I am often asked the question “how do you win at poker” or “what is an online poker winning strategy”? My usual response to this line of questioning is to ask my young apprentice “how long is a piece of string”? Put simply, you can’t improve your poker game by taking such a holistic approach. You need to break your game down and improve each facet to be a successful player.
Thankfully, there is a wealth of material available on the internet about online poker strategy to help you improve each facet of your game. In fact, improving your game is as simple as looking at your statistics and comparing them to the optimal statistics to determine where you are deficient. As your statistics become closer to the optimal statistics you will automatically improve your win rate. Of course, first of all you will need a statistical package, such as Poker Tracker, to generate your game statistics. The rest of this article will explain what the optimal statistics are for limit Hold’em and why you should aim to obtain these statistics. For compatibility, I have used widely available summary statistics that can be generated directly from Poker Tracker as an aid to improve your game.
VPIP: voluntarily put $ in pot (%).
For me, this single statistic tells me a lot about a player’s ability. This statistic basically represents how often you decide to participate in a hand. The typical range for a good player is between 15 and 20 per cent. Most losing players voluntarily commit more than 20 per cent of the time to a pot. This is the single biggest mistake I see among poor players. If this is you, you need to be more disciplined and more selective about which hands you play. On the other end of the scale, if VPIP is less than 15% you are most likely missing out on some profitable opportunities and should try to play a few more hands that you generally consider as marginal.
PFR: preflop raise (%).
Good players generally raise preflop around 7-10% of the time. That is, you should aim to raise about half the time. Often, I see players who raise less than 5% of the time. Players who play in this manner are generally easy to pick off. When they raise, you know they have a very strong hand. When they limp in and are strong after the flop you know they have hit. Don’t let this be you. On the other end of the scale raising more than 10 per cent of the time causes its own problems. Firstly, you are raising with marginal hands and will often cop a re-raise from players with better hands leaving you in a bad position. Secondly, players will identify that you raise a lot and will be more inclined to re-raise you making post flop play difficult.
VPIP from SB (small blind)
You should call from the small blind 25-35% of the time. I have found that most players usually automatically fall into this range. However, If you are facing a raise you should still be very selective which hands you play with. If the pot has not been raised I recommend playing most suited or connected cards. I would, however, drop playing poor suited hands such as 72, 73, 82, 83 and so on. This is especially true if there have not been many callers before you act.
Saw flop all hands
I think this is a meaningless statistic. You should look at VPIP and VPIP from SB first. If these figures look good, your saw flop all hands statistic will also look good. For the record it is generally 3-5 % higher than your VPIP figure.
Attempt to steal:
I think that players, as a rule, are too passive when in potential steeling positions. I like to see this figure between 40-50 %. You will be amazed how often steeling is profitable.
WSD: went to showdown.
Good players will go to showdown between 28-32 per cent of the time. I find that a common mistake is to see players going to showdown 40% of the time. If this is you, you are going to showdown too many times with marginal hands.
WSF: won $ when saw flop.
This number is also around 30%. Naturally, this number is correlated to the type of hands you are taking the flop with. The higher the percentage of hands you see the flop with, the lower WSF will be and vice versa.
W$SD: won $ at showdown.
This is another key statistic! I like to see this number around 55%. However, anywhere in the range of 50-60% is acceptable. Once again, this number is dependant on which hands you see the flop with. However, a number below 50% represents real trouble. I have seen players with healthy win rates when this figure is above 60% but rarely when it is below 50%.
FRB: folded to river bet.
Good players will fold to a river bet between 40-55% of the time. I like to see this statistic on the lower end of this confidence interval, somewhere around 42-45%.
AF: Agression Factor
This is an arbitrary number representing the relative frequency of which you are the aggressor on each street. I don’t take much notice of perflop or the river, but for the flop and turn you should aim to have this stat between 2 and 3. I like to see this number on the higher end of this range. Most players fail to be aggressive enough after the flop and on the turn. Don’t fall into this trap.
I like to check raise around 2-3% of the time. I like to check raise after the flop from an early position to protect made hands that could be beaten. I like to check raise on the turn for value with big hands that are unlikely to be beaten. Of course, I only check raise from early positions when I have good reason to believe that there will be a bet behind me.
This is the number of big bets won per 100 hands and is the benchmark to how you are performing. However, changing this stat is not possible without changing the above stats. Moreover, this stat shows how well you are performing in all of the above statistics.
Standard Deviation / 100:
This varies by your style, but 14-18 seems to be the typical range. Generally, tighter players will have a lower number compared to loser players.
These statistics have proven to provide the most successful strategy over the longer term. It is true that in the short run if you play in a manner that is not recommended above you might enjoy some success. However, this is due to luck and as the number of hands you play increases only an optimal strategy will produce the best results. You should also recognize the Hold’em, as well as other forms of poker, has a large variance. Don’t be disheartened if you are not going well in the short run. You need to play 10 to 15 thousand hands before any meaningful results can be obtained.