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Smokin' Poker - The ABC of 2NL

Helping newbies to bubble up from the bottom of the fishtank
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My blog this week is a little different to the other articles in this series. There's not much strategy advice in this piece, which is aimed at total beginners to real money cashgames. Most of the veterans will already have their favourite software settings in place, but maybe they will learn a new trick or two, particularly with regard to bet-sizing and table-selection. Most of the options and settings I'm going to detail are found in the following menu, which can be found at the top of the Pokerstars client.

Options List

I'll work down the list in the image above, picking out the important settings I use.

Table Display Options > 4 Color Deck
I can't remember if this is the default option or not, but it strikes me as a no-brainer to make sure that clubs are showin in green and diamonds are shown in blue. Flush draws are very obvious when you only have to look at the colours on the board. Now I'm so used to the 4-colour deck, I'd probably be at a disadvantage in live games with standard cards.

Preferred seat
For multi-tabling, it's beneficial to always sit in the same position on a table, so that your eyes know exactly where to go to see your cards. The 'Preferred Seat' function will automatically revolve a table when you take a seat, so you'll always be in the same place. Make sure you choose a position for each of the different set-ups (10-handed, 9-handed, 6-max etc.)

Pref seat

Like many players, I prefer to sit in bottom-middle position, partly because the action buttons are nearby. (In non-holdem games, you sometimes have to click your holecards to discard them, so it's useful to have them close to the action buttons).

Bet Slider Options...
These settings are among the most useful of all, as they rapidly speed up the process of choosing bet-sizes, so you can click on a button, then shift your focus to another table. Here you can set up your standard sizes for pre-flop bet-sizes in big blinds, and your post-flop sizes as a percentage of the pot. When you enable this function, you'll be given 3 extra buttons on the table that enable you to quickly choose an appropriate bet size without dragging the bet-slider or typing in a number.

Bet Slider Options

For cashgames, my standard sizes for pre-flop opens are 2.5bb, 3bb and 4bb. I use the first one for when I am on the button attempting to steal the blinds, as described in an earlier blog. 3bb is my standard for most other situations. If there is a limper, then I'll use the 4bb button. If I need a bigger bet, I use my scroll-wheel to bump it up from there.
Post-flop, the settings shown above should work pretty well for 2NL FR games, but every player has a different preference (e.g. 50% - 75% - 100%). When I'm playing tournaments, I revise my numbers downwards for strategic reasons. (In tourneys, you're short-stacked more often, so smaller bets are appropriate). I'll have much more detail on bet-sizing when I write the long-awaited article on continuation betting, but a good starting point for your post-flop bet-sizing would be as follows:
55% of pot: For dry boards heads up, when you think villain is quite likely to fold. (This is also a good size for a c-bet when you have total air. Anything less than half pot will look so weak that your bluff will get called too often for it to be +EV).
68% of pot: For slightly wet boards heads up, or dry boards multiway, when you're not sure if you'll get action or not. This size is good if you have a reasonably strong hand, but don't yet have an idea if you're ahead or behind. You don't want to get pot-committed too soon if there's a good chance you're beat. It also means most draws do not have the right pot odds to call.
88% of pot: For wet boards heads up and for multiway pots, when you are very likely to get action. I usually use this button when I have a big hand and I want to get lots of value for it. If I have a monster (like 2 pairs or a set), then I'll bump it up to close to pot-sized, especially if villain is a calling station.

Altering our bet-sizes according to board texture and the strength of our hand is somewhat exploitable, but most 2NL villains won't be paying enough attention to pick up on bet-sizing tells. At higher stakes, it might be better to always use the same sizing whether you're value-betting or bluffing, because deception is more important. You wouldn't be making a huge mistake if you always bet 65% of pot in every situation, but at 2NL, I much prefer saving/winning money by betting smaller with my bluffs and bigger with my monsters.
My basic plan when choosing a bet size is as follows:
When I think I have the best hand, I bet the maximum I think villain will call, in order to maximise my profits.
When I am bluffing, I bet the minimum amount that will cause villain to fold, in order to minimise my losses when I get called.
Therefore, I'm often betting 88% of pot (or more) with my made hands, and 55% of pot with my bluffs. (Just don't tell my opponents!)
The bet-size percentage buttons can also be used when you are facing a bet and you want to make a raise. I would never use the 55% button in this situation, because it will often work out to be little more than a minraise (thus giving draws the right price to call), but raising 68% of pot is a great way of getting value from draws (while denying them good odds) without the bet being so big that a villain will fold. Against a stationy player, however, when I'm committed to getting my stack in (with a set, for example) I'll raise 88% or 90% of pot, in order to set up a shove at the earliest opportunity.

Hotkey Settings...
If you suffer from RSI due to overuse of your mouse, or you play several tables at once, using keyboard shortcuts can give your wrist a rest. I'm not currently using Stars hotkeys, because I rarely play more than 4 tables, but setting up keyboard controls for cycling through your tables and setting bet sizes or quick actions like CHECK and FOLD can speed up your game. Using your keyboard's function keys (F1, F2 etc) is a good idea. Just be sure to assign the “All in” button to a key some distance from the one for FOLD, as a mis-click could cost you a bundle.

Run it Twice (Ring Games)
I have this option set to ALWAYS, because running it twice (dealing out two sets of community cards when players are all in) theoretically helps to smooth out the variance. For example, if you are all in with a coin-flip situation, running it once as normal means you either win the whole pot or none of it. You can't win your actual equity share (50%). By running it twice, you are more likely to win at least one of the races and chop the pot. Unfortunately, I've not come across a single 2NL player who has checked this option when I've been all in, but I'd really like this option to catch on, because it's pretty brutal to lose a whole stack as a 93% favourite. I'd happily run the race twice and take half the pot when I'm running bad, as bad beats can be quite tilting.

