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Ola ‘Odd Oddsen’ Amundsgaard Proving Poker Is A Skill Game In Norway

High-Stakes Cash Game Pro Banks More Than $3 Million in 2013

by Brian Pempus |  Published: Mar 05, 2014

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Ola “Odd Oddsen” Amundsgaard is one of the more recent online cash game players to make a successful transition from the mid-stakes to the nosebleeds. The action has proved to be wonderful for the Norwegian poker pro, as he won more than $3 million in 2013.

That figure put him in the top five for most profitable online pokers players on the year.

He developed the skills necessary to make quick decisions thanks to a background in computer games, and truly became a grinder. He has played millions of hands over his career.

It’s not all about the competition, or the money, for Amundsgaard. Just this fall he decided to join in on the fight to make online poker fully legal in Norway. He ended up challenging a politician to a heads-up match to settle the skill-or-luck dispute once and for all.

Amundsgaard does dabble in some high-stakes poker tournaments around the globe, which almost included a final table at the 2013 WSOP, but his bread and butter is definitely the high-stakes cash games on PokerStars. Here, Card Player shares his story.

Finding the Game

Amundsgaard was introduced to poker in 2005, when he was just a teenager. During that time he was playing computer games, such as Counter-Strike and Starcraft. Those two are well-known for helping one acquire the focus and mental stamina to grind many poker tables at once. Eventually Amundsgaard saw his brother was playing multitable tournaments online.

“He asked me why I was playing these ‘stupid’ computer games all the time without making money,” Amundsgaard said. “So he kind of introduced me to poker at that time. I soon found out that people were making a lot of silly mistakes, and hence found out that there were good opportunities for making money.”

Amundsgaard was attracted to the competitive nature of online poker right away, in addition to the freedom it allowed, as long as one was making money.

When he finally turned 18, Amundsgaard first started playing on his own account. By that time, he had learned how to “spin up a bankroll,” but had trouble avoiding going bust.
“I am grateful that I could learn cheap, in that my brother had been there before and was trying to teach me some soft skills,” Amundsgaard said.

He eventually switched from cash games to multitable tournaments. He was fortunate enough to have some nice scores from around 2006-08. He had acquired a five-figure bankroll at this point, but he went on to bust it yet again.

Despite the swings, Amundsgaard knew he could play, and he switched back to cash games, this time pot-limit Omaha (PLO) instead of no-limit hold’em.

“I knew about some Norwegian guys who were making a ton of money playing PLO,” Amundsgaard said. “I got in touch with one of them through playing soccer. He recommended that I start playing PLO, since people at that time weren’t very good yet. And he also pointed out that PLO also has a much brighter future than no-limit hold’em, at least in cash games.”

Getting Serious About Grinding

Amundsgaard hit the ground running and loved pot-limit right away. He enjoyed that the preflop equities run close, so that the fish in the games feel like they have a better chance.

“Fishes don’t get punished so hard by calling three and four-bets out of position as they do in no-limit,” Amundsgaard said. “I do also enjoy it because the game has more gamble and more action. You can also get away playing a ton of hands if you have a good postflop game.”

At this point, Amundsgaard was playing games with a $50 buy-in, and he had a bankroll of $5,000. He grinded and grinded, eventually reaching $25-$50 stakes. This whole process took three full years and a lot of perseverance. There were of course some setbacks, like when he stubbornly lost $45,000 at $3-$6 in a single session, but he managed to keep advancing.

Amundsgaard attributes his progress to being able to effectively play 16-to-24 tables at once. Three years might sound like a long time, but to go from $0.25-$0.50 to $25-$50, with the correct bankroll to play at each level, is a huge undertaking.

“It has been a hell of a grind,” Amundsgaard said. “I think for sure that my ability to mass multitable is a product of me playing a ton of Starcraft in my childhood. In Starcraft the faster you are able to do things, defined as actions per minute, the more and better you are able to execute your strategy. I also think computer games have helped me in building strong ‘brain’ instincts in what to do to really fast. When you play 20 tables of six-max or 12 tables of heads-up, you are forced to be making fast decisions or else you time out and lose money.”

Moving to the Nosebleeds

Amundsgaard said he was pretty lucky when moving up from $25-$50, because during that time there was a lot of juicy six-max action at the $50-$100 level.

He admitted that the timing played a big role in his breakthrough.

