Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A less-enhanced version of this entry was originally published (1993) in Card Player magazine.
This is another one of those columns where we explore my old poker notes together, just the two of us. Ready? OK, here’s the first one. Wait! Forget the first one: “See Sally about advertising her ‘Relaxing Poker Massage’ which must expire by 8-31-75 when she moves to Phoenix.” Talk about old notes. I can’t even remember who Sally was! Here’s the next note…
Some psychological advice. Learning how to win isn’t everything. It’s stage one. Wanting so intensely to win that you consistently apply what you know is stage two. Unfortunately, most players who reach stage one don’t advance to stage two. There are many reasons for this. Among the main ones are not fighting off frustration during a bad run of cards, not understanding that unlucky streaks are supposed to happen sometimes, not caring enough sometimes, not having patience sometimes, and not keeping your ego from splashing into the pot along with your chips.
So the two things I teach are:
1. How to play correctly when you want to;
2. How to want to.
Until you conquer stage one, it’s senseless advancing to stage two. But you must conquer stage two, also, or stage one is meaningless.
How to avoid losing. While most major cardrooms work hard to protect you and your bankroll from cheaters, you are often on your own in barrooms and home games.
Now I want to share a tip. Listen closely, because this is extremely important. It is not necessary that you’re actually being cheated to quit a game. Any reasonable worry that you might be cheated (even a long shot) will eat up the mental energy you need to make correct, confident decisions.
Remember that you (and your opponents) only have a short time to make decisions during a poker hand. The average quality of those decisions diminishes if you can’t concentrate totally on the strategy involved. When you’re worrying about being cheated, part of your mental energy is being used for something other than choosing the right strategy. That’s when you shouldn’t play.
I once knew a man—a very honest player—who took advantage of this powerful psychological weapon. He bragged about his expertise at manipulating cards, an expertise he didn’t really possess. Then he swore solemnly to his opponents that he’d never use his skills against them. Still, he did this swearing with a carefully conceived tone of voice that made his foes wonder and worry. He told me that he attributed half his total profit to this carefully calculated, and probably cruel, psychological ploy.
Don’t stop raising. There are two profitable ways to handle an aggressive opponent. Obviously, you should consider raising an aggressive bettor more liberally than a normal bettor. That type of player bets weaker hands on average, opening the door for you to raise with weaker hands in return.
Fine. But many aggressive players are bullies. And you can make much profit by simply calling them on early rounds, rather than risking chasing them away with a raise. That profit comes from letting them hang themselves later in the action. But, whichever method you choose to destroy these opponents, don’t be intimidated. They’re making the mistake of betting too often. So, they should be intimidated by you and your correct decisions.
Which method do I use? When the choice seems uncertain, I’ll usually use the let-them-hang-themselves method when they’re to my left and acting after me. That tends to diminish their positional advantage. And, also as a tie breaker, I’ll choose to raise more often if they’re to my right and act first, leveraging my positional advantage.
Strangely, most players waste money by reacting exactly the opposite: They simply call or even fold with semi-high quality hands, because they’re intimidated. There’s often a terrifying image that surrounds aggressive bettors, and this image prevents reasonable raises. Unless you’re trapping a poker bully, don’t be afraid to raise against that image.
This is one reason you should strive for a dynamic image yourself. That image allows you to value bet more often, because you won’t get punished by as many raises.
I’ve got to feed my parrot. Thanks for reading me. — MC