Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2013) in Poker Player newspaper.
Poker is a business. And as in most businesses, it can pay to advertise.
Many players don’t advertise effectively when they’re in a game. They do it at bad times. They do it too often or not often enough Their “ads” are poorly conceived. Or they pay too much.
Today, I’ll explain the art of profitable advertising in poker.
When you sit in a poker game, you’re setting up shop — you’re in business. The first thing you must do is find the best location — the right game that affords the most potential to make money.
That usually means choosing a table where players are entering pots and calling more than they should. Avoid games with many raises from aggressive players, though. You really want loose, meek opponents who will reward you by calling when you hold superior hands, but won’t press every advantage. When you see them, it’s the right place to locate your business today.
And remember, most physical businesses must choose a permanent location. And you’ve heard that location is everything when measuring the success of a store. Same in poker — except you have the luxury of moving to a better location anytime you want.
Store? How does that apply to poker? Don’t stores sell things?
They do. And you do, too, when you’re in a poker game. Sell what? Hands. Every time you make a bet or a raise, you’re putting a price on your hand. You want to make opponents pay more than it’s worth. That’s where advertising comes in.
Each hand has a fair price. Fair means that if an opponent must call a $200 pot for $50 at the showdown, he has exactly a 20 percent chance of winning. That’s because 20 percent is one in five. If that opponent wins once, the profit is $200. The other four times result in $50 losses, also for a total of $200. Result: zero. So, $50 is a fair price, with neither the bettor nor the caller having the best of it.
Note that the result is also zero if the opponent folds. And that’s a fundamental truth about poker theory. If, from the opponent’s perspective, it doesn’t matter whether your bet or raise is called, the price is fair.
But you’re not in business to break even on bets. You have other expenses to cover. And if you’re serious about poker, you might be trying to make a living from it. So, you need a profit. You need opponents to pay more for your hands than they’re actually worth.
Some of that will happen naturally, because the biggest flaw in most opponents is that they call too liberally. If so, you have the potential to win by playing rationally, even without advertising. But why settle for that?
In the real world beyond poker, stores try to make you feel comfortable. The most successful ones train their customers and staff in customer relations. They fight competitors for the best shoppers. You tend to favor stores where you feel happiest and often spend more of your money there.
So, in poker, you’re the store. You’re selling. The main thing you want to do is attract customers. You do that by making yourself noticed. That’s the threshold to advertising.
I’m not asking you to go on stage the way I do in a game. You probably won’t feel at ease using my intense style of friendly interaction. But you should do other advertising in less flamboyant ways.
Many players try to get extra calls by aggravating or insulting opponents. That’s a one-time shot, though, like a high-pressure salesman maneuvering you into buying something you later regret. You usually don’t return to that store.
In poker, return business is essential. Even the loosest and weakest opponents use discretion about whom to compete against. They play even looser and weaker against players who make them feel comfortable. They don’t mind losing as much to them. And they know they won’t be ridiculed for getting lucky and winning. When you insult weak opponents for playing poorly and winning “your” pots, you’re only making them uncomfortable, likely to play better, and less motivated to play against you. That’s enormous profit lost for no reason.
So, be fun to play against. Advertise yourself as carefree and unpredictable. That’s the secret.
In doing this, there are many tricks you can employ, beyond just engaging opponents and losing gracefully. Against weak foes, when I’m faced with a close decision with a weak-looking hand, that might catch a bluff, I lean toward calling. It doesn’t matter to me whether the call is slightly profitable or slightly unprofitable. I’m calling. And, even if I lose, I’m showing the weak hand. That’s advertising, and it encourages future weak calls from opponents who just saw me do the same thing!
Often when everyone folds and I’m in the small blind, I’ll raise without looking at my cards. Why? Because it’s very cheap advertising. Against many opponents, I’m going to play most hands, anyway, in that situation. The few I might have folded are usually only small losers. So, why not? Again, cheap advertising.
And if an opponent raises me blind, I often re-raise blind right back. How costly is that? Not very. So, I can advertise at low cost.
Recently, I talked about how I often burned $100 bills at the table. It got attention in those larger-stakes games and accomplished its intended advertising purpose. But I don’t expect you to do that. Here are a couple of less costly advertising tricks I’ve used:
When a bunch of players have called a small bet and my hand is weak, I’ll throw in a call, too. I’ll announce, “They say this pot’s too big not to call.” But, at the same moment, I fold my hand. What am I doing? players wonder. I respond with something like, “I liked the pot odds, but my hand wasn’t any good.” In the future, I’ll win extra calls, because I’m just so crazy, they think, that you never know what I’m doing.
Similarly, in draw poker, where a pair of jacks was required to open, I’d call the opener with absolute garbage. No pair, no straight or flush draw. Nothing. The opener would draw cards and I’d stand pat, taking none.
So, obviously, the opener would check to let me bet. But I wouldn’t! I’d just open my hideous cards on the table. Someone would usually ask why I hadn’t bet and I just add to the bewilderment by quipping, “Hand wasn’t strong enough.”
Be careful not to advertise too much. If you do, you’ll spend more than you receive in additional “sales.” Successful advertising at poker means being friendly and appearing weaker than you are. Always strive to gain attention in non-objectionable ways. Also, when you spend money advertising, make sure the table is full and everyone is paying attention. Otherwise you’re paying to reach an audience that isn’t there.
So, advertise right. It matters. — MC