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The Grinder's ReportWhile nearly anyone who follows poker is aware of what “grinding” is, it’s important to diagnose the current landscape of poker in relation to this topic. Grinding historically has meant to put in a large amount of volume at the felt, usually within a very short time span, but is this the correct approach in today’s day and age?

When playing for extended periods of time ultimately our goal is to make as much money as possible. Typically those who grind are well-accustomed to the game – either their stakes or a variety of different levels – and have proven to demonstrate winning strategies throughout their careers. Grinding, in essence, is just a matter of choice – a decision we make to devote ourselves to the game of poker so we can test our aptitude and win rate against other villains.

What has become troublesome, however, is that more and more players have spent the same or even more time than usual at the felt but it has come with lessened results, or even worse, at a loss. What exactly has changed? Is it our skill level? Maybe the competition? Almost every professional has an ability to adjust to their opponents and game flow, but we need to recognize that the poker community and its participants are progressing so rapidly that it’s become tedious to maintain an edge.

The topic of grinding is a simple, yet complex issue. For anyone who takes poker seriously, you’re going to need to elicit a large sample size eventually in order to dissect whether or not you’re still a winning player. But finding out the truth about your game can arrive with a steep price. Is poker now becoming too much of a grind?

Is poker becoming “too much” of a grind?

Many of us have played poker for quite some time, and for those who haven’t, hopefully you’ve played enough to recognize that the game is not as easy as it once was. It’s not only a matter of poker becoming more popular; through years of exposure and notoriety poker has blossomed into one of the biggest recreational activities in the world. But, we use the term “recreational” very loosely.

Because of poker’s growth the comprehension of once innate poker concepts and theories has become common, and ideas that were only thrown around by professionals are now accepted by many. The accessibility of strategy articles and fundamental ideas are widespread, and even those who seek deep clarification can easily find it with the help of an online coach or training site. Opponents have become intelligent, and while we can’t speak for all, this has forced many of us to alter our game plan.

For those who have been immersed in the community for years, poker was once an easy distribution channel for cash; players were so unaware of appropriate strategies and decisions that you could get away with making minimal adjustments in-game and still manage to emerge wildly successful. Occasionally these games will still surface, but you’ll typically only find a few “marks” and many of your tablemates will plan on trying to isolate these players just as you do. This makes for an interesting dilemma – playing against regulars will not only diminish our returns, but also force us to do more work to extract our anticipated profit.

Making adjustments to stay ahead should now be the focus of every professional poker player, and this is what we should consider to be the “new age grind”. More and more regulars are displaying a high poker aptitude, but even so, as players who have a strong knack for the game, we need to be thinking one step ahead of them. In some ways, even against a thoughtful opponent, we’ll essentially be exchanging money back and forth. But as we’ve seen in the high-stakes online games, even the premier talent in the poker world square-off against one another, and they don’t always break even.

Because there will always be edges to exploit, I want to talk about a few adjustments we can make to try and maintain our edge. Unfortunately, many of the revisions we can make will only deal with out-of-game decisions. This is important to note: Since many of the players we’re now playing against are capable of modifying their approach, it would be hard to provide a set guideline for how you should make your in-game adjustments. Usually, going over specific hands, looking at HUD stats, or reviewing your written notes will be much more beneficial in terms of how you should be changing your decisions at the table. Instead, we’re going to focus on the little things we can modify to try to help ourselves become more profitable overall with poker’s tougher dynamic.

1. Less Tables

I will start off by stating that this change is very stake-specific. For those of you who are playing small-stakes or lower, it’s likely that the competition is still inconsistent enough to warrant mass multi-tabling. But even this is no longer a guarantee. Because players who are beginners are slowly grinding their way through the smaller levels to graduate to the bigger limits, you’ll encounter some very savvy (and now experienced) grinders, even at 200NL. I suggest limiting the amount of tables, particularly for high-stakes players because it will allow us to focus more effort on dissecting specific attributes about our opponents and their tendencies.

First off, this should be happening already, and this shouldn’t be an excuse for not doing your homework; doing the necessary research about our most frequent adversaries will always be invaluable, no matter how many “other” adjustments we make. However, since nearly all of the nosebleed games run short-handed or heads-up, we need to ensure we’re prepared to be playing our “A-game” and making adjustments as quickly as possible. While we are making adjustments even when multi-tabling, it can’t hurt to remove a table or two, especially against your toughest opponent or when you’re experiencing a downswing. It should help renew focus and facilitate smarter, more purposeful actions at the felt.

To those who might suggest that cutting tables will cut into your expected value: You really need to evaluate how your game is affected by multi-tabling. You also need to appraise how essential it is to eek out a few BB per 100 hands, in relation to your competency at your current level. If you’re making money, but your overall game and style remains dormant, you should still consider cutting tables. If you can improve by making the most thoughtful and exploitative decisions on 4 tables rather than auto-piloting on 8 and barely making rent, do yourself a favor and boost your aptitude by re-exploring the most creative lines.

2. Learn More Games

I love to call this task every “NLHE player’s worst nightmare”, because the idea of changing or learning a new poker genre is taboo for them. It’s undeniable that No-Limit Hold’em remains the most dominant poker game around the globe, but this doesn’t suggest that it’s always the most profitable. Ultimately our goal is to further our bottom line, and expanding our mental capacity by learning additional games will assist us in redeeming that aspiration.

It would be a mistake to limit our overall progression by not educating ourselves with everything poker has to offer, and for high-stakes players, knowing the ins-and-outs of several games is an absolute must. Unfortunately, as you reach the highest levels edges are harder to maintain, and usually the gap between players is created through the dynamic selection of games being offered.

