Designing SNIPER

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There are several main characteristics of any successful system in gambling and system design is an area where game theory comes to the fore and this is probably my main field of

expertise and one that has allowed me to be able to make money in poker. It is for this reason why there have been so many analogies with other fields throughout my blogs. This is because they are not separate entities at all but linked conceptually in numerous principles.

In poker than any system has to fulfill several key functions to work. It first has to be theoretically sound and the plan of making money and the objectives for how to achieve this and how that is going to happen need to be clear and concise and this will be addressed in the SNIPER on why I have selected NLHE ring games.

The system also has to work in combat…….many systems fail that are theoretically sound in the actual field of play which kind of leads me to think that they were not theoretically sound at all…….a main cause of this failure is over complication.

The third criteria is that the system has to be relatively easy to operate. The final criteria is that the system if at all possible must not be in widespread use by other people if in the process of being so it nullifies the effect of the system. We can see here how “you” play a part in all of this. It is up to you to find a system that is theoretically sound and many go down blind alleys. Ditto for criteria number two as if a system is theoretically unsound then it is hardly going to work in reality.

Criteria number three is often seen all over the poker world, players try to learn a system of operation either from some book or online poker coach that they themselves have trouble replicating. This is often to do with what I call the “understanding gap”……this means the gap between what the author or coach is trying to teach or say and what the student actually takes in and comprehends (or in many cases only using the parts that they can be bothered with).

This is often done wrongly and leaves the student with some “warped” version of what the coach intended and they only have to change that version slightly without conscious thought and suddenly they are playing in a way that isn’t the same as what was shown to them.

This is a huge problem with coaching complex methods and systems, the information overload problem means that the true concepts are often lost in translation if you attempt to do this too quickly. The result is that it takes a certain amount of time for complex systems to be taught and then absorbed and this is time that your average player simply does not have.

Carl Sampson is an online poker pro at 888poker

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Adjusting to the playing conditions

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Whenever you play online poker then you are in fact entering into a highly complex moving dynamic. You can find someone with a great earn rate over say 1 million hands but if those million hands have been compiled over the space of only one year in online poker then that doesn’t alter the fact that only one year has passed.

All this means is that your earn rate has a very high confidence level for that particular year. But environments change and I started playing online poker seriously in 2001 and during that time have had to undergo numerous changes. The biggest one was totally switching poker codes in 2007 from limit to no limit.

The brief excursions into PLO have been nothing more than that but I am not a great PLO player and so my short stacking system has been my mainstay. But it is easy to take your finger off the pulse when you are making money and I have done well so far this year from all sources which mainly means NL100, sports and PLO. But after taking some good advice lately then it has become painfully clear to me that my earn rate in NL100 is nowhere near what it could or should be.

I do not frequent 2+2 forums anymore and so my contacts in regards to me playing poker have shrunk somewhat so I have been cocooned when it comes to talking to people. But I am going through a transitional period again and hopefully I can get my earn rate up to $100/hour by early next year.

The advice that I have been given is top notch by a strong pro that is unknown in the industry. His earn rate at NL200 exceeds $120/hour and if I was making this sort of money rather than the puny $/hour that I am making at the moment then I would maybe have more incentive to play poker.

Carl Sampson plays poker at 888poker where he is an ambassador and Poker Pro

 

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Play a hand with The Dean

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Let us begin by looking at a pre-flop hand example where it is folded to you in no limit Texas hold’em on the button. You have a very weak hand and it is the 9c-3d. In online poker then under normal circumstances this hand should be folded. It has very poor equity potential and you will get into many unfavourable situations post flop. However the real problems that you will encounter playing such a hand tend to arrive after you have connected with the board slightly or you try to aggressively push a bluff through.

Don’t be afraid to let the hand go

In online poker then you will find many such situations where your greatest profit potential comes before the flop. This is usually with hands that have very poor post flop equity potential. A hand like 10-9s can make the nut straight and a flush which although is not the nuts, can be very effective at beating lower value hands.

