Gambling strategies and stories.

How good are you at thinking about poker

Without meaning this to sound in any way disrespectful, it is just a process that all players go through and me included. There are three types of poker thinkers in online poker. These are novice poker thinkers, average poker thinkers and advanced poker thinkers. We can see these three strata’s of thinking when we consider certain types of hands and how each thinker plays in each. Let us take a hand like K-7o on the button. It is folded around to a poor poker thinker and they limp in because they simply want to play their hand.

A more advanced beginner may have done some research on hand values and folded it but whatever the reason there will be very little thinking process behind it. An average poker thinker would take different (or the same) actions. They would fully understand the weakness of K-7o and would more than likely fold for that reason. However a more advanced average thinker would determine that the K-7o was ahead of random hands in the blinds and raise to capture the “dead money” that is in those blinds.

The advanced poker thinker on the other hand understands about equity. They know that the equity of a hand like K-7o is quite low. They also understand how pre-flop play links with post flop play and select only the best suitable hands in which to play. If an advanced thinker does raise with the K-7o then it is because they have identified that the blinds are very tight. So a large part of their strategy is pre-flop aggression. If the blinds are folding 80% of their range then eight out of every ten blind steals will win the pot.

This is 12bb but if the raise was to 3.5bb then only 7bb is lost back when their opponent calls or re-raises. Even then our hero will flop a big hand some of the time and so the entire 7bb will not be lost back. There is not much wrong with having aggressive stabs at the blinds with low equity holdings if you are prepared to give up rapidly. This may seem weak but against very tight blinds then there can be profit pre-flop. Let us look at another example here from a NL50 full ring cash game. It is folded around to a player in middle position who raises to 3.5bb with a 100bb stack.

We have the As-3s on the button with a 100bb stack also and a poor poker thinker simply makes the call because he has an ace and his hand is suited. Apart from this then they have no further consideration. An average poker thinker understands that his ace is dominated and folds and looks for greener pastures. He figures that a large part of his opponents range will include an ace and he does not want to give reverse implied odds. However an advanced thinker makes the same play as the novice and calls but for more sophisticated reasons.

They understand how them merely holding an ace reduces their opponents combinations that involve aces massively. Even if the raiser came from early position and only had a 5% range then the A-3s stacks up well against many hands in that range. The raiser will have AA-99, AJs+, AQo+ but the number of ace combinations are halved as a result of us having an ace and so A-A is far less likely. If we flop an ace then we overtake KK-99 pairs as long as they don’t make their set.

If we flop two pair then we could stack hands like A-K on boards like A-9-3 or at least win more than one street of value. If we make a flush then we can stack premium pairs and we can even make the wheel straight as well. However our opponent has hands like AJs+ and AQ+ in their range also! While we may have to pay off against these hands when an ace flops for perhaps one or two streets of value, we win pots by playing aggressively when they miss.

This means calling on small boards that have missed all of our non-pair hands. On a board like 9-5-4 then we have the ace overcard and the gutshot draw and so a flop raise would blow off all their non-pair high card hands. All this is even assuming that the raiser came from early position which in this instance they didn’t. So their range was even wider than 5% from middle position and so we can call more profitably.

These are part of the thinking processes of an advanced poker thinker. The difference between an advanced poker thinker and a lesser thinker is that an advanced thinker is looking to win the pot in several different ways and plans for that from the very outset of the hand.


Carl Sampson is an online poker pro and 888poker ambassador

Is Poker Really Your Game?

This may seem a strange question to ask but I honestly believe that many people that play poker are ultimately not suited to playing the game professionally. There can be a multitude of reasons for that and one such reason is that to play professionally means playing for at least 40 hours per week. To do so means that you need to have the discipline to ride losing periods and to play through periods when you don’t feel great. This is difficult to do and it is far better to play part-time than full time.

At least if you play part-time then you can pick and choose your points of confrontation. Remember the old saying about “it is the hunter that chooses the battleground and not the prey”. If you play full time then you start to lose some of that choice because you have to play poker every single day. I would never recommend to anyone to play poker full time for a living as it has far too many complications. Also if you don’t have the playing experience then how can you be totally sure that you can stick to your style and not tilt or go off on some wacky illogical bluff?

If you are no longer in the right frame of mind then you need to immediately log off. However you can ride this inaction as a part time player more than you can when you play full time. If you only play 15 hours per week then you can pick and choose the best 15 hours so that they are quality hours. However when you play or have to play 50 hours per week then many of those hours may involve you not playing your best game.

