ALL IN Expert Featured on 2+2

ALL IN Expert, the poker calculator I released about a year ago, was recently demoed in a long article on the 2+2 poker forums.

Here’s the full post, written by *Split*:

Shortstackers. I hear more complaining about shortstackers than anything else in the poker world. Why? Because these people have found a mathematical loophole made possible by the current minimum buy-ins on poker sites. But why the hate? Apparently there is a loophole, why would one hate someone for doing something they could just as easily do themselves? Why doesn’t everyone tick that “Buy in for the minimum” button as they sit down at their table? Why doesn’t everyone use a simple hand chart, with certain stipulations, and grind 24 tables?

The answer is simple, and actually is the same as that old adage “you get out what you put in”. If you are using very minimal brain power, if you are simply following a hand chart, if you are mindlessly pressing buttons, then you have put in very little and in return, will make very little. A shortstackers winrate is severely capped given the simplicity of the strategy.

As it stands now, there are 3 main types of actual SS (the ~20bb variety)

The “nittynitty”: This is the 5/5, 4/4, 5/4 type that is most likely following a simple hand chart. The last time I drew up a SS chart without any variety it came out to 6/5.7, and that was pure robotic SS-ing. This player type doesn’t think and most certainly doesn’t use any sort of variation in play. They look at their cards and go “ok, I have this position, there are this many limpers, my chart says to do this” and they do it. These players are amaaaaaaaaaaazing to have on our left as we can powerhouse their blinds every single orbit and have an insane ROI/steal

Why they suck for us? It really only sucks when they are on our right. They really don’t light steal, so they just take up space and we can really never win an easy pot against them. They also plague tables, and lots of tables, because their strategy is so simple (basic FPP strategy really) and they play for long hours.

The “pro”: This is the good kind of SS’r. They tend to run stats like 7/7, 9/8, and almost never have a vpip of 10 or higher, and almost never have a vpip/pfr gap of more than 1. They have a bassline of actions (what hands to shove v a raise from every position, hands to squeeze with over how many callers, etc), but they also understand variation. They will sometimes light steal, they will also utilize SC’s to their advantage. They make you call them a bit wider, which may get you tilty when you run into their top side a few times.

Why they suck for us? Our edge against them is pretty small. They understand what they are doing, and will mix it up well. The big reason they suck is because they leech the games. They don’t take much per session, but overtime, they are leeching a significant amount of BI’s per level, especially when there are multiple of them. They become much more prevalent at 100NL and 200NL, but there are some at 50NL as well.

The “going2lose”: This is our most profitable SS’r to play against. They are terrible and have terrible stats to back it up. Why do they buy in in for 20bb? Because they fear losing money, have it as an “auto-option”, or try to use a chart and then go nuts. They tend to have a gap of 2+ in their stats, and most have vpips of like 11+. It is very standard to see them like 12/4, 19/6, or even 9/5. They have wide ranges, call shoves poorly, go absolutely insane in positional pots, and just make endless mistakes. Do not avoid them, just adjust your calling and re-shove ranges appropriately.

Why they suck for us? Well they don’t actually suck for us! They are profitable for us so long as your range adaptation is solid.

What Can I Do To Improve Against Them!?

There is an awesome program called “poker stove” that I went over how to use in this video. However, there is another awesome program called “All-In Expert” that has made it very easy to figure out not only your exact range of shoving/calling (given factors like stack sizes, opening ranges, calling ranges, etc), but also the exact profitability of each hand.

But how do we know their ranges? Start thinking about it. I have actually had students before that had trouble against SS’s, so I told them to spend a week creating a SS-ing strategy and then we reviewed it. Amazingly enough, this simple exercise (that took maybe 2-3hrs for them), made it so they understood every range of a SS’r, how position changed their ranges, and most importantly, how to counter it. After spending maybe a total of 4hrs on everything (doing the work themselves, working it out with me, etc) they had it so they never had a tough decision against a SS’r. Now, if you are reading this paper to figure out exact ranges, I apologize…Just consider this super beneficial homework =)

Also, think logically while playing. Of course, it is easiest to play against a nittynitty, the ranges are concrete and they play super straight forward (in fact, you could probably find the EXACT chart they are using if you explore the internet). Logically, we know that if we raise TT UTG to 3bb, folds to him OTB and he shoves for 20bb, we know his range is super strong, probably TT+/AK (and in all actuality, it is probably QQ+/AK ~JJ). If we pokerstove it, we get 34/66. We know we are getting 23:17, so we need 42.5%ee to call. We have 34, so we cannot call. This is simple math.

