Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2012) in Poker Player newspaper.
Success in life is about the quality of your choices. The same is true in poker. We’re not going to discuss the broad spectrum of choices involving poker tactics, psychology, or motivation. Not now. Instead, we’ll focus on just one category of choice.
What is it? It’s choosing your opponents. In fact, that turns out to be among the most important paths to profit. So, let’s talk about it in today’s self-interview.
Question 1: What do you mean by choose your opponents? How do you do that?
Sometimes you can’t choose the opponents who will be competing at your table. If you’re assigned a seat in a poker tournament, for instance, you have to accept the group you’re given. In a home game, you usually have one table filled with predetermined foes.
And if there’s just one game close to the limits you want to wager and of the type you want to play (hold ’em, stud, draw, high-low, etc.), then you don’t have much of a choice.
Question 2: You said that “you don’t have much choice,” but you mean you don’t have any choice, right?
Wrong. You don’t have a table choice. But you can choose not to play. That is, perhaps, the most overlooked choice of all. In fact, you usually should choose not to play if the opponents in the only game available are superior to you.
Question 3: Okay, you said you should “usually” choose not to play. Don’t you mean “always”?
No, I mean “usually.” That’s why I said it. Look, you have to remember that the personnel in poker games changes. Strong games tend to become weaker over time and weak games tend to become stronger.
Question 4: Why is that?
It’s because strong players see no profit in a tough game and leave. Other skilled players often decide not to sit in that game and the empty seats are more often filled by weaker players. But if a game is weak, inferior players go broke more quickly and leave the table. They are quickly replaced by stronger players muttering “yum-yum.”
Poker games follow fairly predictable tides, once they are out of balance toward the loose or tight side. They flow the other way. So, when I said that “usually” you shouldn’t choose to play in a game against strong foes, that’s what I meant. You sometimes should, if there’s no better opportunity available, hoping the prospects for profit in the bad game will get better.
Question 5: I see. But if you’re a superior player, do you really need to play against weak opponents to win?
Maybe. It depends on how much of an edge you have against the specific players at your table. From that edge, subtract expenses such as table rent, dealer tips, coffee, and more. You might be superior to those opponents and still not have a winning expectation. But even if you do expect to win, there still might be a better choice of games. Unless your advantage is significant, it might not be enough to justify choosing that table.
There’s a larger concept here: Poker profit isn’t produced in accordance with your skill. It is produced only in accordance with the difference between your skill and opposing skill. The larger the difference in your favor, the more potential profit.
And that means strong players who choose strong tables often loose. That’s because they might not be quite as good as their opponents or because expenses void their advantage. Contrastingly, players less skillful than these strong losers sometimes win for their lifetimes. Why? It’s because of choice. They choose to play against opponents even weaker than they are.
So, I’m saying, it’s not the skill, it’s the gap. When you have a choice of tables, be willing to play a lower-than-normal limit if there’s a significantly bigger gap at that table. And sometimes choose a slightly larger-than-normal limit, if the gap is huge. Also, try to master several forms of poker, so you can choose a table where the gap is biggest.
Your opponents are your choice. And to make that choice the most profitable, pursue the gap.
Question 6: Anything else?
Yes, your choice of opponents doesn’t end with selecting the best table. You can also choose which opponents to compete against at that table. Try to avoid getting in big confrontations with strong opponents. Enter more pots when weaker players are already involved.
So, that’s the secret formula: Enter weak tables, target weak opponents at your table, and always go get the gap. — MC