Alex Millar Interview – How Kanu7 Climbed To The Top Of High Stakes Mountain
Alex Millar Interview – How Kanu7 Climbed To The Top Of High Stakes Mountain
Cash game players never get as much spotlight in poker as the ones crushing tournaments, but if you used to follow high-stakes action, you should already know who Alex „kanu7“ Millar is.
He battled the nosebleeds against the best and came out as a winner, so that says a lot about his dedication and his abilities as a player.
Alex Millar, also known as „kanu7“, is one of the best cash game players in the world.
I am thrilled to publish this Alex Millar interview, and discuss everything, from his story and poker career to newly launched course and future plans, so stay tuned!
Alex Millar Poker Bio – A Few Facts
- Alex Millar is a professional poker player from the United Kingdom, who was born in 1985
- For online players, he is well known as „kanu7“ and used to battle out the highest-stakes online
- Alex was signed as a part of PokerStars Team PRO Online in 2013
- In 2015, he showed huge support to all of the players and resigned from his role Stars ambassador after they implemented questionable rakeback changes
- Alex battled with the biggest names in poker and came out as a huge winner
- He has over $7.000.000 tracked winnings in online cash games alone
- Recently, Alex Millar launched cash games training program and shared all his knowledge of the game
Now, I am pleased to make this Alex Millar interview, where he agreed to share his thoughts on the game and answer many interesting questions.
Alex Millar Interview – Beating The Online Poker World
Hey Alex, thanks for taking the time to answer these questions and being open to discussion. I have to mention that you are the first one who agreed to discuss even controversial topics and even encouraged to ask the tough questions. It shows a lot about your character and makes for a more interesting discussion, so I am very excited to get this going.
Alex Millar: No problem, looking forward to it!
You are known as one of the biggest cash game crushers ever, but you have managed to keep yourself under the radar for quite a long time. Can you share your story about when you started playing and how all that looked?
Alex Millar: Sure, I started playing for fun at university, just freerolls and $5 tournaments etc. After playing a fair bit over the last 2 years of uni, I had built up a few thousand dollar bankroll and took a year out after university to play before starting a job.
During that year, I moved up from 50NL and 100NL to playing 2000NL and maybe a bit of 5000NL so I decided to keep going with the poker rather than take the job!
I built my roll on party poker and was mostly playing there for quite some time, so I was less well known by the people who played stars and full tilt. After a while, I started to put some money on those sites and particularly started to play a lot of HU there, which went well. I guess that was when I became a bit more well known amongst people who follow online poker.
Why did you decide to start playing cash games instead of MTTs?
Alex Millar: I actually mostly played MTTs at university. I think I mostly moved to cash games because there were people playing mid-stakes at my uni and they seemed to be making loads of money so I thought I’d give it a go.
It also then seemed a bit more of a stable income if I was doing it full time for a year, rather than the huge variance you get with MTTs, with so much of your income depending on how good you run in terms of getting the really big scores.
After a year of moving up the stakes in cash games and it seeming like I could make a lot of money playing them, it didn’t seem worth serious consideration to move back to MTTs at that point.
When you decided to take poker more seriously, what was your biggest motivation to get better? What helped you improve at such a steady pace?
I’m pretty competitive in general, so not enjoying losing has always been a pretty big motivation to improve.
I will say that not wanting to look like a prat probably helped in that first year as well. You can imagine that after graduating university, most of my friends were going on to pretty decent jobs and the thought of getting asked “how’d the year playing poker go?” all the time and having to shuffle my feet, look down at the ground and mumble about it not going quite as well as hoped was a pretty decent motivation to try to make it work!
If you had to pick one as your favorite format, not considering the profitability or availability of the games, would it be 6-max or heads-up, and why?
Alex Millar: HU, I think. I always enjoyed the battle of HU and being able to focus on one opponent. It always bothered me a little bit playing 6max that I knew I could do better if only I had the time to do a more in-depth analysis of all my opponents.
Even though it’s the same for everyone and you can still beat the games very nicely with solid fundamental play and by doing more opponent analysis than other people, it still always felt like I was leaving some money on the table. HU I could play a session vs. someone and then spend 8 hours going over every detail to improve my strategy vs. them next time we played.
I think many poker players are very interested in the high-stakes world but do not have much knowledge about the details. Can you share what winrates you had while playing high stakes like $25/$50+, and what do you think best players have in today’s games?
My lifetime winrate at 25/50+ was around 4bb/100 over about 1.3-1.4m hands.
Bear in mind that I always played in the toughest games, playing a lot of hands HU with the best poker players in the world, and a lot of hands starting games with 2 or more of the best 6max players in the world so I’m sure there are many people who game selected harder with much higher win-rates.
