A few months ago one of the readers of this blog contacted me about some of the struggles he was having at 2NL. The reader was kind enough to send me his hand histories and agree for me to turn my analysis of his play into a detailed blog post. In this post I’ve done a full statistical analysis of a sample size of close to 50k hands at 2NL. I’ve decided to protect the identity of the reader, even though he agreed for me to publish his FullTilt username.
One of the challengers of doing a statistical analysis on a sample of poker hands is that there are hundreds of directions you can go in. In order to simplify the process for myself and for you as the reader I’ve broken down the entire analysis into a number of questions which can help us understand where the hero can improve his game. Among these questions there is also a hierarchy so I’ve color coded the questions which have the most impact on a micro poker players bottom line. If you are new to poker stats then you should start with the questions highlighted in red.
Our leak-busting questions
- Is the hero a winning player at 2NL? If so how does he fair in comparison to other winners at this level?
- Is the hero playing too loose or too tight?
- Is the hero raising when entering a pot?
- Is the hero 3 betting enough?
- Is our hero winning money when getting to showdown?
- What is the hero’s all-in equity?
- Is the hero stealing enough?
- How is the hero playing the top 10 percentage of his range? Is he profitable with AK and JJ?
- Does the hero have positional awareness?
- Is the hero profitable with suited connectors? Small pairs? Big pairs?
- Does the hero cbet as often as he should?
- Is the hero calling efficiently on the river?
Some important notes before we get started:
- The sample size is made up of 46,124 hands played entirely at 2NL (regular speed) on FullTilt poker.
- All the hands were played on full-ring tables (9 player tables).
- To run my analysis I uploaded the entire sample into Holdem Manager 2 and used Holdem Manager’s built-in reports.
- 46,124 hands is not a small sample but isn’t a massive sample either. As soon as you start digging deeper into your data the chances of statistical significance disappearing goes up dramatically.
- There are times I reference an optimal range for specific statistics. These ranges are from my personal experience, what I’ve read online, and what I recommend to players who are either losing, break-even or small winners at the micro or low stakes. As players improve, their statistics will change as their confidence, hand reading and psychological control improves.
Win rate and pre-flop statistics
Whenever I’m running a statistical analysis I like to start with the high-level view of the data. Below is a screenshot of the high-level stats from the sample. In the image we see the total number of hands, net winnings, win rate (bb/100), “voluntarily put in pot” percentage, pre-flop raise percentage and lastly the hero’s 3 bet percentage.
The first high-level stat I look at when I get my hands on a sample size is the win rates of the hero at different stakes. In this sample all the hands are at 2NL so I jump straight to the bb/100 stat. The bb/100 stat shows how many big blinds the hero wins per 100 hands on average. This stat is a benchmark stat which helps you understand where you stand among all the players at the level. Below is a very basic breakdown of what this stat represents:
-10 to -100 bb/100 = Big loser at the level
-10 to -1 bb/100 = Small loser at the level
-1 to 1 bb/100 = Break-even player at the level
1 to 4 bb/100 = Small winner at the level
4 to 10 bb/100 = Big winner at the level
10+ bb/100 = Crushing the level (consider moving up in stakes)
Our hero has a bb/100 of 2.95 which makes him a small winner at 2NL. I applaud all winning poker players because I know how tough it is to go from being brand new to the game to a consistent winner, even at 2NL. With that being said we can also comfortably say that our hero has a lot of room to improve.
The VPIP stat is one of the most important stats to analyze because it helps us understand how tight or loose we are as a player. From the screenshot above we see that the hero has a VPIP of 18.6 percent, this means that the hero is voluntarily putting money in the pot 18.6% of the time. Another way to look at this is the player is playing on average a range which includes the top 18.6% of poker hands. This is a very simplistic way of looking at it but we have to start somewhere.
If someone had to ask me what should my VPIP be at 2NL I would say somewhere between 16 – 20% leaning more towards the 16% range for newer players. The hero’s VPIP of 18.6% is perfect but we can’t stop there, we need to look at a number of other stats to determine if the hero is playing his hand ranges optimally.
