Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2013) in Poker Player newspaper.
Timing is crucial to maximizing poker profit – but probably not in ways that come immediately to mind. Let’s discuss that in today’s self-interview.
Question 1: What does timing have to do with poker?
When players say, “Bad timing,” or “Your timing was off,” they’re often responding politely to an opponent’s failed bluff, after calling with strong hands.
They either mean to make that opponent feel better or they’re using a psychological ploy. It’s one intended to suggest that they wouldn’t have called, had their hand not been so powerful, thus inviting the foe to bluff again in the future. When you hear similar words when you’re caught bluffing, you should back away from bluffing that opponent.
You also hear someone talk about their own bad timing – or yours – in the context of having a strong second-best hand or having made a flush on the river that loses. And there are other words that the word “timing” is commonly used in poker.
However, I’m not talking about that today. Let’s explore what I am talking about. Next question.
Question 2: I get it, you’re talking about the flow of the game, getting in sync with the action. You need timing there, right?
There is something to what you’re suggesting. Poker games sometimes have rhythm. If you stay in harmony with it, you can win more money – or you can lose more money.
When holding an unbeatable hand, you can win extra bets by staying in rhythm with a raising war. Aggressive opponents get caught up in the glee of instant raises and reraises.
It had a cadence. If you break it, you gave your opponent a chance to ponder. Often what would have been one more raise, followed by your reraise (two extra bets) become a more cautious call (no extra bets).
And there are other rhythm-type advantages in poker, so I’m glad you asked that question. But, there’s danger in conforming to the rhythm, too. At times, you’ll make more money dictating tempo to opponents, rather than following theirs. But that’s not my point today.
Question 3: I give up. What are you talking about in regard to “timing”?
Poker opponents are time conscious. I know this from developing Orac (Caro spelled backwards) in the early 1980s. I programmed that computer to play no-limit, heads-up hold ’em.
You’d think that an “artificial intelligence” project would use pure game theory for decisions. But, in a series of private exhibition matches during early testing, I observed that human opponents were more likely to call if Orac took time to “consider” a bet. Humans simply seemed suspicious of delays.
So, I programmed hesitation into Orac’s poker arsenal. In truth, any decision it made was “instantaneous” by human perception. Even with the slow processing of 30 years ago, analysis was so much faster than human thought that Orac immediately knew what to do.
I used this to advantage. When Orac bluffed, it usually did so without delay, because humans interpreted this as a sign that the computer “knew what it was doing,” didn’t have to think, so probably had a strong hand. But when Orac actually had a powerful hand, I instructed it to “think” for many seconds. Humans tended to see this as suspicious – a sign that the hand was either marginal or that the computer had decided to bluff. Hesitation equaled calls.
And that’s what you need to know. Moderately long hesitation will make opponents suspicious and more likely to call. So, seldom bluff after a long pause. Instead, use extended pauses when you want a call.
Players actually do this trick instinctively, because they realize it works. But, oddly, they tend to be victims of their own magic and call opponents who use the same hesitation against them.
One difference between how players relate to computers versus humans: They’re more likely to fold to a computer that bets instantly, while a too-quick bet from a human may seem suspect.
So, this brings us to my semi-famous two-and-a-half second rule. When you bluff, 2.5 seconds is about ideal. It’s neither too short or too long to be suspicious. Think two-point-five.
Question 4: Anything else about timing and poker?
You should be aware of when you’ve built up equity for bluffing. And it’s not just bluffing – it’s calling, and folding, too.
Let me explain. When you haven’t done something for a long time, you’ve built up equity. You sometimes can do it more now. So, if you haven’t bluffed, a bluff is more likely to be successful. If you haven’t called, doing it now becomes more profitable, because opponents may be taking a shot. If you haven’t folded a strong hand, folding may be the right choice, because opponents know they’re likely to be called and won’t bluff into seeming strength.
When you think about timing in poker, think equity.
Question 5: Is that all?
No. There are other poker concepts regarding timing. For instance, it’s not just you who builds equity. Opponents do, too. And often they know it. That’s why you should be alert for bluffs from opponents who seldom bluff after a long period of time has expired between their last big bets.
Amazingly, with some conservative players, a big bet following a long wagering drought is more likely to be a bluff than a strong hand. That’s because that opponent realizes he’s just been sitting there snoozing, and he believes you’re aware of that. So, here comes a bet out of nowhere.
There’s a strong likelihood that it’s an attempt to steal the pot, because it’s easier at that point to improvise and bet an imaginary strong hand than to actually hold one. Of course, it depends on the opponent, but I’ve made huge profit calling unreasonably large no-limit bets in such situations.
So, you’ll make more money in poker if you consider timing. Now I’m done. — MC