But what if that OTB player was a “going2lose” player who was 18/9. We think his range is wider (because it is) and probably 66+/KQo+/AJo+. Against this range, TT is 53/47, so we would call. This is logical and mathematical. The good, though most people view is oppositely, is that SS’s force you to work through these math issues, which in turn makes you much stronger in other facets of the game. One of the easiest strategies I can suggest for ranging is to figure out a nittynitty’s range, and then expand from there based on looseness. That should help quite a bit.

Also, here is just a basic look at/tutorial of All-In Expert:

This is what we would call a shove with. I the pot is 24.5 because I assume that I raised to 3bb, the blinds make up 1.5bb, and the SS shoves for 20bb. I designate his range, which in this case I said was 99+/AT+, and some mixup hands like 22-55, AT, etc

This is what AIE says I should call with. If you were using the program, you could hover your mouse over and hand and get the ROI on it and see exactly how profitable it is

This is what we would want to shove with. I assume the SS’r raised to 3.5bb, there are 1.5 in blinds (so 5bb is the current pot). I assume I am not in a blind, so I would have to call 3.5bb, and if I shove, the SS’r would have to call 16.5bb. I say his current range is a steal range of 30% of hands (this is not for a nittynitty player obvi), and that he will call very wide (this is certainly a “going2lose” calling range in certain spots).

This is what AIE says is our profitable shove range. Notice, this does not take into account other players, and really, you should only 3b in this spot to like 14bb to ensure we don’t lose too much if/when other players wake up with really strong hands

“”Dieting: A system of starving yourself to death so you can live a little longer.”
Jan Murray ”

What the hell does a dieting quote have to do with shortstackers? Your bankroll is the diet of a shortstacker. He is mathematically entitled to it. You can work hard so you have a small edge against them, but it takes work. So how do you stop feeding them? DON’T PLAY WITH THEM!

It is very simple. If there are shortstackers at your table, don’t play. Now this may seem like an idealogical statement (especially for those who do loathe shortstackers), but it is possible to put yourself in better spots. Table selection rules involving shortstackers:

1.) NEVER sit at a table with more than 3 more shortstackers

tables with too many SS’s are terrible for our WR. Our WR is not very high against a SS in the first place, so when you add more of them, it only gets worse. Leave tables if they get invested…the fewer the better, always

2.) There is a huge difference between 20bb and 60bb people.

DO NOT confuse them. 20bb people are SS’s. 60bb buy in short, but are terrible for a whole different set of reasons. You cannot use the same strategy against each, so don’t even try to.

3.) Deepstack tables don’t allow shortstackers

Although these tables tend to be a bit more reg filled, it is much better than sitting with 5 SS’s

So going full circle to answer the original question of “why does everyone hate shortstackers?”…the answer is simple. Because people are too lazy to figure out how to work around them. Too lazy to figure out the simple strategy and hand ranges to call/shove with to beat them. Too lazy to solidify their own game against them, that, oddly enough, would eliminate them. So people don’t hate shortstackers, they hate the work (albeit very little in reality) they have to do to beat them. Don’t be lazy, put in the work and time to make these shortstackers not only profitable for yourself, but to eventually rid of them. Enjoy and good luck with your work and winning flips!

ALL IN Expert Lessons Learned

ALL IN Expert gridThis story begins in March ’08. Bored with the project I was working on and overly optimistic because of TechCrunch articles, I decided to create some sort of online business. I hesitate even now to use the word “business” as it implies some sort of organization or planning or something which my endeavor lacked in a big way.

Armed with a strong background in poker and Visual Basic, I decided to make and sell an advanced poker calculator.

For certain preflop situations you can calculate with mathematical precision which hands you should play and which hands you should fold. You make some estimations about your opponent’s hand, tell it about the pot and stack sizes, click “Calculate”, and it would chug through a series of somewhat complicated calculations show you exactly when to go all in and when to fold. I dubbed it – you guessed it – ALL IN Expert.

Some of the results can be counter intuitive and I reasoned that making this process easy would be valuable to a lot of people.

And so for about the next three months I worked ambitiously on the software and the website that would sell it. I was wildly optimistic about its future success. Its almost embarrassing to admit now, but before it launched I estimated it would sell 1000 copies at $40 each for a net of $40,000. I figured I’d be happy with that.

In the days leading up to the launch I was quite excited. I made the final adjustments and released it late one night in mid-June. I made a post to 2+2, a popular poker forum, and announced its launch. I went to bed, expecting great things the next morning.

