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Poker’s 1%: What’s The Secret?

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On Friday, I announced my brand new book for preorder, Poker’s 1%: The One Big Secret That Keeps Elite Players On Top. (The announcement came with an offer for a FREE book before Christmas if you order by December 9. Get the deal now before it’s gone.)

Since Friday, I’ve gotten one question more than any other. “What’s the big secret?”

It’s a fair question. To answer the question properly, I’d need a book. (Conveniently, I have written just such a book. It’s available for preorder now through December 9th.)

Ok, that was a little obnoxious. Sorry about that.

I’ll give you the short answer right now. The vast majority of poker players (roughly 99% of them) rely on what I call hand strength- and read-based play. Hand strength-based play is when you make your decisions based primarily on how strong (in absolute terms) your hand is. For instance, maybe you don’t like to stack off with top pair. Or maybe you call one street with a gutshot or middle pair, but not two streets.

Now I’m not saying everyone plays like a robot in this way. On certain board textures or against certain opponent types, the hand strength-based player might mix this up a bit. (This mixing qualifies as read-based play using my terms.) Sure, the hand strength-based player might make a hero call once in a while with ace-high. The hand-strength player also can throw in a bluff or two when the time is right.

But, when you watch a hand-based player hand after hand, you’ll see the same patterns. Calldowns with hands of certain strengths, folds on the turn with weaker hands, and so forth.

There’s a big problem with this. It’s the community cards. On different boards, different hand strengths are made with different frequencies.

“Duh,” you say. You can’t make a full house if the board ain’t paired. This is true, but the problem is more subtle than this. Seemingly small changes in the flop cards can change the frequencies of certain hands by a significant amount by the river.

And, in the end, it’s the frequencies that count. The pass line bet in craps is a bad bet because it comes in only 49.4% of the time. If somehow it came in at 50.6% instead, you could bankrupt the house just by placing that bet over and over again for eternity.

It’s a tiny shift in frequency—49.4% to 50.6%—but it makes all the difference about who wins and who loses over time.

More to the point, it’s a imperceptible shift in frequency if you’re just watching the game with your eyeballs. You could sit there and watch a craps game all day long, and you could not tell me just by watching casually which game had the 49.4% frequency and which one had the 50.6% frequency. You’d never know. It’s too subtle.

This is the secret of poker’s 1%. This is the insight that makes elite players elite and leaves everyone else fighting over the scraps. Most poker players, roughly 99% of them, play in a way that get some of their frequencies correct some of the time. On certain board types in certain stock situations, they are checking and betting with roughly the right frequencies. They are folding, calling, and raising in roughly correct proportion. They are value betting and bluffing with an effective mix.

But in many, many other situations, their frequencies are out of whack—often dramatically so. And the kicker is, they never notice the problem. It’s because they are thinking fundamentally about the wrong thing first. They are using a hand strength-based strategy when in fact they should be using a frequency-based strategy.

The frequencies come first. Frequencies are at the heart of any gambling game. Win a pass line bet 50.6% instead of 49.4%, and you flip the edge. Win a roulette bet 1/34 of the time instead of 1/38, and you’ve likewise flipped the edge.

When someone bets in no-limit hold’em, the most important determinant for whether the bet will be profitable or unprofitable is the frequency of the response. Will that bet get a fold 20%, a call 70%, and a raise 10%? Or will it get a fold 35%, a call 60%, and a raise 5%? Or will it get a fold 55%, a call 45%, and never a raise?

Will the raises be half bluffs and half value bets? Or will the raises be 75% value bets and 25% bluffs? Or will there be no bluffs at all?

This is what matters most. When your frequencies are consistently out of whack, you beat yourself. It’s that simple. When your opponents’ frequencies are out of whack, they beat themselves. When your frequencies are consistently better than your opponents’ frequencies, you win the money. You have the edge. You are playing the craps game with the 50.6% pass line win frequency.

So this is what I think you should do. Instead of playing a hand strength-based strategy, you flip it around. Instead of letting the hand strengths determine your frequencies, you figure out your ideal frequencies first, and then fill in the hands.

Reads are still important. Making consistently good reads will make you extra money. There’s no question about it.