Auto-Buy-In Options (Ring Games)...
Checking the “Automatically buy-in at No limit, Pot limit and Mixed Limit tables” option will save you having to go through a couple of dialogue boxes when you get a seat at a table. Since my ABC series is based on playing with 100bb stacks, that's the number I use for every option on the menu here.
Once you've established yourself as a winning player at 2NL, you may choose to gradually increase your buy-in to 120bb, 150bb or even the maximum 250bb ($5) as this is allowed at the lowest stakes. (For many regs, buying in for $5 on the 1c/2c tables is more profitable than buying in for $5 on the 2c/5c tables).

Auto Rebuy (Ring Games)

Auto Rebuy

As shown in this image, I use “auto-top-up” to my initial buy-in. This means that I begin every hand with at least 100bb, so I don't have to keep looking at my stack size and worry about whether I'm deep enough to play speculative hands. Players that don't use this option will often be bad players. (TheLangolier is a notable exception). If you see someone with a random stack size like 67c or $1.33, they most likely do not have auto-rebuy switched on, and probably have no idea what implied odds are, so they will do crazy things like call pre for a third of their stack with a small pair and then fold on the flop. In short, weird stack sizes are a tell of a bad player. Decent regs (even the 80c shorties) will nearly always have at least their original buy-in at the start of every hand.

Instant Hand History Options...
Be sure to save your hand histories to a folder on your hard drive. This will enable you to find hands you want to post on the forum, and is essential if you use a tracker/HUD. Pokerstars Support will be able to send you your entire playing history if you request it at a later date, but you may as well start saving those hands now if you plan to get a tracker in the future, as your playing history will be used to calculate stats on all the villains you've played in the past.

Advanced Multi-Table Options

Advanced Options

There are two crucial options here. Set/Bet % of pot: Don't round to nearest blind means that when I bet 55% of pot, it won't get rounded up or down too much. Before I checked this option, there were times (particularly in tournaments) when my “55% of pot” bet, was rounded down to a size of less than half pot!
I've unchecked Ask to post blinds when a new game starts to prevent an additional dialogue box when I take a seat. When you get a seat, make sure you've checked the “wait for big blind” button on the table. Posting 2c out of turn might not seem like much, but since you'll be dealt an unplayable hand more than 80% of the time, posting unnecessary blinds will add up and be a drain on your bankroll. The first hand you are dealt in on every table should always be in the big blind. When you plan to leave, check the “sit out on next big blind” option on the table itself. The blinds are the forced bets you pay to be dealt in for a whole orbit, so you may as well see what you get dealt for free in the last few hands before the blinds next come round. (FWIW, I always click the “sit out next BB” option straight after winning a big pot. I like to bank my profit and go find another table, as I'm not comfortable playing deep-stacked and don't want to spew off my winnings).

View Menu

View Menu

With this menu, you can set the software to remember the layout of your tables. I recommend beginners start with just one table and then move to two tables once they are confident. Two tables tiled side by side at the top of your screen will probably be best. Eventually you can add more. My preference is to have 4 tables tiled and stretched to fill my screen, as I like to be able to see the action on every table at once. When you're happy with your layout, click “Save custom layout...” If you accidentally move one of the tables, you can use this menu (or press CTRL+3) to get everything back in position.

Table selection using lobby settings

Table selection is absolutely crucial at high stakes, because solid pros have such small edges over each other. (You won't find Negreanu and Ivey sitting in Bobby's Room unless there is also a known donator at the table). Table selection is much less important in the micros, because there are so many tables and so many bad players, but it's still a good skill to practice and can sigfnificantly boost your winrate. “Bumhunting” has become a dirty word, but I'm not ashamed to admit that I actively search for the very worst players on the nanostakes tables, because I want to win big pots and not have to face tough decisions. I don't want to get into 4-bet levelling wars with regs.
I like to use Filters to help choose my tables. The FILTER button is above and to the right of the table list in the lobby. Here's an example of some settings for full ring games:

Filter

Since there are hundreds of 2NL tables available, I've set up filters to remove short-handed tables from the list, and further narrowed the list by specifying things like average stack size and VPIP. Experiment with these settings so you have a more manageable list of tables in the lobby.
Since most of our profit comes from playing loose players, I list all the tables in the lobby by VPIP in descending order. The loosest players will tend to be found on the tables with the highest VPIP. “Players per flop” and “Avg pot” are also useful stats, as high numbers for these also indicate juicy tables.

Table VPIP

The tables at the top of the list shown above were the loosest at the moment I took the screengrab, but the list refreshes automatically every few seconds.
If VPIP is not listed on your screen, right-click on the bar that includes “Table, stakes, limit” to bring up this settings box:

Sorting by VPIP in descending order will get your tables lined up and ready for you to go fishing. From here, I suggest clicking on the top table and looking on the right hand side to see the names of the players. If they are all unknowns, you might want to give it a miss, as it's always easier to play against villains with whom you have some history and notes. Crucially, any colour-coding you've done previously will also show up here. You can use your cursor keys to move down the list. If you spot a fish you know you can exploit, then add your name to the waiting list. If the table is full of players you've previously tagged as regs, then you might want to avoid it. It's often the case that the tables with the highest VPIP have the longest waiting lists, as other regs obviously know a bit about table selection, but you might find that a big fish is on a table lower down the list. Get on it before the other sharks find it!

I hope someone finds this blog useful, as it took me about 17 hours to put it together! Next time, I'll take a deeper look at the types of villains you are likely to come across on the 2NL tables, give you some advice on colour-coding, and also give you tips on exploiting each player type.
Comments, questions and suggestions are welcome on my blog thread in the forum. Till the next time, may your bets be big, and your profits even bigger!

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