Our first episode of 2018 is geared toward psyching you up for a great year of studying to win. Host Zac Shaw takes the helm and offers up some advice for finding your place in the poker ecosystem, so you can set poker goals for the new year that you will celebrate achieving this time next year. Why do you play? What resources do you have to study and play? Where do you want to go in poker? This episode is all about being honest with our leaks and limitations… something poker players often struggle with. Good luck in 2018!

Featuring: Shaw

Happy New Year Red Chippers. Zac Shaw here, your host. How you doing? Ready to crush it in 2018? So, this is a podcast for anyone who feels lost in poker, whether you’re out there trying to build a bankroll, and just seeing it dwindle and disappear over and over again, if you’ve gone bust recently, if you love the game of poker, but you’re just breaking even, or you can’t seem to string together enough winning sessions to really start putting in the time and energy that you want to to study and play more, and get better results.

Well, I know there a lot of you players out there. In many ways, I’m one of them. In today’s podcast I’m gonna be talking about finding your place in the poker ecosystem, and by then end of this podcast I want you to have a firm idea of where you fit in to the overall poker ecosystem. What is the poker ecosystem, you ask? It’s pretty easy to visualize as a pyramid. The 1% of poker players sitting at the top make the bulk of the profits. They’re the ones who are basing entire careers off of playing the game of poker, and yes, those below the 1% can eke out a living as well. Though certainly, it’s going to be as lucrative as the top 1%.

Of course, as you go down the pyramid, these people are making less and less money, until which point they break even. Now, where you wanna draw that line in the poker pyramid is up to speculation. We don’t have official statistics on who’s losing and who’s winning in poker, but we can infer that a majority of the players are losing, based on anecdotal evidence, and historical records, and just the facts that we have to look at. We can very reasonably say that most people are losing in poker.

If you’re in that loser section, and we say breaking even is pretty much in the loser section, because you’re probably, in one way or another, being very generous to yourself about the win rate that you’re assigning yourself, the actual profits that you have at the poker table. There are just no end to expenses, right? Even if you’re tracking the hotel rooms as poker expenses that come out of your bankroll. Even if you’re tracking the gas that it took you to drive to the casino. There are still myriad expenses. Are you counting every training site, and every poker book you buy? There’s some people out there that are doing it, and kudos to you, but for most of us, we really don’t have such firm a grasp on what we’re actually winning at the table.

So, if we’re saying that we’re break even player, chances are we’re actually a little bit of a loser, and we saw this when we went out and surveyed many poker players, and evidence out there to back it up. Everyone knows this, right? Poker is kind of based on the idea that we each feel like we’re better players than we actually are. So, if you say you’re breaking even, chances are you’re losing a little. If you’re winning a little, chances are that you might be closer to breaking even. So, let’s be honest with ourselves, right? It’s just you and me here, we can be realistic about all the expenses that go into the game of poker, of playing it, of studying it, and becoming better at it.

We can be realistic about the money that we’re taking away from the table and say, “This is gonna be the first step to finding our way, and our place in the poker ecosystem. What our financial goals and motivations are in the game frames all of our strategy and our entire way of looking at the game.” What I mean by that, is strategy exists in a vacuum, strategy does not change because we are more scared money, or because we have a million dollars in our bankroll, but mental game and mindset changes fundamentally, and will effect your gameplay.

If you think you’re above it, you’re not, because even at the upper echelons, at the high stakes, these players have to be very, very realistic with themselves. Even more so, and say, “These are the places where I’m making mistakes. These are my weaknesses, and I’m going to work on improving upon them in order to progress through that ecosystem.” So, we’re trying to move from the bottom of the pyramid up to the top. This much is obvious, but how do we get there? Where is our place right now, and how do we build a path from point A to point B? Point B being the top of the pyramid.

