Carl Sampson poker school #1: Evolve or die

Are you a decent player who’s struggling to make money from the game? Join our new poker coach in the first of a new series as he aims to take your game outside of the box and into the money zone…

Do you struggle to make money from playing poker? Have you found it tough to figure it all out? Do you get lost in the myriad of poker videos, articles and books? Is it always the same whenever you play live or online in terms of results? Is it always one step forward, one step back?

If you answered yes to these questions, read on. In the overwhelming majority of cases, players are simply victims of their own inability to adjust and evolve to the ever-changing game.

Over-engineered solutions

Let me relate to you a fable – that may or may not be strictly based in fact – from the space race that highlights how, as a species, we have a horrible tendency to over-engineer solutions to problems. NASA had a problem in space and they turned to a guy called Paul Fisher to solve it.

They realised that astronauts couldn’t write in zero gravity as ink wouldn’t flow. They spent millions of dollars solving the problem and employing top experts. Sure enough they eventually arrived at a solution. The Paul Fisher zero gravity space pen was born.

However the Russian space program was facing the same problem and it arrived at a solution far faster and far less expensive solution… their cosmonauts used pencils.

While it might not be strictly true I love this story because it doesn’t just highlight one problem but our own unique way of over-engineering solutions to problems.

As a poker coach it is my job to not just pass on poker knowledge – any good player can do that. The aim is to turn good poker players into winning poker players, and this takes more than just theory. It’s a much weightier problem than simply passing on knowledge.

Blame game

When I first started to work on my poker game my goal was to get an edge in the games that I played in. This is the goal of any player that is serious about making money. Whether it is $0.25/$0.50 or $300/$600, you want an edge before you play. For years the best way to gain that edge was to be more educated than your opponents… in terms of poker theory.

A winning player simply grabbed and studied all the theory they could. Their edge came from knowing more theory than their opponents.

However the very thing that led to the rapid expansion of poker (the internet) also led to the rapid explosion of theory. In short everyone became adept and knowledgeable at the game. Some of the previous winners started saying the games had got too tough, that the good days had gone and that all the fish had disappeared with the loss of the US market. Their poker problems weren’t actually anything to do with any of these reasons though, because they weren’t reasons at all but excuses. Lots of players that were citing these so called ‘reasons’ weren’t even winning players.

What’s your objective?

Just because you can’t make a million dollars per year playing online anymore doesn’t mean the best days have gone – they’ve just gone for the biggest of big hitters. Sure, SNGs have almost been solved and no-limit hold’em is full of players that have way more knowledge than they did ten years ago. Players seem too hung up these days on learning theory, but theory is theory.

Basically what I am saying is that when theory is too replicated then making money by using it becomes very difficult and in some cases impossible. The key is to learn the theory and then reverse engineer it or look for alternatives that are workable.

This has always been the goal with my stable of poker players – to teach players that already have a good poker understanding how to monetise their knowledge. Players that join me become part of a think-tank of ‘outside the box’ poker thinking. Given how much liquidity is still sloshing around online poker and poker in general, making £100-£200 per day shouldn’t be that difficult and trust me, it isn’t.

Warren Buffet nailed it. For those of you that don’t know who Warren Buffet is, let me explain. He is one of the most successful investors over the past fifty years and president of Berkshire Hathaway. He once cited the now famous quote, ‘First come the innovators… Then the imitators and finally the idiots.’

The innovators are always the people that start the bandwagon and the savvy people that jump on first. Just like smart stock speculators that get on at the very beginning of a move. Then we get the imitators. These people learn and see what is happening and then replicate it. They make a little money because they essentially go up against ‘the idiots’. These are the people who want to make money but just don’t understand how. You may not always be able to innovate, but your aim is not to be an idiot.

Evolve or die

I did very well from online poker back in the days when the player pools were very soft. My main weapon was good solid theory. I simply got in early when too many others were playing by the seat of their pants. Then the ‘imitators’ came and theory was less effective but that caused a very interesting problem and raised a big question. If previous theory was less effective then what chance did we have of making a living wage as a full time player?

Players became obsessed with sounding great on forums and in discussions, but couldn’t make the game pay. I call these people the ‘educated break evens.’ They are actually decent poker players but they aren’t good at making money from the game. That’s the problem people never seem to comprehend because they truly believe ‘knowledge is power’.

The flip side of that adage is another famous quote: a little knowledge can be a very dangerous thing. If simply knowing something made money then we would all be rich, but life doesn’t work like that. In order to get ahead of the masses we can’t just replicate them.

The masses in any field of operation are not successful. As poker players then we need to learn what the masses are doing and then engineer simplified solutions to combat their style. Don’t become a victim of your own intelligence but remember one vital thing. People still get rich even in a recession and traders still make a lot of money in big slumps. How? They simply move the other way against the prevailing masses and opinions, so why don’t you?

Get more of Carl ‘The Dean’ Sampson at If you want to join his think-tank poker stable, e-mail him at

Pin It

Comments are closed.