Against very weak opponents, it’s usually not necessary to randomize your decisions. You don’t need to be very deceptive, because a straightforward strategy will usually earn the most money.
But against more experienced players, it’s a good idea to mix it up, as long as you don’t sacrifice too much in the process.
How to randomize
But how do you randomize? There are many ways to do this, some simple, some elaborate.
One very easy way is to choose the standard play for close decisions (such as mostly calling, but sometimes raising) three-quarters (75 percent) of the time and the exception one-quarter (25 percent) of the time.
For situations in which a 3-to-1 ratio of standard play to exception seems reasonable, you can simply consider the suit of the first card dealt to you. If it’s a spade, choose the exception and raise (for the sake of this example). If it’s any other suit, go with the standard play and just call. You can use the same method for fifty-fifty decisions by designating two suits to match your first card, instead of one.
As an extra precaution against the unlikely event that an opponent will catch on, you might change the exception suit from time to time. You could change it each session or even each hour.
For situations that require more fine tuning than just 3-to-1 (single suit) or a coin-flip (two suits), you can use both starting cards in a hold ’em hand and invent ways of slicing the probability pie more exactly. And it’s easy to devise similar methods, both simple and complex, for poker forms other than hold ’em.
There are, of course, other ways to randomize: Using the last card seen on the previous board, the sum of chips in the previous pot, the distance between you and the nearest floor person, the time, and on and on. But the point is that against alert opponents, it’s beneficial to randomize.
And you don’t just do it for deception. Mathematically, you’re trying to have the right mix of strong and weaker hands so that an opponent can’t gain an advantage by either betting for value or bluffing. You make the mix right (or try to) by choosing to do one thing with borderline hands sometimes, but not always. You should also randomize strong hands by sometimes betting and sometimes trying for a check-raise. And you should similarly randomize bluffs and more.
It’s a powerful strategic truth and you should adhere to it, even if you don’t fully understand it immediately. Try it.— MC