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STT Tactics in Poker

As we speak then STTs or single table tournaments are played by millions of people in online poker every single day. The opportunity to play a fast action final table of a poker tournament is one that is alluring for many. To play STTs for fun is cool and easy to do but playing them for profit is also fun as well. In fact if many more poker players simply treated poker as more of a recreational activity than a serious one then they may be more in tune with being able to accept the variance.

 
A standard STT event has around ten players in it and typically awards prize money to the remaining three players with 50% of the prize pool going to the winner, 30% to second and 20% to third. The blinds go up very rapidly but that is their appeal because it means that people can play poker who dont have loads of time to spare. A typical STT is often over within 30-45 minutes and in fact players have the option to play in as many as they can handle.

 
Unlike large field poker tournaments, STTs reward survival more than it usually does. You only have to survive longer than seven other players in order to get to the money. This makes tight play during the early stages a very good strategy. If your starting stack is say 1500 in chips and the blinds are 10-20 then you can coast through the early levels without much erosion to your stack.

 
The fact of the matter is that you are not going to be able to get to the final three seats simply by folding so get rid of that notion right here and now. Many novices have tried that tactic and it simply doesnt work. So you are going to have to change gears and become more aggressive but in an intelligent way. When your stack shrinks to say less than 10bb then you are looking for situations to get all in pre-flop.

 
Do not under any circumstances look to steal blinds and then fold to an all-in. Raising to say 3bb with 8c-6c from the button and folding to a big blind that shoves all-in for 12bb when you only have 10bb as a starting stack is terrible play. That is simply tossing away 30% of your stack without even fighting for it.

 
The biggest difference between big winners in STTs and mediocre winners is in the frequency of wins that they get. This all comes down to aggression levels and the best players become aggressive at just the right times but which times are they? The best time to become aggressive is when your opponents fear elimination and this is when they are only one or two places away from the money.

 
Nobody wants to have sat in an STT for say 30 minutes only to then bust out in fourth or fifth place. That represents a huge waste of time and not to mention the lost potential of the cash out. So the best STT players become aggressive and take extra risks to attain the extra chips necessary to take them beyond third place and into the winners enclosure.

 

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

A Good Tournament Style?

There is no doubt that tournament poker is the most exciting form of poker in the world today. The chance to play for life changing sums of money creates a thrill like no other type of poker can even come close to.

 
This is especially the case in big events and televised events. Many players over the years have become stars and names within poker simply by taking down a big event. Are these players better than you.sometimes but not always. So just how do you go about wading through a big tournament that has maybe several thousand players in it to get to the final table?

 
In any poker tournament then you have to be realistic, if there are say two thousand players then only one person will be the winner and only around nine players will make the final table. This person is highly unlikely to be you irrespective of how good you are and this applies to anybody. There is a large luck element attached to tournament poker which means that anybody has a chance and that is a good thing.

 
So when you have more skill, knowledge and experience then dont think that this effect will be startling because it wont. So you need to have realism as part of your plan before you start to play and that realism is that you are probably going to bust out short of the final table.

 
The players that perform the worst in tournaments tend to be the ones that simply do not change gears. There are two schools of thought here in what the correct tournament style is with one saying that it is tight-aggressive to start and then switching to loose-aggressive in the later stages with the other camp saying that is loose-aggressive throughout. However what is not a winning style is to start off being tight-aggressive and remain in that style throughout the tournament.

 
That will work in a cash game where the blinds are static but it will not work in a tournament. The problem is that a tight-aggressive style will help you to outlast much of the field and this in itself feels like success. However when the blinds start to really escalate and the field shrinks then you are simply not increasing your stack fast enough and you are left with only having to get exceptionally lucky as your only way of surviving.

 
Risk is an essential part of tournament poker and whatever you do your stack is at risk. This is no different to say someone that tries to play it too cautiously by only ever placing their money in no risk deposit accounts in a bank that pay zero interest. Over time their money is simply eroded by inflation but in a poker tournament that inflation happens very rapidly until our hero is forced to go all in with insufficient chips just to survive.

 
So a good tournament style is one that combines surviving (because you cannot win a tournament if you are eliminated) with accumulating as many chips as possible. To accumulate as many chips as possible means running risks and with aggressive intelligent play! You cannot trust to luck as your only plan for accumulating chips as luck by itself is simply not enough even though it is an important aspect of tournament success.

 

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

How important is pot control?

The best online no limit holdem players will tell you that pot control is a weak concept. The idea that you can control something doesnt really fit in with a game like poker that is largely based on short term chaos. This isnt strictly true of course because there are many things that you can control in no limit holdem and the main one is your own betting actions. It is you and you only that dictates whether or not you place any more money into the pot.

 
So pot control is possible but is it profitable? Well the answer to that question is yes and no or as per usual in poker.it depends! When a player looks to control the pot by checking or making smaller bets then this is a sign of a moderate hand that doesnt want a big pot. We can broadly simplify our opponents hand range into three types and these are strong, mediocre and weak. While this is very simplistic, this shotgun method actually works quite well within the heat of battle just like many shotgun methods do in poker. Another famous shotgun method is the one regarding calculating pot odds of hitting your hand on the turn and river.