Well, all did not go as planned. No one bought the software the first day or the second, or the third… A week went by. Zero sales. A few people had downloaded the demo version, but none of them made the leap to purchasing it.

Frustrated, I made some tweaks, resdesigned some things, and waited hopefully for people to come. I wrote several articles and posted them on poker forums, showing how ALL IN Expert could be used to help out in some situation. I added a feature where the results could be exported to a forum-friendly format which included a link back to the site, hoping that once a few people began using it others would see its utility and register their own copy. A few people found the site and eventually one person purchased it after I had lowered the price to $10. It became pretty clear that ALL IN Expert wasn’t going anywhere. I took down the site, ready to move on to other things and put the whole episode behind me.

My little entrepreneurial experiment failed pretty badly: I didn’t make much money and reality smacked me in the face. However, I did learn a lot in the process:

Don’t Rush Into a Project

There are a lot of romantic startup stories about founders who have this brilliant idea, start coding, and in no time at all there are investors knocking at the door touting multimillion dollar valuations. I’m sure this does happen, but it’s probably a lot rarer than we’re led to believe. The media tends to ignore the low-flying companies that never make onto their radar and rightfully so. The companies that do become successful get a lot of attention, creating the impression for the naïve that the numbers are better than they actually are. I learned later that this is known as the survirorship bias.

ALL IN Expert was not a startup, but if it was, it would have fallen in the never-makes-it-onto-the-radar category. Actually, ALL IN Expert barely made it off the ground before it crashed and burned. I think a lot of the problems could have been avoided if I had taken more time in the beginning to analyze the situation. Literally, I came up with the concept for ALL IN Expert one night, thought “Hey, that could work”, and began programming the next morning. I should have taken more time to figure out if this was something people wanted, to figure out how much time it would take, to look at alternative projects, etc.

Creating a successful business takes a lot of time and energy. Before embarking on an entrepreneurial journey, make sure you’ve done your homework so you don’t create another ALL IN Expert.

Research the Competition

Several free poker tools existed at the time I started on ALL IN Expert. PokerStove had been around for several years. Pokerazor was the new kid on the block and while it was quite advanced it wasn’t gaining much traction. Stoxpoker had also just released some similar software.

My analysis went something like this:

PokerStove – generally powerful and easy to use, but missing some important features
Pokerazor – bloated and prohibitively difficult to use
Stoxpoker – screenshots look like Pokerazor, must be the same:

Stoxpoker EV Calculator

My plan was to make a simpler, more practical tool that focused on usability. Sounds good, right?

The problem is that I barely used Pokerazor and I never used Stoxpoker. In my mind it didn’t matter what they could do–they were ugly and hard to use; ALL IN Expert would be pretty and easy to use.

I went with more of a “Ignore the competition and just make something great” approach, which sounds good until you realize that you’ve made a huge mistake by not learning from your competition.

When I finally launched this was the very first response:

So this is like an extremely simplified version of the Stoxpoker EV calculator for one very specific scenario?

Yes. No. I don’t know. I never used it. Can you just pay the $40 registration fee and not ask that question?

User Testing

About a month into the development I did one thing well: my brother was visiting and I asked him to test out the software. This was the second most eye opening thing I got out of this project next to realizing after it launched how badly I had misjudged the entire thing.

He had no idea what was going on. “Click on the hands you think your opponent might have,” I explained to him…. No not there… click the colored box. No, not that colored box. See, that means you think your opponent can have that hand. OK, now click they gray box that says “Calculate”. OK, now click on the tab that says “Results.” No, its at the top of the window. At the very top center of the window, about an inch from the top, it says “Results”…

It went on like this for about twenty minutes.

Could it be that ALL IN Expert was just as hard or harder to use than the other software?

In the weeks that followed I spent a lot of time redoing the design and in the end I think it turned out pretty well thanks to that one night of watching my brother use it.

His feedback helped me avert a disaster in terms of usability, but what I didn’t see at the time was that no amount of usability will make a crappy product useful.

My big mistake here was stopping with my brother. I did have a few people test it prior to launch, but no one in between the initial version that my brother saw and the final release version. Had more people given me feedback early on, I might have seen sooner that there wasn’t a market for the product. I also never had anyone test the website, which might have helped as well.

Goodbye Desktop Apps

Did I mention ALL IN Expert was desktop software? I was most proficient at desktop programming languages so that’s what I went with. Never again.

Big picture, I think the trend is clear: desktop apps are a dying breed; web apps are the future.

There’s also all sorts of issues with deployment, bugs, and upgrades.