Hands like suited connectors and big pairs have very good post flop potential and this is where they extract most of their value from. However with very weak equity holdings like 9-3o which in all fairness shouldn’t be played at all in online poker then their value (if they have any) comes pre-flop. If you happen to encounter blinds that are so tight that they fold something like 80% of their hands before the flop then raising with 100% of your range is profitable as long as you give up if called or raised.

A hand in action

We don’t always make the right plays at the right time in online poker but let us say that you briefly take leave of your senses and raise with 9-3o from the button because the blinds fold 80% of the time. Firstly if you make it 3.5bb to go and they fold eight times in every ten hands then your profit is 12bb. If they call or re-raise then you lose back 7bb but only under one condition. This is if you let the hand go post-flop. If you do that then you profit to the tune of 5bb over the space of ten hands.

So you are only getting involved if you have a strong reason to believe that your hand is good. Let us say that you make it 3.5bb to go and the big blind calls you. The flop comes 8d-6c-2s and the big blind checks. We don’t have much by way of pot equity with just the nine and a backdoor straight draw and our fold equity isn’t great either. We could easily check this back but we decide to fire a c-bet.

Tricky situations are the norm

In online poker then you will frequently encounter situations where the flop doesn’t hit you and your c-bet gets called and you don’t improve on the turn either. If the turn card is say the 6h and your opponent checks again then you have a problem either way. If you check then you are seeing the river with very little chance of bluffing and your showdown potential is very weak. However if you bet again then the turn card hasn’t really altered your fold equity and is probably straying into spewing territory now!

Carl Sampson is a poker professional who plays online at www.888poker.com

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Can you make it as pro

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One of the most famous adages in poker is that it is a “tough way to make an easy living”. This statement explains that once you have the necessary skills that money just flows to you or it will do eventually……that is the easy living part of it. The tough part is that you have no pension scheme, no paid leave, no sick pay, no company bonuses, no NI contributions……no nothing. The only benefit (in the UK at least) is that you can enjoy tax free income.

 
Also the physical aspect of sitting for long hours is not good. Neither is staring at a computer screen for long hours and concentrating intently either. I would never recommend to anyone to play poker for a living unless they had nothing to lose at the outset. You need to be in a certain career position (or lack of) to become a poker pro. In my experience then the vast majority of professional poker players have not ended up that way because they felt that poker was a more serious career path to the one that they planned to take when they graduated.

 
Even sitting around on a chair for 40 hours per week could be compared to an office job……except it isn’t. This is because more mental energy is used in the act of playing poker in a 40 hour working week than you average 9-5 office job. I say this with the greatest respect and also with experience and I know that online poker requires total concentration all the time. To make up your hourly rate then you need to play numerous tables at the same time.

 
So you literally have no down time in which you can let your concentration lapse. To play as a pro and play say eight-tables then it becomes necessary to take a break. However taking a break means closing down eight tables and getting those eight tables back is going to take some time! So you probably need to play for 50 hours per week to get 40 hours of full working time in at your optimal earning capacity.

 
I really don’t know how long a player can put in these sorts of hours for because as you get older then mental burnout becomes an issue. These days I only play poker part-time and that suits me fine. In fact as a part-time career then poker fits the bill perfectly. When you have income from other sources then poker is less stressful. You can take time off when you choose, enjoy all of the benefits of your current job or career and if you don’t feel well or are ill then you can take time away from work with paid leave.

 
You tend to find that when there is no pressure to make money in poker that you tend to make more of it. My worst sessions have been when I have been pressing to try and make money. This is when you usually start going backwards.

 

Carl Sampson is a professional poker player that plays online at 888poker

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Changing for the better

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As a poker pro of eleven years then I am all too aware of the need to adapt and to change. Wasn’t it Charles Darwin that once said that the species that will survive wouldn’t necessarily be the strongest or the fastest but it would have to be the most adaptive to change? This is how my poker career has gone since 2002. A long constant stream of changing and of not being good enough to make money followed by being good enough and so on and so on.

