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Being a better hand reader

In games like no limit Texas hold’em then hand reading is a very valuable skill. When I say “hand reading then I am not just referring to identifying what type of hand you have got or anything as simple as that. I am actually referring to being able to read whether you should value bet, bluff or fold and those decisions be correct. Let us look at an example to show you what I mean. Let us say that you are playing in a tough NL400 full ring game against good experienced players.

You make it 3.5bb in the UTG position with the Ac-Kc and a very good and very aggressive player on the button calls you. Both blinds fold and the effective stack is 150bb. The flop comes Ad-Ks-10h and you c-bet for 6bb and your opponent raises to 24bb and you call. The turn card is the 4s and you check and your opponent makes a huge all in shove into the pot and now the action is on you. Now I know that many players will simply say that the villain is very aggressive here and that you have the top two pair and should call.

They would also view calling and losing as simply being a “cooler” but in my view this is very poor hand reading. The question is that when villain raises the flop and then shoves the turn is he doing so as a bluff or for value? It is pretty clear here that villain is doing this for value because of your perceived range. Firstly the game is full ring and you raised from UTG. This reduces villains fold equity on a board of A-K-10 substantially. You also used a bet-call line on the flop and called your opponents flop raise.

This now has all of the hallmarks of a hand that is not going to fold to further aggression. So your opponent has seen you raise pre-flop and bet the flop and then call a flop raise. The board also hits the range of an UTG raiser in full ring. The final question is in how good our opponent is. We know that they are aggressive but we also know that they are a tough opponent as well. The way to look at this hand is in what our perceived hand range is. Clearly our opponent is placing us onto a range that has connected with this flop and so any fold equity on their part is very minimal.

A good player would recognise that and so their actions must be for value. The over shove on the turn is purely for value and is expecting to get called by a hand that cannot fold like A-A, K-K, 10-10 or A-10s here. If you call then don’t be surprised to see the actual nuts of Q-J for the nut straight as it is unlikely that your opponent is value raising with weaker hands than the top two pair.



Carl Sampson is an online poker pro and poker ambassador at 888poker

Don’t risk more than what you have to

In poker then one of the biggest flaws that prevent players from being able to beat the game is when they place dead money into the pot. This occurs in both tournaments and cash games. Dead money is money that offers very little chance of a return or in some cases no chance at all. In fact I would go as far as to say that dead money is the biggest flaw that cash players have and it is simply placing money into the pot and then leaving it there.

Let us look at an example to show you what I mean. It is folded around to the button that makes it 3.5bb to go and you call in the big blind with pocket fours. If your plan is to play fit or fold then you are placing dead money into the pot because your strategy is very weak. There are two types of dead money depending on how passive or aggressive your style is and these are passive dead money and aggressive dead money. As a rule then a passive player loses money at a slower rate but a really bad aggressive player can spew money at an alarming rate if left unchecked.

A player can place passive dead money in numerous ways but calling raises with the view of having to hit your hand is one such way. As a rule then players that place passive dead money simply do not fight for the pot adequately enough. On the flip side are players that fight too much for the pot. They are not only very aggressive pre-flop but post flop as well. In the right set of circumstances then aggressive players often run over a lot of table line ups.

However a blindly aggressive player runs into trouble at higher stakes against better players that can read situations and who are also bankrolled for their level. If you are going to play badly and be exploited by your opponents then it stands to reason that it would be better if you did it with less money. A player that placed aggressive dead money into the pot may call your pre-flop raise and then aggressively raise the flop if they have a weak draw. If you can identify such players then coming back over the top or calling them will trap them for a lot of big blinds without very much of a hand.



Carl Sampson is an ambassador for 888poker and an online poker pro.

Money Management in Online Poker

I have often seen many so called “experts” in poker say how money management isn’t the Holy Grail when it comes to making money. This is true because no amount of money management will make you a successful player if your game is weak or your opponents are too tough. However money management does certain things for your game above and beyond simply allowing you to play through bad runs. If you are playing for example NL100 full ring games then it is better to have a fixed bankroll than no fixed bankroll.

As an example then if you have a bankroll of twenty buy-ins for this level then this is $2000. So if you lose $100 then you are losing a fixed percentage of something which in this instance is 5% of a much larger figure. While this may seem trivial by comparison, it is actually very important. Some years ago I used what I termed to be a “no bankroll” approach. In short then my bankroll was infinite as I simply injected money from other avenues into my online poker. This allowed me to play without restraint because one of the primary reasons for failure in poker is playing on scared money.

