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Discovering Leaks

by Nathan Gamble |  Published: Jan 27, 2021

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As I grew more intrigued by poker, I naturally progressed to pulling up a chair behind my dad while he played online. What kid could resist watching the heyday of online poker, where there was a never-ending supply of fish-filled tables and even bad beat jackpots that rolled up higher and higher.

He primarily played limit hold’em, which only further piqued my curiosity in the world outside of everyone’s favorite, no-limit hold’em. Under the shadow of darkness, I transitioned from watching to playing. Night after night, I opened up the tables and played free-money poker for hours on end. Obviously, there was no money to be won, only chips, but it satisfied my urge to delve into the poker world and pretend that I was playing in something as prestigious as the World Series of Poker.

These late-night sessions were accompanied by five songs that I played on repeat to keep me hyped up, songs which I still hear in my head to this day whenever I play online. It was a simple loop. I was too young to have any sort of musical pedigree, so my playlist consisted of songs such as Eye of the Tiger and Stairway to Heaven.

The songs were playing during my first real ‘win,’ when I made my first royal flush in stud-eight-or-better on Ultimate Bet. With the high hand of the hour, the site put a $5 bonus in my account. I was ecstatic! A real-money bankroll! I would finally be able to live out my dreams of being a professional player, winning enough money to climb the ranks and eventually battle against my heroes.

The dream lasted all of 20 minutes before I had given the $5 away and was once again relegated to the free-money tables.

About two weeks after my $5 jackpot there was a major tournament on UB. It was an $11.25 tournament which had an absurdly ridiculous guarantee. It was high enough to sweet talk my dad into transferring money into my account. He went for it and I was ready to play, geared up and stoked to be a professional on the hunt.

Once again, my 13-year-old dream was dashed as they had an error with the tournament and ended up refunding all the buy-ins. I was devasted as I told my dad the news, assuming I would have to give back the stake. He told me to keep it and to see if I could run it up.

I drained all the money from my new $11 bankroll except for a paltry $1.37. Most people wouldn’t even bother playing at that stage of the game. They’d either rebuy or leave the funds behind and not even bother, but I was determined to make poker work, to make those last few coins stretch as far as I could.

I started looking around the site to see what my options were. Maybe micro tournaments, or maybe games with small buy-ins? I discovered a game known as royal hold’em, which was still in its trial phase. It was the ultimate version of short deck poker, with all the cards removed except for tens through aces.

I watched for a while and realized that most people had a massive leak in their game. If the board was unpaired on the flop, people would have no problem getting it all-in with a straight. Now, if you think through things logically, you realize that by the river it will either be a straight and everyone will chop, a flush will become possible, or the board will have paired. Too many people were willing to get it in with a straight, so if you put the chips in with a set, you were freerolling.

Within the first few months I had run that $1.37 up to over $1,600. It hadn’t been a fluke, people really were playing the game with a flawed strategy. At the age of 13, I thought I was going to be a millionaire just off that one game, just because no one else understood what I did.

I was riding high with the confidence of a pre-pubescent boy who had solved the world. Then they took the game down. It was done. Finished. Over. Not enough players had wanted to play for the game to continue operating. Overnight, I had gone from feeling like the king of the world to feeling like the rug had been yanked out from under my feet.

My quest for exploiting people’s strategy wasn’t limited to online. While I collected myself and tried to figure out what games to play next, I was introduced to a WSOP computer game. It was one of the initial video games of the ‘90s and you started off as a character who had just flown to Las Vegas with the hopes of winning the main event. You started off with $1,000 in your pocket and had 24 hours in game time to win your entry fee.

I didn’t have the patience to try to build up a bankroll as I just wanted to make my way into the WSOP and play the tournament. Eventually, as I explored every nook and cranny of the game in hopes of finding a shortcut, I discovered an Easter egg in the game. If you continued to bump your character against the wall of the virtual casino buffet, more chips would magically appear. I could just ‘hack’ my way into a tournament entry.

This discovery allowed me to bypass the boring part of the game and jump straight into the main event to test my poker wits against the computer’s best. Once I made it to this stage of the game, I started discovering leaks within the AI itself. It would repetitively make min-raises, and you could get into a click back war with the computer. Once the pot had been built up to just over three-fourths of the stack, then I would shove all in and the computer would fold. There was a fault with the programing, and a min-raise meant that it would fold out with a large enough raise. It was almost like discovering the concept of unprotected ranges for the first time.

These tricks that I discovered in the computer gaming side of poker followed me back to the online poker world and I returned online with renewed vigor and confidence. I spent many months learning the tricks, watching moves, and discovering the weaknesses in my opponent’s strategies. Although I am relatively young in the grand scheme of things, I believe this unusual poker upbringing is the reason why I subscribe to the old-school mentality of exploitative play over Game Theory Optimal decision making. ♠

Nathan Gamble is a native of Texas where he learned to play the game of hold’em from his father. He is a two-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner, the first coming in the 2017 WSOP $1,500 PLO8/b Event, the second in the 2020 Online WSOP $600 PLO8/b event. A fixture of the mid-stakes mixed game community since moving to Las Vegas in 2019, he can often be found playing $80-$160 games at the Wynn. He is active on Twitter under the username Surfbum4life and streams mixed game content weekly on twitch under the same moniker.