The following lecture was the 35th Tuesday Session, held June 8, 1999, and later appeared in Card Player magazine.
Classroom Lectures: In Poker, You Can Stay The Same and Suffer,
Or Adjust And Prosper
You need convictions. You need to stand up tall and be a man – even if you’re a woman. When you’re right, you’re right. Stick to your guns. Stuff like that. Fine.
There’s a lot of truth to that in poker. If you have a powerful game plan and you stubbornly stay with it despite bad luck and frustration, what’s likely to happen? You’re likely to win, that’s what. And if you stray, yielding to your emotions, and try to get lucky, just like the folks who are flogging you – what’s likely to happen then? Ah, that’s simple – you’re likely to lose.
So, I agree that there can be advantages to not adjusting. But, wait!
That’s only true when we talk about adjustments that are illogical. Even if we have a powerful, proven method of winning at poker, we can improve upon it and produce more profit by adjusting correctly to conditions. You see, there’s the secret.
If your poker adjustments would not be logical, you’re usually better off not adjusting. But if your poker adjustments would be logical, you’d be foolish not to adjust. Making the right adjustments can build your bankroll enormously. And if enormous sounds like a good word to you, you’ll like today’s lesson.
The following is based on Tuesday Session #35 which took place June 8, 1999. The topic was…
“Making Poker’s Most Profitable Adjustments”
- You don’t need to adjust. If you’re playing perfectly and your opponents aren’t, you profit from the “value” of their mistakes. This means that if both you and your opponents begin by playing perfectly and they stray – by playing too loosely or too tightly – you have the advantage. You don’t need to adjust to fare better than you would have. That’s a very important theoretical concept, and I’ll repeat it. You don’t need to adjust at all to profit from opponents’ mistakes. Now, sometimes the interaction among three or more players complicates this concept. Mistakes by opponents, while costly to them, may not always benefit you specifically. But when opponents stray from their best strategies, the money they lose goes somewhere – and normally, you’ll earn your share, even if you don’t adjust. But even though you don’t need to adjust, you usually will make much more profit if you do. That’s what we’re talking about right now.
- If you don’t adjust correctly, you’ll lose money. Because you almost certainly will profit from mistakes that your opponents make, you usually are better off stubbornly refusing to adjust your strategy than adjusting incorrectly. “Adjust” implies that you are varying from your normal best strategy. You need a solid reason to justify the cost. Remember, when you adjust, you’re sacrificing something. We talk a lot about shifting gears and modifying the intensity of your attack. But the main reason you do it is because your opponents are human and will be influenced by it. If they simply will ignore you and play perfectly, randomizing some decisions in accordance with game theory, there’s no reason for you to adjust. If under those circumstances you do adjust, you’re making a mistake and your opponents will profit. Fortunately, your opponents are influenced by what you say and do. So, you can adjust to manipulate them. Also, because they’re human, they don’t know how to play perfectly. So, you can adjust to take extra advantage of that.
- “Shifting gears.” Changing back and forth between high and low gears can make it very difficult for opponents to correctly respond. Yet, if your opponents stick to their game plans, they may actually gain by your random shifting. This is why it is important to shift gears at the right times for the right reasons. But let’s get specific …
- When an opponent folds too often on the river, how should you adjust? Theoretically, you should not just bluff more often with your hopeless hands, you should bluff always. Of course, if you do that, there is a chance that your opponent will see the error that he’s making and will start calling more often. For that reason – in the real world – you should bluff as much as possible without causing your opponent to correct his mistake. Similarly, if an opponent calls too often on the river, you theoretically should never bluff.
- Adjusting to early raises. If a tight player raises in early position, adjust by folding the worst of the strong hands with which you would have raised in his position. In other words, if it’s a hold’em game, and the worst hand with which you would have raised in his position is KC QD, you should fold rather than call. If a loose player raises in early position, adjust by often reraising with the worst of the strong hands with which you would have raised in his position. In other words, if nobody else has called, you might reraise with that same K-Q offsuit. There’s profit in that, even if it doesn’t seem like it.
- What if an opponent has been losing and complaining? Adjust by betting almost all marginally strong hands for value. This opponent is: (1) unlikely to bluff, because he’d rather just let his misery continue in a quest for sympathy (so checking and calling has little value); (2) likely to call (because he doesn’t care); and (3) unlikely to raise when he has small advantages (because he believes that he’s defeated and doesn’t expect to win).
- Value betting. Do it when you’re winning and in command, and seldom do it when you’re losing and not in command. Value bets (pushing marginal hands for extra profit) work best against opponents who are intimidated and are not pressing for value in return. When you’re a target (often because you’re losing and opponents are inspired), value bets don’t work. In fact, when you’re losing, you often should return to your tightest strategy and wait for the cards to bring you out again.
- Major tip – and one of the hardest adjustments. Never do anything fancy against deceptive, lively players to your left. These players hold a positional advantage over you to begin with, and they increase it through deception and aggressiveness. You can’t get into a long-term creative war with them, because they get to act last most of the time. You occasionally might reraise as a warning, hoping that they’ll become more timid in the future. But that’s not the main adjustment that you must make. The main adjustment against deceptive, lively players to your left is simple – just check and call more than usual. If you’re a regular player handling this any other way, you’re probably costing yourself thousands of dollars every year, even in middle-limit games. – MC