Rene Kuhlman: Which jump in stakes did you find the most difficult?

Josef "Sunni_92" Schusterisch: Probably the transition from NL500 to NL1k. I played Zoom 50 and Zoom 100 a long time ago, but I don’t think anything has changed since then – they are very similar limits. Zoom 200, I think, has become much more difficult, because the game at the 500 limit is quite rare, and the 200 limit has actually become the upper limit, where you can always find action, while the rake there is quite high. And yet the biggest difference, especially when it comes to Stars, is the transition from NL500 to NL1k. Although the next steps are also very difficult. Many people bang NL1k, but starting from NL2k all the regulars are already very tight. NL1k, one might say, filters out bumhunters. At NL5k and NL10k the requirements for the level of play are also high, but I don’t play these limits without at least one amateur at the table.

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RK: In my time, the strongest regulars sat at all limits from NL2k to NL10k, and did not go lower. Today, I think they are all ready to play NL1k, because there is less action. This is also why NL1k is much harder to conquer than NL500. What qualities did you have to develop in your playing to overcome this obstacle?

JS: My main problem at each new limit was that I rated my opponents too highly. As soon as I stopped considering them god-like beings and realized that these are also people, then everything was fine. Still, I was sure that there were definitely monsters at the next limit.

Now at the upper limits, I meet players who are deservedly considered legendary. But when I analyze their game, it often turns out that by today’s standards, they are no longer particularly good and are mainly engaged in bum-hunting, taking money from VIPs.

If we talk about changes in my game from limit to limit... I had a very solid base from the very beginning. I lost because I overestimated my opponents and made very negative actions: since I am facing the poker gods, I need to bluff in all spots with the right hands and have bluffs in my range in any situation. This approach cost me a lot, but as soon as I realized that my opponents also make mistakes, everything changed for the better.

RK: For some reason, when we come to a higher limit, we believe that we are obliged to change the game, to do something special. However, the main reason we ended up at this limit is because our game is already pretty good! We deserved a new limit with our game, why should we change it? This is a very common problem, based on what our podcast guests say.

You went through the Zoom pretty quickly. Tell us why many players get stuck for a long time at one limit, like NL50 or NL100.

YS: Honestly, the main reasons why people stay at one limit for a long time are their ego and pretentiousness. What I mean is that they want to win, not learn proper strategy or play good poker. This is where it all begins.

The second point is toxicity. I often see how in hand discussions on the forum, 90% of the posts are devoted to how poorly the opponent is playing, the field as a whole, etc. Because of this, people spend a lot of energy on something that has nothing to do with them. They better use this time to sit down and figure out how to win against such bad players! Then, the rise in limits will not take long.

How does ego affect things? The lower-limit regulars are still playing fairly weakly, but they believe they deserve much better success. They try to win all the pots, but poker doesn't work that way. Losing pots is part of the game. Folding often has a higher EV than calling, but I think a lot of people don't understand this.

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RK: Losing a hand can be more profitable than trying to win it!

YS: Exactly, a very accurate generalization. This is a poker truth, but I think people are not happy with it and are looking for other ways.

When analyzing large lost banks, they turn to a solver to get an excuse for their actions, when they just need to sit, think and understand the situation. The solver ranges of both players on the river are very often as far from what they actually are. A near-zero call in theory becomes a blunder in practice.

  • “The randomizer came up with a 10, and in this spot I have to call half the time, so I had no choice!” – this is the wrong approach.
  • “Such combinations of bluffs are out of his range on the flop and turn, and he simply won’t come up with these bluffs...” is the correct approach.

It may be worth locking down the ranges and working with them to determine logical adjustments for human factors. But it’s much easier to reassure yourself by looking at the solver’s strategy and making sure that you did everything correctly against the machine.

RK: I've also heard that people find it difficult to give up something that has worked for them for a long time, because giving up means admitting that you were wrong. “It turns out that I was wrong all this time – is this possible?” Therefore, we would rather go down than admit that we were wrong and must change.

YS: Poker is such a game that we have to ignore the human side of ourselves as much as possible. The human brain is completely unsuited to poker and behaves very stupidly. Many correct actions contradict intuition and logic.

When I coached NL100 and NL200 players, they often brought me hands where they gave up half a stack or more with bluff catchers against the same opponent. They called five times, looked at the nuts five times and then noted that the guy simply never bluffs. Of course, when you place your palm on a hot stove, two or three times should be enough for you, and then, since the result does not change, you should stop. The problem with poker is that doing the right thing doesn't always produce a good result, and a winning call with a great bluff catcher can cause you to lose ten times in a row. Therefore, in order to assess the correctness of our actions, we must always show the greatest possible objectivity – that is, suppress everything human in ourselves.

When you have data on your opponent's play, and statistics confirm that he is over-bluffing or under-bluffing, your adjustment to this feature of his play will always be correct, regardless of the result in a short period. But people, especially at low stakes, often confuse objective data with their impression of their opponent's play. They see the nuts five times in a row and consider this to be enough distance that they need to restructure their strategy.

RK: Yes! I often hear on streams, "People here never bluff, never fold", and so on. Or, sometimes, they ask me a question, "Do they bluff at such and such a limit in Zoom?" Well, the answer is... Yes, everything is different! Someone can under-bluff in one line and over-bluff in another. Texture, bet sizing – it all matters. There is no universal answer.

And the most annoying thing is that once you’ve made up a story in your head, confirmation bias starts to kick in—you constantly see confirmation that you’re right. Every time they show you the nuts, you're like, oh yeah, I told you they weren't bluffing! Even when you've been shown a bluff four times out of five, a single bad call carries more weight. This type of bias allows you to completely ignore any new information that contradicts the original conclusion. And over time it only intensifies, because it is difficult for us to admit to ourselves a systematic error.

YS: I agree. Finally, the third point: when people work on a game, they choose the wrong goals. A few days ago I saw a professional poker player and streamer training with GTO Wizard. When a person solves problems with a 150bb stack in UTG positions against the cutoff, I have a lot of questions for him. A frantic tilt and deep sadness are simultaneously born within me. I had to turn off the stream immediately, otherwise I would not have held back and taught a useful lesson to too many of his viewers.

When I'm working on a theory with someone, I'm very open and share 95%, maybe even 100% of the information. I will always give an honest answer to a direct question and in very rare cases I can say that I am not ready to go into detail for such and such reasons. But I won’t deceive my interlocutor or come up with some stupid stories... How many difficult hands will I play in such a spot in a year? I think even two is too much. Spending even five minutes analyzing it is blatant stupidity.

RK: That's it! Remember, guys: the secret to success is the efficiency of working on the game. Study situations that occur frequently or in which you have high expectations.

JS: Great advice for everyone.

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