One of the key areas that leads to many players having problems with their poker game is when they take advice from higher level players and then try to use that advice at lower levels. Let us look at an example here to highlight what I mean. A higher level player may play a hand like this at NL600. It is folded around to a very aggressive player on the button with a stack of $761 who makes it $18 to go. The pro in the big blind calls with the Kc-10c and we see the flop with $39 in the middle.
The flop comes down Ac-Ad-5s and the pro with an $813 stack checks. The pre-flop aggressor bets $26 and now the pro understands the weakness of their range. The chances of villain holding an ace are massively reduced and if they are aggressive then they will be firing with a lot of hands that have missed. The pro is actively looking to exploit a weak range by trying to get their opponent to place the maximum amount of money into the pot and then fold. So they could check-call the flop and go to the turn and then possibly look to check-raise the turn.
However their opponent will be perceptive enough at this level to suspect that their opponent will have a polarised range when they do this. It often works in your favour for your opponent to suspect that you may be polarised because it can entice them to bluff raise. So our hero goes for a flop check-raise line and when they bet $26 he makes it $72 to go. Their opponent takes the bait and 3/bets to $240 and our hero shoves all-in. If the villain really did have an ace and suspected that his opponent was bluffing then why would they 3/bet the flop?
However in say the NL25 stake levels then this line is going to get you into a world of hurt. It is fine to call the pre-flop raise because your hand fares well against the range of an aggressive button player that could be raising with around 45% of their range. In fact our hand is doing well with around 54% equity against that range. Also once the flop comes then our equity hardly moves at all against their entire range and is still around the 52% mark.
Our opponent will also suspect that our range is wide but when we check-raise the flop will simply fold their air and even medium pocket pairs. One play that they will not make is to 3/bet with air and so this makes our flop check-raise profitable (as long as we get the bet sizing right) but not the shove. These are the types of differences that middle stakes strategy have with regards to comparing it with low stakes strategy. It is also why taking advice from top players that are playing and discussing higher middle stakes games can be a mistake.
Forcing your opponent to have a hand when the big money goes in is successful in middle stakes games because your opponent’s aggression levels are so much higher. So they have wider ranges when the pot expands because they expect aggression. However as soon as our opponent 3/bets the flop at say NL50 then they are doing so for value unlike at say NL600 where bluffs represent a large part of their range.One of the key phases of transition with regards to playing and making money in online poker is to understand when your opponent is betting or raising for value or as a bluff or in some cases combining the two. For example if the aggressive button had say the Kd-Qd then they are not essentially bluffing when they open raise on the button. Although they do not have a hand that can take massive amounts of heat, they are still going to get called by many weaker hands in the blinds.
Carl Sampson is an online poker pro and 888poker ambassador
A check-raise can be a very powerful tool when used at the right time but you do have to use it with the utmost care. This is for the simple reason that you are risking at least as much as what is in the pot in many instances if not more. For example if the pot is say $10 and you check and your opponent bets $6 then the pot is $16. A pot sized raise would be to $34 and even a three times raise would be to $18 with only $22 in the pot. This is why many players raise much less than the pot when they bluff.
If your opponent is bluffing or betting with a very weak hand then a pot sized raise isn’t necessary. A raise to 2.5 times to 3 times their bet will suffice to take them from the hand. Then if you do happen to catch them with a strong holding then you have lost less money. So which times are better for check-raising? Well when you have a combination of pot equity and fold equity is a pretty good start.
Let us look at a hand example here to highlight what I am talking about. Let us say that it has been folded around to your opponent who raises on the button to 3.5bb. In nearly all cases this player will have a fairly wide range. Now let us say that we have the Jc-10c and call in the big blind. The flop comes 9h-8d-4c and if our opponent has overcards or any other type of hand that hasn’t connected with that board then we do not need to have the best hand to take this pot down.
Let us look at the hand from our opponent’s perspective. They know that the hand is heads up and they also know that they only have to get through one opponent to take the pot down. They have also seen that we have merely called pre-flop and then checked the flop which are actions that are indicative of weak holdings. So if we check then they will likely bet with most of their range if not all of it in some instances. We have already ascertained that our opponents range is very wide and so they will have an awful lot of weak hands and fresh air.
So the combination of pot equity and fold equity and the fact that our opponent is likely to not only fire a c-bet but also fold to a check-raise means that check-raising is a very profitable play. However we can still go wrong and the reason as to why we can go wrong is to do with our bet sizing. It is one thing to know that our opponents range is wide and it is one thing to know that if we check that they will c-bet. However there is still a risk-reward ratio at work here and we need to get that right.
If our opponent truly has a weak hand then we don’t need to check-raise all that much. Some player’s min-raise as a check-raise but that can fall flat against good players or even players who do not respect min-raises. So if your opponent bets $6 into a $10 pot then a raise to $15-$18 should be more than enough to take them from a weak holding. There is no need to check-raise more than $18 when a check-raise of that size will be more than strong enough to have the desired effect and make an opponent fold.