I was also never the best in the world. I don’t think, so I’m sure that there are some people who also didn’t game select much who had higher winrates. Still, I’m pleased with how things went!
I imagine things are similar in today’s high stakes games. As time moves on, the skill that you need to get a certain winrate increases, but I’m sure there’s still a skill differential, even between high stakes players, that allows a small number of players to get a particularly high winrate.
How did you build a bankroll? Where you ever staked high-stakes or just gradually moved up yourself?
Alex Millar: Answered the first part earlier. I gradually moved up myself.
When I got to 25/50+, sometimes I would sell action if there was a good game at a stake that I couldn’t afford to play myself but while moving up through the stakes, I think it was beneficial to go through all the levels myself and move up when I had the bankroll. I was moving up fast enough already so it wasn’t really necessary to consider getting staked.
What were your toughest opponents back in the days, and who do you think is on top right now?
Alex Millar: My toughest HU opponents when I was at the peak of my HU career were Ike and sauce, although Isildur beat me for a lot before I got to my highest level so I’d have to include him too. In 6max OtB_RedBaron was the best player I played regularly against although Katya always did really well against me too. I believe LLinusLLove is widely considered the best these days but he was only starting to move up to 25/50 when I was holding the tables there so we didn’t play a ton with each other. He has improved a ton since that time.
I imagine high-stakes cash games could be quite swingy. How have you managed your bankroll over the years, and what was the biggest downswing you ever experienced, both in % of your bankroll and money-wise?
Alex Millar: Yeah, definitely plenty of big swings! I was always pretty good with not playing out of my roll and selling action even in games I thought were good if the game was too high for me. Still, though, there were some painful downswings anyway.
The biggest in terms of the percentage of my bankroll would be when Full Tilt went down. I had a downswing at the tables around that time anyway and then I had probably 60-75% somewhere of my net worth on full tilt. It was a long time ago so I’m estimating but I must have lost around 80% of my bankroll between full tilt going down and the downswing at the tables. Or at least that’s what it appeared would be the case.
Fortunately, I did get the full tilt money back in the end.
Also, the first time I moved up to 25/50, it was a bit too soon for me and I was probably outmatched. I had to move back down and then continued my downswing on 10/20. I probably lost around 60% of my bankroll in that downswing.
Obviously, when I have these downswings, I’m moving down in stakes when I don’t have the roll for what I was playing, so there was never any danger of going busto, it was just a case of grinding it back at the level below what I had been playing.
In $$ terms it looks like I had a $1.8m downswing at one point, but that would have been when I was playing 400/800 so just over a 20 buy-in downswing and I was selling quite a lot of action so not as bad as it sounds.
How do you keep your head straight when you lose more than a million in a couple of sessions? Have you ever had any tilting issues?
Alex Millar: I think everyone finds it hard not to tilt when they start playing but I did manage to keep it under pretty good control after a while. Zooming out and looking at long term graphs was always helpful to put things in perspective.
(Allex Millar's lifetime poker graph, not too bad, right?)
In the session, I would put pretty chilled music on while playing and sing along to it if I was feeling tilted haha. I’m sure there’s a scientific explanation with releasing endorphins and not sitting there quietly bottling up the anger, but whatever it was, it worked pretty well for me.
How such downswings affect your game, and do you do something differently at such times?
Alex Millar: It’s definitely one of the huge challenges of poker that you can basically show up for work every day with a positive mindset, having done all the work that you’re supposed to do, and then everything can just go awfully all day long.
Then you can put in some more work, get yourself in a positive mindset again for the next day and the same thing can happen again. Repeat the process over a period of months, with the odd false dawn and then boom, a day where all your gains are lost and you’re even further down than you were before the false dawn etc, and it’s definitely not easy to keep showing up for work every day with the right attitude.
I’m only human, so of course, it can affect me when this happens over an extended period of time, but I’d try to increase my study/play ratio at times like these.
You always feel more enthusiastic about playing if you have some new stuff to implement that you think is going to increase your winrate. You also feel more comfortable about the downswing if you have a good understanding of where your edge is coming from and you get this understanding from working on your game (although there’s still always some doubt and uncertainty).
It also just seems wise to spend less time playing in a period where your mindset is not going to be quite at its peak, and a good opportunity to find some motivation to improve.
How Black Friday changed your poker career? If I am not mistaken, you have mentioned that you got a healthy sum locked on full-tilt. Can you elaborate on that?
Alex Millar: I talked about this a bit earlier but yeah, it wasn’t great having so much money locked up on full tilt. I had just had a huge upswing on there playing some 100/200 HU and had been meaning to cashout a bunch and then one day I wake up to find a message from the US DoJ when I try to go to the FullTilt website.