If you would struggle to play the game efficiently if you played it full time then you have flaws that are showing themselves within a poker environment. In fact if you cannot play for 40-50 hours per week without it causing some sort of problem then you have poker related problems with your personality. Likewise if you have discipline problems then certain forms of poker may not be conducive to you. If you are not a natural poker player then tournament poker may be more your thing. As soon as the blinds start to escalate then your stack rapidly drops below 100bb and so any error that you make will not be a large one.

However the bottom line is that in tournament poker then you have to win all of the chips in play anyway at some stage and so aggression is justified more than it is in cash games. If you are undisciplined in cash games then you will be punished, maybe not straight away but you will be eventually. In fact six max play may not suit you either and if you play too deep then a big mistake could cost you in cash games.

So you need to develop your own poker system that is designed around you and no one else. Once you can do that then you are well on your way to making money. Remember that you don’t need to be a great poker player to be able to make money. If you can be a solid poker player then you can do very well simply by playing solidly and not making big mistakes. To be able to do that takes some practice and probably means that you have to break into areas like pot control more.

This is where the dynamic changes when additional money is placed into the equation. If you are playing for sign up bonuses and rakeback then this extra money should in theory take the pressure off you. It would be almost like somebody paying for you to enter a poker tournament. In that instance then the dynamic of the tournament totally alters.

If I were to give you $1000 to enter a poker tournament and that tournament had a minimum cash of $1000 for coming say 120th then getting a minimum cash would be massive for you. In essence then your return on investment has been infinite as you have turned $0 into $1000. That is more than a pro that used say $1000 of their own money and then cashed for $10,000. Their ROI has a factor of x10 while yours is infinite.

This is similar to cash games with rakeback and sign up bonuses because this is money that you don’t have to earn by playing on the tables. Just like the tournament player with the free buy in that didn’t have to play to win to cash big, you can now take your foot off the gas and not bother pressing during the games. This is when online poker becomes a lot easier to play.


Carl Sampson is an online poker pro and 888poker ambassador

Dead Money in Poker Tournaments

There are thousands upon thousands of players heading to Las Vegas for the annual WSOP. In fact many of them will be there already. I do not mean to be a doom monger here but I have never been to the WSOP and have no intention of ever going. I am not a tournament player and not only that but I also know that my style isn’t strong enough to get into contention to win a bracelet. I know that I am a solid player and that works well in cash games.

I just feel though that in a large event that although my chances of cashing would be decent……I wouldn’t have the gamble to get into the top four places. This is what I feel is needed as fields have become very large in recent years. I have simply played too many cash games and not anywhere near enough large field tournaments to be able to change that either. Also I would hate the thought of travelling all that way and incurring all those expenses to bust out in several $1500 events. This makes going to the WSOP a very negative sum experience for nearly all who play there.

I don’t mean to put people off because at the end of the day you can win a huge title that could change your life forever. This is not to mention the life changing sum of money that you could win taking down a big event or getting very close. However nearly all of the players who are in these events will not have the optimal style to win it! They will either not have sufficient skills or they will not have sufficient gamble to amass a huge stack. It takes a combination of luck and tournament skill to take down a big one.

I suppose that tournament players are no different to cash game players in so much that most of them believe that they have more skill than they really have. A classic example of a cash game player that overrates his own skill is a multi-tabling grinder that makes a small hourly rate with most of it coming from rakeback. You do not need to be Phil Ivey or Tom Dwan to multi-table NL50 and play tight solid poker and exploit fish with good game selection.

These are relatively simple skills and is why it is becoming increasingly difficult to make money grinding low levels. To win a huge field poker tournament either live or online involves gambling to a large extent and the players that gamble more have an edge. By “gamble” then I do not mean raising and re-raising and calling raises all over the place. But you do have to play more than just hand strength and you need to be able to put your tournament life at risk on the hunch that your opponent is weak. In a typical 1000 field tournament then the winners usually have a very good “tournament style”.

Tournament winners are not the players that know the most about poker although in some instances they can be. They also tend not to be the best players on a technical level as well. There is a world of difference winning an event with say 100 players in it and winning one with 1000 players. The merely “good” players who gamble can amass huge stacks that actually by default make them a much superior player because their arsenal of possible moves is greater. By sheer definition then some players will get lucky and if you are more active and playing more hands then you will give yourself numerous chances to get lucky. The flip side of course is that playing marginal hands increases the chances of elimination.


