Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2012) in Poker Player newspaper.
The more you know about poker and the more you master the game, the easier it is to play fancy and still win. Playing fancy is fun.
But there are things you need to ponder about choosing unusual tactics in poker. And that’s the subject of today’s self-interview.
Question 1: Do you play fancy?
Often I do. It sends tiny tingles up and down my spine. I’ll even take fancy to the extreme.
Sometimes when there are many people just calling before the flop, I’ll announce, “They say that this pot is too big to fold.” So, I call, throwing my chips in at the same time I toss my cards away, folding ostentatiously.
When other players comment or ask me why I did that, I just say, “My hand was too weak to play, but the pot was too big to fold.” My objective is to make opponents think I’m silly. Seeming silly confuses opponents and wins extra calls later when I hold huge hands.
In draw poker, I used to call before the draw with total garbage hands. Then, when it was my turn to draw, I’d stand pat – taking no cards. Opponents would check to me, expecting me to bet a probably straight, flush, or full house or to at least bluff if I didn’t actually have one. Instead, I’d just show down my horrible hand and lose the pot.
Why didn’t you bet?
When they’d blurt, “Why didn’t you bet,” I’d simply reply, “It’s not a betting hand” or something similarly inane. Reason? Same as before: I wanted to make opponents believe I was very strange. And no matter how much their instincts told them that they were being conned in a friendly way, they still called more often in the future when I held strong hands. Why? Because they were always suspicious that I might, once again, be doing something weird.
Most fancy play isn’t that blatant, of course. It’s more along the lines of check-raising, instead of betting. It’s also bluffing too frequently. It’s doing whatever seems abnormal for the situation.
Question 2: Is playing fancy always profitable?
No. In fact, it’s often less profitable to play fancy than to play consistently tight (meaning conservatively, regarding wagers and hand selection).
Most players who try to play hands in unusual ways are costing themselves money. That’s because they don’t know for sure when straying from normal strategy will pay off. I have a rule for deciding whether to use a fancy play. It’s this: Unless you’re very sure that you can trap an opponent or influence that player’s poor decisions, choose your most obvious tactic instead.
Some sophisticated players are strong enough to get extra value out of fancy play. But guess what? Most of them don’t. They overuse creative tactics, just for the thrill of demonstrating their mastery of poker.
Here’s one thing to keep in mind. Always. Anytime your motivation in choosing an unusual play is to show off, you’re doing the wrong thing. Ask yourself: What’s the reason I’m making this exception to normal strategy? If the answer is excitement or to appear skillful, just don’t do it.
You need a real motive for choosing any tactic other than the obvious one. That motive can be to make extra money in the pot right now or to psychologically set the stage for future profit.
Nothing else should ever cause you to stray from your best everyday strategy.
Question 3: In fact, haven’t you equated fancy play to a mental disorder. Tell us about FPS?
It stands for Fancy Play Syndrome. I believe this poker disease, which I first identified decades ago, destroys at least a million bankrolls every year.
What happens is that players get good at poker. Fine. Then what? Then they want to prove how good they are. So, they try to impress opponents by playing hands in bizarre and imaginative ways.
Let’s get something straight. You can’t impress opponents in 20 minutes, because short-term luck is too powerful. It’s your results over the very long term that determine if you’re a winner and by how much. And none of those opponents at your table right now are going to stick around to witness and verify your long-term results. Your lifetime winnings or losses will always be your secret.
So, don’t try to impress foes with your creative genius at the table. Play fancy only when you’re doing in to build profit, never to put your superior skills on display for others. Avoid FPS.
Question 4: So, how do you play with a flair and still win?
You do it by using flair only when it makes money. That’s not very often.
Question 5: Do you have any final comments about playing fancy poker?
Not really. — MC