Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (2012) in Bluff magazine under the same title.
More of poker’s most profitable hidden concepts
Some say you don’t need to know poker conceptually; you just need to play well. They’re right. Against weak opponents, you can win by playing sensibly, without understanding the profound concepts that govern poker’s universe.
I grasp the irritation some poker players feel when badgered into needlessly having to think and to examine. Shut up and deal, right?
If you’re not curious about the fundamental forces of poker, you’re just not curious. No disgrace in that. Not everyone wants to probe everything. And, actually, if you were fascinated with all things and sought understanding, you’d quickly run out of time to live your everyday life.
Pride in your craft
Still… You knew there was going to come a “still,” right? Still, if you approach poker seriously – if you target every chip on the table and take pride in your craft – you need to understand the core concepts that govern poker.
Last month, we examined the coin flip fallacy and learned that even-money bets aren’t always even, because the joy of doubling your money is more than offset by the trauma of being broke. So, usually you need an advantage to justify a bet – sometimes a very large one.
We also discovered why one winning poker player can enter twice as many pots as another and both can expect to win the same amount in the long run. That’s because there are so many nearly break-even decisions. Whether you choose to compete or fold won’t make a great difference in your lifelong earnings. The trick is to play more hands when it’s psychologically beneficially.
Now, let’s scurry to today’s two concepts…
Concept 3: Poker opponents can be manipulated.
A couple has asked for a demonstration of an expensive vacuum cleaner. The salesman is greatly enthusiastic, hyping all the features, and explaining why the machine outperforms and outlasts the cheaper model they were considering. The couple buys the vacuum. They leave happy. They will come back again.
What does that have to do with poker? Well, if you accept the fact that the salesman’s skills helped to motivate the purchase, you need to think along with me. People are often straddling a fence when it comes to buying products or making other life decisions. Their balance can be influenced and they can fall off on either side.
Poker isn’t any different. Often opponents are similarly straddling and can be easily pushed in your direction of choice. In poker, that’s manipulation.
Sometimes players at the table are irritated by efforts to manipulate. They call it “showboating” or “Hollywood.” They think they’re too smart to be influenced by your acts, but they aren’t. Almost everyone can be influenced. If this wasn’t the case, the world would spin backwards, sales people would be out of jobs, public relations would be meaningless, and politics would stop. Nobody would argue anything; nobody would persuade.
But the world doesn’t work that way, not even poker. Some people think you need a so-called poker face to win. Should a saleswoman have a poker face? Of course, not! She should be charming and convincing. And that’s how you should appear at the poker table.
You’re thinking the analogy doesn’t work, because sales people are selling products and poker players aren’t. Well, you actually are selling something at poker – hands! You’ll make much more profit from your strong hands if you can get extra calls from those who might otherwise fold. If they’re decision is uncertain, force it your way – make them buy your hand!
The biggest part of my poker profit has been from getting extra calls. I realize that most opponents are looking for reasons to call. They have a bias toward calling, because they crave the action. That’s why they traveled all this way to play poker today. Not to fold hand after hand. To play. So, it’s easy to sell them. And it turns out that the more things you do and the more animated you are, the more likely they are to become irrationally suspicious and call.
But there’s another part to this secret besides just being talkative and animated. You need to be friendly at the same time. You can badger opponents into making bad calls once. But, if they’re uncomfortable, they won’t be repeat customers. Your goal should be to make losing to you as fun and painless as possible.
So, move around, talk happy. Never insult. When you’re fun to compete with, you’ll get extra calls. Always remember, you have a job – you have hands to sell.
Anyone who tells you it’s a waste of time to try to manipulate opponents doesn’t understand people or poker.
Concept 4: You can’t rely on bluffing to win.
If you’re making most of your money bluffing, you’re probably in the wrong game. Sure, there are exceptions. A few players may be so easy to bluff, particularly in no-limit, that they supply the majority of your profit. Fine. But that isn’t the norm. In the real world of poker, most weak and mid-level opponents have one great fault: They call too often.
Most of your profit will be made by leveraging this weakness. Strive for extra money by helping opponents exaggerate the mistake they’re already inclined to make.
What if you try to win by bluffing, instead? Then you need to condition these weak opponents to not call so much. You’re already making money because they don’t fold, but now you need to change that. In order to turn them into bluff targets, you must move them in a direction contrary to their nature. So, first you must herd them along the spectrum until they’re calling just the right amount of time. You can’t stop there, though, or they’ll suddenly be excellent opponents, supplying no profit.
Now, you must move them even further to where they don’t call often enough. There! Now, you can bluff successfully.
But let me ask you a question: Doesn’t that seem like a lot of effort – trying to change players who are already giving you their money by calling too much into bluffing targets? You usually won’t be able to accomplish that miracle, because most opponents want to call. But even if you are successful, why do it?
Yes, you can bluff occasionally in specific situations, even against opponents who usually call. But don’t expect bluffing to be your main source of income. Opponents came to call. Take advantage. — MC