“These days there are very few games running, so if you want to be able to move up to the highest games you are almost forced to play the best players out there,” Amundsgaard said. “Otherwise you will not be able to put in enough volume. I was lucky there were great games almost daily. I was obviously also running really good taking shots; there’s no doubt about that.”

According to him, it also helped that he was a relative unknown at this point, and a lot of the regulars at the higher stakes were willing to give him the action needed to build a high-stakes bankroll, or if he ran poorly, move back down. Despite a desire to play with the best, Amundsgaard was pretty conservative with his bankroll during the climb to the nosebleeds.

“My bankroll was built with blood, sweat and tears, so I was kind of treating it like my own child,” Amundsgaard said. Thus, at times, he did sell some action.

“I feel I have been taking calculated risks at all times,” he added. “I am not the kind of person who is playing my best if I have too much of my roll on the table.”

The patience paid off, and when he finally ascended to the highest level offered online, he was beyond elated. He said it was the greatest feeling of his life.

“I remember the first time I jumped into the $200-$400 ante games at PokerStars. I felt really nervous, in a good way, but at the same time very ready and comfortable since I knew that I had a big edge in those games. I knew if I just played my game and kept doing the things I had been doing for millions of hands at lower stakes I would be plus EV (expected value) in those games too. It was a really proud moment. I had finally reached my goals of reaching the nosebleeds. I think I ended the first session there up $270,000, and I couldn’t sleep for the whole night. I was so full of energy.”

Reaching poker’s highest point gave him a surreal feeling, and it impressed one of his parents, but left the other one with a bad taste.

“My father is really supportive about my poker playing,” Amundsgaard said. “He calls me several times during the week…to check up on how I’m doing, even though I don’t like it. My mother however is very conservative, and doesn’t like that I play poker for a living. She thinks it is pure gambling and not honest work. I also think she had some bad experiences with it from where she is from. My grandpa ran a copper mine in the early 1900s, and I’ve heard rumors about them drinking and playing a lot of poker on the weekends.”

What Makes Him So Good

Amundsgaard thinks poker is just simply a tough game for the human mind to grasp, and he thinks that is especially true for pot-limit Omaha.

“You can be playing the best poker of your life, never making mistakes, putting in tons of volume, but still be in the red after months. This messes with you. It is so easy to be result oriented, especially in PLO. So working with your game objectively is crucial. People do not like to be self-critical, so being neutral about how you approach the game is an important skill.”

Reviewing sessions has always been an important aspect to his poker growth. Sometimes, you also want to learn from others. “I learned a ton by playing players better than me, and I think this is a big reason why I’m playing the nosebleeds today,” he said. “I think bum hunters are kind of shortsighted and will not be able to improve as much and as fast as they could.”

Amundsgaard wants to add a caveat to that piece of advice.

“I’m not saying you should compete against people who are better than you all the time, but just from time to time to get a grasp of how it is to be playing against superior strategies. From that you can pick up a ton to use at whatever stakes you play.”

Like all players, Amundsgaard still battles with some weaknesses in his game. He said he struggles with “zombie mode,” which sees him going into autopilot sometimes. It’s always important to be sharp and not zone out.

Another thing he works on still is his ego. “It’s important to be self-controlled these days since win rates are smaller, edges are thinner. Not playing your A-game might be catastrophic.”

According to Amundsgaard, the top nosebleed players in the world only win 2-to-3 big blinds per 100 hands played. With that said, Amundsgaard said he was able to move up in stakes because he has always been very conscious of tilt and when to avoid it, especially in the game he has chosen to make his specialty.

“The variance in PLO is insane,” he said. “I don’t think it’s possible for the human mind to grasp how sickening this game can be. I’ve heard about people going on downswings of 300 buy-ins where the all-in [EV] says green.”

Amundsgaard is humble enough to admit that he has also been simply fortunate enough to avoid extended downswings since he reached the nosebleeds. He knows they will come.

Largest Pot Of His Career

Amundsgaard’s largest career hand was a 2012 monster at $200-$400 on PokerStars.
He held the ASpade Suit AClub Suit KClub Suit 8Heart Suit with $183,433 in his stack and was in the cutoff. Axelf82, with $50,000 in his stack, opened to $1,200 from under the gun. Amundsgaard decided to just call to maybe induce a squeeze play. An opponent on the button called, and Hac Dang ($108,000) potted it to $6,400 from the small blind. The initial raiser folded, and Amundsgaard repotted to $22,000.