Not ideal. I think at one point people were selling full tilt money for less than 20c on the dollar, maybe even less than 10c but I could be wrong on that, so it was not looking good for a while.
Anyway, I don’t remember the exact timeframe, I’d like to say it was the next day, but perhaps it took a few more than that, I’m not sure, but I thought to myself “well I can either just mope around and complain about it or I can get on with making my money back.”
So I decided I was going to earn back everything that was stuck on full tilt on other sites. I did that in less than a year, I believe and then got the full tilt money back too, so it all ended up just fine.
I feel most sorry for the people who had a much smaller bankroll and had pretty much all their money on full tilt. Or the Americans who had to choose between changing their career or leaving their country to keep playing, just because of some nonsense legislation attached to a shipping bill.
I imagine it could not be very easy to let all of this go. Do you have any hobbies that help you recover after playing poker and make you happier with life?
Alex Millar: To be honest, I actually haven’t found it very difficult to move on. I was starting to find other things were interesting me more than poker right at the end of my career, which was a good sign that it was probably time to move on.
I’ve then pretty much felt like there’s not enough hours in the day with everything else I’ve been doing since I stopped playing so it has been quite a smooth transition so far.
You reached impressive results and was signed by “PokerStars Team Online.” Being sponsored by a poker room looks like a dream to many players, can you share what kind of benefits you were getting and it is actually such a great deal as it looks?
Alex Millar: Yeah, it was a pretty great deal to be honest. I probably wasn’t paid as much as some people may imagine, because I’m less well known as an online player than someone who has played a lot of big live tournaments or other TV games.
Still, though, it was a significant payment and the work was mostly just pretty fun.
Going to the Caribbean once a year for the PCA and hanging out with people I like there. Going to a few Pokerstars events and meeting other people who really like poker, usually over some drinks, can’t complain at all about the work. I also liked the rest of the team a lot, as well as the people at PokerStars that I was in contact with, so it was all good.
(image from PokerNews.com)
I guess that when you decided to waive your contract and leave Pokerstars, your name became quite well known for the general public as well, not just for the pros. Can you share that story and the reasons behind it for those who missed it?
Alex Millar: Sure. When I signed for Stars, it was before Amaya had taken them over.
They had saved mine and other people’s skins by buying full tilt and paying all the players back, and they had a really good attitude to running the business IMO, trying to create the best environment possible and trusting that would lead to success. I was delighted to represent them.
Once they had been bought out, I was starting to find that some of their actions weren’t really following this ethos that I had previously liked so much. It seemed to me that the focus at the highest level had switched a little from being a great business for the customers (leading to lots of profits of course) to focusing on short-term profits a little more.
It’s their right as a business to run it how they see fit but I found their treatment of Supernova Elite players to be a step too far for me, and I decided I didn’t want to represent them anymore.
There’s probably no need to drag up that fiasco again in huge detail, but in short, they had a benefits program in which if you play a certain amount in one year, you get benefits for the rest of that year and also the next year.
After a load of people had played huge volume in a year, which they wouldn’t have done if they’d known what was about to happen, they decided to take away all the benefits for the next year. This isn’t a small deal for the people concerned, who were generally the most loyal customers of the site and who had planned their entire work for the year around the understanding that they wouldn’t get screwed like this.
Man, after all of this, you just went rogue, like Jason Bourne in his movies! Have you played any poker for a couple of last years, maybe in some live games, or just enjoyed your time doing other things?
Alex Millar: I continued to play for quite some time after I left the PokerStars sponsorship deal, both on stars and elsewhere but yeah, then I started to move into other things and eventually stopped playing altogether. I didn’t play a hand for quite a while and was focused on other things.
Why did you quit playing while being on top of the world? That could be beyond understanding for many players.
Alex Millar: I guess I’ve mostly answered this already in that I was starting to get interested in other things more than poker. I think that was always going to happen at some point as my life plan was always to play poker for a while (I planned to play for less time than I did) before moving to other things.
If I were to try to analyze my mindset at a deeper level to explain the timing, then there are probably some factors that contributed.
Firstly, it was getting hard to get a lot of volume in high stakes online. Lots of sitting around, when I was playing, it was mostly in shorthanded games with the best in the world, which can be fun but not necessarily hugely profitable. I was getting in a number of poker hands per year that I would previously have got in a few months.
I was also waiting on the development of a private solver to be finished before I was planning to do a load of work on my game to take it to the next level, but there had been many delays, so I felt like my game was a bit stale.
I had some good options with some online private games and I had some fun and made some money playing those, but they were somewhat sporadic, 1 or 2 tables at a time, often on awkward software. It wasn’t the same as when I used to be battling the best players at nosebleed stakes in terms of challenge or enjoyment, or even profitability.
I also could have traveled to play some of the big live games but I was pretty settled at home and that wasn’t a lifestyle change that I particularly wanted to make.