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

Studying other Poker Variations

The world of poker evolves at a very rapid rate these days and that effectively makes much of the older literature and advice too dated to be of any real use. One such piece of advice is in how you should diversify with regards to the games that you become proficient in. Years ago when live cash games were all that a poker player had to keep them going then live games tended to be dealers choice. This meant that whoever was on the button had the right to choose a particular poker variation.

Years ago when I used to be a poker dealer then the cash games that I dealt were dealers’ choice and in fact Dave “Devilfish” Ulliott was a regular player. So it was common for me to deal one hand of hold’em followed by a hand of seven stud followed by a hand of Omaha and so on. A player had to be skilled in all of these games to make a profit and this was why the older advice of diversifying your skills by learning as many different variations as possible was spot on the money.

However this is dated advice and what really makes it dated was the arrival of online poker. Games like seven stud and high low split are nowhere near as popular as other games like NLHE and PLO. A player can multi-table online unlike a live game and so can play as many tables as they can fit in and handle. They can also pick and choose not just their tables but also their site if they happen to have money in more than one poker site. So there isn’t the same level of dependency to study and learn numerous different forms of poker as there used to be.

In my opinion, any player in order to give themselves the maximum possible chances of success these days needs to specialise in one form of poker if they are playing online. This is because you can simply stick to the same form of poker by clicking on an empty seat on a no limit hold’em table for example. When you sit down in that seat then you are safe in the knowledge that you will always be playing that form of poker on every single hand that you play for as long as you play.

This allows you to sidestep the forms of poker that you are not overly strong in and to focus on being the best player that you can possibly be. By focusing on the same form of poker then you will gain an edge over the large number of players that drift from game to game searching for excitement. If you really want to maximise your chances of making money from online poker then you have to be cold blooded and ruthless in how you approach the game. Poker shouldn’t be a game played for excitement or thrills when you need to make money at it. You do whatever you need to do to get the job done…….end of story.


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

Analysing Your Own Poker Game

Poker is a game that is in constant state of change. Either the site is changing or the demographic of the players or the actual players’ skill levels. However we also change and if you think that you play the same poker game all the time then you would be very much mistaken. This is why I think it is very important to have a debrief after every session in the same way that members of the military do after any operation. In fact the term “debrief” is in fact a military one.

This is something that I used to do some years ago and then I became careless with how easy I was winning at the levels that I played. A session de-brief analyses the actions and thoughts of the individual and then plans can be designed for future action. So your de-brief and your next session briefing are in fact linked together. For example if in your poker debrief or your session analysis you spotted several things that you did wrong then have a debrief and reveal them to yourself.

Make notes and then study these notes as part of your next briefing session. I highly recommend to any player to have a list of strategic objectives plotted out that they can study and read before a poker session. It is a great way to start the session in the right frame of mind and to do the right things straight away. Only the other night I had a losing poker session, it wasn’t all that much of a loss and was only $33 but I made mistakes that I wouldn’t have made had I briefed myself before the session started.

This is the entire purpose of the briefing and debriefing……they act as preparation and learning exercises. I think it is even more important in online poker for the simple reason being that you can log on and play online poker in a fraction of the time that it takes to play a live session. Your briefing notes can be the same for every session based on two criteria. These are your overall session objectives and lessons to be learned and corrected from your last debrief and previous debriefs.

Doing this helps you to become more military in your play and it places a lot of extra internal discipline on your poker. Also having a briefing and a debrief helps you to become answerable to someone even if that someone is yourself. It is amazing just how much information and data you lose or forget to execute when you play poker.

We all do things that we know full well we shouldn’t have done and it can be very frustrating to do such things. I find that a briefing and a debriefing session helps to prepare me for the session and to turn mistakes of the past into strengths. When you play poker with military type discipline then you evolve into one tough opponent for your enemies.


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

Having a Plan in Poker

I have always felt that in life there is too much need for immediate results. This is fine to a certain extent but in many cases immediate good results are simply not possible and good results cannot be guaranteed or controlled. These days I think you are far better off playing poker part-time and semi-professionally rather than full time and professionally. There are many reasons for this but one of the main reasons is because the overall toughness of the games makes any edge that you have thinner.

So in my opinion, it is important these days to make the process of making money a long term one. I remember when I first started out years ago as an online poker player then I would be constantly checking my bankroll at the end of every pot that I played. This is absolutely crazy and these days I don’t even check my bankroll at the end of the session let alone at the end of the hand. I need to know one thing and one thing only with regards to my bankroll and this is if I have enough money to play enough games at the level that I want to play or not.

