Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (2014) in Poker Player Newspaper.
Poker success means more than finding advantages. It means avoiding disadvantages. Sadly, most skillful players are in perpetual search of edges. They fail to weigh what will reward them against what will destroy them.
I teach that you should always be very vigilant about identifying disadvantages in poker. Many can seem invisible, if you don’t look hard. But once you see them, it’s usually easy to stay out of danger. So, here is a short selection of three poker disadvantages, chosen from over 100 candidates.
Disadvantage 1: Too many chips
Many players like to have the most chips at the table in no-limit poker games. Is that the right strategy? Maybe. Probably not.
Here’s the deal with stack sizes in regular, non-tournament games. If all players are equally skilled, then the player with the smallest stack at the table has an advantage. Why? It’s because that player can correctly decide to go all-in more often and see the outcome affordably. This happens in multi-way pots where opponents have more significant stacks.
A player who can call for just a partial bet or can call now and see future cards for free, because there’s nothing left to bet, will occasionally win pots with hands that would otherwise have been folded. That’s important. Short stacks win more pots, because they’re not priced out as often.
If you’re having trouble grasping this concept, let’s take it to an extreme. Let’s envision a draw poker game with no blinds and a $5 ante from each player. So, you’re dealt in, but all you have is that ante. That’s the ultimate short stack.
Now what happens? Other players bet and many fold, giving up their chances of getting lucky and winning in a showdown. They couldn’t afford to take the chance by calling the bet. But you didn’t have to call anything. You were all-in already. So, you get to see the showdowns whenever this happens, often with hands you would have folded. And some of your would-have-folded hands get lucky and win. Each time that happens, that’s money you wouldn’t have won had your stack been large.
So, that’s the advantage of short stacks. It’s mathematical and it’s obvious. Against opponents of equal skill, you’re better off playing against larger stacks. Don’t get sidetracked by the argument that you won’t be able to get maximum value from a big hand. When players are equal, you’re just as likely to be punished in a big-money confrontation as you are to conquer.
It’s only when you have more skill than you opponents that you should entertain the notion of having the biggest stack. Then it’s helpful, assuming your bankroll can absorb the higher fluctuations you’ll probably encounter. Oddly, because of those fluctuations, you sometimes can afford to play larger no-limit games with a moderate stack than smaller no-limit games with a big stack.
So, big skill often merits a big stack. But when your skill advantage isn’t significant or you want a stable bankroll, small stacks are fine. In fact, in no-limit, you might even consider quitting a game just because your stack has grown large and another player with an equally big stack is putting you in jeopardy. Then you’re at a disadvantage because you have too many chips.
Disadvantage 2: Silence
Laughter is what I look for in a poker game. When players are having fun, they’re often playing more for entertainment than profit. And there’s nothing wrong with playing poker for fun, if you can afford to do it.
That’s why I’m never critical of weak opponents. I don’t think of them as “fish” or “suckers.” They’re just people playing poker for a different reason than I am.
And those people who are playing poker for a different reason, usually just for entertainment, have something in common. They tend to be more relaxed and sociable and to laugh a lot. That’s why I can normally find a profitable game, just by listening for laughter. Fine. But what if there’s no laughter. What if there’s only silence?
Well, silence is the sign of serious poker. And serious opponents, even if they’re not as good as you are, won’t supply the most profit. You might be able to beat them, but usually not by enough to make the excursion worthwhile. Seek another game.
Simply, silence is a disadvantage in poker. Avoid it.
Disadvantage 3: Left-side attack
Among poker’s great disadvantages is the left-side attack. Remember, in poker, your profit comes from your right. That’s because, by convention, the order of action is clockwise — right to left. This means each player to the left of another has a positional advantage on most deals.
That advantage is so strong that money flows mostly right to left. And most of the money you’ll ever win at poker will come from opponents seated closely to your right. That’s good, but it also means that most of the money you’ll ever lose will go to players on your left.
And there’s where it gets interesting. It turns out that you want players on your left who are timid and tight. How come? It’s because that type of player doesn’t make the most of positional advantage. Opponents in that category can safely be seated to your left, because they don’t punish you often enough to be a big concern.
But what if you find yourself in a game where one or more players closely to your left are world-class aggressive? Then you’re suffering from a left-side attack that’s hard to overcome. These expert opponents are taking full advantage of their position.
So, what should you do? You should realize that you’re at a great disadvantage and try to change seats. If you can’t, it’s often better to find another table or go home. Remember, a left-side attack is a disadvantage. If you can’t correct it, consider quitting the game.
I’m done. Thanks for visiting. — MC