Man vs Machine

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A few years ago I wanted to take on the famous Polaris limit hold’em bot that fared so well against Phil Laak and Ali Eslami. I am going to report what happened although it only lasted 100 hands….well 102 actually as I was trying to figure out how to sit out and wasted some money by my hands automatically being folded.

After 100 hands, I was ahead at 10-20 heads up limit by $175 and had won exactly 50% of the total hands played. Of course this is a pitifully small amount of hands to compare strengths and I am not overly sure if I am playing the same program that did so well against Laak and Eslami.

One thing was certain, it was by far the strongest Bot that I have ever played and it seemed to be adjusting to my play as the session went on. I was trying all sorts of tricks and tactics to deviate my play as I knew that it would be logging my play better than I could log its.  On top of that, I was just playing my normal game without taking any notes. Was this wise….no….not against something as strong as that. I should have at least been taking notes.

However, the feeling that I had after 100 hands was that the program was not superior to me. I knew that part of the reason that I had finished ahead was because I had the better run of the cards during those hundred hands but not substantially so. Taking away the fact that I had better cards but not by much, I won most of my money from value betting very marginal hands.

However I must point out that I lost a couple of significant pots and quite a few bets by me playing very quickly. I was playing almost on feel and instinct and mis-clicked a few times through sheer speed of play. One instance, I had 7-7 on a board of A-K-K-A-2 and meant to lead out on the river but checked it accidentally, Polaris checked it back and took the pot with 10-3…..ouch. This evens out the card supremacy in my opinion.

But it is very aggressive and puts you to some tough decisions at times which most other older bots don’t do. But I think that the 50% number of pots won was indicative even after only 100 hands that there had been little to choose. But I am confident at this stage that if I were to play this program in a ring game that I would get in front with average or better cards before it figured my game out and ground me down…….1-0 to THE DEAN!!!

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

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Don’t roll over in the big blind

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Well my blogs from here on in will also include tutorial material as well as this is what many readers have asked for. They dont mind reading my diary but they also want to learn how to get a piece of the action as well.

6 max NL games are all the rage now online and this is where I make a fair chunk of my income from these days but many players get it wrong when playing in the blinds. I see players calling raises too often when out of position and this is something that you really should not be doing in NL.

I dont know if these guys have come straight from limit hold’em or some other form of poker or what but they sure as hell are missing the point in NL play. It is just not profitable to call too much from the blinds and even the big blind.

If you feel that an opponent is raising your blind with a pretty wide range and your PT or PO tracker software supports this view then re-pot them and take the lead. Most of the time if you are not making the same play too often they will simply fold because the re-raise will drive them away.

But there are just too many potential sticky situations in NL play for you to be calling raises out of position. Of course if you have a good player who also has position over you then changing seats or even changing tables is not a bad idea at all.

So in short then, do not liberally call raises from the blinds in NL ring games and be especially careful which players have position over you and don’t be afraid to switch.

Have a good day and see you soon

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

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How easy is it to be a long term winner?

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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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Playing strong hands in cash games

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Let us start off by awarding two different poker players the same hand against the same opponent in an online Texas hold’em no limit poker game. The hand is 7c-7d on the button and it has been folded around to the cut-off who makes it $3.50 to go. The stakes are $0.50-$1.00 and both players call on the button with their pocket sevens. The flop comes delightful and is 10-7-2 and the original raiser bets $6 into the $8.50 pot after both the blinds have folded.

 
The first player raises to $20 and is disappointed when they see their opponent fold. The sum result is that they win a total of $11 in total profit. However the second player calls the flop bet and the turn comes and is the Kd. The original bettor now looking at a $20.50 pot bets $15 and now our hero calls again making a $50.50 pot. The river card is another ten and the villain now shoves the river for his remaining $65. Our hero calls with his full house and wins a total profit of $91. Now compare that $91 to the $11 in profit of the other player and you can see the huge difference here.

 
Now many people would say that this one single hand of online no limit Texas hold’em is simply too short a sample size to be instructive. However what we have to remember here is that the hand was heads up. This means that even though our hero has flopped a very powerful hand, his opponent is likely to have flopped either fresh air or something mediocre.

 

In actual fact he had Q-J here and raised before the flop which was a standard play. They then missed the flop but had the knowledge that you likely had missed as well.
So their poker strategy then became to fire a continuation bet to win the pot that way on the flop.

 

This too was a fair line to take but when you called that bet then your opponent knew that you had something. When the king came on the turn then this card gave them an open ended straight draw. So the equity within the hand for them at that stage coupled with the fact that they could represent the king allowed them to continue the bluff. When they missed on the river then their only hope was to bluff and when the river paired the ten then they tried to represent maybe trip tens or a full house.

