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The pros tell you how to win a million dollars playing poker

The vast majority of us play poker to make money, but just how difficult is it for a solid lower-stakes player to advance his game and chase a seven-figure bankroll? If we take it as a given that the best way to reach millionaire status is through online play, what are the best ways to tackle multi-table tournaments, cash games and sit&gos? Read on as our panel of top pros reveal what it takes to climb the ladder and reach for the stars.

1. Getting Started

ONLINE SNGs, $100 – $2,000 +

Sit&go grinding can be an extremely effective way to build up a bankroll. As players progress through the levels in an attempt to bring in some serious money, picking the right table to sit down at becomes crucial, explains Adam Noone, ‘The most important aspect of playing single table tournaments (STTs) profitably is game selection. In multi-table tournaments (MTTs) you never know who you’re going to be sat with and you may get a very tough table or a very soft table. The beauty of STTs is that you can choose whether you want to join a game or wait until a more profitable one starts up, which usually will only take a few minutes. With STTs you should focus not so much on the actual buy-in but the standard of players.’

As you’d expect, sit&gos become tougher to beat as you climb the ladder and find more players executing optimum strategy, but as Jeff Kimber says, they’re still there for the taking. ‘There are less spots to get chips early on, but while these games are harder, they’re by no means impossible. Watching the top players in action online is a great way to learn.’

Neil Channing says sit&gos are becoming a tougher nut to crack, although he adds that ABC poker can still pay dividends. ‘Sit&gos are almost a solved puzzle in a lot of ways,’ he says. ‘You can still make money at them, though, because at any one sit&go there’s normally two terrible players, and that’s enough for everyone to beat the rake. You just have to stick to that basic principle: tight early, open up later.’ Kimber agrees, ‘Play tight for the first few levels and then up the aggression. If you get a premium hand early, play very aggressively, but if not, wait until there’s five or less left, and get your chips in first.’

Ryan Pachmayer, from training site, says heads-up can prove the best route to building a bankroll. ‘Learning concepts such as position, pre-flop raise sizing, value betting and discipline can ?make players a winner in these games very quickly,’ he says. ‘There’s plenty of action from players that honestly have no clue what they are doing. They can be very profitable, and with the low bankroll requirements compared to other games, they are the perfect fit for a beginner looking to move up the poker ladder.’

Observe good table selection
Watch the top players in action
Stick to basic SNG principles
Heads-up SNGs are one of the fastest routes to a big bankroll

Payout structure

‘I think the key factor is realising how the payout structure affects your strategy. Because there is not a lot of difference between cashing third and first (it is only 2/1). Players are supposed to play for third place (unless a juicy bubble situation comes up) and then play to win from there. In MTT cashing versus winning could be 100/1 so you always play to win. Not so in sit&gos.’ Annie Duke

2. The Next Step

Online MTTs, $2,000 – $200,000 +

Tournaments seem the obvious place to start for the budding poker millionaire; one hot run in an MTT with a juicy prize pool can transform a bankroll. Indeed Jeff Kimber says that big online tournaments can be the key to making the most of your money. ‘The big Sunday tournaments are your best chance of a big score. For $215 every week on PokerStars you have a shot at making $200k from your own home.’ Kimber also stresses the value of online satellites. ‘My biggest wins as a recreational player all came as the result of satelliting into big live events,’ he says. ‘I’ve invested a couple of hundred bucks and turned it into six figure results a couple of times.’

There is also value to be satelliting into the big online tournaments, and assuming a solid lower-level player has managed to satellite into one of the big Sunday tournaments what differences can they expect to find when they sit down with the big boys? ‘At the lower levels you can live off other people’s mistakes and patiently wait for big hands,’ says Adam Noone. ‘At higher buy-ins those easy chips aren’t as common so players have to find other ways to build a stack. Observation of your opponents is much more important as you are going to have to make some moves when you don’t have a great holding. The key is knowing when the timing is right.’

Bankroll management is also vital when dealing with MTTs, says Neil Channing. ‘People always say you should never put more than between 2% and 5% of your bankroll into one tournament – I actually think that 5% is a bit high. If you stick to 2% as a maximum that’s about right.’ Channing adds that players who keep a level head are at a distinct advantage, ‘The thing about the big Sunday tournaments is that there are so many people playing, people get intimidated by the numbers and start thinking they’ve got to win every hand. They think that they have to play recklessly and get all the chips in the first few hours and that’s not the case. All you can do is play the people on your table and not panic; you just need to be there at the end for good things to happen.’