If someone had told me a few years ago that I would be multi-tabling NL100 for a living then I would have thought that they were crazy. I simply wouldn’t have wasted my time playing so low. However times change and I cannot afford to be so choosy these days. When you need the money then you have to do whatever it takes to get it. I don’t really want to play 40 hours per week but if I have to then I will.

These days I struggle to even hit 20 hours per week because I just have had enough of sitting around on my backside on a chair when I could be outside doing other things that I enjoy. To make money these days and to do it consistently means having a completely different game plan to what you needed some years ago. I recall a friend of mine going to Vienna in the late nineties to play cash games at the Concord. He came back and told me that the limit Stud games were the loosest and wildest that he had ever seen.

He didn’t end the trip a winner but that was purely down to variance and playing live over a two week period and especially when you are playing Seven Stud doesn’t exactly mean that you will be guaranteed to crush the level. I calculated that he had played in the vicinity of around 3k hands over a two week period…….this is nowhere near enough to guarantee a profit. However the way to beat this particular game dynamic is to learn the theory first and foremost and then play very tight-aggressive.

What happens in a game like this is that you lose a longish series of small pots when you fold and then fold while chasing drawing hands that don’t connect. What then tends to happen is that these consistent small losses are offset by big winning pots. However in a tight-aggressive game then this sort of game plan fails to work because sitting back is what everybody else is doing. Then when your opponents are educated enough to only get all in with big hands in big pots then sitting and waiting for such pots is no longer the correct strategy.

To make money in any game dynamic then you have to play opposite that particular game dynamic. If you play the same way as your opponents then you cannot possibly gain an edge. This is one of the biggest flaws in the games of most novice and intermediate no limit hold’em players.

They simply do not identify the current game dynamic and then play opposite to it. If your opponent is tight-aggressive then it becomes difficult to beat them by being even tighter and aggressive. It is much easier to beat TAG opponents by becoming a LAG. This is why my friend was massively +EV in Vienna because he was tight-aggressive in a game that was loose-passive on the whole. So he was tight when everybody else was loose and he was aggressive when everybody else was passive leading to value town.

Carl “The Dean” Sampson is a professional poker player that plays online at 888poker

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More on Omaha

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Pot Limit Omaha is one of the most exciting cash games played online at this time. However it does take quite a bit of getting used to if you haven’t played it before. The first major difference is in how many cards you are dealt compared to say hold’em. In Texas hold’em then you are dealt two cards but in Omaha you are dealt four cards. There is still a three card flop, turn and river as in hold’em but the major difference is that in Omaha you cannot play the board.

 
This means that you have to play two cards out of the four from your hand and three from the board. However the mere fact that you have four cards and not two has a significant impact on the average hand strength that is required to take pots down. In hold’em then you only have one hand combination. That increases six fold in Omaha because you have A-B, A-C, A-D, B-C, B-D and C-D. The ramifications of that are obvious and position is even more important in Omaha than it is in hold’em.

 
If you play a hand out of position in no limit Texas hold’em like under the gun for example then in a ten handed game then there are only nine other hand combinations to speak after you. However in Omaha that number multiplies to fifty four combinations. While many players struggle with identifying what is a good hand and what isn’t a good hand in Omaha, it is important to know what types of hands play well.

 
Essentially in hold’em then two pair can be a very strong hand most of the time and a hand that will win a lot of pots. In fact even top pair can win much of the time in no limit Texas hold’em. Fewer players see the flop in hold’em and so this means that the average winning hand is much lower than in Omaha. So the fact that each hand has six times the number of combinations plus the fact that there are more players seeing the flop means that the nuts is often out there in Omaha.