 
As long as your opponent is willing to keep on putting money into the pot in no limit online Texas hold’em then you have absolutely no reason to raise them out of the hand. Most of the time in heads up situations then your opponents will be c-betting weak holdings. So if you have something like a set or two pair or even top pair and top kicker then you have every reason to allow them to keep on betting. You certainly do not need the nuts or anything as strong as a set in online poker to allow a heads up opponent to keep the lead.

 

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

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Do you misplay K-K in cash games?

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It is every player’s nightmare in no limit hold’em. You raise with K-K and get two callers and the flop comes something like A-10-9. So how do you play flops like these and others besides? Well there are certain guidelines and much of what you do depends on how many opponents you have and whether or not you have position. Let us look at an easy example taken from a no limit Texas hold’em cash game at the $1-$2 level.

 
You make it $7 to go under the gun and three players call you all of which have position on you after the flop. The flop comes Ac-Jd-9c and now the action is on you. This is such a bad board with three opponents that I would check here 100% of the time and hope to see a free card on the turn to hopefully make my set. If someone bet after me then I would nearly always lay this down even to a single bet.

 
In this hand then we do not have position and we have three opponents and an ace high board. So all of the advantages of hand strength that we had before the flop have gone! Online poker strategy is all about balancing your play and in this instance the situation certainly wasn’t balanced and was weighted too far down the line of your hand being weak. Now let us change this situation to one where two opponents have limped and we make it 6bb to go and both of the limpers call.

 
The flop comes Ah-5s-2c and we have the same K-K and both limpers check. In this situation then we have two advantages that we didn’t have in the last hand. Firstly we have position and have seen our opponents check to us which indicates weakness. Secondly we only have two opponents in this example and not three as before. While we can still check it back here, a bet of half the pot should allow us to see where we stand in the hand. If we get check-raised or even check-called then I would advocate shutting down.

 
Let us say that you raise with K-K and the big blind calls you and the flop comes A-2-2. Your opponent could in fact check-call you here with many pocket pairs because if you don’t have the ace then they may have the best hand. For example a player with 6-6 would check-call and may even check-call on the turn as well. This is where you may have to play a little post flop poker and getting to know your opponent is vital here.

 
There is a greater chance that a player will check-call you on these either/or flops because there is a greater chance that you have missed. Another example could be if the flop came say Ac-9c-8h and your opponent checks to you with your K-K. I may bet out here but I would be more likely to check it back if I thought my opponent was aggressive enough and liked to check-raise with semi-bluffs. So deciding whether to bet or check or fold with pocket kings is a difficult task for even the best players.

 

 

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

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Steering Away From ABC Play

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These days your opponents will all be aware of how to play “conventional” poker. Everybody understands position, hand values or what they perceive hand values to be. They understand differing ranges from position, basic bluffing techniques, how board textures affect bluffing, equity and all of the other conventional pieces of poker knowledge. So then you may think that with everybody being able to talk a good game that they would be able to play a good game as well. However this isn’t always the case because if too many players are adopting the same style then the edge is minimal.

I play a lot of full ring games and it is often very difficult to extract money in the conventional way. In full ring then most solid players will be folding a high percentage of their range. So full ring games mean that you often end up withdrawing with the primary goal being one of patience. So to get ahead in full ring games means starting off with the objective of not losing money! The true mastery of full ring games stems from being at one with patient play.

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To make money from your opponents involves two key areas working in unison. The first is to have an edge and the second is to have a good money management system in place. When this happens then your chances of making money will go through the roof. To get an edge over your opponents then you need to not only be a good poker player but to also know what your opponents know. If you try and play too much like your average competition then the chances to get and then maintain an edge will be very difficult. So herein lays the problem in how to make money playing online poker or to succeed in any form of gambling for that matter.

Whether you are trading, sports betting or playing poker……you absolutely need to be playing in a way that the masses don’t. So just what do the masses know and how much work do they put in? Well I believe that the vast majority of poker players do not approach poker in the right way (I know because I didn’t once upon a time) and they also only have a finite level of time to dedicate to learning the game.

In terms of the actual theoretical side of the game then I would say that the best theorists are also struggling to make money and so this begs the question of how useful is poker theory? I know many players that understand the game extremely deeply who have struggled to beat or can no longer beat middle limits. The problem with moving up in stake levels is that the player pools shrink dramatically. However the players that operate at these new levels are players that are probably taking the game a lot more seriously. Sometimes you need to “reverse engineer” poker theory to get an edge over “accomplished” players.

