Building online poker skill

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These days I often wonder just how much value there is in mass multi-tabling. It is incredibly difficult to read the action when you are playing so many tables at the same time. In days gone by then the theory of playing loads of tables was sound. The average player at the lower levels was far weaker and more and more players were stacking off weakly. So if you as a strong player were making say 20bb/100 single tabling then you were missing out on an awful lot of value by not opening up more tables.

 
If your earn rate dropped to 15bb/100 playing six tables and you were seeing 500 hands per hour then you would now be making 75bb/hour instead of around 15bb per hour. While your earn per table was lower, the increase in volume more than compensated for it. There is a crossover in online poker where quality and volume meets. There can be a time to increase volume at the expense of quality if your opponents are making big mistakes in significant quantity. However if this slows down and you need to concentrate on hand reading to carve your earn rate then suddenly your own earn rate can literally drop off a cliff if you try and play too many tables.

 
The basic mathematics go like this and suddenly the previous situation is reversed. Let us say that you can make 20bb/100 hands as before when you single table. If you play ten tables then let’s say that you only make 1bb/100 hands because you cannot read the action enough. You see 700 hands per hour and so make 7bb/hour which is substantially less than before. The point in all of this is that if your opponents are no longer making big errors then you will have to focus more on winning smaller pots.

 
Hand reading will become more and more critical to your success and so too much volume can harm you in this instance. You are suffering by making poorer poker decisions in smaller pots and not being compensated enough in the big pots. As I previously said, there is a close relationship between volume and quality and you need to create the perfect balance for optimal effect. Clearly a player that crushes his level for say 10ptbb/100 when playing a single table is doing themselves a disservice only playing one table.

 
However what needs to be analysed carefully is what sorts of mistakes your opponents are making and what you will need to do to make money. If your opponents are truly terrible players then you could play a large number of tables and make more money. If they constantly stack off with weak holdings and spew money then it is a huge mistake not to play more tables. As your opponents tighten up and hand reading becomes more and more vital then playing too many tables can harm your earn rate unless you have some very unique skills that few possess and that is to hand read very well over a large number of tables.

 
For my own hand reading to be at full capacity then I cannot handle more than six tables. If I try and play more than this then this part of my game starts to suffer and my earn rate falls substantially. This is the key with multi-tabling, you have to add tables until the point in which your earn rate is suffering. This is why you simply cannot just jump into playing loads of tables with little or no experience of doing so. Let us look at a situation that could easily be missed if you were playing twelve tables with auto-prompts bleeping all over the place.

 
You are in the pot for free with the 9c-4c in the big blind with three limpers. The flop comes 8c-6d-2s and the action gets checked around. The turn card is the 4h and the action gets checked to the final player that bets and you fold as does everybody else. You made the auto play of folding because you had junk. This isn’t a bad poker play because you had nothing and were first to speak against three opponents.

 
However the betting action was telling us that our opponents didn’t have much and the turn card didn’t change a thing. If we bet even with junk and even as first to speak then we stand an excellent chance of picking this pot up either on the turn or by firing another barrel on the river. These pots really add up over time and it is the winning of these small pots that really underpins your earn rate. To win the small pots though involves better hand reading than you will be capable of when you are playing too many poker tables at the same time.

 

Carl Sampson is an online poker player and ambassador for 888poker

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What is your plan?

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Making money in online poker may seem like the “Holy Grail” to people that cannot make any money from it. In fact I have heard numerous times how online poker must be “crooked” as you “always lose”. Well to these people then I say this……I defy anyone to go away for three months and get some good cash game books like Harrington on Hold’em for example and study them full time and then come back and play NL25 cash games and not make money. In fact given the very low level of play at these levels then I would say that with rakeback and sign up bonuses on top then you would have to self-destruct not to make money.

 
You can never compensate for bad money management and bad emotional discipline but sound and solid poker play will make money. This is especially the case if your opponents are weak which they are up to around the NL50 levels. So to make money from online poker then we need to design a plan. So this means that we need to place some definite money making basics into that plan to get us away to the best start possible.

 
The first of those basics is to get as much external financial input as we possibly can and by that then I mean rakeback, VIP points, re-load bonuses, sign up bonuses and anything else that we can get our hands on. Then we concentrate on the poker basics and get them right. If we play our best game at NLHE full ring then play NLHE full ring. If the games are weakest in the evening instead of in the day then play in the evening. If we can make even more money playing more tables with a simplified style then play that way.

 
Also we need to build into our strategy designated exit points so that we don’t end up playing big pots without big hands. This is especially the case if variance is a problem. Remember that we are not trying to make the absolute maximum amount of money here that we can. I think when players continually strive to do that then pressure builds either by playing too many big pots or pressure from having to accept higher variance and having to make more money. If you expect to earn $100k per year then you have much further to fall to drop to recycling money territory than if you only ever expected to make $15k per year.

 
Build positional principles into your plan as well as well as attacking weak ranges. If you want to attack someone at poker then do it when they have a wide range with many weak hands in it. The term “selective aggression” has been known about in poker for a long time but if you are going to be aggressive with a weak hand then choosing the times when your opponent is highly likely to be weak is the best time to do it.

