So You Want to Play 100 Hours of One-Three

At some point Berkey or someone with poker’s attention floated the prop bet of moving down, way down, and playing 1/3 live NL for a bearable time and to demonstrate a certain win rate, I think one hundred hours and ten bbs per hour, respectively. One can make the standard assumptions, but the truth is that we can’t be really sure what this feat would be designed for or is supposed to prove: of course these savvy veterans would do fine.

However, beyond that generality, life in the gutter will not quite play out as they describe. I can tell them, and you, this: whatever is being said about the live low stakes, it’s often wrong. This probably matters more to anyone trying to make it or explain it or win for more than for a few thousand hands, but perhaps our One-Three Challengers will care, too.

So, let’s talk about the challenge, the generalities of playing small, and have some fun by taking the plunge! I’m going to do this in two or three parts, while focusing the commentary on key ideas, going through some actual play, and challenging a few low-stakes myths.

Getting Ready

Circularly influenced by hearing about this challenge, I had just started a one-three period of my own, so the timing was fortuitous. In fact, with new living arrangements, new life circumstances, and years of careless expenditures to account for, what could be more responsible?  Most players play beyond their bankroll requirements, and for some years, I was no exception. In 2024, my personal incentive is easy, low risk games; your incentive could be different, it doesn’t matter. Plus, I already was playing plenty of 1/3 and 1/2, especially on Sunday nights as a kind of wind down, so I have a good amount of relevant and current expertise.

As of today, I have reached 48 hours, and exactly 50 if I add a 1/2 session on the road in Reno. (To annoy anyone with OCD, I may count this as one-three!) I play up to three sessions of 1/3 per week (I can’t only play this stake) and am travelling in May, so it will take two more months or so to complete the challenge. I will also share some of the other stake “data” (I am more than aware of the joke regarding this sample size, but we’ll talk about that) for the purposes of comparison, especially 2/3 deep stack results to show the importance of chips on the table versus actual big blind amount.

So, we’ll have those results to go along with what’s far more important: what really goes on at one-three and what you might encounter if you come down here.

Great Expectations

The general conversation around live win rates and low stakes strategy is mostly unquantified fluff, while certain specifics are good. What I mean is, big win rates are indeed specifically possible but why they happen and how meaningful they are is generally bad information.

First off, the live game is so slow – and one-three is the slowest of all, congested with multiway action, rules confusion, and inexplicable tanking – that your ability to change and improve, never mind the game state itself, tends to worsen the use of large samples: you are simply not the same player you started out as. This makes, counterintuitively, more medium or shorter samples of better use than you might think for determining what your short-term future should yield. A high stakes challenger, if he is actually good at poker, will adapt to unfamiliar information and actions extremely quickly – beating ten bbs/hour is highly probable and the line for any prop bets should reflect this.

That said, there are players, including a certain set of online regs, who like Cuckoo birds, simply fit into their surroundings, duplicating the actions of others as best they can, even at bigger stakes – one of the realities of the game culture is that actual knowledge of poker theory is scarcer than you think. These players will likely struggle with the live game a bit, these are the types that will whine about the nonsense they will encounter instead of seeing it accurately as a source of profit. They will be among those that fall for the three big low stakes poker myths I will be dissecting.

Second, games are very different on a cardroom-by-cardroom basis, which usually not reflected in the data we pass around for comparisons. For instance, a reg will tell you that he’s winning 15 bbs/hr without lying but conveniently omit that his game is deep-stacked, or that he is playing in some action hole with bomb-pots in Buttfuck, Texas– we’ll see in my own results how this changes expectations. I recently played in a cardroom where the modest NL game featured NL Omaha for its bombs while also featuring a rake – how the hell did they create that win-rate enhancing (or busting) tradition? So, you’ll need to be specific about games and structures if you want information that is of any rigorous comparative use. Since I rarely compare myself to anyone, I have not personally worried about categorizing my data too much until this very challenge, balancing this by remaining correctly skeptical of opinions and claims whenever numbers are thrown around.