Observe every hand
Play satellites
Commit no more than 2% of your bankroll
Don’t be intimidated

Playing Style vs ROI

‘If we look at three of the top online MTT players we can see very different figures – Shaun Deeb +17% on Pokerstars +38% on Full Tilt, Chris Moorman +67% ‘Stars +90% FTP, Annette Obrestad +148% FTP -84% ‘Stars (but over an extremely small sample). All are great players with different styles but about the only thing in common is they are all showing positive returns. As long as a player is a long term winner they should be happy.’ Adam Noone

3. The Long Grind

Online cash games, $10,000 – $1,000,000

Players who decide to specialise in ring games rather than tournaments in ?their quest to bank a seven-figure sum must have a firm grasp of strategy and, more importantly, a level head over and above pure skill, says UltimateBet ?pro Annie Duke. ‘Two of the most important strategies are bankroll management and tilt control. In many ways those two are more important than talent level.’

Channing agrees that a clear head is important, and is particularly clear on sticking to a level that you can beat on a regular basis. ‘People talk about the right time to move up or down a lot on the internet,’ he says. ‘They say, “I can’t beat that level because the people play so badly – I’m going to have to move up.” That is such bullshit. If you can’t beat the level, you should drop down, not move up. Just because they call too often, or eight people see every flop, ?or you can never seem to get a continuation bet through – that just means you’re not adapting correctly. They may be playing badly, but you’re playing badly as well.’

Multi-tabling is obviously an effective way to increase the amount of money you can earn, but getting carried away with the number of tables you sit at can do more harm than good, says Duke. ‘There are pros and cons,’ she says. ‘The pros are mainly that you get more bang for your buck. What poker players earn is dependent on the time they put in. The more time, the more money, so multi-tabling drastically increases the time you can play, thus increasing your earn. The drawback is that as you add more tables your edge at each table ?goes down so you have to make sure that you aren’t playing so many tables that you lose your edge at each.’

While trying to hit the big time by ‘taking shots’ at a higher level without the relevant bankroll is generally frowned on by bankroll purists, Channing says that it might not be all that bad of an idea. ‘If you’re a young guy and want to have a shot at playing bigger because you’re doing well in the game that you’re playing in, I don’t see anything wrong with that,’ he says. ‘Going broke at the age of 22 is a lot easier than going broke at the age of 50. If you have no ties, it’s not the worst thing in the world having a few shots at a bigger game. Most of the guys who are doing really well on the internet that have moved up from very small stakes to very big stakes have gone broke a few times along the way.’

If you can’t beat a level, you should move down
It’s fine to take the occasional shot at a bigger game if you have no dependents
Multi-tabling is a great way to increase your hourly earn

Bankroll management

‘You should buy into a no-limit cash game for about 100 to 200 big blinds – that is all you should risk. And whatever you are buying for should be about 2.5% to 5% of your total bankroll depending on how much better than the game you are. In limit games, risk between 30 and 50 big bets. You can always move up to the next level as long as you are willing to step back down immediately if it doesn’t work out. Otherwise only move up when your bankroll is big enough to withstand the variance at the new level.’ Annie Duke


Live tournaments, $10,000 – $1,000,000

While playing online is the quickest and most reliable way of getting to the magic million, there is one method which is practically instantaneous – winning a major live tournament. Team PokerStars pro Victoria Coren did just that when she won the EPT London main event for just shy of $1 million. Here she offers her top three tips for anyone looking to follow in her footsteps.

Tip 1 If it ain’t broke…

‘If you’re winning solidly in the low or mid-stakes tournaments, there is no reason to change strategy just because the stakes are going up. Although you can generally improve every aspect of your technique as you get more experienced in poker, you can only ever play your own natural game. If you suddenly try a whole bunch of new things just because you’re playing a bigger tournament, it’s unlikely to go well. Stick to what has been working for you. I would adjust my tournament strategy according to the blinds, the structure, the size of the field, whether or not there are rebuys, and what the opponents at my table are doing, but never according to the stakes.’

Tip 2 Burst your bubble…

‘I don’t think you can assume there will be more players clinging on for the money in a bigger tournament. For every player who’s qualified through a satellite and would consider the lowest payout to be a significant profit because of that, there will be another satellite qualifier who thinks he is in cheaply and might as well gamble for the big win. And those who have bought in directly, if you assume they are winning players, are going to recognise ‘bubble bullying’ for what it is so might take a dangerous stand. Around the bubble is certainly a good time to pick on the medium-stacks, but you need to identify those who seem to be holding back and hanging on, and you should do this in any tournament.’

Tip 3 Be indiscriminate…

‘Your goal should be to treat every player on their own merits: whether it’s an international star, a woman, a young Scandinavian or a Texan in a giant hat, you should never assume anything. Nevertheless, if you can bear to act as though you’re excited to meet a famous pro then come into pots with strong hands, he might assume you’re giving him action with any old rubbish. Conversely, if you act a bit nervous, roll your eyes and say, “Just my luck to get the tough table”, he might assume that he can bully you more easily than he really can. So you could choose one of these methods depending on how tight/trappy/aggressive you’re likely to play. But if the famous player is any good, he’ll see what you’re doing soon enough so you have to make your profit fast.’

Play your natural game
Target those players who are hanging on in the bubble
Treat every player on their own merits
Use your own image to your advantage

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