Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2008) in Poker Player newspaper.
It’s 62 degrees here on Table Rock Lake in the Ozarks. Winter birds are chirping about poker in a vocabulary I still don’t understand after five years of research. As soon as I crack their code, I’ll pass along their avian advice, especially on no-limit hold ’em.
The sun is shining. Animals are prowling. The lake’s waters are warming. And the trees beckon. So, as soon as I finish this entry, I’m off to the forest with saws and trimmers to add more golf cart paths to my hermitage.
So, let’s resume our question-and-answer interview series. I get to ask; I get to answer. And, strangely, this seems fair to me. This time, the questions are about having an advantage at poker. The term “advantage” is more complex than you might think. Let’s examine it.
Question 24: Do you need to have the best hand in poker to have an advantage?
And when you plan your betting strategy based on whether you have the best hand, you’re playing poker at too primitive a level to earn maximum profit. Holding the best hand is an advantage, and it’s often the most obvious one. But you can clearly have an advantage without holding the best hand.
That’s why top professionals frequently bet when they’re not sure that their hands are better than what their opponents hold. Sometimes they bet even when they know their hand isn’t the best one competing. And when they do that correctly, they earn profit by realizing that they have an advantage, even though their cards might suggest otherwise.
Question 25: Can you give us an example of when you might have an advantage, even though your hand isn’t best?
Well, one recurring example is when your hand has a great chance of improving, but doesn’t have sufficient strength right now to win in a showdown. Suppose you hold A♥ K♥ and see these cards flop: Q♦ 10♥ 2♥. There’s a bet and a call by the time it gets to you. Even though you don’t have even a pair yet, your chances of connecting on the next two cards and making a flush, straight, or commanding pair combine to give you an advantage.
When you’re last to act in such circumstances, you should often raise. The advantage isn’t coming from holding the best hand right now. The advantage is, instead, tied to speculation that you will have the best hand soon.
Question 26: Are there other examples of times when you have an advantage, even though your cards don’t show it?
You need to take your position into account. The later you act, after others are forced to announce their decisions first, the greater your advantage.
Most players understand that, but they don’t think of it in the right terms. Here’s what you need to keep in mind: The later your position, the stronger your hands are!
Even though they’re the same cards that you might hold six seats earlier, they mean more, in terms of profit, when held in later seats. The same cards might be at a disadvantage in one seat and at an advantage in a later one.
Question 27: Anything else that gives you an advantage?
This isn’t a comprehensive list of factors. There are many things you need to consider that are beyond the scope of this conversation. But one of my favorite advantages comes from discerning that an opponent thinks he’s weak.
Nothing makes my pulse patter more than corralling a big pot without quality cards from an opponent who was trying to steal it. This centers on the art of tells, which I’ve made a priority in my research
Suppose on the river you have garbage and your opponent bets. A fold is the wise and normal choice.
Won’t let a pot go
But I usually won’t just let a pot go without a little investigation. Often I feign a quick motion toward my chips. Typically, this motion is ambiguous, so opponents don’t think I’m overacting are making an obvious ploy. My gestures will be subtle. But they’re often enough to trigger responses from bluffers who are, after all, under considerable stress.
If I see that opponent freeze or become less animated, that’s one indication that he doesn’t want a call. He’s a deer in the headlights, afraid to move and make me suspicious enough to call. He wants to seem invisible, hoping that I won’t attack.
So, I respond by raising. It’s not really a daring raise, because that tell has given me an advantage. I’ll usually take the pot without a fight.
If I use the tell as a basis for just calling with my weak hand, figuring my opponent holds nothing, too — well, that’s not as good. If I just call, then I’ll have to win in a showdown, and I might catch a bluff and still lose! Raising with my terrible cards against equally terrible ones is a better tactic — and I raise with an advantage.
Question 28: Okay, so what’s the point?
The point is that, in order to make huge profits at poker, you need to always be alert for an advantage. But you can’t do that by just thinking about your cards and speculating about your opponents’ cards.
You need to understand your opponents and judge how they’re most likely to respond to your bets, calls, and raises. You can’t just play your cards; you need to play your opponents.
So, here’s what I recommend: Go into your next game with the sole mission of seeking advantages. Consider your opponents traits, your cards, your opponents probable cards, the likelihood that you’ll improve, tells, and your position.
Put that all together and, before making any decision about whether and how to bet, imagine one of three words lighting up on a marquee in your brain: “Advantage,” “Neutral,” or “Disadvantage.” You won’t be correct always, because choosing the right word consistently takes practice.
But by making it your goal to select that right word, you’ll get better and better. Your accuracy will improve magically. And when you’ve chosen the right word correctly, more often than not, you’ll know what to do and your profits will grow.
Yes, this is merely a mental trick, but it’s a poker exercise that can be magical. Try it. — MC