However there is a flip side to that coin and that flip side is that when you cannot measure your buy-ins against something larger then it becomes easier to spew money. So I found that having a designated poker bankroll helped me to stop spewing money. I knew that if I was performing badly and my discipline was poor that every buy-in was losing 5% of my bankroll. This made me treat my bankroll with respect and it became every bit as important as my own blood.

So I know that $100 isn’t just $100 but actually 5% and losing too many of these will lead to me no longer being a successful winning player. To be a successful online poker player then you need to be a good money manager. You should treat your bankroll as if it were someone else’s money and as if you were working for some investment firm as a fund manager. This outlook and mind-set helped me tremendously when it came to focusing on what I had to do.


Carl Sampson is an online poker pro and 888poker ambassador

Making Yourself a Tough Poker Player

A few days ago I was having a conversation with a colleague who asked me for poker advice. He was failing to make any kind of meaningful income from the game despite studying and reading numerous books. I asked him to show me a sample poker session in his database and it was obvious to me what the problem was straight away. His style of play was easy to combat because he wasn’t paying attention to how easy it was for his opponents to counter it. Let us look at an example here to show you what I mean.

He was playing at NL100 full ring games and whenever he raised from early position or even early middle position then he always had high cards. Whenever he limped then he had hands like pocket pairs that he was looking to speculate with. When he called raises in position then his range was wider and included pocket pairs, suited connectors and other Broadway type hands. He only ever stacked off in big pots with the nuts or close to it and his bluffs were single shot affairs. In short his style lacked imagination and creativity and although he was solid, he was also transparent.

I told him that for any style to work in poker then it had to do one simple thing and that was to be difficult to play against for your opponents. To do this means having to look at your own style from the perspective of your opponent. You need to ask yourself “how would I play against another player that was using my style”? When you do this little exercise then it can be very eye opening how easy you really are to play against.

For example if you limp in with speculative hands looking to hit big flops and stack someone then this just invites some aggressive opponents to raise you from position and force you to hit flops. This is weak poker and isn’t conducive to playing successfully. Against opponents that are sophisticated then you have to inject an element of randomness into your actions or at least try very hard to balance your ranges. These days the money doesn’t flow easily like it used to years ago. You have to grind the money out of your opponents most of the time but if they are proficient poker players then this is easier said than done.

For example if you raise from position with a very wide range and fold all of your weaker hands to 3/bets then this strategy is amazingly simple to counter and will lead to you losing money. Your opponents will expect you to raise from position anyway and will be ready and prepared for the move. So to throw your opponents a curve ball so to speak then you need to do the exact opposite of what they expect you to do. Some of the best times to bluff are when your opponents think that you are not bluffing.


Carl Sampson is an online poker pro and 888poker ambassador

The easiest way to build a poker bankroll

Just like in all forms of gambling, it is easier to make small amounts than it is to make very large amounts. For example you could go into a casino and play roulette and despite the house having the edge, if you goal was to only win $10 and then quit then your chances of doing so would be very good. This applies to other areas as well like sports betting and certainly poker. If you want to make $100 per week playing poker then this is an easier task than trying to make $1000 per week.

Firstly the smaller figure is easier to attain and in this instance it is ten times smaller than $1000 and secondly by shooting lower then you can play low stakes and not encounter tough opponents. Many players try playing no limit Texas hold’em but that is a tough game to make money at once you get above NL25. In fact many players that are new to the game simply never get what is required to beat the game and most only recycle money. The facts are that you could win a large percentage of your pots in no limit Texas hold’em and still be a net loser.

One of the best ways in online poker in which to build a bankroll and it be relatively simple is by playing Double or Nothing SNG’s at low-stakes levels. These tournaments for the uninitiated are single table tournaments where the tournament ends when 50% of the field have been eliminated. The remaining 50% of the field then simply double their buy in irrespective of how many chips they have. The remaining players all get the same amount of prize money whether they are the chip leader or the short stack.