Your casino, neighborhood, or region all have wrinkles which affect win rate differently but are rarely captured in the conversation. Now for ten years and many thousands of hours my win rate in low stakes (1/2 to 5/10) has been 12/bb hour, and that comes mostly from the very highest raked cardrooms in the country, almost all outside of Las Vegas. This rate is comparable to what many solid players have claimed for many years and from many player pools; ask around.

Yet one of the favorite admonishments (read: fear) of regs is that some stake or game “is not beatable.” So, someone is wrong, and it’s not me.

Whatever happens, I basically expect my win rate to resolve to this 12 bbs/hr number. Whether you think that is a curse or a blessing, is up to you. Tell us what your win rate or what you’ve heard is sustainable is in the comments.

Rake is the Cost of Doing Business

That said, rake is a major hobgoblin of the low and mid-stakes mind; I rarely think much about it. Despite what you hear, a soft game will make even the highest rakes beatable; it is simply the cost of doing business and must be measured against your personal expectation. I prefer straight up, well-run games, so public casino and cardrooms are my thing. If I played in off-strip private games, I’d be willing to pay more. I’ve tried them, and yes, they are as soft as you hear – though it can be hard to play your best with a stripper on your lap and a bad whiskey sour in your hand.

Someone, in other words, is winning in the low-stakes games you avoid, despite the rake – even if it’s not you. The question matters because it gets asked a lot, because there are so many silly opinions about it, and because some of the One-Three challengers seem to think that the rake in small games gobbles up everything.

It rarely does. As a poker host I have even discovered the humorous truth that rake discounts are not what brings even rake nits to the game: in other words, many of those who profess to care the most about rake clearly don’t act upon their conviction. I once convinced management at the Sahara Poker Room to run with max $4 no drop, making it the cheapest 1/2 and 2/5 in Las Vegas. I believed in the market and the words of the average whining rake nit. When that utterly failed to create a player pool, I realized what the market really wants is not just low overhead.

It was a revelation, frankly, to be disabused of such simple thoughts and see poker as a culture again, full of colorful, irrational actors and forces. The rake nit, it turns out, knows that he cannot beat the game and so blames the rake while seeking out the softest game possible, thus paying and encouraging higher rates of rake. This triumph of psychological pretzeling explains vast parts of the poker economy, wherein complaining about poker structures and institutions is a form of diversion and track-covering. As in life, the conversation is never about the conversation.

So, it’s not rake that is going to be our issue for the one-three life – it’s our skill edge and the vitality of the pool. One-three challengers, take note.

Equally important and rarely discussed, no serious player needs much time to know his edge – or recognize its diminishment. When you sit at new game, you should be able to sense your expectation is higher or lower than your historical win rate within a few hands. Therefore, spending time fussing over anything but extracting that win rate is merely academic. If you don’t sense what is going on, your skill and expectation is lower ipso facto and more subject to the short-term swings that Malmuth et al consistently remind us not to be confused by.

In other words, to get more deeply into it, it’s not sample size we need, so much as confidence in very limited statistics and in ourselves.  Meanwhile, we’ve spent too much time talking…

Meet Your Contestants – and Say Goodbye to Others

Well, Mr. Spencer isn’t entirely wrong or right. Playing 1/3 can be exasperating as well as rewarding. The good news is that the rampant insincerity and performance stress of the higher-stakes scene has only a small place here.

On the other hand, you’re playing with the community at 1/3: you will see things, you will hear things, you will smell things did you did not expect to or want to. The lack of hygiene in the lower stakes can really repulse and depress me. There’s a lot more personal pride in the 5/10+ pool.

So, let’s do this a little bit backwards, because you will be saying good-bye your regular poker amigos. Now, who never visits 1/3 and wouldn’t be seen near the Golden Nugget’s amazing 1/2 tables? Who are you leaving behind when you join the smaller games? Why the leading denizen of live 2/5 and 5/10, Joe Mann!

Don’t worry, he’ll be there when you return.