Let’s start there. Let’s be realistic, are we going to reach the top of the pyramid for real? Are we gonna dedicate 40 hours a week to studying and playing, maybe even more? It all starts with setting goals as to what you want to achieve in poker. If you’re someone who’s a weekend warrior, you’re not trying to win the WSOP main event, necessarily. I mean, if things go really well, you might get a seat there, and might take a crack at it, but that is a dream, not a goal. So, we wanna be clear about our goals in poker.

I, for example, have no goals to become a career professional poker player, but I certainly want to spend lots of time studying, and playing, and doing my best, because this game of poker gives me so much more than just the dollars that come off the table. Those things have a value, right? You’re insight into your mental state, and handling your mental game outside of poker, or things such as a bankroll management, or understanding risk reward calculations, and expected value. These things go into all aspects of like. So, there is a value to that, and we shouldn’t ignore that in our pursuit of our poker goals.

Those need to be written in alongside the obvious wanting to make money, we need to also acknowledge the other reasons that we play the game, and know that our motivations are gonna be different based on who we are, where we’re at in life, what kind of player we are, et cetera, et cetera. You might have a day job, you might not. You might be a college student, you might be a retiree. That’s what’s so awesome about this game of poker, you can come into it from any angle, from any spot in life, and if you practice proper bankroll management, and you put in the time studying the game, and really understand where you’re at in the poker ecosystem, and are really honest with yourself about that, you will win, you will be a winning player.

It might be slow and steady, but you will eventually build your bankroll to the point where you can compete in much larger games, and you can reach your goals in poker if you set your mind to it, and you have the requisite intellectual resources, financial resources, time resources. I mean, it’s not like anyone can walk off the street into a casino and play poker. You and I both know, that that position on the poker ecosystem is about toward the bottom. Well, let’s face it, and let’s be honest, again, the real bottom of poker are the probable losers, and if you’re one of these people and you’re listening to the podcast right now, the highest value advice from someone who’s been inside the world of poker for a long time, the best value I can give to you right now, stop this podcast, Google, “Gambling problem, poker gambling problem.” take stock of where you’re at in your life, and make a change.

Now, that being said, the level above the problem gambler in poker would definitely be the gambler that has a different kind of problem, which is either they don’t approach the game as a skill game, they don’t understand anything about poker strategy, they’re just playing it as if it were craps, or roulette, or they’re incredibly drunk. There are all sorts of versions of the, let’s just say, inevitable loser at the table, right? These are the kinds of players that are regs bread and butter. Regs being players that kind of just camp out at the table and wait for people to flop second nut hands to their nuts, and that sort of thing.

They are looking for the drunk tourist to come in and play really poorly, and they know exactly how to strike, because they’ve seen it happen a million time. You and I are trying to become a higher order of poker player to that kind of reg mentality. We’re actually gonna apply maximum aggression, maximum understanding of the mathematics, the ranges, the betting sizes, and frequencies, and all of the little details that go into making optimal decisions at the poker table, which can often be counterintuitive to a reg mentality, which is much more fit or fold, and take advantage of these weak players.

So, for sure, everyone in the poker food chain that lies above it is feeding off of that level of inevitable losers. I sure hope that if you’re listening to the podcast, you’re not one of those people, but if you are, please no judgment, just go and work on your mental game, you know? If your tilting off all of your money and it has nothing to do with strategy, you’re not alone. There are a lot of people out there that are doing it right now. They can’t connect the strategy they’re learning in their YouTube videos, and their training sites, and their books to their actual play, because their mental game is in shambles.

I was one of these players. I had major tilt issues, especially early on in my game. You know the way through, is through. You gotta go through the process of dealing with this stuff, of learning from your mistakes. Stop repeating it, that’s the definition of insanity. Don’t hang out at the bottom of the poker pyramid. Now, there’s no shame in being somewhere around that transition period where losers become winners, because that is where most of us are in poker. Maybe it’s because we don’t have enough volume to play, or enough time to study, and we know that our potential vastly outstrips our results, or our ability to actually put in the time and the work to develop a bigger bankroll.

