disposal — Sands, Foxwoods, Turning Stone and Mohegan Sun — but they are all 2-3 hour drives from where I live in upstate NY, 90 miles north of NYC. Usually I go to the Sands in Pennsylvania because I have a poker buddy down there, and it is the closest of all the casinos.

What am I trying to achieve?

Even before the Red Chip coaches impressed upon me the importance of poker goals, I was a big fan of SMART goals for my other pursuits. I had to have them for my poker game.

I set a bunch of goals around my online play in 2015 and promptly abandoned them all when I realized I wasn’t really winning the game like I was before Black Friday. I was basically breaking even online, and it was tilting me. So I decided to totally disconnect from online, and play my home game and the occasional $1/$2 NL game at a casino.

After an uneventful 2015 of more small-profit poker, I decided toward the end of the year to really dig into the Red Chip Poker material. I’d been working so hard promoting the material, there was barely a chance to study it.

I can say that after a month of soaking up as much Red Chip content as I could, my trips to the casino became more successful. But it wasn’t just the results — I was having more fun playing because I felt confident and comfortable at the table. I could look around and see that while there were occasional players at or above my caliber, most of them were fish.

Isn’t that how all poker players think, though? It was time to put things to the test.

I hastily made good on one of my SMART goals for 2015 — establish a separate bankroll — and withdrew $1500 cash as my dedicated starting bankroll. I downloaded the Poker Analytics app to track my play faithfully. (The app I used for years to track my play had catastrophically crashed a year ago, losing all my data. At the time, my bankroll was around $1500 — in cash games I was a small winner, but over the years I gave a lot of it back in tournament buy-ins without a single cashout at four figures or above.)

I had $1500 and a dream… no, a SMART goal: Raise a $6,000 bakroll by the end of 2016.


Bankroll Sizing

The first thing that occurred to me (and maybe you as well) was that $1500 is not a big enough bankroll to be playing $1/$2.

With $300 max buyins, I was looking at 5 buyins. That’s fine for a single trip, but I would only need 2 bad sessions to be busto.

I would feel much more comfortable playing $1/$2 with a $6000 bakroll, or 20 buyins. Some would suggest this as the minimum size of a $1/$2 bankroll and say that with $1500 I should barely be playing .25/.50.

Nonetheless, the financial situation is what it is. I’m taking a calculated risk by playing with so few buyins. I will be playing risk-averse poker that leans toward a very basic strategy, with an emphasis on not paying people off. And I will not be the first poker player in history to be underrolled for $1/$2. Perhaps most importantly, I am not paying my bills with this $1500. It is specifically earmarked for poker.

Putting in the Time

The second thing that occured to me was more problematic. I wasn’t playing anywhere near enough poker to make $4500 in a year. So the first thing I did when setting my SMART goal was to give myself more time. I changed the time frame to give myself until the WSOP played to the final November 9 in July of 2017. That would give me close to 20 months to achieve my goal.

I was averaging a pitiful 1 session per month (remember, the casino is 2 hours away), which meant I’d need $4500 ÷ 20 = $225 profit per session. If I played my A game for long sessions and ran hot, it would be remotely possible. But it did not fit the criteria of “realistic” for my SMART goal.

I would easily need 2 sessions a month minimum, for $112.50 profit per session. This was much more in line with my average wins at $1/$2, playing fairly short sessions around 3-4 hours. I know what you’re thinking, “you drive 4 hours round trip to play poker for less than 4 hours?” Yes, I love poker that much. And as time goes on I have slowly started to lengthen my sessions.

Unfortunately, two sessions a month would still be an ambitious plan, given that every session can’t be a winner, no matter how good I play. And I could still barely get away for one game per month.

Then I remembered I was headed to Las Vegas in June to meet up with the rest of the Red Chip Poker team, and lots of Red Chip Poker members… and of course, to play some poker. I was flirting with the idea of playing an event if they did a low enough buyin like Colossus, but what I really wanted to do was grind longer sessions of cash games when fishy tourists were in town.

If I could set aside a few times like the WSOP to get a good ~20 hours of poker in, then I might have a shot at earning $4500 in 20 months.

Again, this must surely seem like an absurd calculation to the grinder who plays 50 hours a week. If I could play 50 hours of poker a week… to be honest, I wouldn’t. No offense to those that do. I love poker to death, but I have other pursuits I’m equally if not more passionate about. Part of the appeal of poker to me is that it’s so scarce in my life. Not to mention the fact I would have to play $2/$5 or $5/$10 to rival the revenue I take in with other pursuits.

I may never top the 50-hour grinder, but there are plenty of fish in the sea for me to play with at $1/$2.

With an envelope of 15 crisp $100 bills, I set out to accomplish my goal, still not entirely sure how or if I was going to pull it off. The thing with a SMART goal is that it’s supposed to be achievable but also aspirational — perhaps just a bit out of your reach, a bit more than you think you’re capable of.

I once saw the masterful speaker Seth Godin ask a roomful of conference attendees to raise their hands as high as they could. Then he asked everyone to raise their hands a bit higher, and everyone did. This directly illustrated how we can always access some reserve strength and skill we didn’t realize we had when pushed to the limit.

Strategy in Action is Born

Unlike this article, each subsequent installment of Strategy in Action will feature a predictable format. You can skip ahead to Strategy in Action #1 – Never Limp & Don’t Pay People Off if you just want to dive in.

Each report will have three parts:

1. Study – I will study specific Red Chip Poker training videos, books, articles, forum posts, etc. based on what I learned from my previous session. I’ll connect you to all of this material.

2. Play – I go play $1/$2 live using the strategies I studied, and share the key hands that contributed to my profit (or downfall).

3. Analysis – After my session, I’ll take an honest look at areas of study to improve, and identify training material to study before my next session. Of course I’ll be drawing heavily on Red Chip Poker, and we’ll take a look at the broader spectrum of analysis too.

This will get really interesting when I start going on poker benders, but for now we’ll hope to have slow, incremental progress toward our goal.

Thanks for coming along with me on this poker journey. Read Strategy in Action #1 – Never Limp & Don’t Pay People Off now.

Showing 4 comments
  • madwin5425

    Hey Zac…love the idea of using SMART goals in poker…super cool.

    Looking forward to your pursuit.

    • Zac Shaw

      Thanks, you just reminded me to check the SMART goals I set and lit a fire under me to put in more volume. Guess I should have mentioned the power of having folks like you out there for motivational support! The negative consequences of failing in public are a powerful motivator, let me tell you. =)

  • allbiz

    My situation being similar to yours is what’s motivating me to go ahead and follow your journey. I will be at a point in September where I have committed to spend significantly more time to playing. I especially want to focus on playing live cash $1/$2. Sands in Bethlehem, PA is 25 minutes from me so that’s my target aquarium. Thanks for your time and effort!

    • Zac Shaw

      Awesome, good luckI Making the time to play significantly more poker is a win by itself. Maybe we’ll run into each other at the Sands, though I can’t say I want someone who’s working so hard on their game sitting at the same table as me =)