So all in all, my day to day experience was just not as enjoyable as it was in the past and because I wasn’t so keen on the most profitable options available, my earnings were not likely to be as strong as they were in the past, so I’m sure that contributed to my interest shifting to other things.
I had a downswing as well, which I guess didn’t help my enjoyment, but it was nothing serious in terms of buy-ins or the number of hands it lasted. A bit more annoying than previous downswings though in terms of my volume being lower so it was dragging on for longer than it normally would.
Playing professionally might not be as easy as it looks at the first place, what advice would you give to players looking to move in this direction?
Alex Millar: Like in anything where it’s possible to make a lot of money compared to the qualifications/effort required, the competition gets continually tougher over time so it’s very far from the easy option that it was 15 years ago, and even a lot tougher than it was 5-10 years ago.
That being said, there are still plenty of people making a good living from poker and I don’t imagine that’ll change just yet.
Just be aware that it’s not going to be an easy ride and even if you make it, it’s somewhat unlikely to be great forever. Make sure you have a backup option, formulate long term plans, and don’t screw yourself by putting yourself in a position where you’re in a bad way if it doesn’t work out.
Many very smart people have tried to become a professional poker player and it has turned out to not be for them. Finally, be careful about planning your expenses.
It kills your bankroll and career (as well as being hugely stressful) if you’re only just making enough to cashout for your living expenses and you can’t grow your bankroll and move up in stakes.
How have you studied poker 5 years ago, and how that changed up to this day?
Alex Millar: The last 5 years has been more incremental improvements than the 5 years before that. In the last 5 years, it has gone from being able to awkwardly run a small number of solver situations and trying to extrapolate as much knowledge as you can from it to being able to run many simulations and take information from a lot more data.
In the 5 years before that, it went from mostly thinking about the game, doing calcs on paper or making some spreadsheets in excel, to actually having solvers which can calculate GTO estimate strategies in all sorts of spots.
That was a huge change, probably the biggest since the introduction of HUDs and PokerTracker/Hold’em Manager that allowed people to actually look at long-term information on players rather than just relying on what they see and able to remember.
Do you agree that most improvement comes from the work away from the table? What kind of playing/learning balance you think is optimal in today’s games?
Alex Millar: Yes, definitely, when you’re at a higher level, at least. When starting, you probably want to focus more on learning some basics and then just playing quite a bit to build up general intuition of how the game is played, what sort of hands you can bet for value on the river in different situations, etc.
I think the playing/learning balance depends largely on your winrate.
If it’s very high, then you want to spend most of your time maximizing your earnings while you have a big edge. If you’re fairly breakeven, then you’re mostly wasting your time playing and you should be spending a lot of time trying to make the improvements that will start to see you make a continuous profit.
Do you used to have a routine for playing and learning, and how important is it to structure approach to poker for a professional player?
Alex Millar: I wasn’t super structured with it. Sometimes you’re just feeling in the mood to play and sometimes you’re in the mood to learn.
If you try to force yourself to do the thing you don’t want to do then your performance in it will probably be lower.
If you find that you are consistently playing too much and not learning enough then you may need to adjust things so that you’re learning whenever you can stomach the idea, rather than just when you really want to and so on.
So you want to get the balance right overall but I don’t think you want to set yourself “ok, let’s learn on Mondays and Tuesdays and play the rest of the week” type structure unless you have to. I think I said earlier but for me, it was often spending more time learning when things have not been going well, spend more time playing when things have been going well.
It is quite clear how professional players should approach the game, but what would you advise for guys who want to play poker as a hobby or to add up some additional income in their spare time. How should they choose what to play, how they should learn, etc.?
Alex Millar: It really depends on what your motivations are. If you just enjoy the gamble then go for it, play how you want, just be sure you’re playing with money that you don’t care about losing.
If you enjoy the game at a basic level but aren’t interested in learning high-level strategy then that’s totally fine again, I’d just put some effort into finding some games with like-minded players.
You may find that you don’t enjoy it so much if everyone else at the table is a shark who is there only to take your money. If you’re at a reasonable or higher level of competence and you really enjoy the challenge of getting as good as you can but you just don’t have a ton of time then buy my course!
Obviously not if you’re only playing really low stakes but while I’m not trying to make this interview a sales pitch, I have tried to condense hundreds or thousands of hours of research into 36 hours of videos so I genuinely think you’d learn a ton and would find it to be a good use of money if you can afford it.
The main advice that I’d give to people in all these categories, though is to play lower stakes than you first think you want to. Poker is a great game but it can be brutal if you go on a bad run.
