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Micro-Stakes Master BlackRain79 Talks Grinding in Thailand, New Book
Nathan “BlackRain79” Williams has done something amazing.
As we mentioned in our new strategy article "Beating the Micro-Stakes: A Totally Different World", to succeed at the micro-stakes you have to stick to a simple and clear playing style.
You also have to be aware of who you’re playing as much as how you’re playing.
Born and raised in Vancouver, Canada, Williams is currently living the dream of many poker players: Grinding away in Thailand and enjoying life as much as possible.
In the coming months Williams will be teaming up with PokerListings.com to help you succeed at micro-stakes online poker.
We're getting things started with the in-depth interview below and will continue with original beginner poker strategy content and a monthly Q&A session in which Williams will answer your poker strategy questions.
PokerListings: What do you think is the biggest reason for your success and how have you sustained it for such a long period of time?
BlackRain79: I think it just comes from taking a very long-term and rational approach to this game. I have my bad days, weeks or months just like everybody else but I don’t allow it to get me down too much. I use it as motivation to get better.
I try to keep up with the ever-changing environment of online poker as best as I can. For instance, I don’t blindly 24-table anymore. I play quite a bit fewer tables on average in order to spend more of my time on game selection and making high-quality poker decisions.
I guess lastly, I just expect to always win in the end. I believe that confidence is one of the biggest keys to success in poker and life in general really. My past results certainly help with that but I have long maintained that when you sit down at a poker table you should not only believe but know that you are the best player at that table.
This is not a blind ego thing. This is a belief in your abilities that comes from the work that you have put in both at the tables and away from them over a long period of time.
PL: Do you think what you’ve done is still achievable these days or are the micro-stakes a different animal now?
The win-rates that I was able to sustain 5+ years ago are not really achievable anymore to the same extent. The games have tightened up a fair bit since then for a variety of reasons.
With that said, if you are determined and disciplined enough there is still plenty of money to be made in poker. It should be mentioned that rakeback programs have in many cases gotten better over this period of time also.
PL: What’s your current playing schedule at the micro-stakes and how does your win-rate compare to the past few years?
I have become more of a morning person in recent years and I guess especially so because I live in Asia now and that is when the games are the best.
So on the days that I play I generally just get going first thing in the morning and grind for a couple of hours. Sometimes I will play another session in the afternoon or just be done for the day.
PL: Have you had to adjust your playing style much to stay profitable?
I have definitely adjusted my playing style quite a bit over the years. It used to be enough to just be a terrible nit and set-mine your way to success at some fairly decent stakes. That is not a winning strategy anymore.
So I have gone from being a weak nit to a TAG (tight and aggressive), SLAG (semi-loose and aggressive) and now sometimes LAG (loose and aggressive) if the game conditions demand it.
PL: What do you think is the best way for a beginner in the micro-stakes to work on his or her game?
I think a combination of play and study is the best. When I first started there weren’t many study options available (training sites didn’t really exist yet, most of the books were archaic or about live poker specifically, not many coaches, forums in their infancy etc.). So I basically just learned through playing a lot.
But the times are much different now and the quality of information available out there is vastly improved. The quality of the poker tracking programs (PT4/HEM2) is also way better.
I still think that playing the game should be a priority but anyone serious should also spend quite a bit of time studying as well.
Everyone learns differently so whether this is running filters on your own in a poker tracking program, hiring a coach, reading a book, watching a training video or posting hands on a forum, it's up to you.
PL: If you had to pick the biggest mistake beginners make at the micro-stakes, what is it?
I have worked with a lot of people at the micros now so this is pretty easy for me to answer. Besides tilting too much (which is the biggest problem) a close second is over-complicating things too much especially at the lowest stakes.
People are constantly making tons of unnecessary plays that usually go way over the heads of their opponents and ironically often over their own as well! The simplest way has always been the best way especially at the lowest stakes.
PL: You’ve spent the last two years living in Thailand, a move a lot of poker players have considered.
How do you look back at the decision to move from Canada to Thailand and what would you tell people considering making the move?
It was a good move for me. I was in a spot in my life where there wasn’t much holding me back. I love a lot of things about living in Thailand from the weather, the low cost of living, the people, the beaches, the food and more.
There is also an enormous community of online poker players here, probably the biggest single concentration anywhere in the world.
Thailand is not going to be for everyone, though. It is often about as different as you can possibly get and you need to learn to be very patient at times. Things don’t always go according to schedule like they do in the West.
There is also the language barrier which can be a bit tough especially if you get outside of the big cities and tourist areas.
But overall there is a lot more good than bad about living in Thailand. For those who are curious I would definitely recommend taking a vacation here.
PL: Is playing only the micro-stakes profitable enough to live well Thailand?
You can certainly live here playing the micro-stakes (tons of people do it) but don’t expect to be living a rock-star lifestyle or be really close to a nice beach.
You can certainly get by on as little as $600 per month as a single person living a modest lifestyle in a small apartment and primarily eating Thai food. I would certainly suggest having a bit more disposable income than that though for most people.
But overall yes, it is very cheap to live here when compared to most other places in the world.
PL: Your first book Crushing the Microstakes is pretty much the definitive guide to micro-stakes strategy – it’s even now available in Spanish and Russian!
How does it feel to have written the Super/System of micro-stakes poker? What can we expect for the sequel?
Thanks. I'm still quite amazed at how well it has been received. I had absolutely no expectations when it was first released.
It was quite scary actually because I only had the promise of maybe a dozen people who regularly commented on my blog that they would check it out. I also used to have quite a few “haters” back then who were pretty vocal that it would not succeed. I haven’t heard from them in a few years now.
I am very happy that Crushing the Microstakes has helped so many people turn their games around at the lowest stakes. It really was almost nothing for me to write it because I have played so many millions of hands at these limits that it was all second-nature to me.
As for the sequel, that's been a lot harder to write. It covers more or less the upper-end of the micros (NL25-NL100) and these games play a lot differently than the stakes below them. The regulars are a lot better and the fish are quite a bit harder to find.
So this book is a lot more in depth and will probably be at least twice the length of its predecessor when it's finished. I've gone through many hills and valleys in the writing process but I am confident that it will get done now sooner rather than later.
As for the response/success, I can’t really predict that. I actually do know before release this time that a lot of people are going to buy it. However, from my experience with CTM long term sales are driven largely by word of mouth which in turn depends on the quality of the material.
This has been the case with many other poker books as well. So the success of the sequel depends on whether I deliver or not.
PL: Anything you’d like to add about the book? Something you think might surprise people?
There still isn’t much math! No but seriously, I am definitely trying to remain pretty far removed from all of the math PHD theses being written as poker books these days. I just don’t think that this is how the game is actually played in reality most of the time.
This is especially true at the micros where exploitative approaches are clearly superior still versus the vast majority of your opponents.
PL: If you started your journey through poker/the micro-stakes over again today, what would you do differently/exactly the same?
I don’t think I would do much of anything different to be honest. My goal in this game has never been to play at the highest stakes.
I am happy with the success that I have achieved in poker over the years and what this game has done for my life overall.
To learn more about BlackRain79 and Crushing the Microstakes be sure to head on over to his website at www.blackrain79.com.