If I don’t have enough then I need to know. At full ring cash games then it would be very rare for me to encounter a negative buy in downswing of ten buy-ins and so at NL100 then $1000 in my account is more than enough for me. When your goals of making money are far off in online poker then many good things can happen. Firstly you simply do not need to over press when you play. This is a facet of the game that many players get wrong in my opinion.

I see many players all the time that cannot wait to play poker and strive too hard to try and make money. This is basically trying to make money with one hand tied behind your back. There will be times when the poker gods will give you break even periods of say 10,000 hands. It is vital that you do not see this as failure because if you do then two things will happen. These are that you will either stop playing online poker full stop or you will change your style of play. In terms of making money then either of these are pretty disastrous.


The conclusion to all of this is that the harder you try and make money in online poker then the more difficult it can be to make any. This sounds immensely counter-intuitive but I believe that it happens to be true. These days I don’t play poker full time and part time serious poker is what I strive for. So my goal of making money is more of a yearly one than a weekly one. I know from previous experience that 15 hours of poker per week is only 750 hours per year and it is easy to go 100 hours without making money even playing multiple tables. The lesson is clear…..don’t be too eager to make money and money may just flow to you.


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

Being too Aggressive in Poker

One of the key areas of my game that I had to improve on some years ago was in how I thought about equity in no limit hold’em. Raising from the button with a hand like J-7o may take down the blinds but what happens when the flop comes 10-6-2 and they check-call your c-bet? Then what happens on the turn when the Qh comes and they check-call your turn barrel? You either have to give up on the river or make an even bigger and riskier bluff with no pot equity at all.

This isn’t really smart poker and you are better off having the safety net of at least being able to have the best hand at showdown. If there is no chance that you can have the best hand at showdown then you probably shouldn’t have launched the bluff in the first place. Many players will say that J-7o is too weak to consider raising with. This is only half correct because if the blinds are super tight then the play can be profitable. If the blinds fold for example 70% of the time then you are making seven lots of 1.5bb which is 10.5bb. If you raise to say 3bb then the play is clearly profitable as long as you don’t spew the money back by making large post flop errors.

If you choose to raise widely with J-7o then you should be doing so if the blinds are both very tight and very passive on the whole. If you get called then there is nothing wrong with giving up post flop because your profits are coming from the pre-flop folds from your opponents and winning the blinds and post flop when you hit the board hard. So in this instance then you simply have no need to c-bet on a 10-6-2 board.

In fact checking the hand back can often confuse some opponents that expect you to c-bet with your total range. If the turn card was a queen and your opponent bet then you could simply fold. If they check then two consecutive checks is far more of an indication that your opponent is very weak and a bluff would carry far more weight on the turn even though your pot equity is the same. The increased fold equity makes the bluff viable now.

Many players realise that they need to be aggressive as soon as they advance past the novice stage of their poker progression. However if you take aggression too far then you will simply spew money both to weaker players that will not fold their one pair type hands and strong players that are good enough to realise that your range is polarised. Just because you raise pre-flop and the hand is heads up doesn’t mean that you have to automatically c-bet when checked to. This was a lesson that it took me a long time and an awful large number of lost buy-ins to learn.


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

Manipulating Your Range

When you move up the middle limits in no limit Texas hold’em cash games then your image and your opponent’s image plays a big part in many things that you do. At the lower stake levels then your opponent simply will not be watching you enough for you to have to worry about that. Let us look at an example of how your image can affect what your opponents do. Let us say that you open raise in a full ring game from early middle position with 10-9s and the button who is an aggressive player calls you.

The flop comes A-K-J and you make a thin c-bet and your opponent folds. On the next orbit you raise from an even earlier position with 7-6s and the same opponent calls you. The flop is 4-4-2 rainbow and you make a c-bet which gets called. The turn card is the 8h and you fire another barrel which also gets called. The river card is a queen and you fire a third barrel which ultimately forces your opponent to fold. Your image is one of aggression because your two lines have been raise-bet and raise-bet-bet-bet.

This is indicative of someone that once they decide to commit to the hand then puts their pedal to the metal and maintains their aggression. An observant and sophisticated opponent would decipher that your ranges are polarised on the river and call you down more widely. This is a time to switch and not stack off for a while with your bluffs and to value bet your opponent with strong holdings. This is what is known as range manipulation because you are manipulating the range of hands that your opponent calls you with in future pots.