Joe Mann is a mid-stakes live poker cash game reg. Joe is about 33 years old, smooth bald, and beardedly handsome. He’s from some north Atlantic state while simultaneously tan and just a little Lebanese. Joe knows everyone in the room and likes prop bets and giving everyone the dap. Joe doesn’t have a backer because he has a trust fund or a business nest egg that makes his entire life of poker lounge lizarding qua sports betting possible. He laughs and chortles about poker and strategy while not quite being good or bad at it; above all, he likes to play weird combos to surprise-buttsex you with. Joe complains about the action at the table within two hands of sitting down. Joe goes to rivers to “float” or “lay out” or something in the summer; in the winter he’s always just returned from “some of the best snow ever.” Joe knows a video game you need to try and a Discord you need to join and a CBD product you need to ingest and a protein powder you need to mix. Joe screwed up a relationship with a hooker recently, talks about the women in the room he’d like to fuck, and has a severe pornography problem.

When you move down to 1/3, your buddy Joe is gone! (Others too, but that’s for another day.)

Yes, your friends must change. But who takes his place at 1/3, you ask?

The killers standing between you and prop bet glory.

Meet Charlene. She is 53 and here because her husband is a whale in the ten-quarter game. She is richer than everyone at the table and her husband’s table put together, dressed for the theater, and will play her $100 stack like it’s the last money she will ever see. She openly says she doesn’t bluff “because that would be dishonest” yet still gets paid off.

Meet Alphonse. He is 67 and English is his fourth language. Alphonse takes poker very seriously and refuses to play show-one or bomb pots because “poker is not a game.” He is here three times a year to check on his grand-daughter and his rental property and to secretly play blackjack without his wife knowing. Alphonse makes it 10x with JJ but limps AK.

Meet Ying. He is 28 and is a small winner at NL50 online. Ying can’t believe how good the games are at 1/3 but never has any money because of his regimented strategy, student debt, fancy car debt, lame job, and frightening bankroll management. Every day at 1/3 for him is a shot taking opportunity, yet he could hang in 5/10 if he had the bankroll. None of this ever occurs to Ying while he watches PokerStars TV at the table and listens to The Mechanics of Poker while occasionally crying on the way home.

After playing in games where four or five of you play exactly the same and are targeting as little as one action player, you’re now in an environment where everyone plays differently, and everyone is a target: to travel to 1/3 is to also time travel. At one-three, there was no Black Friday.

Moreover, one three is not merely a lifestyle or a soft game for you to scoff at, it is a highly social experience. People talk because they are not scared or belligerent; the lack of belligerence makes others less scared. There is no need for fronting – this makes people behave authentically which makes some kind of assholery, like Joe Mann’s, stand out too much for them to thrive. Rude behaviors at one-three rarely revolve around poker, but personal and social ineptitudes rather than the insincerity and subtle games of higher blind levels. There is lots of pointless, laughable gamesmanship as well as angling so obvious you’ll think it has to be a reverse reverse. More on all this next week, but now you have the big picture.

You just might get addicted to it, as I have. I don’t miss Joe Mann as much as you’d think.

Anyway, we’ll meet more of your new 1/3 friends later. For now, let’s get into the game!

A month of One-Three

The first half of the challenge.

Here’s those 48 hours. (I’ve added the two 1/2 hours to round things out to the half-way point and outrage the spectrumites). If I were to absurdly graph this, you’d see that I am cooling down after a fast start. In fact, that is the story of my hours of the entire period we’re looking at. Hello, mild downswing.

Other sessions during the same period – including a deeper 2/3 game which increases expectation well past mere blind size.

Looking back, it’s a short period but that belies the real story, which was one of fatigue onset and more distraction than is advisable. I made a lot of mistakes, always have; maybe that’s why I can’t seem to get higher than 12 bbs/hour lifetime. I’ve run well, and I’ve run poorly: the biggest 1/3 session included getting in KK vs AJ and holding – that can feel like a miracle to those in the dumps. The losing sessions often involved losing a big flip or otherwise being on the wrong side of a cooler, true, but I could have made better decisions in several close spots – especially as the month wore on.

One thing that I do in poker that is not good short-term but excellent long term, is make certain decisions that go against my inclinations, just to be sure my intuition is attuned. During this period, I made several such speculative plays, including check-raise calling off TPTK insanely versus a weak-tight fake action goof – that’s seventy bigs I could have saved but which confirmed my understanding as to what is really going on. Giving action others won’t is also good for the game overall, although less appreciated than you’d think.