 
Consider this important fact of online poker for a minute. Imagine that in your usual no limit Texas hold’em ring game that 25% of players see the flop. This means that the total number of hand combinations seeing the flop would be 2.5. But in Omaha then hand values run very close to one another and so it would be common to see 50% of players seeing the flop in a full ring Omaha game. So this means no less than 30 hand combinations that are seeing the flop compared to the 2.5 in hold’em which is a twelve fold increase.

 
Needless to say that you need to be far more selective with bluffing in Pot Limit Omaha because it is simply far easier for your opponents to call you! While it is certainly possible to bluff in Omaha, your primary objective is to select solid starting hands that can not only make the nuts but make the nuts while having redraws to higher hands. So a hand like As-Qs-Jh-10d would be a great hand on say a Ks-Qd-10s board because you have the nut straight plus the draw to the nut flush and a full house draw with the Q-10.

 

 

Carl Sampson is a professional poker player that plays online at 888poker

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Playing Omaha

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Poker after all is nothing more than a game where the best five card hand wins the pot. In lowball variations then the best five card low hand takes the pot or in split pot variations then the best five card hand for high and low share the pot. Omaha is a game played usually with four cards and there are four betting rounds just like in hold’em. There is a pre-flop betting round, a three card flop just as in hold’em with a betting round to follow, a turn card with a betting round to follow and a river card with a betting round.

 
The game is strikingly similar to hold’em in many aspects and there are also many numerous variations to Omaha just like hold’em. For example you can play limit Omaha and pot limit Omaha just like you can in hold’em. You can play Omaha in cash games and in tournaments too. Also you can play Omaha in a high-low split capacity.

 
Many of you may ask why one should switch to playing Omaha from games like hold’em? Well there are numerous reasons really but the main reason is that the game is far more action orientated than hold’em. There are several different reasons for this and one has to do with how much closer hand values are in Omaha than hold’em. In Texas hold’em then you can often be in situations where some hands dominate others. Like for example when someone has A-A against another player with K-K!

 
Other examples may be when say someone has A-K and another player has A-Q. So you can see that pre-flop starting hands in hold’em can vary quite widely in strength but in Omaha then hands like K-Q-J-10 can be very similar by way of equity to hands like K-J-10-9. So this means that more players see the flop on average and so the average pot size is much bigger. This is one of the reasons why Omaha when played for high is often played in a pot limit or limit format and not no limit.

 
Another huge factor as to why many players are turning to Omaha is to do with how much faster you can clear bonuses and earn rewards. The amount of generated rake in Omaha is much higher because more players are seeing the flop and beyond as previously stated. So the amount of bonus rewards is much higher in this form of poker and good players can certainly prosper and do well.

 
When you first switch to Omaha high then it is often confusing at first for novice players as to what constitutes a strong hand post flop. For example a two pair hand in hold’em is a strong holding but in Omaha then the hand is very weak. This would apply to other hands as well like sets or even low flushes. The nuts is out there far more often in Omaha than hold’em and especially in full ring Omaha games. But if you are having problems being bored playing Texas hold’em then switching to Omaha may just turn out to be one of the best things that you ever did.

 

 

Carl Sampson is a professional poker player that plays online at 888poker

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Getting Your Head Right

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One of the biggest problems with regards to poker is the level of variance that exists within the game. I had a terrible tilt problem some years ago but at the very heart of tilt is one key factor. In nearly all cases tilt is caused by losses at the table. You could say that it is caused by other factors not being in harmony within your day to day life. However if you arrive at a table and immediately win money then I don’t think that anyone would tilt. While a negative frame of mind may increase the negative fluctuations after bad beats and outdraws, ultimately it is financial loss that triggers destructive behaviour at the poker table.

 
Now we have to get to the bottom of why this is the case and I mentioned that there is one factor above all others that causes this. In my opinion tilt is caused by trying to exert total control where there can be no total control. Whatever you do in poker, however well you play, however badly your opponents play and however much you work on your game……the bottom line is that you will still incur losses. You could be the tightest player at the table and only get all in with the best hand but you cannot possibly have any control over the arrival of further board cards.