The last thing you want to do is totally ruin your experience by losing the amount of money that you thought you were happy to lose and then be faced with the choice of either putting more money in that you didn’t want to lose, or moving right down and playing much lower stakes, which will feel really painful when you know it’d take you forever to make back what you have already lost.
Since we touched the learning part, I want to ask about your new training course, “Advanced cash game strategy.” I recently watched all of your videos and have to say that this is probably the best course for cash games there is. How have you managed to come up with all this material without even actively playing anymore?
Alex Millar: Thanks for the kind words. Before I started making the course, I did have a look at some of the content that was out there and while I definitely didn’t watch close to everything, it felt like there was room for me to make something that many people would find really helpful.
To answer your question, the private solver that I mentioned earlier in the interview that kept getting delayed while I was still playing, was now in a usable state.
So I spent the best part of a year working with it to do all the work that I was planning to do if I was still playing 25/50+ in the toughest games in the world.
I didn’t want to go back to playing full-time, but it seemed like a nice way to finish my career in poker, to get to use this solver that I had been waiting for, while also creating a video course that would hopefully help a lot of people to improve their game.
How would you counter an argument from people saying that you are not able to coach since you are not playing yourself at the highest levels in today’s games?
Alex Millar: My first concern when Doug approached me about potentially making a course was that I didn’t want to make one because I didn’t think I could make a world-class course when I hadn’t done anything in poker for a while, and I didn’t want to create a course that wasn’t the best.
Once I had looked into the solver and the other content that’s out there a bit and decided that I could make a world-class course, my main concern became that even if I did make a world-class course, many people wouldn’t buy it because they would assume that it wouldn’t be world-class when I haven’t played for a while!
I made efforts to counter this in a few ways. Firstly I got some feedback from someone who still plays up to 10/20 online while making the course.
When they were saying that it was great stuff and were keen to watch as much as possible before other people got to watch it on release, that was a good sign that I hadn’t miscalculated, and it was actually going to be good.
On the perception side, I released some free content before the course came out that was very representative of the quality of the course so that people could judge for themselves.
While there are of course people who won’t look past their first impression that it won’t be good because I haven’t played in a while, it’s now released, and I was happy to see there were plenty of people who play from micro-stakes up to high stakes that were impressed enough with the free content to buy the course, and the feedback from them so far has been amazing.
Hopefully, now that it is out there and quite a few people have seen it, word of mouth sales will be pretty decent, as the quality of the course becomes more widely known.
P.S. – you can read full Alex Millar Advanced Cash Games Course Review here!
You mention that you needed almost the entire year to create your course. Why that took you so long?
Alex Millar: In short, it’s because I wasn’t making the course based on the knowledge I had when I stopped playing, I was doing many months worth of full-time study to be able to teach the course at a significantly higher level than I ever played myself.
I would have been doing this work over a much longer period alongside playing if I hadn’t stopped, but even working on it as my main focus, it’s not an easy task to devise comprehensive strategies across all sorts of different board types and back that up with true understanding of why everything is the way that it is.
As is often the case with these things, I thought it’d take less time than it did, but I’m glad I took the time to make it good, rather than just making something that is a few years out of date in terms of the information included.
What I love about the course is that instead of analyzing random hands, you created a structured approach on how to counter different board structures and situations, which is way more helpful and makes it easier to apply knowledge in real games. Do you think it is the best approach to learning? How did you decide to come up with all of this?
Alex Millar: Thanks, and I agree that it’s the best way to learn. It’s definitely useful to watch a video where a coach looks at 2 hand examples and talks about how the solver plays different hand types, but it can be very hard to then apply that knowledge to all the other boards that weren’t one of the examples.
I’ll give a lot of credit for the methodology for the course to a guy called Jack, who I worked with when we got our first private solver, many years ago. He was instrumental in taking this overview approach to the game, even though we didn’t have anywhere near as much data to work with back then.
We wrote hundreds of thousands of words of notes and extrapolations from what we’d been learning, so this course was kind of the second round of doing it for me.
You always think you’d have done certain things differently when you have finished a project, so I was able to keep the same basic approach and structure, while improving some aspects where I felt we could have done better, and then I applied this to a much larger data set than we had the first time to get better results.
Apart from having and sharing the information, you know how to represent it in an easy to follow way. This is not given for most courses, so I was wondering, do you have some experience in teaching?
Alex Millar: I’ve always had a bunch of friends who play poker and we’ve all learned from each other, but being the guy who plays the highest stakes, I must have explained poker concepts to people hundreds or thousands of times over the years.
I guess I also have experience in everything from discussing high-level concepts with friends who also play high stakes, to explaining things to friends who want to learn to play poker and asked me for advice.
So I tried to put all that experience to good use and focus on making videos that people will actually learn from, rather than just focusing on putting some information in a video and thinking that’s my job done. I’ve always kind of liked passing on information as well I think, it’s pretty rewarding when you teach someone something that they can then put to use.
