Strategies, tips and stories about backgammon.

Playing better online tournament poker

One very successful tournament poker player once told me that you should never stop thinking about how you can get your hands on your opponent’s chips in a poker tournament. There is a difference between successful tournament professionals and novice tournament players and the top pros are always trying to figure out how to get their opponents chips and making moves designed to get them.

In online tournament poker then weak players will make mistakes. But you need to know what sorts of mistakes they make. For example you need to know if your opponents play too loosely and if so in what way. For instance some players may limp and then call raises who then release on the flop if they fail to connect. This is a terrible leak of chips and you can easily identify this without even being involved in a hand.

For example let us say that you see a player limp in middle position for T50 and the cut-off raises to T200 with you being on the button. Everyone folds but the limper who calls. If they action goes check-bet-fold on the flop then this is a good indication of a weak player. Donating T200 in chips in that way is not strong poker. This is why many of the best tournament players get busy early in the event. If your opponents are making mistakes through weak play and you get a chance to exploit that then you must go for it.

Some players however are weak but in a completely different way. Sometimes players enter tournaments but are not committed to play then entire tournament in a professional way. This is why many players prefer the smaller buy in events in online tournament poker because there are more players who simply spew their chips away. For example let us say that someone limps with A-Q and they have say 45bb.

You also limp on the button with 4d-4c and the small blind completes. We have a four way pot and the flop comes A-4-2 and the big blind bets 3bb and now the player with A-Q raises to 10bb. You shove all in with your set and the big blind folds. The player with A-Q should fold but a combination of their hand and the fact that they may actually want to be elsewhere makes them call. In larger events and with a stronger opponent then the A-Q folds but this is how you can sometimes find weaker opponents blowing their chips away during the early stages of online poker tournaments.

Some weak players on the other hand can be terribly easy to bluff from hands. These are the types whose entire poker strategy during the early to middle stages is to sit tight and not risk anything without a very strong hand. Wild and wacky players may pay you off when you make big hands and tight rocks will allow you to get away from marginal holdings while being able to bluff them. The bottom line is though that valuable tournament chips are there waiting to be picked up by players who are observant enough to spot and then exploit their opponents errors.



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

Thinking on a Higher Level

All online poker players think on level 1, this is the basic level of understanding of what hand you are holding. When you first look at your hand then you understand how strong it is on a basic level. However we then move onto level 2 thinking where we also have to think about the holdings of our opponents. To see this level more clearly in online poker then we can look at a situation from no limit Texas hold’em ring games as an example.

An opponent limps under the gun with a 100bb stack and it is folded to you in middle position with Qh-Qs. You raise to 4.5bb also with 100bb and at this stage your queens look very likely that they are the best hand. We know that we have pocket queens and we know that they are a good hand and so we raise with them. But let us say that the button three bets to 11bb and then the original limper four bets to 40bb.


Suddenly a lot of extra information has come to the fore and we need to reassess or at least we should reassess. Our pocket queens are only a strong hand if there are not stronger hands out there against us. If there are and if we cannot get away from our queens despite them being second best then rather than win money with them we will lose money. So this now takes us onto level 2 and what we think our opponents hold. This then helps us to match our hand strength with that of our opponents.

This too is still a pretty basic level in online poker and is why many players quickly move to level 3 in games like no limit Texas hold’em poker. This is when you become aware of what your opponents think that you have. If you imagine for a minute that we you are at level 2 then you are actively noticing what your opponents might be holding. However you are clearly not the only poker player at the table that is doing this and so level 3 is simply an awareness of other players thinking on level 2.


Let us look at a hand example here to show you what I mean. It is folded around to you in the cut-off in a full ring $1-$2 online no limit Texas hold’em ring game and you make it $7 to go. Your opponent on the button makes it $25 to go and your initial raise had been with the Ac-4c and so you fold. However on the next orbit you open raise with the Jc-10c which is simply you thinking at level 1. Your opponent re-raises you with Ad-9d because they are not only aware of their own holding but what you likely hold also. They have seen you raise from position two hands running and so are pegging you for another steal. So they have switched to level 2 but if you are aware of that switch then level 3 becomes very profitable and you four bet to $75 and win the pot.