But here’s the thing. Frequencies are king. You can be an elite poker player making no reads whatsoever. If you get your frequencies right, that’s all you need to win big money. Again, reads can make you extra money. Elite poker players use their reading ability to win money. But the frequencies are most important. If you get the frequencies too far wrong, all the reads in the world won’t make up for it.

If you doubt me now, you won’t after you witness the coming wave of no-limit hold’em bots. Many of them will be 100% frequency-based, 0% read-based. They will play a purely frequency-based game. No reads at all. And they will crush.

So that’s what the book is about. It’s about how to transform your game from a flawed hand strength-based game into a frequency-first approach. It’s just an introduction—I can’t make you an elite player overnight. You have to do the work on your own to get from here to there.

But after you read Poker’s 1%, you will see clearly why your current approach to no-limit hold’em is flawed. You will see how to fix it. And you will know precisely the type of work you should do on your own that will—if you commit yourself to it day after day, month after month—get you the results you want.

I have the pleasure of having a readership that has seen the value of my books. Frequently I hear from readers who attribute large improvements in their play and results to one of my books. I love hearing these stories, because they let me know for certain that my books are well worth the price tag.

This one will be no different. In fact, this book has the highest ceiling of any of the eight books I’ve written. If you read this book and really “get” it, and if you do the work (the work to be done is outlined in the book), the sky’s the limit.

So that’s the secret. Want to know more? Preorder before December 9, 2013 and get my awesome Black Friday deal.

13 Responses to “Poker’s 1%: What’s The Secret?”

David Haywood Young
@ Thu Mar 06, 2014 04:42:15 PM

Looking forward to this one. But it’s March now. {8′>

Ed Miller
@ Thu Mar 06, 2014 05:22:47 PM

Glad you’re interested in the new book. If you ordered it the day I posted this, then you got it two weeks early, in February.

If not, it releases Tuesday, March 11.

Bill Clay
@ Fri Mar 07, 2014 03:16:05 PM

Hey Ed,
Been a while. We went to Newman together, and we took a few of the same classes. Glad you’re prospering here. I read your last book and pre-ordered this one. I moved to Vegas a while back to chase this dream (don’t think our paths have crossed yet).
Anyway, hope this book is great.

David Haywood Young
@ Sat Mar 08, 2014 07:56:25 PM

So, a quick question: are you talking about the sort of thing you mentioned in this article (http://www.cardplayer.com/cardplayer-poker-magazines/66241-thomas-beckstead-26-13/articles/21289-an-exercise-to-improve-your-no-limit-hold-em)? Because I commented on that a few months ago. And I still suspect I was right that, though the approach outlined in your exercise would help in constructing a difficult-to-beat poker bot, there are more productive approaches for humans. This is from the perspective of a mostly-live-game guy. Or IOW, from my perspective.

I’m not saying you were wrong, exactly–just that although that particular exercise gives an answer of sorts, there may well be easily identified superior lines available against somewhat-obvious real-world players with known tendencies (or reasonably-assumed tendencies, basing this on observed characteristics/behavior and some proficiency in the classification of opponents). In fact an over-reliance on game-theory-derived play is likely to horribly affect win rate: poker, IMNSHO, is mostly about identifying and exploiting opponents’ mistakes. Personally I find that so important that I work awfully hard to have -no- other goals, tendencies, or habits. I’d say winning over time is all about identifying counter-intuitive (and occasionally emotionally difficult) strategies, and applying them as often as opponents make practical.

So…your exercise is generally useful only insofar as it might help me identify exploitable situations. It will only very rarely have any direct prescriptive value.

In short: I don’t care at all about theoretical opportunities my opponents might in principle exploit, as long as they show no evidence of acting effectively to do so. If an opponent gives me trouble, well, okay–then it’s time for a neutral approach, but -only- until I can figure out another gambit to try.

I am quite certain, as I said in my original comment, that you are well aware of the existence of exploitable tendencies. You have written of them fairly often, and I think you’ve come up with some great stuff along those lines. It’s been helpful to me. So I’m wondering what you’re trying to do this time. But don’t worry–I’ll read it!

Also…if opponents -aren’t- playing clearly exploitable lines, maybe “game selection” is the better skill to improve? {8′>

‘Course if you’re talking about something else this time, please disregard most or all of the above. And either way I’ll buy your new book when it’s available.