The strategy to beat these games is to concentrate more on survival than chip accumulation. In a normal poker tournament then you are rewarded more for having more chips because there is a prize ladder. However in Double or Nothing SNG’s then there is only one prize money increment and that goes from $0 to cashing the same amount. So if you buy into a $5 SNG and you are one of the first 50% of the field to bust out then your return is $0. If you are part of the remaining 50% then your return is $10 and the tournament immediately ends…….simple!


Carl Sampson is an 888poker pro and poker ambassador

Is thinking negatively a good thing?

A wise head once told me some years ago that the key to always keeping your psyche on an even keel in poker was to enter each session thinking like a pessimist. At first I didn’t think that this was very good advice but it was only years later did I really begin to see the real wisdom within these words. It often takes first hand personal experience for previously heard and read wisdom to reveal itself. For example I used to enter poker sessions in a very positive frame of mind.

You may wonder what is wrong with that because after all, doesn’t a positive mind-set improve your poker results? Well it is true that having a good mind-set will improve your poker results but that is only the case if you do in fact have a good mind-set. So what exactly do I mean by that? Well for example if you enter a poker game full of confidence then this may not always be a good thing. Years ago I used to do this and my expectation was always sky high. This was because of the amount of work that I had put into my game along with my previous results.

This led to me being very confident and in fact I had too much confidence for my own good. I simply stopped having the necessary level of patience required and when I could no longer always run over my opponents (which no one can) then this led to frustration and anger. This in turn led to weaker and poorer play and suddenly I went from being a shark to a fish. The bottom line of course is that my supposed skill advantage simply wasn’t having the chance to exert itself.

So instead of a positive frame of mind helping me then it was actually hindering me immensely. So it is with this in mind that I pass onto you what I have learned down the years! This is that going into a poker game with tremendous confidence isn’t always a good thing. As soon as you incur negative variance or even quite normal short breakeven stretches then this is out of kilter with your confidence level. It is one thing having confidence in your ability but if you perceive that this supposed ability will crush the games every single time then you couldn’t be more wrong.

I used to find that my mind-set wasn’t right even when I had mistakenly thought that it was. Thirty minutes or an hour or so into the session and I would often become annoyed by small losses or frustrated by a period where nothing much seemed to be happening. It is only now that I realise that my mind-set simply wasn’t right at the beginning of the session. If you don’t expect to win then you are not upset by a few bad beats or outdraws. This then allows you to remain cool, calm and collected during the poker game which is exactly where you need to be.


Carl Sampson is an online poker pro and 888poker ambassador.

Analysing Short Stack Play

I was having a discussion the other day with a colleague about short stack strategies and the effectiveness of them. He wanted to try playing a short stack system and I advised him to learn how to play a deep stack instead. Some years ago the short stack strategy was born and was like many new strategies…… it was initially successful. Then more and more players cottoned on to what good short stack players were doing and devised counter strategies. I used to avoid short stack players like the plague some years ago but I no longer mind them in the same way for several reasons.

Firstly most sites these days have increased their minimum buy levels which makes playing a short stack more problematic. It is much more difficult these days to get all in pre-flop or even on the flop without massively over betting the pot. So short stack players have to play a little poker these days but many don’t have the skill to do so. So this is the first reason why we shouldn’t automatically fear a short stack strategy if we play deep. Secondly many short stack players are just poor poker players.

Just because a player buys in short does not automatically mean that they are playing a good short stack strategy. The chances are that they are simply just buying in short because that is the sum total of money that they want to risk. Thirdly there are clear counter strategies to combatting short stack players anyway and this is even if the players are good at what they do. This is the basis of a further blog post but suffice to say that the combination of sites and networks increasing the buy in levels, many short stackers still being poor and successful counter strategies means that we need not fear their action.

Also I would rather a player be active on the site playing a short stack than not playing poker at all. They add liquidity to the games and help keep games alive. It is better to have them playing for real money than on play money tables. If you want to play full ring for example then the short stack players help with liquidity. If there are 100 short stack players on a site then I don’t think they are hurting things too much because if they had to buy in for the maximum then many of them wouldn’t play poker at all.

Don’t get me wrong, I would still rather have a table full of weak poker players but how often do you find the absolute perfect table line up? Even if you did find it, the large number of players using table finding software and buddy lists would mean that the regs would be lining up to take a seat at this table anyway. So you have to be able to adapt to various players with various skill levels and various buy in levels to be a successful poker player these days.


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

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