Interview with Norwegian High Stakes Player Odd_Oddsen

Odd_oddsen in action at Pokerstars
Odd_Oddsen's graph on Pokerstars for 2012

Odd_Oddsen is a Norwegian online poker player who specialises in high stakes Pot Limit Omaha cash games. The player wants to keep anonymity for several reasons. HighstakesDB have had the opportunity of interviewing the player in his first ever interview.

You have become a regular player in high stakes games on PokerStars and Full Tilt over the past six months or so, but most people do not know too much about you. Could you please explain when you were introduced to the game and when you started to play PLO?

I think I was introduced to poker in 2004 although it could have possibly been 2005. I used to rail my brother who played MTTs online and I tried to find leaks (lol). I was only 15 at that time so I couldn’t play online much myself, but he let me take over the control from time to time. As far as me playing poker, I started playing in 2007/2008 (when I turned 18) and I mostly played small stakes MTTs. I had some success in them and grinded some MTT’s for the fun of it until 2009-2010. I had a good run (as usual) and managed to bink some nice scores; I managed to build a $30k roll but then proceeded to bust it in approximately six months or so.

I thought about the situation and evaluated my previous mistakes. I decided to give poker one last serious shot and as a result, I deposited $1,000 and started playing $0.25/$0.50 HUNL. I had great success right from the start and in about a month, I had grinded my roll up to $10k with a 30 buy-in bankroll management rule.

I had also seen and heard that there were other players from Norway who were winning a lot playing high stakes online, but they were playing this ‘weird’ four-card game called PLO. I subsequently decided to start trying to focus on this game instead. I took my $10k bankroll and started playing $0.25/$0.50 PLO; at the same time I ordered some PLO books and Bill Chen’s book "Mathematics of Poker". I think that this is a very good tool for working on your game outside the tables. I soon got really motivated because I knew it was possible to make a lot of money in this game. It was during this time that poker was getting pretty serious for me. I quickly learned that the variance in PLO is way bigger than what it is in NLHE, and therefore I increased my BRM requirements to 100 buy-ins for each stake.

There’s no question of a doubt that the swings in PLO are much more than NLHE and the variance can be crazy. How did you rise through the ranks in the mid-to-high stakes games?

In about six months of playing PLO, I had built a $100k bankroll and was playing $5/$10 on a regular basis. I have had some ups and downs since then but I have always tried to challenge myself versus the best out there; I think that that is the fastest and best way to learn and the competition also incentivises me. I think that most of the bum-hunters are short sighted and the game will pass by them in the long run.

I started taking shots at the $25/$50 games between 2010 and 2012 that went poorly due to not being fully ready (in terms of playing poorly) and also running bad. In hindsight however, I am actually happy now that these shots failed, because I was just not ready for the best regulars out there yet at that time, and this gave me more motivation to getting better and grind more at the lower stakes.

I've played millions of hands at the mid-stakes, which does things with your instincts: for example, you just knew when people are unbalanced (e.g. bad bluffing spots, good triple barreling spots etc.). When I started to play $25/$50, my instincts were not as right/spot on as they were in the mid-stakes. The regulars there had different ranges in different spots and/or more balanced ranges. The good bluffing/triple barrel spots now become bad because they know what you are doing and now that you are unbalanced, they will exploit you! I consequently had three missed shots at $25/$50 but on my fourth ‘shot’ I was ready for it, and as they say “the rest is history”. Retrospectively, running bad during my first shots is actually the best run-good of my life as it gave me a ton of motivation to get better and keep on improving by cutting down on the mistakes.

Its good that it worked out well for you the way it did then. Did you start playing on Euro sites and was it HU or 6-max?

I have mainly played on Pokerstars during my poker career. I have played a bit on some Euro sites as well just to test the waters but I have always had my main volume on Pokerstars because it offers the most and best action by far, and the Pokerstars software is also just amazing for multi-tabling. Furthermore, the rakeback is ~80% when you reach Supernova Elite status which is huge.

I have always played both HU and 6-max. It depends on where the action is. I usually play 6-max because that’s where I get action. If I could get a 12+ table HU match going at a regular basis, I would probably prefer that.

Why have you focused your career on PLO rather than NLHE when the swings are crazier in PLO?

I decided to focus on PLO in 2008-2009 because I saw the potential in this game. I thought that this was going to be the next big thing in poker because many of the NLHE ‘specialists’ had already started to transition to PLO. The game had much more action and gamble in it and people hadn't figured out that much PLO strategy at that time; many different styles were winning.