When my semi-final product was ready to be launched I had a friend test it out. Little did I know that there is a known compatibility issue with some Microsoft DLL file which causes some computers not to restart after installation. His computer happened to be one that was affected by the problem. After he installed ALL IN Expert his computer wouldn’t boot. He wound up having to spend four hours on the phone with Microsoft tech support (I’m so sorry) fixing the problem.

What if his computer hadn’t crashed? What if I had released it and dozens of people’s computers crashed because they had downloaded it? That could have been the meteorite that killed the business, but luckily I discovered it beforehand. Not that anyone downloaded it anyway, but still…

Make Something People Want

I had read that advise at least a dozen times from Paul Graham and Hacker News denizens, but somehow I thought I’d be the exception. The product would be so great that it would cause people to want it.

In reality, the competition’s tools, while not perfect, were adequate. No one was looking for a new poker calculator. Sure, they might take something that was better, but it wasn’t a burning need.

There were also some practical issues.

ALL IN Expert produced some fascinating theoretical results. The software crunched through the numbers and in many situations suggested that I had been making costly mistakes.

The problem was that the software was not designed to be a real time adviser. It was designed to be a study tool to analyze specific situations after they had already occurred. This severely limited its usefulness. Had I made a feature that enabled it to attach itself to a poker window and extract the information in real time, people might have been able to utilize the results. As it was, it would take too long to input the necessary data to be of any good real-time.

Also, while the calculations were exact the user still had to estimate his opponent’s hands. In an actual poker situation you won’t ever know your opponent’s range of hands with absolute certainty and even if you did, you wouldn’t be able to chug through all the necessary calculations to figure out the profitability of each possible move. You wind up using your judgment and making some estimations. ALL IN Expert would help educate you, but as a practical issue, it didn’t matter that it could show you your ROI to three decimal places.

Niches are Good, Super-Niches are Bad

I thought my original audience was online poker players. Period. In reality, my audience was online poker players who wanted to calculate the results for all 169 starting poker hands at once vs one at a time. Turns out there is a big difference.

Focusing on a niche is a good strategy, but make sure you know exactly who those people are. If you’re thinking thousands of people need your product when in reality only a few hundred do, you’re in for some trouble.


I started the price at $40. After it was clear no one was buying it I dropped it to $30, then $10, and now I’m just giving it away. Someone smart at 37Signals wrote that the best way to figure out how much you should charge is to ask yourself how much you would pay for it.

In this case, $10 sounds about right. What I should have taken into consideration is that given my small audience and the small price, I was probably never going to make more than a few thousand dollars even if I was really successful. That alone should have deterred me. If you’re going to focus on a super-niche, make something incredibly useful then charge accordingly.

Additionally, it’s very, very hard to charge for a product when your competition is offering it for free, no matter how bad their usability is.

Moving On

You’re told to be persistent and not to give up, but you suspect that you’re racing towards a dead end. What do you do?

Five or six weeks in this occurred to me. I started to think I had overestimated the market and that I might be headed for trouble. I had a choice: press forward and see what happens or abandon what I had done and move on to something new. I decided to give it a few more weeks and see it through to the end.

It’s not easy to admit that you’ve made a mistake, but it also doesn’t get any easier as time goes on. The closer I got to completing it the more I realized I had a problem, but I couldn’t stop because I was so close. It’s a bad spot to be in. Do yourself a favor and if you strongly suspect bad weather ahead, take a different route.

Difficulty Gaining Users

Robert Stephens, founder of Geek Squad, wrote in the Oct 08 issue of Inc magazine that “Advertising is a tax for being unremarkable.” My first thought was ALL IN Expert.

My advertising didn’t come in the form of outward appeals to customers. Instead, I found myself focusing on ridiculous design issues in the vain hope that people would suddenly flock to my product. If you’re spending too much time early on worrying about the font and the colors and not focusing on functionality, chances are you’re in trouble.

Winding Up

I made a lot of strategic errors with ALL IN Expert. In the end the software looked good, worked well, and performed the job it was designed to do. I learned a lot of new things in the process – Photoshop, Paypal integration, the Inno installer, the importance of usability, some critical business concepts, and most importantly that I really enjoyed doing it, which despite what it looks like makes it a success in my book.

Coming soon: Domain Pigeon, where we find out just how much I’ve learned.

Few screenshots from ALL IN Expert, which is now free to download.

Telling ALL IN Expert a bit about the situation:
Telling ALL IN Expert a bit about the situation

Estimating your Opponent’s Hands
Choosing a Range for your Opponent

ALL IN Expert shows you which hands to go all in with:
Results showing when to go all in