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Finding Longevity With Critical Adjustments

Two Online Pros Share Their Tips On How To Survive In Poker

by Craig Tapscott |  Published: May 01, 2024


The Pros: Bryan Paris and Aaron Barone

Craig Tapscott: How have you maintained your motivation and excitement to play the game day in and day out online?

Bryan Paris: I believe this is something all pros struggle with over time. I’ve always been very interested in baseball, and I have found that framing things in terms of professional sports has been helpful for me.

The similarities are numerous, but the most important is that the game offers a boundless scope for potential improvement, combined with a top-heavy payout structure where the very best players get the lion’s share of the income. Keeping this framework in mind motivates me to continue learning and improving even after two decades. 

On a more mundane level, having three kids makes poker feel like a fun escape again rather than a grinding slog. I work from home, so I spend a lot of time with them, making playing poker a calming escape I look forward to rather than a chore.

Aaron Barone: I’d divide my career into two parts thus far: Pre-Spins and Post-Spins. Pre-Spins, I mass-tabled sit-n-go’s, and besides push/fold ICM strategy, I knew very little about poker. And post-flop play was a straight-up guessing game, button-clicking at its finest. None of it made sense to me, but I thought, ‘I’m crushing, who cares?’

Then I moved to Spins. I quickly noticed I’d need to make some changes, as all the regs who played heads-up as shove/fold (Nash Equalibrium Strategy) were getting crushed. I started trying to get more comfortable playing post-flop, and as my understanding of poker theory grew, so did my enjoyment of the game. It was almost like I got to fall in love with poker twice.

My introduction to poker was a casual game with some friends for an $8 buy-in. It was a 1¢-2¢ game. Why those stakes? To this day, I have no idea how we decided on the stakes or the blinds of that game. The money was irrelevant. We played because it was fun, and we were competitive against each other.

In a sense, I was lucky not to fall in love with the potential trappings of poker, such as wealth and fame, but the game itself. I just found poker incredibly fun, and as I’ve improved, my love for the game has only grown.

For some, studying feels like a chore. For me, it’s more of a fun side quest. What should I do in a specific spot, and more importantly, why? My approach is not the most solver-centric, but I’ve always been interested in learning strategies and their subsequent reasoning. That sort of curiosity has been essential to my success.

Craig Tapscott: What have been the main adjustments you’ve made in your game over the last decade?

Bryan ParisBryan Paris: Since I learned the game so early, I had picked up an anecdotal and ad hoc structure for conceptualizing things, which required a complete reboot once the solver era hit.

The tools available for studying now are beyond our wildest imaginations from 20 years ago. This is both good and bad, because it dramatically lowers the barrier for entry for new pros who want to work hard, but also provides older pros like me the ability to keep up if we put the work in.

Recently, the biggest thing I’ve been working on is studying how much ICM risk premiums start to take effect even in the mid-stages of a tournament. The strategy is different enough in the mid-to-late stages vs. the early stages that you’re almost playing a different format.

There are so many subtle differences with stack distributions and the exact stage of the tournament you’re in that the potential for improvement here is nearly unbounded.

Aaron Barone: The first thing was abandoning the ‘tight is right’ mentality. More than once on his live stream, Parker ‘Tonkaaap’ Talbot has told his viewers tales of my epic nittiness. And he’s not wrong. I used to be extremely tight because I thought that style made the most money. At the time, it indeed did. But nowadays, I’d almost be guaranteed to lose.

Secondly, playing more pots in position is vital. I remember I was reviewing some spots, and they all had a common theme: big blind vs. early position open or cutoff vs. button, button vs. small blind or the big blind, etc.

Simply put, I was [frequently] out of position. In addition to working on that leak, I decided I should be playing more pots in position, as my opponents were undoubtedly experiencing similar issues.

Craig Tapscott: What are a few essential qualities a player needs to survive a long downswing?

Bryan Paris: I would start with the caveat that a prolonged downswing is almost always your own fault. You should strive to have a significant enough edge that having a downswing that lasts a long time is nearly impossible.

My first instinct around downswings is always to study harder and assume the problem lies with me. With that said, downswings of some size are inevitable in multi-table tournaments, and game selection is one of the best ways to transcend it.

I’ve always been a volume guy, and recently, I have added many smaller buy-in tournaments with small fields back into my selection. These events reduce variance while also giving you plenty of practice in the late stages, including final tables, which represent a massive part of your edge over time. But those deep finishes can be few and far between if you only play big fields.

Aaron BaroneAaron Barone: When I started grinding online poker it was a world without solvers. However, we did have other software, as I used ‘SNG Wizard’ quite a bit to improve my shove/call ranges.

But I learned early on that the outputs relied entirely on the inputs. At times, the program would suggest incredibly wide shove ranges because my opponents shouldn’t be calling, but alas, very often, they did, and that would change the math of the spot.

These days, when reviewing a bluff, I’m not looking to see if it was good or bad, but more in-depth into the calling/folding ranges my opponent should have and if that lines up accurately with their playing style. I think utilizing that approach with solvers has helped me avoid pitfalls that have plagued others.

A few years back, a friend (cash game professional) and I exchanged hands weekly to discuss the differences in our games and how we could improve. During one of our sessions, he said, ‘My best hourly rate is the time I spend studying.’

That response sort of took me by surprise as I always had the grind-first mentality, where I was trying to mash the most volume possible. I wasn’t against studying. I enjoyed it, I just wouldn’t think of it as ‘my best hourly.’

His point was that even though he wasn’t wealthier after a study session, he’d refine old concepts or pick up new ones each time. And even if he picked up only one little thing, that little thing had the potential to raise his win rate ever so slightly. And an ever so slightly higher win rate might not sound like much, but throughout the rest of your poker-playing life – it’s incredibly significant.

Craig Tapscott: How do you see the game evolving over the next few years, and what is your advice to players to stay ahead of the curve?

Bryan Paris: As solvers and computing power continue improving, the game will get tougher. Having a network of other pros who stay on top of these trends is important and can help alert you to new software or concepts, particularly if a large stable or study group starts implementing them. 

Don’t allow this trend to intimidate you, however. At the end of the day, your opponents are still human and will make human mistakes, especially in live poker. You can and should strive to outwork them.

Aaron Barone: In recent years, the optimal style has shifted towards being looser and more aggressive. Can we go even further? I’m not sure, but the idea of VPIP’ing (voluntarily putting money in the put) more sounds fun.

Whatever the future holds, I’m excited for it. Despite playing professionally for over a decade, I still enjoy the puzzle-like aspect of the game, putting all the pieces together, talking things through, and figuring out my best course of action.

That love for the game of poker – not the trappings of money, fame, glory, but the game itself – has arguably been my greatest asset, and I hope to remain passionate about it in the future. ♠

Bryan Paris is an online poker legend, having been only the second person ever to reach $10 million in cashes behind Chris Moorman. The California native has since doubled that number, continuing to play online from his home in Amsterdam. The co-creator of the Mid-Stakes Mastery Tournament Fundamentals training series can be found on YouTube, Twitch, and X/Twitter @bparispoker.

Aaron Barone has been one of the top online players in the game since his start in 2009, with millions won between cash games, sit-n-gos, and multi-table tournaments. The 888 Poker Stream Team member is also a coach at Upswing Poker. The American has lived in Mexico, Thailand, the Bahamas, and Croatia before settling down in Vancouver, Canada. You can follow Aaron on Twitch and X/Twitter @abarone68.