Now, let’s not get hung up on the bankroll. It’s kind of better, in some ways, to make goals around playing more poker, studying more poker. Don’t tie it to your actual results, because you could go through a down swing and become discouraged. In many cases, a lot of coaches say, “Well, whatever.” to bankroll management. For a lot of players out there who are recreational, bankroll management is really just your golden buy-in, that first buy-in that you put in. Are you then building upon that, or do you have to keep putting in that first buy-in? Because eventually, you will either have to put in that buy-in or you’ll be building a big bankroll. If you’re building a big bankroll, bankroll management isn’t really your problem beyond making sure that you don’t play at ridiculous stakes.

Here’s where we’re getting to the heart of what this podcast is all about, because finding you place in the poker ecosystem is not just about being honest with yourself, or establishing smart goals that you can follow through on in the long term, medium term, and short term, it’s about really making the right decisions for where you are in your game, and for where you’re at in your development of your skills, and your bankroll, et cetera, et cetera.

So, again, it’s not so much about the awareness, as well what do you do with that awareness, and some of the most important decisions we make in poker are things such as table selection, game selection, stake selection, where are we gonna play, how long are we gonna play, how many buy-ins are we gonna bring to the table, when are we gonna stand up? These are all things that we need to think about when we’re playing poker. Sometimes it’s kind of hard to bucket them all into one category, because they seem like such disparate things, right? Like, “Should I wait to sit down at this juicy table, and know that I’m gonna have a huge edge over my competition, or should I sit over at the table that’s open right now, with slightly better players and bigger stacks, knowing that I’ll be up against harder competition, but I’ll learn more, I’ll develop my skill more in that game, even though it might be a little more expensive, or a little less profitable?”

Knowing the answer to that question, that’s not a black and white strategy thing. That’s a, where you’re at in the poker ecosystem thing. I’ll give you another example, and these are all examples that I’ve pulled from my real life, and doing this podcast, and talking to people who know way more about poker than I do. This is one of the most memorable times for me in poker, I went out to Live at the Bike! in LA to play with a bunch of other Red Chippers. This was a 1/3 game, and a Red Chipper named Jason raised under the gun to $15. I made it 40 on the button with jacks, and a very well known Red Chipper who’s a coach and an amazing player Persuadeo ended up four-betting me, and I sat there and hemmed and hawed, and eventually folded the jacks to his four-bet from, I believe, the big blind.

So, he shows eights, and I was talking about this hand to all the coaches that were around, Soto, Hall, and their whole thing was this, even Persuadeo himself said, “What you did was probably not the optimal thing, but at the same time, you’re coming at this game with a completely different mentality, mindset, bankroll, et cetera, than everyone else at this game, and in a lot of ways you’re getting that aggression put on you, because they know that, and they know that you’re not going to be making that high variance play of calling or shoving with the jacks, because they know that you’re coming at it with these motivations.”

That’s what really good poker players do, is they don’t just exploit the frequencies that they mathematically deduce at the table from all the information presented. They don’t look at your bet sizing and say, “Well, this means this and that means that.” I mean, that’s part of it, but that’s not all of it. It can be much more powerful to get into someone else’s head, and their motivations and mindset, and know which place to use just based on your intuition of being able to determine where they are at in the poker ecosystem.

Here we come to one of the real nuggets of value, here, because it’s not just about finding your place in the poker ecosystem, it’s about understanding how to place your opponents inside the poker ecosystem in order to peg them for their strategies, their weaknesses and everything that you can exploit at the table. So, as you know yourself, you know other players. This goes back to that oldest adage for poker players, “If you can’t spot the fish at the table, it’s probably you.” Oh, it pains me just to say that. It’s such cliché garbage, because the truth of the matter is that you gotta be the table captain. That’s what you should be focused on. Not, “Am I the worst player at the table?”

Okay, if you’re the worst player at the table, yeah get up, and maybe play in a different game, but how are you gonna learn? I mean, how are you gonna learn? At some point, you’re always going to be the worst player at the table, or not the best player at the table, far more often. Now, I have spent plenty of games being the worst player at the table. That’s what happens when I go to play Live at the Bike! with a bunch of sharks. That’s what happens when I go these Red Chip Poker meetups. I’ve learned to stay away from PLO and those types of things, but nonetheless, I can win every once and a while, I can get lucky, I can draw out on a coach as I’ve done to SplitSuit, hope you’re listening.