If you’re interested to see what the top 18.6% of poker hands look like? The cards colored purple in the image below represent this range.
PFR and PFR/VPIP ratio
The PFR or pre-flop raise stat tells us how often a player is raising pre-flop. Our hero has a PFR percentage of 12.9%. This means that 12.9% of the time our hero is raising his hand pre-flop. This stat on its own doesn’t tell us too much, especially when it falls within the 12 – 20% range. If it was smaller than 12% or higher than 20% then we could determine that the player is either too tight or too aggressive pre-flop. The stat becomes more relevant when combining it with the VPIP stat to see the ratio between the two.
The PFR/VPIP ratio tells us if the hero is limping or cold calling too much pre-flop. Generally speaking you should be raising when entering in a pot. The main reasons for this is it helps disguise your hand range (if you only raised with strong hands you would be telling the entire table you have a strong hand every time you raised), it helps build a pot, and it sets you up to cbet, 3 bet if needed and potentially triple barrel.
Our hero has a PFR/VPIP ratio of 68.9% which is on the low side as the number should be in the range of 75 – 90%. We can learn from this that our hero is limping or cold calling 31% of the time he is entering a pot.
Not too much to talk about here. The hero has a 3bet range of 4.56 which is falls within the optimal range of 3-6%.
Now that we have a good idea of the high-level performance of our hero we now need to dig into the data to find why the hero only has a win rate of 2.95 bb/100 at 2NL. The next thing on the list is how the hero performs in each position.
The table below shows us that the hero is profitable in all positions except the blinds. This is a good sign but if you take a closer look at the bb/100 for each position we see some interesting things.
Ranking position by bb/100
If we rank each position by bb/100 from least profitable to most profitable we end up with the following list:
The order should be closer to the following:
The blinds are always going to be the least profitable position followed by the middle positions, then the early positions, and lastly the late positions. The early positions should be very profitable because you should be playing a very tight range in early position.
The fact that our hero’s 4th worst position is the button is alarming. This definitely goes into the list of big leaks. The fact that our hero is losing money from MP+2 is also something that should be investigated further. We see that the hero is playing 14.4% of hands from that position so the issue isn’t the hero’s range.
How much should our hero be losing in the blinds?
Let’s assume our hero folded every single time he was dealt a hand in the small blind. What would his win rate for the small blind position be in this case? It would be -50/bb. The fact that our hero has a win rate of -27.57bb/100 tells us that he is winning more money than he is losing when voluntarily playing a hand in the small blind. The same can be said for the big blind.
Small pocket pairs, suited aces, big pairs, these are just some of the groups of hands in Texas Holdem. Each group has different strengths depending on position, the number of players in the hand, and if you’re willing to play the hand all the way to the river. Some groups make straights more often than others while other groups will cost you more money than others.
Lets look at how our hero handles each group and see if we can notice anything that can help us help him make more money.
Big ace hands (AK, AQ) – why is our hero losing money with this hand grouping?
The first thing which should catch your attention is our hero is losing money with big ace hands. Big ace hands fall within the top 10% of hands so this is not a good sign. The hero’s pre-flop stats for this hand are fine so the issue is most likely with his post-flop play.
Suited aces – why is our hero losing money with this hand grouping?
The quick answer to this question is our hero is overvaluing this hand. You can see that when dealt a suited ace our hero is playing the hand 53% of the time. This is way too high. We also see that the PFR/VPIP ratio for this hand grouping is only 65%. This tells us that our hero is limping or cold calling a lot with this hand grouping. His 3bet for this hand grouping is also almost double his average which is yet another indicator that he is overvaluing this hand grouping. Let’s add it to our list of leaks.
Suited connectors – why is our hero losing money with this hand grouping?
