This article first appeared in Card Player magazine.
In the last two issues of Card Player, I presented some short poker quizzes. One was four questions long, one was three questions long. The response has been unusually positive, so why stop now?
Here is the third quiz in the series. There are three multiple-choice questions, each with four possible answers. Just choose A, B, C, or D. As always, if you score enough correct answers, expect a reward at the end of this column. But you must promise that if you don’t get enough right, you’ll willingly suffer the punishment provided.
Simply score as you go. Instead of putting all the answers together after the questions, I’m explaining each answer right after the question to which it relates. Keep track of how many answers you get right. Whenever you’re ready, look at the first question.
A major ability that separates consistent winners from consistent losers is finding the most profitable poker games. If you stubbornly decided to enter and keep playing in a very tight game against conservative players, what will most likely happen?
(A) The game will become looser and more profitable.
(B) You will go broke trying to bluff your opponents.
(C) The game will become even more unprofitable because weak players will avoid sitting down.
(D) You will find it hard to beat the game, because check-raising doesn’t work well against conservative opponents.
Answer 1: A. The game will become looser and more profitable. Before I explain, remember that it’s very important to find the best games. In the past I’ve explained how businesses that enjoy great location are much more likely to succeed. Well, in poker you are a business, and you get to choose your own location every time you play. Choose wisely, and you’ll fare better.
I’ve also pointed out that many lifelong winning players lose money in most of their games. They are saved by the few rare games where very weak players unload huge chunks of money. If you eliminated these rare and wonderful sessions from their careers, all the rest of their play combined would be negative. An overall loss. Wasted time. Failure.
This doesn’t apply to all serious players or to many top pros, but it does illustrate how important it is to find the best games. If you’re contentedly sitting in a game, earning $40 and hour, but you could be in a game earning $65 an hour, then you’re actually losing $25 an hour, in my book.
Anyway, that wasn’t the question. The question was: What will happen if you stubbornly decide to sit in a tight game and stay there. An interesting thing about poker is that loose games tend to become tighter over time. That’s because the loose players, who are typically losers, will tend to go broke and be replaced by solid and conservative players seeking winning opportunities.
Conversely, tight games tend to become looser over time. The conservative players abandon the game, looking for greener felt. They most often are replaced by looser players and reckless gamblers, since potential tight replacements tend to decline the game. So, if you just sit in a tight game, it will probably get looser – and more profitable. That doesn’t mean you should sit in a tight game and wait for things to improve, though. There usually are better uses of your time.
If you answered (B), that’s wrong. Tight players are typically easier to bluff than loose players, so if you go broke trying to bluff them, you’re doing something terribly wrong. We already discussed why (C) would be a wrong answer, and (D) makes no sense because check-raising (sandbagging) often is a perfect tactic to use selectively against conservative players.
In poker, a bad time to use deceptive tactics with a strong hand is when
(A) Your opponents hate you.
(B) You’re breaking about even.
(C) Nobody has made a raise on an early betting round in half an hour.
(D) The most obvious play has a great chance for success.
Answer 2: D. You need to realize that choosing deception with a strong hand is an alternative strategy. By saying that it’s an alternative strategy, I am also saying that we should consider using it only when there is something wrong with using the obvious best strategy.
One bad thing about the obvious best strategy is that if you use it all the time, your opponents may be able to take advantage of it. You’ll be too predictable. For instance, in hold ’em, if you only raise with aces and kings from the early positions before the flop, eventually your opponents may realize this. They will no longer wager any inferior hands against you, and your profits on that play will evaporate. So, you might occasionally invoke an alternative strategy. Like what? Like just calling with those aces or kings.
Fine. But what if the obvious strategy works very well? Let’s suppose you’re playing seven-card stud and five players check to you on sixth street. You look at your final card and, by golly, it’s a fourth queen. Wow! Well, clearly you want to bet. After all, everyone has checked to you. It’s extremely unlikely that, by being deceptive and checking, you could gain back on seventh street in extra profit what you would lose by not betting on sixth street. It’s a clear choice, right? You should bet.
Well, that’s the point. The better the chance for success that the obvious play offers, the less reason you have to use deception. This is even true against whole classes of opponents. The more vulnerable they are to the obvious strategy, the less deception you need to use. That’s why against a table full of weak opponents who call most of the time, you should rarely choose anything except your obvious best tactic.
Are you a football fan? Well, one of the big mistakes sometimes made by coaches or quarterbacks is passing on first down and goal to go from the one or two yard line. Using every down necessary to rush straight into the line toward the goal is so likely to result in a touchdown that using deception by throwing a surprise pass is simply wrong. The obvious strategy has too great a chance of success for deception to be considered. Same in poker. Same in anything.
You are playing in a $40/$80 limit seven-card stud game. It’s seventh street, and you’re against three opponents. You look at your card and have made aces up. You’re first to act and decide to bet. If I give you no more information than this, which statement is true…
(A) Aces up will not usually win on the river.
(B) You should be hoping that nobody calls.
(C) You should be hoping that only one player calls.
(D) You should be hoping that all three players call.
Answer 3: B. What? Yes, you should be hoping that nobody calls. But why bet if you don’t want calls? Interesting question, and the answer teaches you something very important about limit poker.
In limit poker games, the pot is almost always many times as large as the wager. This means, for one thing, that it’s correct to call bets on the river, even if you think you’re going to lose most of the time. If the pot is $400 large and it costs me $40 to call, I don’t need to win very often in this situation to make calling profitable. In fact, if I call 10 times, I can afford to lose nine times and still make money!
By losing nine times, I will have provided my opponent with $360 (nine times $40). But by winning just once, I will have $400 that I could not have collected had I thrown my hand away. Since $400 is more than $360, the difference must be profit. I would earn $40 in 10 tries by calling – or $4 per call. To look at it another way, I would lose an average of $4 every time I didn’t call.
Now, let’s look at it from the other side. I am betting my aces-up because I am probably going to win if called. But being called is not the best thing that can happen to me. If a genie walked up to me right after I made the bet and said, “I can guarantee that you’ll win the pot, but you won’t get called,” should I take the offer? Of course.
The point is that, in limit poker, a bet can be profitable for the bettor at the very same time that a call can be profitable for the caller. There’s an old adage that if someone bets and someone calls, then someone made a mistake. This reasoning is bogus. Very often the bettor and the caller played correctly. When you bet a medium strong hand, you’re hoping that you earn a little extra profit from a call. But you’re hoping even more that you don’t.
Scoring: Today’s all-new rewards and punishments. If you scored all three answers right, you can sleep an extra two hours tonight – on me. If you only got two right, go buy yourself a chocolate malt (not a shake, it’s the malt powder that adds the right flavor).
If you scored just one right, you must take a really cold shower in the nude. If you didn’t get any right, you must take a really cold shower with your clothes on. Don’t complain. If you’re getting tired of the consequences, you can always stop taking these quizzes. — MC