Your course is probably dedicated to more advanced players because it could be too overwhelming for complete beginners. Can you share your thoughts on this? Who would get the most benefit from this course, and why?
Alex Millar: Yeah, I’ve definitely made the course with the assumption that the viewer has some prior knowledge. Hopefully, it’s pretty accessible to anyone who is a pretty competent player, but I wanted to make something that even a high stakes online player can learn from and it’s hard to do that if you’re constantly having to take time to explain things that they would find extremely basic.
Given the price point, I think this was the right approach because not too many beginners will want to spend $1k on a course when there is so much free beginner content out there.
Picking the person who will get the absolute highest benefit from the course, I’d have to go for a competent recreational player who plays pretty high stakes.
It’s not aimed at that player type but if they are competent enough to understand the course, but their skill level is below that of a pro, and they don’t have time to spend thousands of hours with solvers, then they’ll be learning an absolute ton from every video and if they’re playing high stakes then each bit of information they get which can improve their game will be very valuable.
The course will be insane value for someone who meets that description.
For professional players, the course will generally provide more pieces of previously unknown information, the lower stakes that someone plays, but then the course costs fewer buy-ins (or fraction of a buy-in) for someone who plays higher stakes.
My friend who plays up to 10/20 and watched a bunch of the videos before release said that it’s a shame I can’t charge more to midstakes+ players because it’s such ridiculous value for just $1k so I guess I’ll go with those players benefitting a lot too.
P.S. – I encourage you to check out Alex's course yourself!
You also made an analyzis of the Linus “LLinusLLove” Loeliger game, which is considered one of the best cash game players at the moment. Let's talk about his strategy. There were even rumors that LLinusLLove is a GTO bot, but you mentioned he has a great strategy to exploit players and is not relying strictly on GTO all the time as you could expect. Can you mention some of the most useful exploitative plays for higher and maybe lower stakes? Some population tendencies you noticed?
Alex Millar: I’ll be a bit more guarded on talking about the content of that course sorry because most of the value comes from a relatively small number of very important points.
It’s very clear that he’s exploiting people and not just playing GTO though. That doesn’t mean he’s not using some software assistance of course (I have no idea on that but I didn’t see any evidence of it), but he’s definitely not a GTO bot.
In terms of exploiting higher or lower stakes, though, I’d say that the exploits just get a bit harder to find as you go up the stakes.
At lower stakes, you might have a bunch of players who just fold way too much in loads of quite common spots (let’s say after they check call flop, turn checks through and then they check and face a bet on the river) so you want to look for these spots and bluff loads in them.
You’ll also come across situations where pretty much nobody is bluffing enough and you can take advantage of making some really tight folds, saving yourself a lot of money.
When you get to the highest stakes, most people are pretty comfortable with the concepts and how they should be playing, and it’s more down to finding errors in the execution. It’s one thing to know that your fold percentage should be roughly X% in a spot, and it’s another entirely to actually play that out by playing individual hands in the right way consistently, especially when you start factoring in that your opponents can all be using slightly different sizes, etc.
So at high stakes, you can still find some of the more basic exploits, but you also may have to get a bit more creative, finding bet sizings that are good but which people are not reacting to quite as well as they are vs. other sizings for example.
I also want to ask you about GTO, since there is a lot of confusion about game theory optimal play. Can you share your intake on the subject?
Alex Millar: Sure. For any fair game with a finite number of players and action possibilities, there exists at least one set of strategies that are in what is called a Nash Equilibrium.
This means that if every player is playing their part in the set of strategies, no player can change their strategy to improve their expected value.
For those of you to whom that makes no sense, it can be easier to think of an example.
Let’s say you are playing rock, paper, scissors online (so nobody can see your hands twitching!) and you use a random number generator to pick each of the options 1/3 of the time at random. Nobody can have the edge over this strategy. If you are doing this and so is your opponent, neither player can change their strategy to get an edge, and they are in a Nash Equilibrium.
The same thing exists in poker, but it’s hugely complicated compared to the example above, taking different actions with hands different percentages of the time in all sorts of spots on all sorts of board runouts. It’s so complicated in fact that we can’t accurately calculate the Nash Equilibrium still for NLHE, but solvers provide an approximation when you make a bunch of assumptions such as restricting the available bet sizes to a small number.
Even though this is far from perfect, you can learn a lot about the game by studying the answers from these approximations, and this sort of work is what most of the world’s best players spend a lot of their study time doing.
Many people are saying poker is already dead but isn’t that because they do not want to work to beat it? Of course, it is not as easy as it used to be, but it is surely more than beatable. What is your intake on this?
