Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2010) in Poker Player newspaper.
There’s a fear that runs through poker. It’s the fear of going to the well once too often – succeeding too many times with the same play.
Because of this fear, many players adjust needlessly, throwing away a lot of potential profit in the process. That’s what I’m going to talk about in today’s self-interview.
We’ll learn that if something is working (today’s word), it’s often a mistake to shift gears. But there are exceptions.
Question 1: If you find an opponent who’s easy to bluff, should you refrain from doing it too many times?
Usually, it’s a mistake to stop.
Look, it’s true that you can bluff successfully too often and your opponent might get wise and adapt. But the trick is to keep bluffing regularly until you’re caught. As long as it’s working, keep doing it.
Once you get caught, back off for a while and only bet strong hands, hoping to be called. A few of those and your opponent will go back into his or her natural mode of fleeing from your bets. When that happens, it’s time to bluff again – and keep doing it as long as it works.
There’s an irrational fear of bluffing too often. Remember that bluffs usually only need to succeed once in a while in order to show a profit. The main exception is if you’re making huge no-limit bluffs that dwarf the pot. Then you need to succeed most of the time.
Keep in mind that players you can bluff profitably are rare. That’s because most of your opponents make the mistake of calling too often and are, thus, poor bluffing targets. But when you find a player who doesn’t fit that mold, who doesn’t call often enough, you should bluff and keep right on bluffing – until you get called at least once. Sometimes I keep bluffing until I’ve been caught twice in a row.
Then – after being called once or twice – wait. Bet only quality hands until you’ve been called twice (or sometimes just once).
Then start bluffing again. I wish I could take credit for offering a more complicated solution that would impress you, but it’s really just that simple.
By the way, I’m an advocate of showing hands. You’ll frequently see me show weak hands when I bluff against loose opponents and win. I hear you asking: Why do I bluff against loose opponents in the first place?
Actually, I do it frequently. But I pick times when I can use tells to indicate that opponents are almost certainly going to fold. If they’re staring at me or acting especially interested, that’s a good time to bluff. They’re trying to trick me into thinking they’re interested in the hand, when actually they hold miserable cards.
Most opponents will act exactly the opposite when they hold very strong hands. They’ll pretend to be uninterested or distracted, trying to make you feel that your bet is safe.
So, when I spot a loose opponent who’s going to fold, I’ll bet my weak hand and then playfully show the bluff afterward. This makes that player more likely to call with moderately weak hands in the future, when I bet quality hands. That pads my profit.
But wait! I never show a successful bluff against a too-tight opponent. That’s when I want to verbally reward them for their mistake of making a “smart” laydown. I might make what I say sound believable by wording it something like, “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to bet. You might have had a flush.” That way, they’ll think I bet a strong hand, but not an invincible one. That sounds less like a con job than if I just said, matter-of-factly, that I had them beat.
Question 2: Don’t you ever worry that if you keep pounding on opponents, you’ll prompt them to switch to a better strategy?
Sure. As an example, sometimes I’ll be playing heads-up hold ’em and it will become clear to me that my opponent is folding far too many hands. In that case, I’ll fold a hand before the flop like Q-9 and show it.
If you know much about heads-up hold ’em, you’re already aware that a hand like Q-9 merits either a call or a raise from the small blind position and a routine call of a double or slightly larger bet if you’re in the big blind. The pot odds (considering the money already there from the blinds) dictate that you can’t be folding those hands or an astute opponent will run all over you. But when I see that an opponent is routinely folding these medium-strong starting hands, the last thing I want to do is to see their mistake discontinued.
I can make sure that the opponents don’t change tactics by showing that I’m making laydowns with hands that even they might have played. It makes it seem as if they’re not making a mistake in my eyes and, therefore, I’m not taking advantage of it. Of course, except for the one or two times I show those laydowns, I am taking advantage.
I’m ringing up profits by running over them, taking many more blinds without a fight than I should be. The strategy is working and I don’t want it to stop. Sometimes a small sacrifice, like folding slightly profitable hands and showing them, can ensure that my strategy will continue to work in the future.
Question 3: So do you always consider what’s working when you’re playing poker?
Yes, always. It’s a secret to poker success.
If a specific tactic or an overall strategy is working, my main goal is to make sure that continues to work. Sometimes I need to make sacrifices to make certain that the mistake isn’t corrected. But usually I can just keep playing the same profitable way.
Much money is lost by skillful poker players who back off a winning tactic for fear of overusing it. Unless you can clearly see an obvious reason to interrupt any successful tactic, keep pounding. — MC