Remember that an “edge” in poker is derived from several factors. The first is your skill advantage but skill can be got from several different things. The second is your position and the third is your card strength. However all of these are floating variables. A “skill” advantage is often difficult to estimate and a card advantage is often the same.

Your opponents also are aware of position and so having position isn’t as powerful as it used to be some years ago. For example position is very important in poker and I for one am not going to argue otherwise. However it is often overused and not fully understood by the vast majority of players that try to execute that particular advantage.

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

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Give 888 a go for low stakes play

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One of the biggest problems for players moving up in levels is that the next level up is often double the previous level in terms of the amount of the buy-in. This means that when you play at the next level up that the difference in player skill and sophistication could be doubled. Although this isn’t always the case…. it very often is. For example there is no level in between NL50 and NL100 and none in between NL100 and NL200. However at the lower levels on 888 there are NL20 levels and NL30 levels.

This is highly significant because in terms of how these two levels will play then they will more or less have the same players in them. This will not be the case or always the case at say NL25 and NL50 where the players at NL50 will be much better on average than the players at NL25. Also at NL50 then you will also be getting players from NL100 dropping in as well because there may not be enough action at their given level. As a player that multi-tables then it is imperative that you play at two different levels at the very least.

The more tables that you play at then the more important it is to play at various levels! For example if you want to play at eight tables then there will not always be eight tables available at your chosen level of say NL25. However you may not want to drop down to NL10 because this stake level may be too small for you to be able to take it seriously. You may also find NL50 too tough for you and your earn rate may start to drop sharply once you double the buy-in.

However when you have levels like NL20 and NL30 that are so close together like that then you will not only be able to find the eight tables that you desire but you will also be able to play both levels almost the same way. One of the problems that confuse new players as they begin to move up in levels or at least attempt to move up is that the higher levels require a different game plan and method of operation. You will not be able to play and beat say NL200 in the same way that you can play and beat NL20.

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These games at the higher level will be much more aggressive and players will balance their ranges and read their opponents range more easily. They will be using tracking software against you and really keeping a very close eye on your game. This also makes it difficult to make money at the higher levels and it takes a really accomplished poker player to be able to do that. However as I have been saying in previous blogs, playing no limit hold’em at the lower stakes levels and multi-tabling those levels represents a viable alternative.

Being on a site like 888 makes that possible more than most other sites and networks! You do not need to be a great poker player to be able to play at the NL20 and NL30 levels and do well. You simply need to play good solid poker and play ABC and also be on the lookout for what are called “orphan pots”. These are pots that your opponent or opponents have shown no interest in. For example say that it is limped by two opponents and the small blind completes the action.

The pot is four-way and you have the 8c-2d in the big blind and get a free look at the flop. The cards fall and are Jd-7s-3c and the small blind checks and so do you. To your surprise the other two limpers also check and the turn card is the 4h. The small blind checks again and now you have to ask yourself if someone would check top pair here?

The short answer to that question is no because they would fear the overcards. For players to check that flop then they are either sandbagging with a monster or checking with nothing and the overwhelming probability is that they have nothing. The player most likely to be sandbagging would be the small blind hoping that there was action behind them.

However that can be dispelled because of the fact that the small blind has checked again which they wouldn’t do with a strong hand. So a bet here of say 2.5bb would take this pot down a good percentage of the time and certainly more than one time in three. If one of your opponents calls you then you still have the opportunity to fire another barrel on the river. This is one of those occasions where you can bluff with very little pot equity but your fold equity is substantial here.

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

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The Evolving Poker Player

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There have been periods of my poker career where I was a full time pro. There were also periods where I was a part-time player and periods where I didn’t play poker at all. The times when I wasn’t playing poker at all tended to be when I thought that there was something wrong with my game. So I elevated learning more than playing and this is important if you want to correct any flaw or flaws that you have as quickly as possible.

My own fundamental weakness was that I was not a trained poker player or one that was coached until recently. The worst way to learn poker is to do it in an isolated way without personalised outside professional help. Many players that were previously making money that are no longer making money will argue that the games have become tougher. If they are referring to the average opponent being quite knowledgeable now then they are correct. However there is always value at the lower levels simply because the average player doesn’t have all that much time to dedicate to learning the game.

The time that the average player has available is used primarily to play although there has been a far greater learning period than a few years ago and players these days have access to far superior coaching material. If you think that the poker games are tougher then you need to examine your own game. In the overwhelming majority of cases then previously successful players tend to be sound poker players and many of them have good ABC games. However once you move into an environment where there isn’t really much to choose between your style and everyone else’s then the profit potential dies.