Carl Sampson is an online poker pro and 888poker ambassador

Getting busy early in cash games

I often think that in full ring cash games that a player needs to be more aggressive these days than the table average. However this reflects where you need to be in any poker game. I think it is a big mistake to go into any poker game with a fixed strategy. This is why many players ultimately suffer in cash games. Do not get me wrong here, when you are playing multiple tables then it becomes very difficult to play a style that is dependent on reading your opponents very well.

This is where you have to keep things simple. If you keep things simple then you should be concentrating on two key areas. These are maximising fold equity and winning big pots with the emphasis on maximising fold equity. In tournament poker then there is always an urgency to accumulate chips. While you do not have that same level of urgency in cash games, in really tight games then it is true that aggressive play works. It works for several key reasons which I am about to go into. Firstly if your opponents are playing very tightly then you need to force them to place money into circulation.

You need them to do this so you can then use aggression and hopefully superior post flop skills to outplay them. You should ideally be playing opposite to the table dynamic as much as possible for maximum effect. However you do need to be aware of the hand dynamic. This means how a particular hand is playing out and your opponent’s chances of stacking off or of being seriously interested in the hand. For example if an opponent limp-raises from UTG with a 100bb stack after you raised from the button then your fold equity has dropped very sharply in the hand.

There is no need for deep analysis here because you will never know all of the information anyway. Just simply make the percentage play and fold. There will be many players that tighten up in cash games, this is normal and especially in full ring games. I am not saying that you have to become a maniac because that isn’t the case. At the end of the day then there will be enough weak players at the lower stakes to simply reward you when they make horrendous errors. By itself then this will reward careful play if you play solidly enough.

In fact at levels like NL50 then you should be making around $5-$10/hour just by playing solidly and nothing else. Recycling money against the decent regulars then becomes part and parcel of your daily life and the process then becomes one of waiting for the opportunities to come along where you strike your home runs. What can also add to your hourly rate is to receive as many rewards and sign up bonuses as you can. This will seriously pad out your earn rate and will become a pivotal part of your poker strategy.

Then on top of that will be if you can stop yourself from making big mistakes. It is the number of big mistakes that will ultimately decide your fate as a poker player. The old adage of “if you cannot fold the winning hand then you cannot win” holds true. This is because if you cannot fold a winning hand then the natural knock on effect of this is that you cannot fold anything at all and you just become a spew monkey. I always try to use a very simplistic style when I play poker for several key reasons. Firstly extra complexity and full time play do not go hand in hand.

A constant stream of tough decisions really starts to have an impact on you after a while and this is something that I try to avoid. Recently the online legend Dusty Schmidt admitted how too much multi-tabling on the edge not only had a huge negative effect on him but how he could no longer make good poker decisions. He also discussed with his neuro-consultant the real possibility of a stroke by the time he was 50 years of age.

This is seriously scary stuff and one that leads me away from wanting to play online poker full time. I also think that if you did want to go full time and you wanted any sort of longevity to your career then you need a simple strategy. When I say “simple” then in no way am I inferring something so simple that it is just a case of following a few rules. I mean something that once learnt is simple to operate. At the end of the day then very weak players will make big errors…….you just have to make sure that you are not several buy-ins in the hole when it happens.


Carl Sampson is an online poker pro and 888poker ambassador

Too Much Poker Dross

If I had to appear on the TV programme “Room 101” and quote my pet hates then generalising would be very near the top. In fact in poker you hear generalised quotes all over the place. A generalisation is a statement or quote that is often true. If it were never true then people would never generalise. However this is where we have problems because in poker then the game is literally teeming with generalisations. For example in tournament poker then the classic “two big stacks should never do battle with each other” spring to mind.

This statement is only half true and so if something is partly true then it is also partly wrong. This means that we stand a very good chance of being wrong by blindly following it! So what of the previous statement regarding tournament poker? Well the dynamic shifts considerably when certain factors come into place. What if you were one of the big stacks and you knew or strongly suspected that your other big stack opponent feared a confrontation. Now it is open season on attacking their blinds and simply folding the weaker part of your range simply because they have a big stack is wrong.

Very strong poker players try not to generalise, they know the weaknesses of generalisations and they will only generalise in the absence of information. Like for example if I sit at a table and see a player that only has 77bb in their stack and is not seated at any other table. I will immediately generalise that this player is weak simply because of these two factors. The reason why I do this is to help with my game selection. However I will also be prepared to be wrong as well and will observe this opponent throughout the game.