A VPIP of 37.4% for this hand grouping is a bit on the high side. I’m a fan of playing this hand grouping, especially raising with it pre-flop in order to balance my range, but in order to play this hand profitably post flop you need to be good at reading hand ranges and know when to bluff through, or shut down. Our hero is also 3betting this hand 3.61% of the time which is a tad bit high in my opinion. In order to better understand why our hero is losing money with this hand grouping we would need to look at how he is playing the hand post flop, especially against 3betters or when facing a check-raise.
Our previous look at the losing hand groupings gives us more than enough to work with but there is still merit to look at the entire range of poker hands for anything which in particular sticks out.
You will notice that our hero has lost a lot of bbs with pocket 6s and pocket 4s but has won money with pocket 3s,7s and 8s. When you see a pattern like this it usually indicates variance had a big role to play or the hero decided to play certain hands unconventionally which cost him more than they should have.
Hands like Q8o, J9s, 84s and a number of other weak hands have cost our hero much more than they should have. This continues to add weight to our findings that our hero is not playing optimally post flow and/or deviating too much from an optimal hand range strategy.
Steal percentage and showdown win rates
Stealing the blinds should be a central part of any cash game players strategy, especially in online poker. Being able to successfully steal the blinds will have a massive impact on your win rate. In the table below you can see the percentage of the time our hero is stealing the blinds from different positions as well as dollars won with and without showdown, and lastly the hero’s river call efficiency.
The first thing you should notice is the difference in the stealing percentage per position, this is actually a good sign. Our hero should be stealing at a different frequency based on his position. We notice that our hero is stealing the most from the button followed by the small blind and then from the cutoff. This order is actually fine if the average player at 2NL is folding their blind blinds which they aren’t. Our hero should perhaps switch the order from button, cutoff and lastly small blind. The average player at 2NL is simply not tight enough to fold often enough to a small blind raise.
The most worrying thing about our hero’s steal percentages isn’t the frequency by position but rather the frequency as a whole. We see that our hero is stealing less than 30% of the time which is way too low. This number should be closer to 45%, with the button steal percentage closer to 55%. Our hero is leaving money on the table and not taking advantage of his position when on the button and cutoff. I’m assuming the low steal percentage is related to a lack of confidence post flop.
The next set of stats which are important to look at is the won dollars at showdown and won dollars without showdown. We can see that our hero is making money when getting to showdown and is losing money when not getting to showdown. The main take away here is that our hero should analyze the spots where he is not getting to show down and losing money and look for common trends.
A few things which might be happening here are:
- Our hero is playing too passively post flop which is opening the door for villains to push him off of hands
- Our hero finds himself in too many spots where he is with an unmade hand and is forced to fold on later streets
- Our hero is trying to be too tricky pre-flop and on the flop and gives up on later streets
- Our hero is calling with hands which are very difficult to play post flop and he therefore can’t continue to the turn and/or river.
The last stat in this set of stats is the river call efficiency. This happens to be my favorite poker stat because it indicates if the hero is a good reader of hands and is able to make solid decisions on the river. The stat basically indicates that for every dollar you call on the river how many dollars are you winning. We see that for every dollar our hero calls on the river he is making $1.09 which is basically break-even. As our hero improves his game and gains more experience this number will grow. What our hero can do in the meantime is analyze the hands where he is calling large amounts on the river and is wrong. He may notice certain trends like being reluctant to give up his hand after flopping top pair.
CBet percentage and expected all-in EV
Like stealing, continuation betting or cbetting for short is a big part of poker. The table below shows the frequency that our hero is cbetting on the flop and on the turn. The reason you want to look at both is to help identify if our hero is sticking to his story post flop. When a poker player raises he is representing a strong hand and he should be willing to bet through with that hand a certain percentage of the time.
In the table I’ve also included the hero’s expected EV when all in pre-flop, on the flop, on the turn, and overall. These stats help us understand if our hero is making money when willing to get the money in.