I also think PLO is a much more fish friendly game than NLHE because of several reasons. A fish can go on mega-heaters in this game whereas in NLHE they usually bust really fast because of the considerably less variance. In NLHE the loose-passive (whatever really) fishes will get punished way more by doing equity mistakes pre-flop (flatting 3-bets with crappy hands OOP and so on) as fishes likes to play hands and see a flop. This makes PLO ideal for them as in PLO these equity mistakes are almost erased, because of how close the hand equities run together. In order to beat fishes you actually also have to play good post flop too; you can’t just wait for hands and 3-bet really strong ranges versus the fish like you can in NLHE if you don’t know how to play post-flop.  This is also making the fish think that they have an edge in this game, which is really good for the games, and this is also somewhat true for the regulars as well.

The fact that fishes go on heaters will make them come back, and it will also make more games run around them for a longer time, which makes PLO a very sustainable game in the long run, unlike NLHE.

It’s also very fascinating that so many styles are winning in PLO; the game isn’t figured out yet, at least 100bb+. The game is also very complex and this analogy maybe stretching it a bit, but I can see many parallels between deep-stacked PLO and chess. PLO is even more complex in my opinion with less set fixed positions and new situations coming up on daily basis. I basically think PLO has a much brighter future than NLHE and that is the main reason why I have been focusing on PLO.

You mentioned the fact that the variance is greater in PLO than NLHE and a player therefore requires more buy-ins for bankroll management. Have you had any major downswings during your career thus far that you wouldn’t mind discussing?

I have had plenty of downswings in my career. I have had two 100+ buy-in downswings and a lot of 50+ buy-in downswings. I think the swings in this game are crazy and I think a lot of people underestimate the swings; you could feel like a hero one day and the next day you could lose 20 buy-ins even if you are playing the best poker of your life. This is why PLO messes with your mind. It is very important to view and analyse your game with as little biasness as possible although this can be hard. Many people do not like to criticise themselves so the ability to view your performance in a neutral perspective is a very important skill in my opinion.

The worst thing about a downswing is not actually losing X amount of money/buy-ins (even though that does hurt a bit) but it can actually be a disaster for your game as you start adjusting your game and come up with new styles, testing new strategies etc. When you are in a downswing or after you have been in one, you could basically be playing a whole different style than what you used to be playing. This is the hardest part to adjust to during a downswing, as you need to focus a lot of attention in trying to keep your game balanced in the same way as before however difficult it may be.

You share some interesting views on how to deal with downswings and being apathetic is certainly helpful in such a situation. It seems like action is increasing in the mixed/draw games so do you intend on learning those games soon or are you going to focus on just PLO for the near future?

I have been trying to learn some mixed games on the side of PLO, especially the draw games, as I am interested in them. I want to get good at them but I’ve over-estimated my skill level especially in Omaha Hi/Lo and really learnt the hard way. I jumped right into those $1,000/$2,000 games on Stars a few months ago and at that time they were running around Isildur1. I lost around $150k in about one hour so I blocked myself from all the highest mixed games for a while.

I am definitely going to give those mixed games another shot when the time is right. I will probably play a bit smaller to start with when the PLO games become dry in order to learn them first.

You are not the first PLO player to jump right into the nosebleed limit games and lose big; Galfond lost $1.7 million “paying his tuition” learning 2-7 triple draw. He has recently launched a new coaching site, are you yourself interested in doing coaching or being signed by a site?

I have had plenty of coaching offers from many sites; all of which I have turned down. I just don’t think that it is profitable for me to make coaching videos at this time, unless I get an exceedingly good offer. I believe that I should focus all my time on playing and working with the game for myself. I may stake and coach some very talented mid-stakes players instead of teaching the whole world to play PLO.

However I might reconsider the situation of joining a coaching site if I get a really good offer in the future, but I want to keep anonymity so that I can have all my options open in the future (here in Norway), hence the offer would have to be extremely good for me to say yes.

Are you friends with any high stakes poker players and if so, how have they helped you improve your game?

I am friends with a couple of high stakes players. I mostly improve on my game myself, but I definitely talk some strategy with some of them. I don’t want to go into much more detail than that.

Do you intend on playing poker after you finish your studies or do you have other plans for your future?

I don’t know how long I am going to continue playing poker but I definitely don't have plans of playing poker for the rest of my life. I am currently finishing up my studies and I will decide what to do in the future once I have my degree. I study part-time at the moment because poker takes up a lot of time and effort. I believe that going to the university to study feels like a break from the game and all the stress around it; I would really recommend other poker players to try studying a bit whilst playing.