However, notice several things: first off, I played mainly at one location, and so the details of that location are going to matter quite a bit. No Bellagio or Aria for me: I dislike the mid-strip, right down to the parking choices. Convince me otherwise. (I love the Park MGM but they have no poker room!) Second, and more importantly, this is a $500 buy in cap, so that is going to be more lucrative than any $300 bb caps; well, if they even exist anymore – you tell me what’s out there, because things have been changing, post-Covid – look at new rakes and game structures all over.

Third, and most important, notice how few hours I play. In fact, we can take the number of sessions I played, lucky 13, and use that to divide the total and end up with the mean, or average session, being not even 3.75 hours! It seems important that I just don’t have poker stamina anymore, and I mean that both physically and mentally. I want to be home, writing, or I need to be in the office, teaching. Would I win more if I sat with my table longer? I expect yes – learning to exploit your table is a real thing, and I’m wasting valuable information by hitting the cage early.

Fourth and lastly, I make visible notes to remind myself of things I need to improve where I will actually look at them. This is an improvement over previous note-taking methodologies, where key admonishments got lost. One leak I personally have, like everyone else, is find reasons to skip spots and hate myself later. In one notable one-three session, I skipped a four-bet I usually take with KTs, and knowing these players, would have won a monster pot and put that session into the positive. Now, can I miss this and other spots and still win? Apparently. What about when I play bigger again? What would my win rate really be if I would really focus and get off my phone?

In fact, what do any of these numbers really mean – especially if I could have done, and will do, differently? It’s time to talk numbers.

Statistics for the Rest of Us, part 1

Sorry, but plugging some results into an algo on Primedope and then assuming you have the equivalence of a degree in statistics just doesn’t work for me. For one thing, players badly misuse all the terms, including the most glorious one. “Variance” is not you running badly; it is a measure of the dispersion of your results in individual sessions or over some assigned period. Perhaps a better way of putting it is, variance is a calculation of how representative the mean is. Remember my mean of hours? I could use variance to describe my playing habits more succinctly.

In any case, therefore, notice how funny of you it is when you go around quoting Doyle on the “one long session” then want to tell us about the variance of individual sessions. In fact, the only reason many of you win at all is what you mistakenly call “variance,” so I’m going to dodge all assumptions and start from the very beginning.

Let’s try to find some basics. Every session I play is a trial of sorts, and we might use the number of trials to determine something useful. Yet, even here, if all the trials are different lengths, what use will be the numbers?

For this reason, I will eventually have to convert everything into Doyle’s Long Session after all, and measure in big blinds, not in sessions, but by something normalized. How about sessions in 4-hour units? Fun idea and suited to me, but no, let’s skip that so we can communicate better. What poker players like to use usually is bb/100 hands. Why not – sounds official.

So, our first task is going to be to convert our dollars/hour information, and then convert them into bbs/100 hands. Then we can start to make some interesting conclusions that aren’t “session” based, but on a per hand basis… maybe.

Well, it looks like my profit at 1/3 over this period was 2035. We’ll divide that by the hours of 48 and end up with about 42$ per hour. Not as much as I’d like, given what I know about these games, but then, I’ve made some key mistakes, too. But how do we get to bbs/100?

We’ll divide the 42 by the blinds and get about 14 blinds per hour.

Now we have to make an estimation of how many hands we get per hour. Well, one estimation that goes around often is 30 hands per hour. I’m not going to waste my time trying to improve on that – where’s El Diesel when you need him? So now we can reach our conclusion by normalizing to 100 bbs: 14 bbs/hour x 100/30 hands equals  about 46 bbs/100 hands.

More usefully, this information tells me that for every hand I play, my expectation, aka edge, was apparently half a big blind. My career edge is just a few ticks lower than that, so things are already making sense. Now, this idea is actually mentally valuable, but we don’t talk about it much. Where was it coming from? Who was I taking it from – and who was preventing me from taking more? Thinking small and specific can help more than thinking broadly – I can’t play 100 hands at once, but I always play one hand at a time.