Action was folded back to Dang, and he called.

The flop fell JHeart Suit 7Diamond Suit 5Spade Suit, and Dang bet $46,800, which was pot. Amundsgaard shoved, putting Dang all-in for around $40,000 more. Dang tabled the KDiamond Suit JClub Suit 10Heart Suit 9Club Suit for top pair with a gutshot-straight draw. Amundsgaard’s dry aces were a 55 percent favorite.

The turn brought the 3Club Suit and the river the 4Club Suit. Amundsgaard raked in more than $220,000.

“This hand kind of illustrates the variance involved in PLO because I would have played [Dang’s] hand the same way,” Amundsgaard said.

“This was my first $150,000-plus pot, and I can tell you that my heart rate did go up a ton, and the flop and turn fell in very slow motion,” Amundsgaard. “I can still remember how slow motion it felt. But I have kind of gotten used to it. You get calmer after every pot you play, but I still feel my pulse rising when playing $100,000 pots. And I think it’s a really good thing to kind of ensure you that you are somewhat emotionally attached to money, at least to some extent. Being over tense is not a good thing, but balance is the key here.”

Changing How Poker Is Viewed In Norway

Amundsgaard is unhappy with how poker is viewed and taxed in his home country, so he tried to change things on his own. He made a public challenge to any Norwegian politician. He offered 10,000 hands of heads-up pot-limit Omaha with $170,000 of his own money on the line. Amundsgaard was trying to make the case that poker is a game of skill and that the match would prove it. He was willing to dangle a six-figure freeroll for any challenger.

A lawmaker accepted, and the two spent some time ironing out the official plans to duke it out on the virtual felt. They decided on a Dec. 7 date.

“I feel like I have the whole future of poker legalization on my shoulders right now,” he said before the match began. “If I lose this game I will not only lose the money but also maybe all poker players in Norway will lose the hope for full legalization. So losing this match will be devastating for both me and the whole poker community in Norway.”

According to Amundsgaard, his opponent, Erlend Wiborg, had some poker experience, but that wasn’t apparent during their one and only session, which was held at the Oslo Conference Centre. Originally scheduled to play out over several months, Wiborg threw in the towel after losing around 26 buy-ins over the course of around 1,000 hands. It was slaughter. The two were playing stakes of $0.50-$1 pot-limit Omaha.

Although they battled, Wiborg agrees that poker is a game of skill. He was going to be helping Amundsgaard push the issue going forward regardless of the outcome of their contest

“I hope at least it will lead to a discussion, and put poker on the agenda,” Amundsgaard said.

He also is holding out hope that he can get assistance from one of the country’s deepest thinkers. “I really hope that someday poker can be viewed like other mind games such as chess. I actually don’t see much difference between chess and poker, other than the variance. I’ve heard rumors that Magnus Carlsen [world chess champion] plays poker online, or at least played. I really hope he can come out of the shadows and promote poker in a positive way.”

It’s worth noting that nothing like this has ever happened in the U.S., though maybe it would help the cause. Congressman Joe Barton, who has pushed a federal online poker bill in the past, is an avid poker player and one should never forget that Congressman John McCain recently was caught playing poker on his phone during a congressional hearing. The poker players are there on Capitol Hill, so maybe a poker player should challenge them.

A Possible Future With Less Poker

Like most players who have years of grinding under their belt, Amundsgaard thinks he may want to cut back from the web poker lifestyle one day. It can be stressful and isolating.

“Having daily six-figure swings is very stressful, and I would prefer a steady no-variance income, at least when I get a family,” he said. “But I would at least be around for some time more before I decide to quit. The day I lose motivation for playing and getting better is the day I will quit and find some other challenges in life. I might fall back on my degree, who knows.”

Amundsgaard is currently in school part time for computer science. He likes having school, and a social life, to take away some of the monotony of grinding online.

“I think it’s really good and refreshing for me to have my head into other environments both socially and for challenging my brain in other ways. It also prevents me from getting burnt out.”

He also might cut back on his play for a whole different reason. Amundsgaard thinks limit hold’em has been “basically solved” by computers and that could happen to other games in the future. Thus, the high-stakes action in pot-limit Omaha (PLO) could be dry one day.

“I do think that PLO will be solved in 5-10 years or so, by computers,” he said. “But since PLO is so advanced and complex, I think it will be the last poker game to get fully solved.” ♠