Tom Bentham: How to crush online cash games

Tom ‘tjbentham’ Bentham has crushed the online cash games, winning over $1m on PokerStars – find out how with his top tips

Perhaps better known by his online moniker ‘tjbentham’, Tom Bentham is a homegrown talent from Kent who quit uni to play poker full-time – and had success beyond all reasonable expectation. In just a couple of years he managed to reach the $1m mark playing some of the toughest cash games on PokerStars. 

Winning mentality

  • Mentally, it can be tough to move up the cash levels, especially as the money starts to mean more. Even little things like the colour of the blinds can have a big psychological effect. When you’re playing higher stakes a lot of people will impulsively bluff the river because the pot means so much to them. Just slow things down a little bit.
  • Poker is a game where emotion should not enter into it. The only time when it should is when you’re considering someone else’s emotions and how they perceive your emotions. When you’re thinking ‘I need to get even’, or ‘I need to get this guy’, you’re not in the right state of mind.

Controlling stakes

  • No one starts off being able to deal with huge pots. It’s something you have to program yourself to do, reminding yourself that it’s a long-term game and that one day’s bad results don’t mean the end of anything. If you see a pot developing and you’re petrified of losing that amount of money, you’re playing too high.
  • If you’re a lower-stakes player and you go below 30 buy-ins, move down. When you go above 30, move up. That’s how I’d do it if I was moving through the lower and medium stakes.

Keep improving

  • I think your learning curve is going to be a lot quicker if you have someone you can talk to and admit your mistakes to. If you make a big error and you convince yourself it wasn’t an error, or make up a hand range so it’s okay, you’re going to learn a lot less. There’s no such thing as a bad mistake as long as you learn from it.
  • I think having a database of all of your hands is a really good idea. It’s very hard to track your results otherwise, and you can also use it to review your hand histories and spot patterns. If you have a database you can be honest with yourself. That’s the only way you can improve and is such a massive part of poker.

The swings

  • When I was playing $2/$4, I had a lot of buy-ins [in my bankroll]. The games were quite soft, so if I lost a few buy-ins I just saw it as an investment. I had very strict stop-losses. If I lost two buy-ins at $10/$20, I’d just want to quit. I would stop for half an hour, then I’d rejoin.
  • I definitely believe a lot in momentum and game flow. If you’re handling the swings better than someone else, and only continuing to play when you’re on your A-game, that’s to your advantage.
  • Before, I didn’t really want to lose ten buy-ins in a day, so I would play short sessions if I was losing. Nowadays, because I’ve conditioned myself to downswings, I sustain losing more buy-ins without it affecting me.
  • As soon as I realise my mentality might be changing, I re-evaluate whether I still have an edge in the game.

The edge

  • One thing I’ve always done is to look at the higher stakes tables and see if there are any amazing games running. I’ve always had a good grasp of the Kelly criterion, which is that the bigger your edge, the more of your bankroll you should be willing to take a shot with.
  • You need a big sample size to determine whether you have an edge, and if you don’t have that you need to honestly appraise your play. I think it’s important to identify exactly where your edge is coming from.

Learn to earn

  • I think training sites are a necessary evil. I haven’t watched too many videos, but you have people like Phil Galfond who is an amazing instructor. If your goal is to get as good as possible, and you’re willing to pay, then training sites are good.
  • There’s definitely a lot of value in posting hand histories on forums, but you can’t just assume that a respected poster is right. You have to want to know why. I think that’s a big part of poker generally. The thought process will allow you to make the correct decision.
  • I always neglected taking notes, but recently I’ve seen the value in it. The best time to take notes is at showdown, as that’s where the biggest information exchange is. Look at things like specific bet-sizing or timing tells, as well as hand values and how they decided to bet it.

High stakes

  • Essentially the nosebleed stakes can be a game of chicken. Often the most likely scenario on a dry board is that neither player has a strong hand, so it’s down to who swerves first.
  • Most of the player pool at the nosebleed level are loose and extremely aggressive. This is no coincidence – getting to the highest stakes requires taking some aggressive shots at the right times and having things work out.

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