While poker has become tougher, it’s particularly become more difficult in NLHE, but this is because it’s the most widely televised. Hold’em is such a small market of what’s available that many otherwise brilliant players are not reaching their potential because they’re infatuated with this field. Pot-Limit Omaha has become the latest craze, and this would ultimately be a good start for those who haven’t migrated already because of its growing popularity.

The bigger picture involves learning almost every poker game that’s playable online or live – Badugi, Razz and Open Face Chinese to name a few – and this should be accomplished so that few opportunities are missed when seldom “fish” pop up to play a lesser-known variation. As we know bad players drive games, and if you’re not prepared you can miss out on very lucrative opportunities because of your unwillingness to adjust to current conditions.

Mr. Ivey -- Likely the best all-around player in the game.
Mr. Ivey — Likely the best all-around player in the game.

3. Move Down in Levels

Likely another task that very few players want to hear, moving down in stakes can affect your pride, but it’s simply a business decision. Just as the economy has affected the day-to-day grind of many other business professionals, it can have the same affect on poker. Less and less individuals can afford to donate thousands of dollars in the sake of fun, and those who remain at the highest levels have sharpened their game considerably.

Despite what your ego may tell you, moving down in stakes can have multiple advantages:

You play weaker competition: This is obviously the biggest advantage to moving down. Especially if you’re moving from the nosebleeds to the mid-stakes or even small-stakes, you’ll notice a large gap not only in ability, but in consistency as well. One of the biggest differences you’ll notice in smaller games is the players’ ability to suppress tilt – you’ll find that many otherwise great small-stakes players can lose an edge because they’re on a recent losing streak. World-class players usually don’t have this problem at all, or at worst control tilt more effectively.

If you’re playing in softer fields, you should be making gains more consistently and building your bankroll steadily. The higher games come with much more money, but also more variance. Professionals will be looking to continue making a living and dropping down is a great way to do that because theoretically since they’ve achieved success at higher levels, beating a weaker field should be a cake walk. Not to say that we should go into smaller games with our blinders on, but exploiting players at lower levels should be much easier.

More buy-ins = less worry. The nature of nosebleed games, particularly online, is that losing multiple buy-ins in a short period of time can cripple your bankroll. This happens because A) it’s difficult to deposit and transfer this amount of money frequently, and B) high-stakes games typically don’t run often enough to warrant keeping large sums of money online or in any one place for too long. However, moving down solves these dilemmas because you’ll often be over-rolled for these limits, and there will be many more games running.

Lower stakes = more games/competitors. Because moving up is usually a gradual progression for most players, the concentration of players always has the greatest density at the lower limits. By moving down we’re now opening up our boundaries, and we no longer need to exchange pleasantries with the same 20-30 players at our local card room. We’re now giving ourselves ample opportunity to game select, and only seek out the best table conditions.

This is a great preamble for our last adjustment…

4. Travel for Better Poker Opportunities

One of the most underrated aspects of poker is the necessity of traveling. For those of you who have kept up with the high-stakes world, players making the trip to Macau for uber high-stakes action or even relocating to Canada to once again play online shouldn’t come as a surprise. These are individuals who recognize the importance of their profession, and they treat it as a career move, just as any other out-of-work professional would do.

If your local games have become trite, there’s usually a game or two that’s better and not too far away, but they will require some effort to get to. You may need to pay more in rake, use a lot of gas, or even bring a suitcase, but the ROI from the players could make the difference.

Don’t get complacent just because this “has always been the game I’ve played in” or it’s the closest to home. There are likely several better games available to you, but only the most driven players will find them and maintain their edge (and bankrolls) over the rest.

”Grinding Down”

In closing, I should ask the important question: What’s your “end game?” Not every poker player knows, including professionals. Deciphering what you eventually want out of your poker career will be a critical step in evolving as a player, and deciding whether or not “grinding the tables” is truly for you. For many, they have no choice – this is the career they’ve chosen and they have little to fall back on. They’ve learned to accept the changes in poker, they’ve made adjustments, and they keep moving forward. For others, this may not be necessary. Instead you have the freedom to reassemble your portfolio and restructure your career and life in a manner that’s most effective.

Professionals in general, not just poker players, are exceptional at “the grind”; giving extensive effort when needed and not wasting energy when inappropriate. There are more methods to making money in poker than traditional “grinding”, and this is what we need to be aware of in today’s poker landscape. Dwindling are the 2,000-hand online sessions that saw players leave with thousands of dollars on a daily basis, instead it will take a more honest, thorough assessment on how to maximize our money and time.

If you have another means of income – coaching, building a training site, or sponsorship – be sure to use them because many of the professionals are staying afloat through these business ventures. Many of you are likely signed up to some of them now. This is the way many poker players have withstood “Black Friday” and managed to make it through the brief decline of online poker. Grinding, in its traditional sense, is once again becoming a reality, but for now, keep an open mind and don’t lose sight of the bigger picture.

We may no longer only need a “chip and a chair” to play our favorite game.

Stay driven, and as always, good luck at the tables.

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While we’re on the topic of grinding, we should mention that we’re consistently writing new strategy articles on this concept in our latest eBook. Deemed “The Grinder’s Report”, it’s a collection of all of the latest and most useful strategy tips from our most experienced writers and players, including myself. It’s a great way to stay up to date on all of the newest trends and plays in live and online poker.

To subscribe: Simply visit our home page at imaconlinepoker.com, scroll towards the bottom of the page and enter the required information. It’s free to try, and you may unsubscribe at any time. At no cost to you, it should be an effortless way to add money to your bankroll and help increase your win rate. Try it today!


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