Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2012) in Poker Player newspaper.
Let’s continue our review of tips and concepts presented in my first 199 columns. As we walk this poker path, we’ll reflect what we’ve learned, expand some advice, and add new insights. We began last time (column 200 in the modern Poker Player newspaper era) with the word “Modern.”
Now we continue the review (today’s word) is this series of self-interviews…
Question 1: You teach the art of illusion in poker. What’s that about?
Simple. In poker, a key mission is to keep opponents from knowing what your cards are. So, you need to create illusions to confuse them. Almost all poker players do this, some ostentatiously, some in subtle ways.
The more skillful you are at creating poker illusions, the more money you make.
Question 2: I get it. If all players showed their cards face up on the table, including you, nobody would be confused. Illusion wouldn’t be a factor. Everyone would know what to do and would play the same way, right?
Players would know what each other’s hands were, but some of them would be confused about how to play. And almost all opponents would occasionally make mistakes, leading up to the final showdown, which would be an irrelevant betting stage, because the winner already would be certain.
You could still win if all cards were exposed. But you’re right in saying that the value of creating illusions would be pretty much absent from the game.
Question 3: What’s the most profitable illusion to create?
There’s no question that the most profitable poker illusion is to appear loose. You also can play loose to a point, not just appear loose, but the degree depends on the structure of the game.
A good guideline for players without a lot of experience is to play 10 to 50 percent fewer hands than your opponents. The high end of that scale (50 percent) would be very rare. Usually, you want to be as selective as possible about the hands you play without appearing tight. So, it’s whatever tightness you can get away with and not be discovered.
Here’s the deal. There’s nothing in poker theory that would suggest that tighter play wins money. In fact, there’s a perfect balance of hands you should play – the profitable ones – that dictates correct strategy. You’ll lose against skillful opponents if you play either too loose or too tight.
So, why am I saying you should play too tight? I’m not. I’m saying tight, but not too tight. You should play all profitable hands. You need to realize that your opponents, on average, play way too loose. They barge into pots with unprofitable hands. This is their greatest weakness. So, you want to take advantage.
And the path to taking advantage is simply to play fewer hands than they do. That way, all the excess hands they play that you don’t are unprofitable for them. Unprofitable means they lose money. You don’t. And that lost money goes somewhere – eventually to you.
But this trick will only return huge profit if you create the illusion that you’re playing looser than you really are. I’m often perceived as being the loosest and most reckless player at the table, when I’m actually the tightest!
I do this by laughing and having fun, by playing some extraordinarily weak hands that stick in opponents’ minds, and by talking in convincing ways about phantom hands I actually didn’t play. Those phantom hands become real in opponents minds, because they’ve seen for themselves how strangely I’ve played recently.
The fact that I’ve only chosen a couple hands for strategic advertising seems to elude them. Many times, other players will talk about bizarre hands they’ve seen me play in other games, acting as free advertising agents on my behalf.
The main factor that makes this illusion work is my friendly and sometimes silly demeanor. The trick is to never make opponents feel they’re being conned.
If necessary, I’ll take the opposite approach and say, “I’m not as loose as everyone says.” It’s hard for opponents to feel they’re being conned if you’re telling them you’re not loose. Yet, it’s the “everyone says” part that sticks in their mind.
Question 4: Many poker players get frustrated because weak players win so often. How do you use illusion to stop them from winning?
You don’t. You can’t use the concept of illusion to prevent inferior players from winning. You can decrease their likelihood of winning by playing even better, just as you can decrease all opponents’ likelihood of winning – strong foes and pitiful foes alike. But weak players will still win.
If there weren’t weak players winning almost every night, at almost every table, poker would vanish from the universe. It is specifically the fact that weak poker players can win tonight that encourages them to keep playing and supply you with profit.
You want opponents to play bad, and you should never complain when they do. That’s obvious. But there’s more! You want them to succeed by playing poorly!
Huh? No, I didn’t misstate that. You want them to win. If that never happens, there’s no reward for them, no repeat customers, and no poker income for you.
But the observation that weak players are winning is, in itself, an illusion. You’re being deceived. Yes, there’s usually a poorly skilled player winning at your table. But, guess what. If you follow that player around from game to game, it’s unlikely you’ll observe many more wins. Poor play results in overall losing.
The next time you sit down to play, you’ll again see a weak player winning. But it won’t be the same player. Don’t be fooled by the illusion. — MC