The life at the high stakes/nosebleeds is really stressful and personally, I don’t like the fact of having six figure plus swings on a daily basis. I just don’t think that I want to do that for the rest of my life. I would prefer a steady no variance income, but for now, I will at least be around the poker scene for some time before I decide to ‘throw in the towel’. I will stop playing the day I lose motivation of getting better and/or have to force myself to play. Who knows when that day will be? I just know that the day I no longer enjoy playing the game is the day I will quit playing poker.

Its good to hear that you enjoy studying and I believe that other pros have done or are doing what you do by studying part-time whilst playing poker. The most notable name that comes to mind is Sauce. As you moved up the stakes where and how did you face some difficulties?

I progressed from $0.25/$0.50 PLO to $5/$10 PLO pretty smoothly and during the first 12 months I had an EV win rate of 10bb/100 at those stakes, playing a combined 600k hands. I just felt that I owned most of the regulars; however, I struggled a lot at $10/$20 PLO. I think I was stuck taking shots there for more than a year.

I think the main reason behind that was that I was playing way too many tables (16-24), and I did not adjust well enough to the regs there. I was used to playing 16-24 tables at mid-stakes and built very strong instincts; I knew when regs were unbalanced, where they were bluffing too much, where they would fold too much etc. It seemed like second nature to me and it was just instinct after playing so many hands.

When I moved up to $10/$20, those instincts did not work as the regs were more balanced and the spots I was barreling/bluffing at mid-stakes were often bad spots in these games. As a result, I had to really work on my game, plugging leaks again like I was doing when starting out at $0.25/$0.50 PLO. I tried to get more balance in my game and having hands in my range that didn’t make sense etc. I finally started beating the regs at $10/$20 which was the best feeling ever and then I just knew that I had a massive edge.

A similar situation happened to me when moving up to $25/$50 PLO. I am glad that I did run bad and lose the first three times I took shots because if I had won/run good when taking those first shots, I certainly wouldn’t be playing this high today. I can say that for sure.

How did you improve your game going through those stakes - did you watch videos, get coaching, read forums etc.?

I improved mostly by just playing; I have basically learnt poker the hard way. I discovered TwoPlusTwo when I was a regular at $2/$4 PLO, and from there I improved more or less by reading/posting in the forums, and just playing an absurd amount of hands.

Who have been the toughest opponents that you have faced at the high stakes tables both HU and 6-max, and why?

In heads-up: !P0krparty¡, Ben86, urnotindangr2 and Gus Hansen. Gus is my biggest nemesis dollar wise out of all players I’ve played HU and he also gives me a headache at the 6-max tables. He does some very clever plays that tend to confuse me a lot. He is also really good to put the pressure in spots where I have weak ranges and he also knows when to slowdown. He is a really tough player who gives a lot of action.

In 6-max deep stacked: Sauce123, Ben86, Ilari FIN and Isildur1 come first to mind out of the players I’ve played a noteworthy volume against. (Galfond would probably be on this list as well but I haven’t played against him a ton). I won’t go into much detail about how each of them play, but I can tell you that I am not comfortable at all playing deep stacked PLO with these beasts. I also think each of these players represent a unique individual style/gameplay, which makes this game so fun as many styles can win.

In 6-max 30bb/cap: Jeans89, bernard-bb and The Liar. I think all three of these approach 30bb PLO really good. I don’t want to go into more detail than that.

Which game do you prefer the most: deep ante games, cap or shallow stacks?

I prefer playing 100bb+ games for sure. I think shallow stacks are almost unplayable because of the rake and tiny edges. I will however play whatever runs. I don't think shallow/30bb PLO is very fun because it is basically two street poker. The equities run really close together and hence peoples’ edges are getting smaller and smaller. I think 30bb poker will be like a casino game in about a year’s time as no one but the house wins.

I think PLO should be played with at least 100bb+ as the game is so much more fun and complex playing deeper stacked. I think that it is also more fun for people to rail deep-stacked PLO. I don’t think that the shallow (30bb) games that currently run nowadays are good for the PLO community in the long run as well. 30bb PLO has almost turned into a casino game for Stars due to the high rake. It’s really important that the players step up and share their thoughts.

I would like everyone to post their thoughts on the ongoing problems regarding 30bb poker right now at Stars in the 30bb thread, and the high rake in PLO cash games in the Pokerstars thread.

What do you think of the different styles of play in a game like PLO in terms of players like Ilari FIN who say they play on instinct and feel, and others who play purely based on the maths and game theory? Can you also share your thoughts especially in regards to GTO (Game Theory Optimal) strategy.

First of all, I think that Ilari is a lot ‘smarter’ than what people perceive him to be through the media. I believe that he does a great deal of work on his game outside the tables as well, at least more than what people think.