If your opponent calls then this is the first warning sign that they are more willing to stack off. They have raised pre-flop and then c-bet the flop and then called a check-raise. The call of the check-raise is the first sign that our fold equity is less than we expected. This means that we may have to make our hand to win. This will be especially the case if we barrel the turn and that bet gets called as well.
Many weaker players that have premium pairs may be looking to commit to the hand and this is where we need to either back off or continue on with our betting if we make our straight. This advice is sound against unimaginative solid players but it obviously falls short against sophisticated opponents. You have to be careful with the check-raising line because if you get your bet sizing wrong then this is the easiest way to go astray. The key thing to remember here is that check-raising is a very effective play at the right time but only if you get your bet sizing correct. You will have numerous weapons at your disposal in poker and check-raising is a very formidable weapon.
Carl Sampson is an online poker pro and 888poker ambassador
I really think that one of the areas that really held me back during the early part of my online career was that I never “gambled” enough playing poker. I have been watching the games at 888 recently at the lower middle NLHE ring game levels and I see a lot of weak-tight play from most areas. Poker is deemed to be totally gambling by the people that are on the outside looking on…….in other words the non-poker players. Any poker player that has ever made money from the game consistently over very large sample sizes knows that this view is nonsense.
However strong players often take this view to the other extreme and view poker as not gambling at all. This is also wrong because poker is a gambling game. The short term swings are very severe and more severe than many people think. All strong poker players know that poker is gambling in the short term or at the very least, just on the right side of gambling. This in principle is the same as the house edge at roulette that comes from zero being in the wheel. Were it not for the presence of that one number then even the casino would be totally gambling.
What allows the casino to make money is huge sample stemming from a very large number of people and not just a few. However as a single poker player then it will take you a long time to get into the long term and so violent swings will happen even for very good players. Even long term profits are not guaranteed either because any change in game dynamic can wipe out any +EV situation. The players with the best earn rates are the ones that can accept that poker is essentially gambling. Good players are just on the right side of gambling but you are still always 95% gambling at the end of the day.
Carl Sampson is an 888poker pro and 888 ambassador
There is an old adage that “knowledge is power” and I for one am not going to argue with that. However that adage is in total conflict with another famous quote that says that “a little knowledge can be a very dangerous thing”. So which is it to be? Clearly we need knowledge in order to evolve as poker players but it is also clear that this “knowledge” needs to be appropriate to our needs and properly managed. The reason why I am writing this article is because this is a subject that is very dear to me simply because I went the wrong way about getting my poker education in the past.
Simply buying books in a totally haphazard way and trying to crack it by mass reading can work but it is far more likely to lead to stunted growth as a poker player. This process leads to you acquiring a lot of knowledge but only a tiny amount of that knowledge is going to be relevant to us earning money properly. Imagine the chaos that would result if someone were left to their own devices when it came to studying to become a doctor!
However this is what millions of people do all over the world when it comes to studying poker……they attempt to go it alone. They have no idea of what to study…..by who and for how long. Some of the more determined finally get to where they are trying to be by brute force…….this was my method. The more supposed knowledge that you acquire then the more information that you have at your disposal the next time that you play poker. So any intelligent person with imagination now has the tools to get themselves into an awful lot of trouble.
There is a famous quote in poker called “fancy play syndrome”. This is a “condition” suffered by players who have advanced to the intermediate level who have spent some considerable time studying the game. In their imaginations then they really “know” the game. However the game that they “know” is in fact a warped representation of reality and will undoubtedly cost them money along the way. Certain concepts may be misunderstood or misapplied and losses result from this. So players with enough money and who possess some poker knowledge and who have some bravado to play higher stakes have the capacity to do serious financial harm to themselves.
Carl Sampson is an online poker player and ambassador for 888poker
To be able to adequately play your hand then you need to be aware of your opponents likely hand range. This allows you to make all sorts of plays post flop that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise. For example let us say that you have the Jc-8c on the button and there has been a raise before it gets to you. In full ring games then there will be a world of difference between the average range of a raiser when in early position and in late position.
An early position raiser may have a range as narrow as say 6% in full ring games when in the UTG position but be as wide as 30% when in the cut-off. The difference in these two ranges are striking and certain plays will be less profitable than others. For example if you are looking to make a really aggressive 3/bet then you would be better off doing that against a 30% range than a 6% range. You will get very little by way of pre-flop fold equity with a 6% range and so this particular avenue will be blocked off to you or at least seriously stunted.
Also with a 6% range then your opponent has far more hands in that range that they can 4/bet with and so you won’t even see a flop some of the time. Then when we factor in that your opponent could hit a strong pair then it simply doesn’t make sense to 3/bet an UTG raiser. The underlying reason has to do with our equity against their range. Even calling the raise and looking to play aggressively post flop is also fraught with danger. I think the most solid line would be to fold the J-8s to the UTG raise but at least call the raise from the cut-off player with the 30% range.
