Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2012) in Poker Player newspaper.
Poker tactics can be complex. But usually, they don’t need to be. I’ll tell you why in today’s self-interview.
Question 1: You’ve talked a lot about tricking opponents in poker? Can you do that using simple tactics?
Sure. Whenever you bet strong hands and opponents doubt that you really hold them, they call. The deception is in the doubt.
If opponents always called, then there would be no reason to trick them. You wouldn’t bluff, and you’d always bet your big hands the maximum amount. Poker would be easy. Sadly, it’s not. But the better you can maneuver your poker opponents into acting in predictable ways, the more money you’ll earn.
You’re probably wondering about bluffing. Is that trickery? Yes. You’re tricking opponents into thinking you hold a strong hand when you’re weak, hoping they’ll fold. But bluffing is seldom a simple or profitable tactic, precisely because most opponents call too often. In order for a bluff to be profitable, the circumstances need to be ideal.
It’s simpler to trick opponents by not bluffing when they think you might be.
Question 2: In your seminars, you talk about Occam’s razor. How does that fit into the simple vs. complex poker debate?
William of Ockham (commonly spelled Occam now) was an English philosopher who lived about 700 years ago. His most famous contribution has become known “Occam’s razor” – not a term that he used, though. His idea has been distilled to mean that when there are two or more competing theories as to why something happened or how to proceed, the simplest is usually the best.
This applies to poker. Before you can argue in favor of a tactic or intelligently employ one, you need a reason for why it’s the best choice. Many times, you’ll see sophisticated players using trickery. And sometimes it works. But that doesn’t mean it was the best choice.
You should always make decisions in poker based on how profitable they will be in the long run. Find the simplest, straightest path to profit. It’s usually the best one.
Question 3: What sort of decisions are made by professional players that seem too complex to you?
First, you need to know that – despite today’s discussion – it’s all right to use deception sometimes, trickery sometimes, bluffing sometimes, and complex tactics sometimes. You probably need to choose diverse tactics to deceive observant opponents.
Fine. But the point is the simplest and most-obvious choice is usually the best.
In a public online discussion about 15 years ago, one knowledgeable player argued that if you completely miss a hold ’em flop, you should check and just call. Then, on the turn, bet out with nothing. The opponent will figure you for something, because you called previously, and the bluff will often work.
I responded that it wasn’t good advice, since he recommended that the hand be played that way; he should have only offered it as an alternative tactic.
Actually, it was a play I sometimes used and had discussed – and one that should be an option. His mistake was saying that this was the way to play a hand when you missed the flop. That’s ignoring the obvious. You should usually check and fold.
Also, I’ve heard it argued that you should bet after the flop from an early position with an inside straight attempt. That theory suggests that you can win in two ways: (1) by bluffing; or (2) by connecting for the straight. Once again, it’s a potential rare alternative, but not the simplest or most-profitable choice.
Bluffing itself is seldom the simplest. Usually, just surrendering is simplest – and best.
There’s a virtual epidemic among poker pros regarding their reluctance to check. They hate to check-call, favoring check-raise, check-fold, or betting. They declare check-call to be weak. But wait! If you have a common medium-prospect hand, then it’s often too weak to bet and too strong to fold. Check-call is natural, simple – and profitable.
Question 4: How do you know when to use the simplest tactic and when to use a more sophisticated one?
Always use simple, unless you have a specific reason to deviate.
Question 5: So, why do so many advanced poker players seem to stray from simple decisions?
Sometimes, it’s a quest for adventure. Sometimes it’s an attempt to demonstrate superiority. Sometimes it’s an exercise in self-amusement. None of these justify decisions to choose complex tactics.
Question 6: When do you personally deviate from simple tactics?
I used to sit at a table and declare I was going to “put on an exhibition.” My objective was to demonstrate that I was so superior at poker that I could play really weird hands and still win (or at least break even). It was fun, and I got to giggle a lot, but it wasn’t the most-profitable way to play. I grew out of it.
I deviate from simple tactics to set psychological traps. I try to create an illusion that my game is much looser than it actually is. But anytime I choose anything other than the simplest tactic, I realize that I’m sacrificing temporarily in hopes of making more money later. Otherwise, I choose the obvious.
Question 7: Can you sum up your advice about simple poker?
Always strive to play simply. Modify preferred tactics only when necessary. Remember that the most-obvious plays are usually the most profitable. Use deception only to create doubt, making the simplest choices more profitable in the future. — MC