 
Once again it isnt entirely accurate but it gets you close enough and that makes it good enough. The fact of the matter is that it is massively superior to have a shotgun method that gets you pretty close than it is to have no method at all and this is what a lot of players fail to consider. When a player starts out betting and then begins checking or betting smaller amounts then this is not the sign of a strong hand. The hand may have started out being strong but the arrival of further board cards may have weakened it.

 
An example could be when you raised with Jc-Jd and the flop came 10h-7c-5s. Your hand pre-flop was strong and it can still be considered that way on the flop. However let us say that an opponent calls you and an ace comes on the turn. Now your hand is merely mediocre and doesnt want to see a huge pot. You bet again and get called and the river card is another ten. If you opponent started out with top pair then they have just made trips and your jacks are beaten.

 
This is where the player with the jacks may bet something small as a blocker to prevent them from having to call a large bet or fold the possible best hand. This is pot control because you are trying to control the final pot size on the river. However trying to control the pot and actually doing so are two different things. A weaker player would call you down with something like an ace or even a ten with a low kicker but wouldnt bluff raise you. However a strong player may ultimately decide to make a move on you on the river because of the weakness of your betting line.

 
Quite often in games like no limit, concepts seem to contradict each other. You see countless articles and authors discuss how you should only create a big pot with a big hand which means that you should control the pot when you have something that could be the best hand but ultimately may not be. However these betting lines tell an opponent an awful lot about the average strength of your holding and that is vital data that an astute opponent can take advantage of.

 
The fact of the matter is that when you are playing against lower staked opponents and especially ones that really only stack off with big hands then pot control is more important. Against very sophisticated players then pot control is much less effective. In the previous example this is where if your opponent raises the river and you feel that they are good enough to suspect your pot control tactics then calling down with the jacks on a 10-7-5-A-10 board is warranted.

 
However that only applies in situations where your opponents are sophisticated and have the nerve to bluff raise the river. If you are playing lower stakes then you are almost certainly better off folding. In fact folding is probably the right play if you are multi-tabling and are struggling to get adequate reads on your opponents then once again folding is the correct play. If you want to reduce variance and your skill level or experience level is low then pot control is the way to go. All you need to remember is that against better players then this tactic may ultimately come up short. Pot control can be a vital tactic when used widely in no limit Texas holdem.

 

 

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

More Advanced Poker Tips

Many people have asked me down the years how important balance is in poker and just how deeply you need to take your game down these avenues. Well firstly much depends on what levels you want to play. I have been discussing game strategy of late and how level 0, 1,2 and 3 play are the most common levels in poker. Level 0 is the most common and this represents players that play poker without any coherent strategy or basic knowledge of ABC. These players can often be quite experienced but are ultimately not winning poker players.

 
These people inhabit play money games, micro and low stakes levels and even higher levels where they ultimately get found out and lose money. So level 0 players come in all shapes and sizes. In days gone by then some players at this level made a lot of money but purely because they were a stronger level 0 than their opponents as there are sub-categories within each level. It is only when a player learns and discovers basic strategy and they can play at level 1 with a good ABC default game that they move away from level 0.

 
The game of poker when played against sophisticated players is almost an entirely different game. This is no different to any other sport or game in principle. But as you move up through the levels and your opponents have all moved away from level 0 then this is where multi-level thinking and balancing your strategy needs to increase in importance. For example if your opponents know or suspect that you have personal biases towards certain lines then they will exploit you. We can look at a hand here to show you what I mean. You are dealt the Jc-10c and you open raise from the cut-off and the button calls you.

 
You miss the flop entirely buy you c-bet into this single opponent after both blinds fold. They call you and the turn card comes and you have still missed and have no draws like with an A-9-5-9 board for example. You check and your opponent bets and you fold. The next hand and you open raise with the Ac-9c and the button calls you once again. The flop comes K-Q-2 and you c-bet and they call you again. The turn card is the 4d and you check and your opponent bets and you fold.

 
In this sequence then you have lost 17bb assuming a pre-flop raise to 3.5bb and a flop c-bet of 5bb. This is clearly not a good result but your opponent has likely out played you and simply floated you on the flop looking to take the pot away from you on the turn. Clearly then you have to counter that strategy because not only are you bleeding money to the button player but they are denying you position in the hand and extracting profit from the blinds.

 
This is a bad situation to be in and so you must move your play up a level. Your opponent was merely exploiting your level 1 straight forward ABC play and it has cost you 17bb so far. However your opponent is starting to have an unbalanced line as are you with both of you exhibiting the same betting patterns. Your problem is that the pattern that you have shown is down by 17bb while your opponents pattern has made them 20bb (less the rake). So to balance your play then you have to play back and on hand number three you can c-bet the flop and then check-raise the turn. The pot will be around 8.5bb on the flop but instead of betting say 5bb then you can set your opponent up by betting 6.5bb on the flop. When they call that then the pot escalates to 21.5bb. You check the turn and they bet 14bb and will almost certainly have to fold to your check-raise which effectively wins you 24bb from your opponent and makes you 7bb ahead over this three hand sequence.

 

 

Carl Sampson is an online poker pro and 888poker ambassador

Being a better hand reader

In games like no limit Texas holdem 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 dont 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

Dont 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 isnt 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 isnt 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 elses 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

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