We can see that our hero is cbetting 66.5% of the time on the flop. This is a decent amount and I wouldn’t spend much more time with this stat. Our hero is continuation betting 48% of the time on the turn which is slightly low for my liking. At 2NL there is no reason to be tricky so if our hero has the hand he should be betting for value. If he completely misses and the board does not get any wetter on the turn then he should consider firing another bullet. I assume he is shutting down too often which will cost him money. With that being said there are many stubborn players at 2NL and firing a second blank against certain players is a big mistake. Overall our hero is cbetting with a good frequency and if I was him I wouldn’t lose sleep over it.
When looking at our hero’s all-in EV there are a few things which are worrying. His average pre-flop all-in EV is a bit low for 2NL. There are a lot of players at 2NL who are happy to get their money in with small to medium pocket pairs and A10+. Our hero should be 3betting with the top of his range and be willing to get AQ, 1010+ in very often. We would have to analyze why our hero is more or less breaking even when all-in pre-flop.
When it comes to the flop and turn our hero is also break-even which is alarming. The reason this is alarming is because our hero should have very high equity on these streets if he is willing to get all the money in. A big part of his losses here might be from variance as the sample sizes will be small but a more likely explanation is our hero is building a pot pre-flop and on the flop and is therefore pot committed on the turn, or is overplaying certain hands on the flop and turn.
Answers to our leak-busting questions
At the start of this post I mentioned that before we get started with our analysis it is a good idea to ask ourselves a few questions which we want to answer. Below is the answers to all the questions we started with.
- Is the hero a winning player at 2NL? If so how does he fair in comparison to other winners at this level? – Yes, our hero is a winning player at 2NL. He is a small winner with a lot of room to grow.
- Is the hero playing too loose or too tight – Our hero is playing a recommended percentage of his hands (18.6%).
- Is the hero raising when entering a pot? – Our hero is raising 68.9% of the time he is entering a pot. This percentage isn’t bad but a bit on the low side.
- Is the hero 3 betting enough? – Yes, our hero is 3 betting enough of the time.
- Is our hero making money when getting to showdown? – Yes, our hero is making money when getting to showdown.
- What is the hero’s all-in equity? – Our hero’s all-in equity is 51.5%. This is the percentage for all streets. His pre-flop all-in equity is 52.9%.
- Is the hero stealing enough? – No, our hero is not stealing enough. He needs to raise his stealing percentage on at all the stealing positions.
- How is the hero playing the top 10 percentage of his range? Is he profitable with AK and JJ? – Our hero is losing money with many of his top 10% hands. This is a big concern and should be a major focus for our hero.
- Does the hero have positional awareness? – As a whole yes but he has a few things he can improve on in this area.
- Is the hero profitable with suited connectors? Small pairs? Big pairs? – Our hero is not profitable with some of the profitable poker hand groupings. He needs to improve how he is playing specific hands.
- Does the hero cbet as often as he should? – Yes, our hero is cbetting at a good frequency both on the flop and turn. He should experiment with increasing his turn cbet percentage.
- Is the hero calling efficiently on the river? – Our hero is breaking even when calling on the river. He should analyze this further and look for trends. This number will improve as our hero improves.
In this analysis I’ve covered a wide range of stats which are very useful for helping to paint a picture that shows where a poker player is winning, and more importantly, losing money. There are many other poker stats which I have not included in this analysis simply because I feel this guide is comprehensive enough and adding anymore would harm the value it provides.
I wrote this guide to help not only the generous reader who sent me his hand histories but anyone who is struggling at 2NL and looking to analyze his game from a statistical perspective. If you are in this group I hope this guide will shed light on where you should focus your attention and how you can use poker stats to identify leaks in your game.
If you’ve used this guide to analyze your own game then please let me know in the comments section below. I’m planning on writing more guides like this in the future and your feedback will really help me in improving future posts.
If you have any criticism of this post, especially in regards to the stats, ranges and conclusions I’ve mentioned then please comment below. The more we talk about poker stats and how data can be used to improve our approach to the game, the better.
Good luck at the tables.
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