More on Omaha

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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Playing Omaha

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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Getting Your Head Right

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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Implied odds in poker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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The four main poker styles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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The effect of variance

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I am going to start this blog off by looking at one of the simplest games of all to prove a point and that game is noughts and crosses which I am sure you all know well. What I am essentially discussing here is the level of complexity within games and how that affects strategy and with it any profit potential providing that the games are played for financial gain.

 
We can begin to build game complexity by first looking at simple games far removed from online poker to highlight a point and noughts and crosses does that for us. In that game then with the use of a very simple and easily learned strategy then it isn’t possible for either player to beat the other irrespective of who goes first or second. The player who goes first can simply move in the middle and straight away by doing that then his opponent loses out on the chance to make four lines. But once the player moving second blocks three further lines by moving into one of the corners then the game simply meanders to a stalemate!

 
There is a reason why noughts and crosses is never played for money and that is because the game is too simple to master and even if you had two outright novices playing each other and one learned the simple strategy while the other didn’t then the game would soon die in terms of being a vehicle for cash games.

 

So to have earning potential in any form of gambling or risk then you need more complexity and the ability to be able to gain an edge. But also you need variance because without variance and complexity then all games would diminish to a situation akin to noughts and crosses or to the other end of the spectrum like Chess where variance plays little part in the outcome and skill differences are too easily identified.

 

In online poker then some games like limit hold’em have become theoretically solved by the best players and this has led to the game stagnating above certain levels. However this is in part to do with the fact that the game has structured betting and so much of the complexity of the game has been eliminated compared to other forms of poker like no limit hold’em where the betting is more multi-layered.

 
Because of the added complexity then there will always be many players who will either not have the time or the inclination to ever master the game. While it is true that they may play the game quite well, the game just has too much complexity for them to move beyond certain levels of play. But the key factor here for the good players who have taken those next steps is that variance can and does often blind weaker players into thinking that they are better than they really are.

You may find a player who is breaking even at say NL100.
He makes $20,000 per year in rakeback but loses $20,000 per year on the tables. He perseveres in playing on because he is not losing money but the weaker players than him are paying rake which in turn goes to him which in turn gets passed to the better players to the tune of $20,000 per year. So a combination of rake, rewards and variance keeps him in the game to add liquidity to the level where he plays.

 

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

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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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