Alex Millar: There are very obviously people beating the games and making a lot of money. I think it’s unfair to say that people don’t want to put in the work to beat it though. There are many people putting in a lot of work but still not beating it.
The games are tough these days and not everyone can win. The games are beatable but not for everyone is probably the best way to say it. That has always been the case because poker is a negative-sum game after the rake.
The standard required to be one of those who are winning continually increases over time though, which is why many people say that it’s not beatable.
Perhaps it was beatable for them in the past but they can no longer beat it.
You mentioned that you had access to solvers a year earlier than it was publically released, which probably gave you a significant edge. Do you think that top players are likely to have some additional edge either from utilizing private software or using the knowledge that is not available to the general public?
Alex Millar: Yes, I imagine so. There’s a lot of money to be made in poker still, the top players have a lot of money and they’re able to pay developers to make them custom software. If someone is not at the top but has access to custom software that gives them an edge, then they will likely rise to the top.
There will always be people pushing the boundaries of knowledge and trying to develop software that will help them in that quest (and sadly there will always be people who are trying to use software in an unfair way that breaks the rules) and often any breakthroughs will be private for a while before the tech becomes more commonplace and someone releases it to a wider market.
Cutting edge but fair, private software is not something that you need to worry about too much unless you play the highest stakes though. Illegal software is a bigger concern at lower stakes but as far as I know, it seems like plenty of people are doing very well at lower stakes so it doesn’t seem to be a crippling problem at the moment.
Do you feel there is a real threat of bots beating online games or real-time assistance software taking it all over? Where do you see online poker in like 5 years?
Alex Millar: Yes for sure, there’s a threat. It seems that it is already the case that AI exists that can beat humans. At the moment I don’t think it’s going to be a problem for most people but when you get to the point where the tech is as easy to make as chess software, and you can buy it for $5, then it’s going to be very hard for people to play online poker fairly (although the biggest sites may be able to tell quite easily if someone is consistently playing like a bot at low stakes online because it will be so different to how most low stakes players play). Hopefully, that day is still some way off.
Real-time assistance software is bound to be a big concern for people who play higher stakes, though and it could be hard to prevent totally. We’ll see how things develop there.
From speaking to some high stakes regs, it doesn’t seem to be particularly common on stars at the moment but it’s a threat I was concerned about a few years ago so I’m sure it’s still a major concern for people now.
What do you think about the live games scene? Maybe the biggest games will be moving there? Can you get more action and EV in a live environment?
Alex Millar: Yeah, if online games do become too tough because of cheating, then live games will still be plentiful. T
he biggest games already take place live these days and perhaps this trend will continue, with online games remaining popular at lower stakes where there’s less likely to be good bots and high stakes games migrating more and more to live games. We’ll see though and it may be a slow process.
It seems that live players do not have as strong fundamental understanding of the game as online grinders. Can you take the knowledge from your course and implement it in live games? Do you think any particular adjustments are needed?
Alex Millar: Yeah for sure, I focus on a fundamentally strong play, so my course will apply to both live and online games.
There have been some very active live players in the Facebook group for the course asking questions and getting some advice on how to adjust things specifically for the games they play and they seem to be taking a lot from it, which is great to see.
With all the solvers and software available to the players, plus advanced training courses like you just released, recreational players do not have a fighting chance. How to make this environment less predatory for them?
Alex Millar: To be honest, I’m not sure it’s all bad news for recreational players for those reasons. To take the example of my course, if you’re a recreational player who is trying to improve, then you can get thousands of hours of research given to you in 36 hours of video footage, along with the chance to ask questions in the Facebook group.
If anything, that’s a bit of a leveler vs. the people who do have the time to put in hundreds or thousands of hours of solver work.
For recreational players who don’t try very hard to improve, the games are very tough. One thing I would say though, is that a lot of the solver work that people do is on improving their fundamental play, and people are putting a lot of work into that these days.
This doesn’t necessarily translate into winning more from recreational players. I was one of the top players in the world but I’m sure many people were better at winning money from recreational players than me because I put most of my focus into beating the best players. I’m not saying it’s not tough, but it might not be quite as bad as it seems.
What I do think is important, though, is the predatory aspect that you mention. As someone who plays the game for fun, you should be able to sit down and play some poker without feeling like you’re being swarmed over by a bunch of sharks trying to take your money asap.
I’m not sure what that is like these days because I haven’t played in a while but I know a bunch of sites has done things like make games anonymous in an attempt to improve things there. Hopefully, it’s not too bad and people can play the game in a decent atmosphere but I’m sure it varies depending on where you play.
Are you still active on any poker medium at the moment, maybe sometimes visit the forum or share your thoughts with other players?
