The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

Carl Sampson 'The Dean'

I was spending an evening around a friend’s house the other night and the subject was poker. He knows what I do and now fancies trying to make some money playing low-stakes poker to supplement his income and wanted some advice. Well what exactly can you tell someone in an evening that will make them money? I guided him towards some very good books and a top coaching site and told him to be more concerned with learning than winning at this stage. However one of the things that he had noticed when he had been playing the NL10 games was how tight they were.

I told him that this was standard now in full ring games even at these low levels where one raise is often enough to win the blinds. His immediate reaction was to doubt the profit potential within these games if no one was “playing poker”. I don’t play all that many level increases above NL10 and frequent NL50 and NL100 mainly because you rarely lock horns with high level sophisticated game play. In my experience simply looking at a game and seeing how tight it is pre-flop and deducing that there is no profit potential is an error.

There are not too many player types in full ring and with experience then you get to know them pretty well. For example you can forget about passive players in these games because nearly everybody is a TAG once you hit NL50. You also know that no one is a maniac and very few are LAG out of position. The greater number of players tends to self-police the game from these types of things happening. The main differences are in the TAG’s themselves. Some regs will play a large number of tables and be very TAG with VPIP no greater than 11-12%.

They are not LAG at any stage and will have very nut heavy ratios when the big money goes in. They can be pushed around a lot because they are playing so many tables in an automatic way although these player types are more prevalent at NL50 than NL100. Then we have what I call the TAG-LAG. These are the players that are TAG out of position but LAG in position and in the blinds. All competent players understand the need to expand their ranges in position and to three bet lighter for example when in the blinds against apparent stealers.

However it is the frequency with which you do these things that distinguishes really good full ring regs from the mediocre ones. In my experience many players do not play strongly around the blinds and in the blinds at certain levels. They either choose hands with poor equity potential to get involved with or allow their ranges to become polarised. Once again this is more prevalent at NL50 than NL100 and some sites are most definitely weaker than others. I find that enough players do not manage their post flop nuts to air ratios for late position/blind play to be your most profitable spots in full ring.

So you are better off playing post flop rather than three betting a late position raiser if they are opening with a wide range from position some of the time. However in my experience then what appears to be a solid TAG reg on the surface can often turn into a DUMB-LAG around the blinds under certain circumstances or at least not play as well as what they could do post flop. I think that there is a plateau effect with poker when players try to move up. If we could use the bell curve distribution model to highlight average skill levels and also the average amount of time players have to dedicate to learning then we would find that the skill level isn’t as high as many people think and the available study time isn’t very high either with the majority of players at NL25 through NL100 full ring. Life simply gets in the way and progression up through the levels is then difficult to achieve so players stagnate.

My view is that you should strive to be the very best that you can possibly be with the intention of playing lower than you had previously planned. I think this and only this guarantees long term profits even if you may never be a “poker star”.

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