Of course, without any real knowledge of the subject, we can still compare our win rate to the number of hands estimated to have been played in the sample. With 48 hours, I’ve played approximately 1440 hands. So, what the hell does that mean, if anything? That’s only 14.4 100 hand units of information! So, even without doing any further work or understanding statistics at all, we can begin to see intuitively why traditionally the answer is: very little. We need more units of information.

The paradox is, what use is a sample if it we want an endlessly big one? Isn’t “sample” by definition a part of the whole? When they ask you for bigger and bigger samples, they are slightly misunderstanding the idea in favor of accuracy, or you might say, confidence. Maybe more about that later.

Let’s move on, because we’re ready for something far more important than some short-term results.

Low-stakes Poker Myth Number One

We’ll lead today with a big one: “They Always Have It”

This is massively, pointedly incorrect. There is bluffing all over the low-stakes, on every street, in every line, and certainly plenty of it in one-three. Over-bluffing, even. I’m in there, day-in, day-out, making and catching bluffs. There’s almost no game otherwise!

So why do players – even winning, oblivious players – think or say this? What is happening very often this that players call in spots that are bad to call in, while folding in spots that are good to call in.

This leads to an amazingly obvious confirmation bias that the talking heads, daily players, and jellyfish training sites all remain insensible to, in a circle of confident ignorance.

Sure, low stakes players are ‘unbalanced’ but that ends up meaning in particular spots and formations, not in every spot and formation. Much of my profit in games comes from bluff-catching, and this fifty hours in no exception. In fact, now I’m thinking back to an irritating AK fold I made on the river at one of the Wynn sessions and how I went against my inclination to call. I was shown a nice bluff, of course. I had built that spot to call, then changed my mind – bad execution.

In the last session I played, an old Kangarooer in a curmudgeonly hat had just been caught bluffing a missed draw, picked off by second pair. (By the way, this is a few hands after the equally old Italiano, nose bulbous from wine, gin, and black-lunged divorcées, had been caught, too.) Now the Kangarooer was laying about 3.5:1 on a double paired board, and his present opponent was showing the bad full house. “You’re an old school player, you always have it,” the Shower told him, and folded his strong hand and likely winner. Uhhhhhh…

…sure buddy. Be a grower, not a shower, and make that call! What’s more likely to have happened in this hand is that the opening Kangarooer, who has few of the particular cards that made the full house, had Ax for showdown value and was making a betting error. Now that’s more one-three poker: a circus of mutual errors.

The underlying point is in this poker myth and others to come, think in clichés at your peril. In all of poker, there is bluffing (including unintended bluffing). The problem is it is often done poorly, and of course, most poorly done in the smallest games. However, when the bluff-catching is equally bad, the regs performing it have no idea what is going on. Figuring out what is actually happening at your table or region or stake or site is valuable and part of winning. Even more importantly, creating scenarios where people bluff is called strategy. I’m not going to tell you about that in a free article, but it is certainly fundamental to both my practice and my win rate.

Next time: More hands, more player pool chatter, comparison to deeper three-dollar blind games, more numbers and ideas to ponder. Plus, more characters!

3 thoughts on “So You Want to Play 100 Hours of One-Three

  1. Great article. Felt like old Persuadeo!

    “above all, he likes to play weird combos to surprise-buttsex you with.” Funny stuff.

  2. In 2023, I played 125 hours of 1/3 at local cardrooms and made 10BB/HR. I played 107 hours of 0.5/1 at local home games (including my own) and made 27.5 BB/HR. The home games are no-fee or rake and have some weaker recs. Given that poker is a sideline hobby and not a main source of income, it was a pretty good year. So far, 2024 is not looking as good and although I’m slightly positive, it has that “downswing” feel to it of results being below the EV. I think one of the keys to improvement is self-monitoring via a detailed Excel, similar to what you show but a bit more elaborate. I track: No., Date, Week, Location, Game (cash/tournament), Type (blind size or tournament type), Buyin (or cash invested), Net profit (loss), Total YTD, Time spent (Hours), Winning session (Y/N), BB size (cash), BB win/loss, BB/HR, Notes.

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