So on the next orbit you may fold a marginal 9-8s from position and even if you do raise with it then you may elect to back off if you don’t flop a strong hand or a strong draw. However if you are fortunate to see a strong premium hand likes aces or kings then this opponent could easily 3/bet you light based on your previous play. Only a few days ago I stacked a player that had Q-8s when I held pocket kings. I had been aggressive and then raised to 3.5bb normally. They 3/bet to 12bb and I min-raised to 25bb and they shoved over the top for their remaining stack…..clearly they didn’t believe that I had a real hand.

When your opponents become more sophisticated then poker suddenly becomes a whole lot more interesting and not to say a whole lot different. When opponents observe you more then your own image affects what they do and you are going to have to be aware of that. Luckily we can use that information to affect our opponents thinking and to manipulate their ranges for future confrontations. It is for this reason why many players struggle when they move to higher levels. Their previous poker game and strategy no longer applies at a new increased level against better players.


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

Facing Aggressive 3/bets

When it has been folded around to you and you elect to raise from position then you have indirectly told your opponents that your range is quite wide. Everybody knows that nearly all poker players expand their ranges when there are fewer players still to act. When you raise then what you are actually doing is making the first play in what could be a 3/bet pot. Remember that for your opponent to 3/bet (re-raise) then there must first be a raise. If you make the opening raise then there is the possibility of a 3/bet.

Because many players expect you to raise from position then the more aggressive players will 3/bet you more often and you will need to learn how to handle these types of opponents. When you raise and are re-raised then you have several options available to you. Position is such a big factor in no limit hold’em that you ideally do not want to call a 3/bet when out of position. So merely folding your weak hands simply keeps you out of trouble. If you have a hand that is towards the top end of your range then you can 4/bet which thus eliminates your opponent’s ability to play their position against you.

When you 4/bet then you are escalating the pot to a level that is indicating that you are potentially committing to the pot. In these instances then your opponent will fold most of their range and you will win the pot uncontested. While 4/betting with the top of your range and folding the rest is a good method to use against 3/bettors, if they are in the blinds then you can possibly call and play some post flop poker with you having position on them.

Another way to handle aggressive 3/bettors is to simply fold and play tighter pre-flop and to only play hands that you can feel good 4/betting with. There is no shame in leaving the table and finding yourself a softer seat. If you do not feel comfortable in 4/bet pots pre-flop then you can simply play tight poker and go and find yourself a softer game if need be. It is better to do this than to play back incorrectly against your opponent and to call raises when out of position. How you handle players that aggressively re-raise you will go a long way towards defining your overall poker results.

Whether you play full ring or short-handed poker then you will always play more hands from late position than you will from earlier position. Your opponents of course will expect you to do this and the more aggressive ones will take counter strategies against you one of which is to 3/bet you. In six max cash games then it is imperative that you counter this strategy correctly. Having opponents that have a positional advantage over you is not going to lead to you being able to play profitable situations and neither is raising too often and then folding to a 3/bet. Playing correctly in 3/bet pots will be vital to your overall chances of making money.


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

Which form of poker?

I have been watching the poker games at recently with a view to playing on that site after a tip off from a friend regarding how soft the site was. This kind of led me to want to discuss just which form of cash game you should be playing for the most profit. Clearly then this all depends on your skill level and a whole bunch of other factors. I play NL100 full ring as a rule although I often drift one level either side of that.

If I drop to NL50 then it is usually because of the fact that there isn’t enough action at NL100 and if I play NL200 then it is because there are players that I know from NL100. I prefer full ring over six max for numerous reasons but the main one is because of the fact that I can measure the table dynamics more easily in full ring. While many players prefer six handed games, they are tougher to beat on average. The average VPIP figure is more uniform in full ring than it is in six max games.

There is a valid reason for this and it is because the greater number of players tend to make the game self-policing. By that I mean that the greater player numbers tend to prevent other players from doing things that are too out of line. This has an effect on the VPIP levels and in six max then the VPIP can be as low as say 15% for a very tight rock to something like 50% for someone who was very LAG. The norm in six max is 20%-30% but the two extremes of 15% and 50% are often encountered.

However in full ring then there is never this large disparity in VPIP levels. A really tight rock in full ring may play around 9% of their hands. On the other hand a very loose-aggressive player may play around 25% of their total hands. So there is only a 16% difference between the tightest rock and the loose-aggressive player.

In six max games then these two extremes can be as much as 35% apart. So this is why I prefer full ring more than six max because I can estimate ranges far better and put other players onto hands far simpler and this means that multi-tabling is then easier.

Carl “The Dean” Sampson plays online at 888 and is a poker ambassador

keep looking »

Other Sites

Recent Articles

GM Network News

Lottery Books