Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2013) in Poker Player newspaper.
Sadly, I must report on a poker epidemic. It’s destroying the profit of millions of serious hold ’em players. And it’s happening before our very eyes.
I’m talking about the epidemic of raising too often before the flop. Many players are doing this to command the table and to reduce risk when they hold hands that have an advantage right now, but are vulnerable to the flop.
So, what’s wrong with that? After all, you see modern players doing it on TV and winning. It must be right. Don’t old-time strategies fall victim to this trending new pre-flop aggression? It seems like it.
But, wait! It’s an illusion.
When players are overly aggressive, they win a lot of pots. As they accomplish this, they seem superior to other players, but their profits diminish. It’s the only thing that can possibly happen.
Let me explain why. No. I’ll do that later. First, let me get sidetracked. A very large portion of those who follow my poker teachings are young. They’re careful to think about poker objectively, hungry for answers, respectful, and often excessively intelligent. But there’s another segment of young players that baffle me.
I find it sickly amusing when kids online criticize my advice on forums and say things like, “He’s 65 years old. He doesn’t have a clue.” Of course, they’re wrong immediately. I’m 69 years old.
The grandpa argument
None of these critics, who blatantly tell the world that I should letter-F-off and that they want me to die (yes, really!), seem to know much about me. I’m someone from the past, and the past seems to annoy them. I’ve sometimes tried to engage them in rational conversation, but they seem unable to reason. Invariably, someone will try to straighten them out by coming to my defense, in civil and literate ways, explaining who I am and what I’ve done. But, then, they too will be called “grandpa” — and for some reason that seems like a good argument to those kids.
I’m not sure why I’m reporting this. It just flashed into my mind. Fortunately, it ties into today’s discussion.
Often these same young detractors are obsessed with something they call new poker. “That strategy might have won 20 years ago,” they’ll say (which is about as far back as they can imagine), “but it can’t win in new poker. That kind of bullshit went out with the dinosaurs.” However, they’re more likely to spell it “dinnasors” or something similar.
No, I’m not alone in facing that kind attack from kids barging into constructive and polite discussions on the Internet. It happens to everyone who’s well known.
But here’s the deal. These kids have convinced themselves that there’s such a thing as “old poker.” Old poker, to them, is showing any signs of backing down in a war of raises or playing defensively.
It’s kind of strange they would apply that criticism to me, because I don’t play tight. I made my reputation showing how, if you knew the right tactics, you could play very aggressively and win much more money. I don’t think anyone ever publicly accused me of playing tight. My image has historically been about attacking a game and being unpredictable.
But those pups, who don’t research before barking, have something dancing in their heads about old-school poker — something they want no part of. So, let’s set the record straight.
Correct poker strategy never changes. It can’t. It always stays the same. Playing styles may change, so you can make even more money by adapting to them. But winning strategy is a constant.
A perfect strategy takes into account all opposing options and dictates how often you should fold, check, call, bet, raise, or bluff. That perfect strategy is, of course, illusive. It hasn’t been perfected, but semi-perfect is plenty strong enough to win. Anyway, theoretically, the only defense against a perfect strategy is to mirror it. Then you and your opponent both break even, rakes not being factored in.
Anytime players stray from perfect strategy, they lose. They may get lucky in the short term, but overall they lose. So how does that apply to today’s topic?
Easy. So-called new poker has become an epidemic. It’s an epidemic of playing too fast, raising too often, betting too aggressively, and acting out of contempt.
I know, that last part confused you. I said, contempt. That’s what’s often happening when young players, blinded by the concept that there’s such a thing as old-style poker, express contempt for it by trying to barrage opponents with raise bombs.
Usually, in hold ’em, this happens before the flop. Despite everything I’ve taught about being selective but aggressive, that doesn’t fit the pre-flop situation very well. How come?
Here’s how come. Your hold ’em hand is usually defined by the flop. Before you see what flops, you’ll have many hands with small advantages and only a few with large advantages. Usually, I tell you to press all advantages, but not in this case. After the flop, you’ll frequently find yourself with huge edges. That’s when you should be betting aggressively.
Doesn’t it make sense, when you think about it? You’d rather risk most of your money with big advantages than with small ones. In hold ’em, you don’t have many large advantages until after the flop.
Let them beat you
Yes, you should raise often before the flop, but not nearly as often as those who advocate new poker suggest. You can argue that you’ll protect your pre-flop hands by chasing weak players with weak cards out of the pot — players who can come back and beat you, if you allow it.
But that’s precisely what you want them to do — beat you, if they can. Once again, it comes down to that basic truth I’ve shared with you often: Successful poker isn’t about reducing risk; it’s about finding profitable ways to take more risk.
So, don’t worry about being run over by new poker. If it differs from old, proven poker theory, then it’s wrong. You can adjust and crush these overly-aggressive opponents quickly. And you usually do that by letting them take the lead and hanging themselves.
If they want to show contempt for old poker, let them. It’s their epidemic, and you’re immune. There’s nothing old-fashioned about playing smart.— MC