David Haywood Young
@ Mon Mar 10, 2014 10:09:50 PM

Good stuff. I kept wanting to argue as I read along, but by the end you got there and satisfied me. And, y’know, you’re right: a trained intuition is critical to recognizing player tendencies that would otherwise be hard to spot.

I will say that random numbers often come in clumps, though, and human brains do math/recall badly–so, as a mostly-live player, I’ll keep on putting more stock in people’s various ways of identifying their own mindsets for me than in any logic looking like this: “well, this river bet looks squirrelly, because after all I’ve seen this guy 3-barrel three times in the four hours I’ve been playing with him, and he didn’t get called, and I don’t immediately remember any other hands where he got to the river, so therefore I’ll bluff-catch with a weaker hand this time.” :-) Not saying you said that’d be a good idea, because you didn’t (though it might be!), but it can take quite a while to get statistically significant data that way and frankly I strongly doubt it’s worth trying a brute-force-in-the-brain approach like that in a “live” setting. Though I’m sure you know that too.

But this still isn’t an argument for deliberately failing to exploit anything at all. IMO lots of player behaviors correlate well with other player behaviors, and (although I could be wrong and would never be able to prove it either way) it does seem to me that classifying opponents as soon as possible, on the basis of very little direct evidence, is a very useful strategy–in which case we skip straight to the exploitation phase until proven wrong. And even when “hero” is proven–or suggested to be–wrong, opponents will (or won’t!) draw conclusions based on what they’ve seen, and those conclusions in turn may well be exploitable…it’s a math problem, sure, but the problem domain is awfully big. It includes all sorts of environmental/distracting factors, and grudges, and snap judgments all around. At least with most opponents. Especially those who are human, or nearly.

It’s possible, too, that simply thinking about frequencies (as you put it) is enough to push many players into solvency and success–because doing so is likely much more productive than hopes and dreams that might otherwise occupy their minds at the table. Or tilt, in whatever form. Come to think of it, tilt-reduction might actually be at least half the value here. {8′>

Anyway. Definitely worth the read. Looking forward to your next book!

Ed Miller
@ Tue Mar 11, 2014 09:54:39 AM

I agree with you that player behaviors correlate with other players (such that exploitable traits tend to clump in a pool of similar players), and I also agree with you that it makes tons of sense to categorize on very little evidence and begin exploiting immediately.

That’s definitely how I play.

I believe strongly in thinking about the game in this frequency-based way… basically because it just plain makes you understand the game better, and the exploitable things other players do that mostly just pass the notice of average players will begin to just pop right out at you.

Also, it’s impossible to hold your own against good players if you don’t learn the game this way.

David Haywood Young
@ Tue Mar 11, 2014 12:26:42 PM

Agreed on all fronts. I posted a review on my site. Well, sort of a review, but definitely a recommendation. If Amazon weren’t so annoying about prices above $9.99 and you could reasonably list it there, that’s where I’d have reviewed it. I dunno how many of my readers actually care about poker per se (some? maybe?), but what the heck.


Ed Miller
@ Tue Mar 11, 2014 12:33:57 PM

Thanks for writing your thoughts about the book. It will be on Amazon shortly, their annoying price-control policies notwithstanding.

@ Sat Mar 22, 2014 11:42:07 AM

I am mostly a plo player. Will this be of any benefit to me. The 1% book I am talking about. Also what is the best price I can get on it?? Thank you. I can be reached at mitamagauss@yahoo.com

Tom McCormick
@ Sun Apr 06, 2014 03:04:53 PM

Finished reading it a second time. Thought i had it figured out but am now confused. If i am the bettor starting with 350 hands bet 240 on flop, 165 on turn and 112 on river approximately. But if the other guy is check calling, by the river there are 238 discarded hands that i did not bet still laying there. Whereas if i am calling they are gone. So if calling I am much stronger than if I was betting with 112 hands vs 350? Or am I. Thanks

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@ Thu Oct 09, 2014 05:29:39 AM

Sorry for my poor english

I’ve just start to read your book, and there is one thing i don’t understand about frequencies.
Do i need to adapt my frequencies related to the type of user in front of me, and if yes, how.

For exemple, if i bet a lot preflop from the button to steal the blinds of nits players. This nit fold frequently.
But when he call, his range is quite strong. Do i need to bet 70% of the time on the flop ?

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