What I Have Learned From Poker’s 1%

Pro Poker Player Next to 1% Text and Cards and Poker Chips

Poker’s 1%: The One Big Secret That Keeps Elite Players on Top is a book from noted poker authority Ed Miller. I’ve read 3 of his previous books:

  1. Small Stakes Holdem: Winning Big with Expert Play (which he co-wrote with David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth)
  2. Getting Started in Holdem
  3. No Limit Holdem: Theory and Practice (which he co-wrote with David Sklansky)

I also started, but never finished, another poker book by Ed Miller called The Course.

I like #1 on that list a lot, although #3 seemed harder than it needed to be. I liked what I read of The Course, too, so I thought it would be fun to try his latest book.

I haven’t finished Poker’s 1% yet, but I do have some observations about what I’ve learned so far.

The Premise of Poker’s 1%

Poker’s 1% coalesces around one idea that Miller claims is an open secret among top poker players. His stated goal writing the book is to present the main reason elite poker players ARE elite poker players.

But it’s not that simple.

Even after you learn this big secret, you’ll need to spend thousands of hours playing and thinking about the game before you become a professional poker player – if you even succeed at becoming one. I’m not convinced that reading this book and applying it is all you need to become an elite poker player.

I called a friend of mine to talk about this premise, too. He laughed about it and said that the average poker player doesn’t need to worry so much about what makes elite poker players elite. He compared it to wondering what the morning routine of a billionaire is.

If you’re not a billionaire, what difference does it make?

My friend has a point, but I still think there’s much to learn from Miller’s poker book.

Miller’s Goals for the Book

The author says he has 2 goals for the reader. The first is that he hopes the reader will become motivated to improve his poker game. He points out that if you have some innate talent as an athlete, you can become really fit – even if you can’t become an elite athlete.

The same, he suggests, holds true for the poker player. Not everyone can become a millionaire or a WSOP champion, but that doesn’t prevent you from becoming an expert. You just need to learn what you need to learn and then practice it.

His other goal is to get the reader thinking about and playing poker “the right way.” He thinks most poker players focus on the wrong stuff. Their thought processes are stunted.

Holdem Pocket Aces Next to a Stack of Poker Chips

His main idea, he says, will help you break out of your stunted thought processes.

Finally, he suggests that the big idea of the book is simple, but the application is complicated. You shouldn’t expect to ever perfect your application of this idea.

In other words, you should expect progress, not perfection.

He also suggests that if you apply the ideas in this book, you can dominate medium-stakes poker games.

Online, that means dominating no limit games with blinds of $1/$2 or $2/$4.

In live poker rooms, it means no limit games with blinds of $5/$10.

No Limit Holdem Isn’t a Slot Machine

The first assertion in the meat of the book is that you shouldn’t play no limit holdem like it’s a slot machine.

Then he follows that up with a picture of a video poker screen. I guess, in his mind, video poker is just a fancy kind of slot machine. I’m picky enough to quibble about this, but okay…

He points out that on a video poker game (which he continues to call a slot machine), the payout is fixed and based on how good your hand is. You get paid off at 6 for 1 for a flush, for example, and 9 for 1 on a full house.

He goes on to say that most poker players play the game as if it were a “slot machine.” They try to make a big hand and get paid off for it. They lack a plan for their hands on the different betting rounds.

The problem with this approach to the game is that you don’t always get paid off the same amount when you hit your hand. A lot of times, if you get a flush, you’ll win someone’s entire stack.

But more often than that, everyone will fold, and you won’t get paid off at all.

And sometimes you’ll lose to a bigger hand.

And if your goal for winning in no limit holdem is to make big hands and stack the other players, you face a big problem – the other players at the table have the same goal.

If you have the same strategy as everyone else at the table, you’re not going to win.

The Problem With Tight Aggressive Strategy

Even though most no limit players treat the game like a slot machine, there’s another approach to the game that’s common: tight aggressive.

Here’s how Miller explains this strategy:

  1. Only play good hands before the flop.
  2. Bet if someone checks.
  3. Fold if someone raises.

Betting when someone checks is an example of aggression. Only playing good hands and folding in the face of a raise are examples of tightness.

The thing about tight aggressive poker is that it’s a good enough strategy to win consistently at medium stakes no holdem poker.

You win a lot of small pots when you’re betting, and you still have a shot at picking up someone else’s stack when you get a huge hand.

A player who treats the game like a slot machine will often check when he misses the flop – which will happen most of the time. Betting into him forces him to fold.

But it’s easy to beat a tight aggressive player.

All you have to do is raise.

Remember, the strategy involves folding if someone raises into you.

Of course, you can’t raise every time – you should raise when a tight aggressive player is more likely to have bet with a low or medium value hand.

You’d think that the big secret of the book is to adjust your game based on whether your opponent is a slot machine player or a tight aggressive player.

But there’s more to it than that.

This has all been preamble.

The Big Secret – No Limit Holdem Is Just a Complicated Math Problem

You have lots of parts to this specific math problem though – how much money do the players have? How much can they bet? How many cards do they have, and how many possible combinations are there?

But you don’t have to solve the math problem with more than an approximation.

You just need to learn the basic frequencies involved in poker. Most players don’t think about frequencies at all; they’re focused on odds and outs, bets and bluffs, etc.

You have 3 things you can do when your opponent bets, and how often you do each is your frequency:

  1. You have a raising frequency.
  2. You also have a calling frequency.
  3. And you have a folding frequency.

You might fold 30% of the time, call 60% of the time, and raise 10% of the time.

Changing those frequencies changes how much your opponent wins or loses on average over time.

This doesn’t mean you’re supposed to start calling with lousy cards just to increase your calling frequency. You still need to pick and choose your hands.

Folding less often generally results in your opponent making less money.

Online Poker Screenshot

Most people playing real money poker don’t think about the game this way – they’re focused on how strong their hand is. They bet, fold, or raise based on how strong their hand is.

You might fold a specific hand 80% of the time on the river, but that might easily be too often to fold that hand.

In fact, your folding frequency is important because every time you fold, your opponent wins the pot.

A smart opponent will figure out where your folding frequency is too high, and he’ll bet into you more often just to pick up your money from those folds.

In most no limit games, players fold too often on the turn and the river.

Conclusion

So, here’s the big secret Miller alludes to in Poker’s 1%: The One Big Secret That Keeps Elite Players on Top:

The game isn’t about playing the other players. And it’s not about playing the cards. It’s not about trying to make big hands so you can stack your opponent.

It’s about figuring out the right frequencies in the right situations and playing according to those frequencies.

The rest of the book, I assume, covers how to get closer to the optimal frequencies, but I haven’t gotten that far yet.

When I do, I’ll write about it here.