 
If you could control these things then the game would be crooked. Because it isn’t crooked then you cannot possibly control the outcome of the hands. All you can do is control how well you play and nothing more. So because there is so much that we cannot control in a poker game then our results in the super short term are actually almost like gambling. It is a bit like roulette where you are playing as the house.

 
There are 18 red numbers and 18 black numbers on a single zero wheel along with zero of course. Any player that bets red or black will lose half their wager should zero arrive. This house edge is small but taken over a large sample size is more than enough to guarantee a profit. Whatever the casino does, it cannot control the outcome of the spins or where the players place their bets or for how much. So we can say exactly the same thing in so much that there is an awful lot that the casino cannot control despite having an undisputed edge.

 
This is why as an ex-croupier I have worked countless shifts where the casino has lost money. I have even known losing weeks and even losing months. However I have never known a losing quarter of a losing year. This is purely because of the much larger sample size where the results start to approach the actual EV. As a poker player that strives to become a successful player then you need two things to happen.

 
Firstly you need to develop a poker game that gives you an edge and then you need to accept that in the super short term at least that you are only one step removed from actual out and out gambling. Once you accept this then losses cannot harm you because you have already mentally accepted them before the session. Different players have different mind-sets when it comes to playing poker and accepting losses.

 

Whatever mental crutch you choose to use is up to you. For example you try having a stop loss limit of say $200 if you play NL50. If you say to yourself that you are going to spend a $200 budget today and quit once you reach that limit then losses become easier. You could even ask yourself how many times you have spent $200 in a day on evenings out or buying clothes etc and rationalise it that way.

 
It is when you think of $200 as a “loss” that problems occur. When you buy something for $200 then you can physically see the item what you have bought or in the case of a meal out the actual food and drink. However if you want to “buy” something in a poker game then it has to be something more abstract.

 
If you leave the table minus $200 then you need to tell yourself that you bought something for that money in the same way that you would have done had you gone into town and bought some new clothes.

 

 

Carl Sampson is a professional poker player that plays online at 888poker

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Implied odds in poker

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One of the key factors surrounding the concept of implied odds is that different opponents offer you different levels of implied odds. For example if someone asked me what the correct play would be with a hand like pocket fours on the button to an early position raise then I would need more data before giving my answer. How big is your stack size? How big is your opponents stack size? How likely are they to lose a lot of money post flop? Are the players to your left likely to call or 3/bet?

 
Questions like these and more besides are highly pertinent to how the hand is played and if it is correct to play it at all. This is why you get more implied odds in six max games and heads up games than in full ring. If you call a raise with 100bb in a NL600 heads up game with pocket fours and flop a set then you could stack an opponent that was bluffing much more frequently than you would in a NL50 full ring game. Also in very tough mid-stakes game then an opponent may bet all three streets with a hand like top pair.

 
This could be for value or to balance their range and so a set of fours can extract a lot of value here and thus gain good implied odds. Now transfer that to a weak-tight player in a full ring cash game that only ever stacks off with the nuts or something close to it. If the flop comes K-J-4 and your opponent decides that they would like to stack off then you are going to be facing a set of kings or jacks in all probability. You have some chance of being ahead of K-J but if they raised from early position then K-J is less likely than K-K and J-J.

 
Knowing where your opponents are likely to give you money is a vital part of the game. For example this could happen in any form of poker. In STT’s for example then play on the bubble is vital to your chances of making these types of tournament profitable. If you cannot play well on the bubble and do not understand ICM then it will be difficult to advance beyond the intermediate level of STT’s. All forms of poker have an area where the average opponent plays sub-optimally.