A common buzz word in poker at the moment is “standard”. A line is “standard” or a particular tactic is “standard”. In my opinion then “standard” is just another name for something that is well known and widely used. Standard in this context means a well-trodden path. So just how effective can lines be if they are “standard”? Well that all depends on how high you play but the very best poker players in the world analyse their games differently to the rest. Understanding the game dynamic is the first step but adjusting to play non-standard lines that work is the next.

At the higher levels of play then you need to be at the very forefront of the changes in game dynamics otherwise you are either playing the same as everyone else or being exploited by the very elite players that deviated from conventional play first. Let us have a look at standard plays. It is folded around to you on the button with the Qs-Js. If you raise here then the raise is standard for the situation and especially if you raise to around 3bb-3.5bb. If your opponent calls from the big blind and the flop comes 10c-8d-4h and they check then your c-bet is standard.

You have the overcard outs plus the inside straight draw for a decent level of pot equity. Only having one opponent and a relatively dry board means that the c-bet is “standard”! If your opponent check-raises you then if you shove all in then you have deviated very widely from standard play. All this is beside the point though because the topic of today’s post was in how effective “standard” lines are. This is a major factor in my opinion for why previously successful players stop making money. They play at levels where their opponents adjust to “current theory” constantly and their own adjustments either only match up to that or fall short.

Carl Sampson is an online poker pro who plays at www.888poker.com

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Finding out who you really are?

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Read an interesting article this week by Daniel Negreanu about different types of players. The ones that stay at certain levels and earn an easy $2000 a week and the ones of a similar skill level who are always busting out because they are forever trying to move up.

He says that the latter player will eventually do it and end up earning many times more than his mate who is happy to stay at the same level year after year. He calls them “Larry” and “Johnny”.

Well I dont know if Dan is trying to promote some fish into trying their luck in his nose bleed games or what but there were loads of flaws in his article. The first flaw is one of probability, firstly the chances of earning $100,000 to $200,000 a year in poker are far greater than earning $2,000,000.

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The poker world is littered by “big shots” who wanted to be even bigger shots and kept moving up. I could fill an entire book about what goes off in some of these high limit games both live and online and many are best kept away from.

But even with all things being equal, what do you think your chances are of winning a WSOP bracelet or a WPT or earning $1,000,000 a year every year……somewhere between slim and none and slim just rode out of town.

YEAH BUT SOME OF EM DO IT….I can hear you cry….what you mean like win the lottery for instance because your chances are about the same. I am technically good enough to play these games and have been for some time but being technically good enough is not enough.

I knew that I could succeed in poker if I did not have silly goals. Because one thing is certain my friends, the poker world out there aint quite what it appears to be to the outsider. But even if you are technically good enough and mentally good enough, you have to be of a certain disposition anyway to play for stakes as high as that.

Because take it from me, many of the players who play for high stakes are not strong players and they are playing too high for their skills and Dan knows this. Much of it is to do with ego, idleness and craving.

Ego because people think they have made it when they sit in these games and everyone will respect them.

Idleness because many cannot be bothered to work their way up and learn their trade.

Craving because some of them just get off on risking big chunks of money.

You can jump straight into these game both live or online if you have the money and there are plenty of rich people out there. As for me then quite simply……my name must be Larry.

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

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Only myself to blame

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OK so I have only got myself to blame, yeah yeah I already know that. I have had this laptop since last August and I did not get an instruction manual with it so I never learned out how to figure how to adjust the sensitivity on the mouse. The slightest press and I have clicked and I mean SLIGHTTTT.

Well after my main computer went out of action I was left with nothing more than my trusty laptop to play online poker with. So here’s the story, I get dealt 99 and was going to raise when I accidentally fold the hand. OK, no big deal but the flop comes AA9 and there is betting and raising going off on the flop and I am just sitting there watching it.

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Anyway to cut a long story short, an A-4 wins it on a board of A-A-9-J-2 and the way that the betting went on the flop, I also assumed that the other player also had an ace as well. I have since sorted it but this error cost me a $400 pot. Luckily for me and the only piece of good news was that I was only playing small stakes so it could have been a lot worse. But four hundred bucks all because I never bothered to ask someone how to do it or take the time to figure it out is a expensive lesson to pay….I still deserved it though!

So the moral of this story is…..get to know your software and have backup at all times for everything. These days I have my internet hard wired in and I simply do not trust wireless routers at this time. I have had far too many disconnections at vital times for my liking. Even when I have been in the same room as the router.

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

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