Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2010) in Poker Player newspaper.
On this bewildering planet, knowing what’s true and what’s false is everything. In this self-interview, I deal with that powerful truth as applied to poker.
Question 1: How do you know what’s true about poker?
You don’t. You’ve got to be careful which people and information you trust. I remember, years ago, being told to watch for trembling hands, because poker players who suddenly start shaking after making a wager are nervous about their bets and usually bluffing.
Of course, that’s completely false. Players who are bluffing typically bolster themselves and become rigid. Suddenly trembling hands are the result of a release of tension when an opponent connects and expects to win. It marks the end of suspense.
But how did this poker advisor get this so wrong? Could he point to one single instance in which he observed a real-world result supporting his theory? Probably not. Poker wisdom like that is thought up at home, away from the tables, and lives forever in the minds of advocates to whom reexamination would mean weakness.
Poker literature is stuffed full of things that are false. And once the bad advice gets into print, many experts consider themselves married to the falsehood and will find strange ways to defend it. So, beware.
Question 2: Got it. But that’s not very helpful. You can’t just say, “Hey, be careful who you trust.” Which experts and which information can you trust?
I’m not going to provide the list, because it carelessly leaves out deserving experts.
Question 3: Well, does that list include you?
Does Phil Hellmuth ever complain about bad luck?
Question 4: Same answer, right? I get it. Okay, so now we’re getting somewhere. Tell me something about poker that’s false.
The advice to go to war against overly aggressive opponents is false. You should simply do a lot of checking and calling, letting them destroy themselves by betting more often than they should.
The theory that you should routinely raise from the small blind after everyone else has folded is false. You will often increase profit with medium-strong hands by just calling and hoping to get 3-to-1 on your money before the flop. However, you should raise against players in the big blind who fold too often.
The common advice to bluff instantly to show confidence is false. Opponents are looking for reasons to call and if you either take too long or bet too soon, that makes them suspicious and more likely to call. I personally use the two-and-a-half second method, counting “one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thou” before bluffing.
Question 5: That’s just three things about poker that are false. Are there more?
There were 19,403 when I counted yesterday.
Question 6: Well, we don’t have time for that many. Could you give me just four more?
Just babbling off the top of my head, and in no particular order, let’s try these…
The notion that you can’t play king-jack in hold ’em from a middle position is false. I do it often, but it’s because I look at the players waiting to act after me and decide how many are going to fold.
The more there are, the latter my theoretical position and the better my medium starting hands become. Specifically, players staring at their cards, chips or me are less likely to play then those who don’t seem to be paying attention. Inattention before the flop is almost always an act designed to make sure you don’t feel threatened. Watch out for a raise!
The tournament advice to play a lot of hands at certain stages is false. You generally should be consistently conservative about your hand selection throughout the entire course of a proportional-payoff tournament.
One of the main exceptions comes as you approach the money with a large stack and most opponents are playing very tight in order to cash into the prize pool. You can pick up a lot of pots at minimal risk then.
Overall, the larger your stack relative to a rational opponent’s, the more aggressive you can be, because losing a pot puts him at greater risk, meaning his stack is more valuable chip-for-chip than yours. The math behind this concept is easily proven.
The practice of lumping pairs of aces and pairs of kings together as the top hold ’em starting hand group is based on a false premise. Aces are up to 40 percent more profitable than kings and the two categories of hands shouldn’t be grouped. In fact, a pair of kings has much more in common with a pair of queens than a pair of aces (but there’s a large difference there, too).
The age-old advice to play tight in loose games and loose in tight games is false. Whenever opponents stray from correct strategy, either by playing too many or too few hands, you can enter more pots and capitalize on the mistake.
In tight games, you’ll bluff more often In loose games, you’ll play more hands than you would otherwise, but this broadened selection will still be profitable, because opponents are playing even weaker hands – on average – than you are.
Question 7: I assume you have some concluding remarks for us, right?
Your assumption is false. — MC