 
Also if you don’t play well or your system doesn’t play well when playing short-handed then don’t play short-handed. Never be afraid to leave poker tables and when you begin to de-stress your poker game then this is when you will really find profits starting to come your way. If you can play poker in a stress free way and you are properly bankrolled for your level and can beat your level then playing online poker is almost like playing some arcade game. When you have a poker plan and you can visibly see all of the ways that you will make your money then this is the time when things really do start to take shape.

 

Carl Sampson is an online poker player that plays at 888poker

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What is your poker style

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I was having a discussion with a poker colleague yesterday about styles and how they match up with each other. We both agreed that certain poker styles match up better against certain other styles. In essence then this is no different to the game of “rock, paper, scissors”. In that game then two players place hands in front of them and make hand movements that reveal either a flat hand which represents paper, a clenched fist which represents a stone or two horizontally open fingers that represent scissors.

 
Because scissors cut paper then scissors are deemed to beat paper, because paper wraps around the rock then paper beats rock and rock blunts scissors and so rock beats scissors. So we can see that in this triangular series of possibilities that each component beats one of the others but not both of them. This is similar to poker and poker styles because some out and out styles do better against certain styles. For example a loose-aggressive player has better results against tight-aggressive opponents. The LAG raises and re-raises and generally pushes the tight-aggressive or TAG player around. Many small to medium-small pots go to the LAG who doesn’t need to wait for big pots to make their money.

 
LAG’s on the other hand can struggle when they run into a player who decides to call them down. This could be somebody like a weak calling station or another LAG who is shrewd enough to adjust and become a “calling station” for this one hand only in response to what their opponent is doing. In full ring games then there are many opponents that are playing tight poker and their style can be deemed to be tight-aggressive. However they go beyond being tight-aggressive and become predictable in their tight-aggressive play.

 
This leaves the style vulnerable to hit and run LAG tactics and especially from position. The best full ring game players now use a combination of TAG when out of position and LAG when in position. So if you are TAG player and you are on a table with other TAG players then the likelihood is that your style will not make money in the long term. It is the long term that we are most interested in here and not short term results. Just because you have been lucky enough to have aces hold up against kings twice within the space of five minutes does not make you a great poker player.

 
Your results will be determined by how well your style matches up with your opponents on an average basis. If you all have the same style or similar styles then the player that gets the edge will be the player that adjusts from their own standard style to exploit that of their opponents better than what their opponents do to adjust to them. I have noticed that whenever players are active on many tables at the same time that there are usually two factors at work. Firstly if someone is playing eight tables then they are more than likely a solid player.

 
Many people argue that these are exactly the sorts of players that you need to avoid. Well that sounds great in theory but the reality of the situation is that it is often impossible to avoid them and especially if you play at certain times of the day over others. The second factor stems from how these people play when they are active on so many tables at the same time. In nearly all cases these players are playing much tighter ranges and are playing in semi-automatic pilot style. This applies to six max equally as much as full ring.

 

Carl Sampson is an online poker player and poker ambassador for 888poker

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Improve your poker game

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In games like no limit Texas hold’em then it is often the case that a player either places money into the pot for one of two reasons. Those reasons are to either bet or raise for value or as a bluff. Intrinsically these are the only two reasons why we place money into the pot. However there are times where we start out betting or raising for value and then our only way of winning is to bluff. Let us look at an example here to show you what I mean. It is raised by a middle position player to 3bb and you call on the button with the Jc-10c.

 
Both blinds fold and we go to the flop heads up. The flop comes Jd-9d-6s and our opponent bets two thirds of the pot and we call. Clearly we could have the best hand here as our opponents open raising range and c-betting range are quite wide. The turn card is the 5s and our opponent bets two thirds pot again. If we have seen them barrel a few times then we can take off another card here with a good probability of being ahead. The river card is the 7d and our opponent bets half pot. You decide that they wouldn’t fire three barrels without some sort of made hand like a premium pocket pair or a hand that can beat J-10s like A-Js for example.

 

In this hand example then calling is by far the worst of the plays that we could make. If the stacks are deep enough then we can justify turning our hand into a bluff and raising the river. The arrival of the third diamond and the extra straight card and the fact that you have been calling can mean to your opponent that you were calling with a drawing hand.
There is a great chance here that a raise on the river could incite a fold and especially against players that are biased towards tight play. However the stacks have to be deep enough for this to work and so with 100bb starting stacks then the play will fall flat as your opponent isn’t deep enough to bet the river and then fold. If your opponent isn’t deep enough to use a bet-fold line then the only sensible play is to then fold to the river barrel.

 

While a no limit Texas hold’em player may start out betting for value and then turning a made hand into a bluff, they can also reverse this play as well. It is far more common in poker to begin bluffing and then turn a bluff into a value bet. If you have the Ac-5c and bet on a Jc-9c-4s board and the turn card is the 3c then you are now betting for value and not bluffing. This play is not only obvious but it is also far more common than betting for value and then bluffing. Most players in this scenario end up either going into pot control or folding but only top players turn mediocre made hands into bluffs. It is actually the sign of a really proficient no limit Texas hold’em cash game player when they are capable of making a play of this nature.

 

Carl Sampson is an online poker player and ambassador for 888poker

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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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