But the general idea here is that I found my place in the poker ecosystem. I am comfortable playing with players that are much more accomplished than me, because that’s the way I wanna learn. When I lose a big pot in one of those games, the analysis that goes into the mistakes that I made, if there were any, let’s assume there were, that is gonna improve my game so much more efficiently than if I were to, let’s say, just digest just a whole bunch of strategy material, which I have no choice but to do anyway. So, you see where I’m getting with this? There’s really no end to the benefits of really spending some time to find and define your place in the poker ecosystem.

It’s not just being able to see how other players are playing and make the correct strategic decisions against them. As I just said, it can help you plan out your study plan, which is gonna be the foundation, and the fundamental way that you get better at playing poker. Your place in the ecosystem is dependent on so many things, but once you say, “This is where I’m at, these are the stakes that I’m playing, this is where my bankroll is, these are my goals for the week, the month, the year, this is my study plan, these are the people that I’m gonna have hold me accountable, these are the negative things that could happen if I don’t achieve these goals, these are the positive that are gonna happen if I do achieve these goals.”

If you open up any self-help motivational book, you’ll see these same tenants repeated over and over again, and the top 10 things that CEOs do to become extremely successful. That’s not helping you become a better poker player, that’s just helping you feel better about becoming a better poker player in the moments that you watch that YouTube video, or read that blog, and then you go back to doing the same studying and playing that hasn’t worked so far.

This podcast, this moment right now, is your time to turn it around. Maybe you’re on a path that you were really comfortable with in poker. Maybe you don’t wanna turn it around. Maybe you see yourself ascending that poker pyramid, and moving on in the poker ecosystem. You know where you’re at, and you know where you’re going, but it is never a bad idea to remind yourself of that, and that’s why I recorded this podcast, because even those players out there for whom much of this advice has been common sense, and things that they’ve heard before, it’s always good to have that reality check and to make sure that where you’re at in your mind is where you’re matching up, in terms of all the important decisions that you’re making in poker, regarding what stakes to play, how often to study, what methodology you’re using to study, or measure you results, or your success, analyze your mistakes and learn from them.

That is a program that you need to build for yourself, and it starts with finding your place in the poker ecosystem, as we’ve said throughout this podcast. We’ll wrap it up by trying to define that much more concretely, right? This has been a little bit of a stream of consciousness podcast, but I have thought about these things for a long time, and wanted to share them with you, and I do hope that you have found some value in making these considerations as you go forward learning more about strategy, learning more about the tactics that we use to win, because I would hate to see you get into all of that learning, and not be able to apply it at the table, because you haven’t connected your learning plan, and the adjustments your making to your game, to your goals as a player, and where you’re at in the ecosystem, the stakes your playing, and the things you’re trying to accomplish.

So, bottom tier of the pyramid, as we’ve said, are the problem gamblers. If you’re still listening to this podcast, you’re proving me right that you don’t know when to stop. So, tough love, stop the podcast, get some help. If you’re the kind of player that is a inevitable loser, that you’re going into the casino with a tragic mindset that can only result in failure, again, it’s time to just hit the stop button, look at your life, look at the foundations underneath your decisions to play the game of poker, and if it’s just something that you do and you wanna set $500 on fire every few months, you’re probably not listening to this podcast, but if you are, I respect that. I wish I had that kind of money, but I like to make money at poker, and that’s why I’m making this podcast for you.

Now, the level above those inevitable losers are just the losers, and there’s, as we’ve talked about, so many varieties of them it’s kind of pointless to itemize, other than to say that it is important to understand what kind of loser they are, and where their motivations are maybe leading them astray. If they’re maybe a reg that plays a lot of poker, but insists that studying is a waste of time and experience is much better, that’s a completely different leak than another player, which might have studied a lot but just can’t attach what they know from the books and the training videos to the actual conditions at the table. You’re gonna wanna be aware of those things in yourself, as well as, in others.