I actually think there are three major different styles in PLO in terms of strategies if you have to define them: ‘a fixed strategy’, ‘an exploitive strategy' and ‘GTO strategy: Game Theory Optimal strategy’.

‘A fixed strategy’ basically means that you are playing the game and the cards you are dealt in your own way regardless of how your opponents play. An example from NLHE: “I always flat AQ from the SB if early position opens regardless of his tendencies and regardless of what I do with the rest of my range.” This is a typically defined as a fixed strategy.

‘An exploitive strategy’ means that you are dictating your strategy based on your opponents’ patterns and tendencies. Same example as above: “If your opponent is opening 100% of hands from EP and never folding to 3-bets, then we should obviously 3-bet AQ for value pre-flop.” Now we are using an exploitive strategy and not a fixed, since we are doing different things in the same situation, based on our opponent’s tendencies.

A ‘Game Theory Optimal Strategy (GTO)’: I actually don’t like this definition since it could be misleading; using an exploiting strategy can be just as game theory optimal as a GTO (Ne) strategy. What I think people mean when referring to a GTO strategy is referring to a strategy that constitutes to Nash equilibrium, which basically means that your opponents can’t benefit from changing their strategies since you are (in theory) perfectly balanced with your ranges. The best your opponents can do (in theory) is to break-even. For example: let’s say you are betting the size of the pot on the river; having a GTO strategy here (being 100% balanced) means that you should be bluffing 33.3% of the time and value-betting 66.6%, so regardless of your opponents decision he is not making any money by calling or folding. Your opponent is break-even on his decision regardless of his action, at least in theory.

Finding and measuring these ranges/frequencies in PLO is extremely difficult because of the complexity of the game; there are 270,725 different starting hands, combine them with 1,712,304 boards combinations, and tell me how to be perfectly balanced for all given choices during a hand including bet sizing, before the time bank runs out on all your tables etc. There are however techniques for making good estimations, but I think many regulars just end up being unbalanced anyways (including myself). I also think some spots come up so infrequently in PLO that being super-balanced should not be very concerning.

I think a GTO strategy is very important versus really tough opponents to kind of ensure yourself that you are at least not losing a ton to a given regular. I also know that this GTO concept is really important
in limit games, but I however think it is much more easier to execute this strategy ‘perfectly’ in the limit games. It is one of the reasons that I believe the limit games are not running regularly nowadays, because it is easier to “measure” ranges and frequencies, because of “limited” choices and significantly fewer combinations, and thus more people have got to a stage of optimal play.

I think most of today’s poker players use a combination between all of these strategies and not one purely. I don’t want to go into detail about how and what my opponents are doing for obvious reasons.

Personally I would say that I play a mixed set of all these three strategies. I do not want to go too much in detail about my game for obvious reasons, but I have my “foundation” (fixed strategy) of things I do with my ranges, and from there I adjust my frequencies based on my opponents’ tendencies with a mixture of ‘exploitive strategy’ and ‘GTO’ depending on my opponents.

It is interesting to hear your thoughts on the different strategies and on Ilari. Sauce has also said that “he plays it up a ton” as regards to acting like a total gambler and making mistakes at the table. You mentioned that poker players are frowned upon in Norway. How did your family react when you told them the stakes that you play?

I can say +1 to Sauce’s comment for Ilari “playing it up”. Frankly, I haven’t told my mum what stakes I play, and she doesn’t really know the amounts of money involved. I do however think she has an idea.

My father is very supportive. He calls me several times during the week and asks how the games have been, how I have been doing, how the other regs have been doing etc. He even used to ask specifically about how that “man with the hat” [patpatman] is doing lol. He also installed Pokerstars onto his laptop so he can sit and rail me from time to time. I remember one day I got a text saying: "Be careful now, that Ilari guy likes to play big pots". That really made me laugh.

Haha, that made me laugh as well. I guess even he knows that Ilari isn’t afraid to gamble as well. How did you manage to play poker for many hours and across multiple tables when you first started playing?

I played a lot of computer games when I was younger, so multitasking skills came very natural to me. I basically had a serious nerve injury back in 2008/2009 and I couldn’t feel my legs for 30 days. I was just sat down all day and I decided to hence play a ton of PLO during that time. I used to have a part-time job whilst studying, but during these 30 days I figured out that I could make considerably much more money in less time by playing this weird four card game sat at home instead of going to my old job. Whilst I was getting better from the injury, I just ended up playing poker, and now that is my part-time job.

It’s good to hear that you have fully recovered from your injury and playing poker must certainly be a better part-time job than your previous one monetary wise. I hope all goes well for you in the future and it was great speaking to you.

Thank you very much.

Read more of our interviews with high stakes poker regulars in HighstakesDB's player interviews.


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