That sort of range is going to miss an awful lot of flops and also make pairs that simply cannot take any heat post flop. Hands like top pair and mediocre kicker on a board like 10-7-3 can be floated with the prospect of taking the pot away from them either on the turn or the river. In the modern online poker world then the difference between the really successful players and the players that merely grind out a few dollars per hour or recycle money is in how aggressively they attack wide ranges.
This is the key area that you need to address in no limit hold’em and is why you need to be careful before you consider playing nothing but conventional poker against sophisticated opponents. So you are never really attacking a specific hand because you don’t know what specific hand your opponent holds. However you are looking to put them onto a range and the best and easiest way to do that is to place your opponent onto a certain category of hand. A hand range of 6% for example is going to contain many more strong holdings that will not fold pre-flop or on the flop than a pre-flop range of 30%…….it is simply probability at work.
Carl Sampson is an online poker player and poker ambassador for 888poker
Irrespective of what you do in life or what area you look at, the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of people do not succeed. This is a given in any form of endeavour and the reasons why the masses don’t succeed and the minority do are numerous but can be broken down to a few core reasons. For example in poker then the majority of players fail to make money because they don’t do enough work on their games or don’t show enough creativity. Poker simply has to be this way for the game to survive but it does highlight one very important fact and this is that there is always margin to make money playing online poker…….as long as you don’t think and act like the majority.
If you do the same as everybody else then you are doomed to get the same results as the masses and the same failings. Even if you incur more swings and take greater short term losses then you are still better off doing something different if what you are doing takes you away from what the majority of other people are doing. If you want to make life tougher for your opponents then you need to assess what your style is and what you do in each situation and then twist it around to view it from your opponent’s perspective.
What you are ideally looking for is in how easy it would be for your opponent to defeat your style or individual tactics. For example if you open raise from the cut-off with 100% of your range but fold all of your junk to a 3/bet then it is blatantly easy for an observant button player to defeat this tactic…….they simply 3/bet. If they make it 9bb to go over the top of your 3bb raise and you fold 90% of the time then you are losing nine pots out of every ten before the flop.
This equates to an immediate loss of 3bb 90% of the time or 27bb over the space of ten hands. The brutal fact of the matter is that you are not going to make those 27bb back against a good opponent on the remaining 10% of hands. If you opponent simply gives up every time they don’t have a real hand themselves and only continues with their own strong holdings then you cannot possibly make up 27bb.
Not many players look at poker in this way from their opponent’s perspective because if they did then they may just see things from a completely different angle. This is expressly why poker theory needs to be looked at in a different way to a few years ago. While the arrival of the internet has fuelled the desire for people to become poker players, it has also opened up the avenue for those very same players to also become more educated as well. So these days it is more important to know what your opponents know and this is really when you well and truly “know” the game so to speak.
Carl Sampson is a poker pro and poker ambassador for 888poker
I was playing some low-stakes no limit ring games the other day at NL25 to help a friend of mine and I was quite surprised to see how few players actually saw the flop. In a full nine handed game then around 20% of players were seeing the flop on average across all the games. This is a very damning but yet eye opening statistic. When so few players are seeing the flop then this impacts on one very important aspect of the game and that is implied odds. If two out of every three pots are ending up heads up then hands like small pocket pairs and suited connectors fall in value if you play them in a fit or fold way.
For these hands to be profitable then several key dynamics need to be in place. Firstly the hand that you are speculating with needs to be made and with hands like 4c-4d then you are around 7.5-1against to hit your hand on the flop. Hands like suited connectors simply do not complete anywhere near enough to make implied odds sufficient on their own. So this means that a player can spew quite significant amounts of money per hour in the pursuit of big hands that offer little reward.
So what exactly does this mean for our poker play in games like no limit Texas hold’em? Let us say that we are playing in a NL50 full ring and we see 4-4 UTG. In years gone by then we could have limped with this hand but when games became much more tight-aggressive then the limp was being raised by a single opponent. This then detracts from your implied odds because you firstly have to hit your hand. Secondly even if you do hit your hand then your opponent needs to pay you off for your play to prove profitable overall.
Finally you have to survive being outdrawn by your opponent because if you lose with a set then the chances are that you will get stacked by your opponent. These days you need to be a little cuter in how you play hands like pocket pairs. For example you could try folding them when in early position because it is simply much tougher to win the pot without making the best hand.
The bottom line in all of this is that implied odds that were so dominant some years ago are not as important as they used to be because of diminishing numbers of players seeing the flop. When this happens then fold equity and dead money increase in importance and this is something that you need to concentrate on. Implied odds occur as a result of your opponents having a lower overall skill level and more players seeing the flop. Once the average skill level increases and also the level of knowledge then this tends to knock on to more tight-aggressive play and smaller average pot sizes in games like no limit Texas hold’em.
Carl Sampson is a poker pro and poker ambassador for 888poker
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
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
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