 
In cash games this tends to be post flop rather than pre-flop. It is much easier to play well pre-flop because that part of the game is simpler. You only have two starting cards to think about and there isn’t even any board cards to complicate matters. If you have a good indication of what your opponents range is then you can use PokerStove or previous experience to accurately estimate your equity against that range. So pre-flop play is more or less figured out even by relatively inexperienced players!However post flop play is where you will find your biggest edge and you should strive to play more post flop poker.

 
Against players that play well pre-flop (and there are many) then your edge at that particular stage of the game will be thin at best. When your opponents play post flop then it becomes a different story. For example if someone raises from the cut-off and you estimate that their range is say 25% and you have 10c-9c on the button then are you correct to 3/bet or call? Well that sort of depends because if you 3/bet with a wide range against a good player then you will find that they will 4/bet you more frequently. Then you may have to 5/bet shove to find your line profitable but if you don’t like the thought of that then don’t 3/bet light against a good player.

 
Remember that your opponents range is wide and you have position. So you can call and see a flop because you have a playable hand, position and the knowledge that if your opponent is multi-tabling that they could even fold many hands that are better than yours. Let’s give our opponent 10d-10h and the flop comes Jh-8c-4d. They c-bet for two thirds of the pot and we know that they are unlikely to hold a big pair and would c-bet against a single opponent.

 
So we have a clear call here or we could even raise with our straight draw equity. However the key thing is that we can use our position to increase our profit in the hand. If the turn card comes Kh and our opponent checks then a bet will probably take it down. If it doesn’t then we have the option to fire another barrel on the river. They are in a tough spot whatever they do and calling pre-flop has improved our implied odds.

 

 

Carl Sampson is a professional poker player that plays online at 888poker

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The four main poker styles

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Broadly speaking then there are four main poker styles and these are tight-aggressive, loose-aggressive, tight-passive and loose-passive. The tight-loose part of the equation refers to how many times you play your hands and the aggressive-passive part refers to how you play them. It is almost universal knowledge that the best style to teach and to learn is the tight-aggressive style.

 
There are several reasons for this and firstly one of the biggest mistakes that you can make in poker is simply to play too many hands. This flaw is corrected simply by playing tighter poker. But another flaw that you see players make is that they don’t play aggressively enough for the pots that they play. There are several reasons why you need to play aggressively for pots but the two main reasons are that you will pay less rake when there is no flop and also you can win pots by having the initiative.

 
Let us look at an example to show you what I mean. A player with pocket eights limps in and it gets folded to you on the button with Qc-Jd. Raising is an aggressive play but it helps you to win the pot without seeing a flop which is always a good result when you play any hand of poker without having to pay any rake.

 
But if the original raiser calls you then you have the initiative in the hand and let us say that the flop comes A-K-9. The player with the pocket eights is going to have a hard time continuing with the hand when your pre-flop raise indicated that you had an ace or a king in your hand.

 
So by simply raising then you gave yourself several chances to not only win the pot but to win a pot without having to pay rake. Now let us look at how a tight-passive player may play the hand. They limp instead as would a loose-passive player but then one of the blinds who is aggressive decides to attack the apparent weakness of the two limpers and makes a big raise. Suddenly you have lost a big blind if you fold whereas in the previous example then you could have won several big blinds.

 
When you play a tight-aggressive style then you can win money more often on your bluffs and semi-bluffs as well. This is because you are not playing too many hands and so the hands that you do play will leave your opponents thinking that you actually do have the hands that your bets and raises are representing. This is another advantage to the tight-aggressive style because it also increases fold equity and allows you to take pots down in other ways.

 
A loose-aggressive style of play can also be very profitable but it does require a lot more skill and experience to be able to play. This is because of the higher number of marginal situations that you will be placing yourself into. Like raising with the Q-J against pocket eights for example and the flop coming 10-7-5. While aggressive action on the flop and future streets could take the pot down, you could also get called down as well. But the bottom line is that the tight-aggressive style of play is superior to all other styles of play simply because of how effective it is combined with how much simpler it is to learn.

 

 

Carl Sampson plays online poker at www.888poker.com

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