Then we talk about the break even players, which lie a level above the losers in poker, and again, we’re telling you that those are the small losers in poker. Break even equals small loser, winning a little equals break even, generally speaking, unless you’ve been super, super honest with yourself and diligent about tracking every expense, in that case, kudos to you. That level of player has the most potential to make the most progress up the pyramid, because they have all the tools at their disposal to win, they just need to really say, “This is my place in the poker ecosystem. I have a shot, what are my motivations? What are my goals?” This is the player for whom this podcast is most important, because you really need to work on those mental game aspects that frame your time at the table, so as to not let all that study time go to waste.

Mental game is such a critical part, in terms of getting the most out of learning, in terms of not sabotaging everything that you’ve learned at the table by making one incorrect, tilty call, and then losing a whole stack. So, don’t be a hero, be very honest with yourself, and maybe you should pause this podcast too and take a moment to take stock of your life. Look at the things that motivate you to play poker in the first place, and then start connecting those to some of the decisions that you are really gonna need to make well in order to get to that next level in the poker pyramid, which are the winners.

Just like the losers, this is it’s inverse. There are far, far fewer winners in poker than there are losers. It’s much further up the pyramid than, let’s say, half way. But where we’re talking about the winners, they kind of don’t need this podcast in the sense that they know their place in the poker ecosystem. They know their potential to become a pro, and some of them probably are already aspiring to become pros. For you … get the pro membership. I mean, that’s the advice that I have for you, because this podcast is probably, at this point, a little redundant, you know your place in the poker ecosystem, you win, you know how to exploit the losers, and what kind of losers that they are.

I’m talking to the people who aren’t winning, who want to win. Don’t sit there trying to make yourself the top 1% overnight, it’s not gonna happen. Yes, you could Ed Miller’s Poker’s 1%, and you could do pretty well for yourself on just that advice alone, and that’s kind of my point. If you just read that book, and then you applied just that book’s knowledge to your game, it would be so much better than watching five YouTube videos every week that you don’t actually digest the information from. It would be much better than saying, “Well, all these variables go into why I play poker, so I’ll just say I’m tying to make money and that’ll be that.”

It’s not that simple, you have to find your place in poker. You have to find your rhythm, you have to find your spot where your bankroll has to be, where your study time has to be, because if you’re not doing that fundamental task, then you’re probably not where you wanna be, or where you need to be. So, take it from me, I’ve heard this from so many poker players that I’ve talked to that, like I’ve said, are much much better than me, find your place in the poker ecosystem until you are looking down on everyone else, and until then, this is Zac Shaw for the Red Chip Poker Podcast. Run good, and play better.

Showing 2 comments
  • Stephen D W

    @ZachShaw, great nuggets and will listen to it again going up to the casino. One thing that I am working on is humility in 2018. I have been playing since 2010 and from the moment I won my first poker tournament, I had a stuck mindset that I was officially better than everyone else at the game. That really really hurt me for years. Up until recently, I began studying the game, took off for an entire year and came back with a renewed ability to play the game all over again.

    My choice has been and really want to hold true this year for 2018 is to learn the game in the perspective that I need to humble myself and assume that every player has an edge on me until I can prove they don’t. The only way to do this is to be humble, learn, grown from those mistakes.

    I do believe that if we take our first bink of a tournament and think that our mindset is that we can table captain all other tournaments from that point on like I did, it would be like I am the smallest shark in the pool.

    I will leave with this analogy. I considered myself a small shark. A small shark is the runt. I was a runt shark. You know what sharks do to the runt sharks right? They attack them first and then they go for the fish. Don’t be the runt shark. Fish can survive in the pool for a little while but the runt sharks? They get picked off.

  • Too Dope

    first cast I listened too. Not too shabby. Heart felt comments. I’ll be listening to more.