For example some strong players will only use a one buy in approach and will not top up if they fall below 100bb simply because they have daily stop loss limits. Is this approach common amongst top players………….but I have encountered it several times and so I know that it is not 100% certain that a single tabling player with 77bb is weak. Another generalisation is when players set mine. There is a raise from an early position player and sure enough a player with pocket fours cold calls.

They generalise that the call is sound because of “implied odds”. However just where are these so called “implied odds” against a good player? Do you honestly think that a good player will stack off with big overpairs for 100bb or more without improvement? You will also find that when you call raises with hands like pocket fours that it will be you that gets stacked just as frequently and if not more so. You call because you are trying to out flop a big pair. But yet what if the raiser opened with say pocket queens of jacks and the flop came J-7-4?

Clearly here you are going to lose a lot of money and your whole stack because you will assume that your opponent could have AA-QQ. How about if the flop comes A-9-4? Then you are probably going to get stacked when someone holds A-A because you are assuming that they could be overplaying A-K. So there are clearly many times where calling raises with small pocket pairs doesn’t lead to implied odds and in fact the only player likely to get stacked with these hands is you. They play better in weaker games where players stack off with hands like two pair and non-nut straights and flushes but against stronger players then the overall equity is much worse.


Carl Sampson is an online poker pro and 888poker ambassador

Bet Sizing Mistakes in NLHE

Let us diverge briefly to talk about two fictional people (could easily be real) called Bob and Ken. Both Bob and Ken run their identical businesses where both of them sell clothes. Bob on the one hand is very keen on paying the absolute minimum for the stock that he purchases and pays $5 per unit. Ken on the other hand pays $7 per unit and through idleness or a lack of bargaining ability or whatever pays 40% more for the same items than Bob does. In effect then this means that Ken is spending $2 per unit that he doesn’t have to spend…….essentially this is dead money.

If both Bob and Ken have the same purchase levels of 2000 units per month then Bob has spent $10,000 per month on stock while Ken has spent $14,000 for the exact same items and the exact same number of units. So Ken has spent $4000 that he simply didn’t have to spend. This will either mean one of two things, that Ken will make $4000 less in profits than Bob assuming he sells at the same price or he will have to recoup the difference by increasing the selling price. The problem with increasing the selling price is that he could then sell less items and cease to be competitive.

So what has this to do with poker? Well the exact same process happens in poker all the time but it isn’t just Ken that is idle when it comes to paying too much for his goods. Untold millions of people the world over do the same every day. If you buy an item for $100 that you could have bought for $80 then this extra $20 has essentially bought nothing. How would you feel buying this item for $80 and then setting fire to $20? Most people would be horrified at the thought of setting fire to money but this is almost the same as wasting it.

As I said, how does this relate to poker? Well millions of poker players simply use too much money to get the job done when betting or raising less amounts would suffice. For example let us say that it is folded to you on the button and you have the 10c-8c. You want to raise and make it 3.5bb. If your goal was to take down the blinds then you would have achieved this with a 3bb raise if both of the blinds held junk. So the extra 0.5bb is essentially wasted because if your opponent has a playable hand then this extra half a big blind will not deter them from calling or 3/betting you.

If they 3/bet you and you fold then you have saved 0.5bb. If you add this up over the space of a session then it amounts to an awful lot of money. A multi-tabling player could be facing this situation ten times an hour and that is 5bb per hour. If they are playing $0.50-$1.00 then this equates to $5/hour and for a full time player then this is $10,000/year and all because you made it 3.5bb to go instead of 3bb.

It is only when you start to compound the effects that you can see just how over spending can really drag down your earn rate. Another example could be if you raised and the big blind called. The flop came Qs-7c-2h and you believe that this flop has not hit your opponents range. They check and now you want to c-bet into the 6.5bb pot……..but how much? If you opponent holds nothing then you do not need to bet the pot or even three quarters of the pot. A half pot bet would take this pot down without offering your opponent great odds to continue. If they fold to a 3.5bb c-bet then betting 6bb is essentially creating dead money because it loses 2.5bb every time your opponent has flopped something that they will not fold.


Carl Sampson is an online poker pro and 888poker ambassador

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