Alex Millar: At the moment, I’m just active in the Facebook group for the course. It’s only a couple of weeks after launch as I write this so I’m still spending a couple of hours a day or more going through all the questions people have on the videos or any HHs they have shared to get some advice on.
What are the biggest lessons you learned from poker that you could apply in other areas of your life?
Alex Millar: I learned a lot from poker that I think most people don’t get to learn in life.
I think this is because poker is a proxy for life in some ways, with lots of ups and down, lots of decisions made and results of those decisions seen.
I think most of the benefits come from this sort of thing. Common mistakes that people make like being too results-oriented, are crystal clear to someone who is an expert poker player, but most people go through their life without ever realizing that it’s a mistake.
Another big one for me that I don’t think even many poker players fully get is just how wrong you can be when you’re sure that you are right.
I played through a time of vast changes to poker strategy, with the quality of play improving hugely over the last 10-15 years. I was one of the top players in the world fairly early on in my career and I had set ideas of how the game should be played.
Seeing many of those ideas turn out to be totally incorrect, when I had been a world-leading expert on the subject and was sure they were correct, is a humbling experience, and teaches you to have a bit of humility and never be too sure of yourself.
Many people failed to accept they were wrong over the years and poker is not a kind game to those who stick to incorrect ideas when the rest of the field knows better. Life can be the same but it can be much harder to learn it if you’re in a field that is not so fast-changing and where the results of your poor decisions and ideas are not so brutally exposed as they can be in poker.
Over the years battling it out in the high-stakes world, you must have seen good and bad all over the place. Can you share the most memorable poker story?
Alex Millar: Oh, I don’t know what the most memorable story would be. I had such a great career with so many highlights, both from playing and off the felt and I guess the stuff that comes to mind is the stuff surrounding the game.
The summer trips to vegas where we hired out a house with 12-14 of us and stayed for 6 weeks or so to play a bunch of WSOP events and hang out in vegas. The great meals, the nights out, the FIFA tournaments when we were all sitting around the house.
Also just living with other poker players throughout the rest of the year. Finishing a session at 3am and knee slap laughing as I joke around with mates who are just finishing up work for the day as well. Trips to the Caribbean with the rest of Team Online, meeting new people, generally having a great time.
On the poker side, I had risen through the stakes in a year, going from a low stakes player trying to learn the game to playing for thousands of dollars on each table. We had Black Friday, starting to learn game theory, solvers. Battling HU back in the days when people really duked it out and didn’t quit when they lost 2 buy-ins if they weren’t sure they had an edge.
I remember playing “aejones” back when he was a much bigger name than me and we played a load of sessions.
I think I was down about 30 buy-ins vs. him at one point and ended up coming back to be up about 30 buy-ins before he quit me.
Battling “isildur” at 400/800 on 4 tables with $120k min buy-in on each and finally taking my revenge for all the times he beat me earlier in my career. So many good memories, not many bad, but I can’t think of one story to sum it all up.
You had a career that many players could just dream about. But if you have to start it all over again, what would you do differently now?
Alex Millar: When things have gone so well, it’s hard to look back and have too many regrets. I could have game selected harder and maybe made some more money. I could have folded my damn KJo vs. the RedBaron (at least some people will get that reference ).
I focused on the wrong things at times, started projects that ended up going nowhere. But overall I can’t complain at all so I’m just happy with how things went. I think I learned a lot from the things that didn’t go well so it’s easy to say I wouldn’t have done them, but if I hadn’t have done them, I wouldn’t have learned.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
Alex Millar: Well as I write this, we’re expecting our first baby in a few months so hopefully I’ll be able to use my financial success to help give me time to spend being a good dad as well as giving me the time to decide what I want to spend my time doing in the future.
Right now the dream would be to learn a lot about investing and find some corners of the market which are not too efficient, so that I can gain an edge and be able to spend my time working from home, reading about interesting stuff and using my poker money to provide good earnings into the future.
It’s entirely possible that this will turn into an epic failure, or maybe I’ll fairly quickly decide that it’s not for me or I can’t get good enough returns for it to be worth it. We’ll see how it goes and I’ll be flexible depending on where my interest takes me, but fingers crossed I look back on this interview one day when I’ve had some success investing and it’ll be cool to look back at this answer before I got started!
Summing Up Alex “kanu7” Millar Interview and Poker Story
Very few players have walked all the road to the top, and even fewer of them are happy to share how they did it.
So a HUGE thanks go to Alex Millar, and I have to say that this is one of the most inspirational stories I have read for a while.
If this teaches something, it is that you can reach your goals by having a vision and working your ass to get where you want to be. If that is poker, but you are just starting , you can get some basic tips or join one of the training sites if you are more experienced in this game. Either way, find an actionable method to improve and go all-in.
Also, if you want to learn more from this guy, you can and probably should check his training program!