Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2005) in Poker Player newspaper.
What I’m about to teach you may slightly contradict my advice not to play aggressively against poker bullies. I’ve told you that you should often let deceptive, aggressive opponents take the lead. Give them a chance to hang themselves.
But poker isn’t a game of simple formulas. There are times to do one thing and times to do pretty much the opposite. If an opponent is passively aggressive, often trying to trap you, the situation may be different. You’re facing a different type of bully. As you continue your poker learning adventures, these situations will become clearer and clearer. You’ll learn what tool is right when.
Here’s a lecture I did years ago…
A time to make the extra raise
What I’m going to teach you today will earn money for you in all forms of poker, but we’re going to use seven stud as an example.
OK, imagine this. You’re in a seven stud game and you begin with a hidden pair of tens and a nine showing as your up card. The action gets down to just you and an opponent with a six showing. You raise. He reraises. Should you raise again with your buried pair of tens?
Of course, you need to think about many things. Do you want to just call, so that your hand can be more deceptive on later betting rounds? Or do you want to leverage your advantage right now? Or, do you really have an advantage at all? You raised the last-remaining opponent with a higher card showing, something that is quite typical and expected in serious stud games, even if you don’t have a strong hand. So, in sophisticated games, an aggressive opponent is likely to reraise with many medium-strong hands. He may, of course, actually have a strong hand, or he may have a weaker hand that he’s trying to use to slow you down and keep you from betting on later rounds or even to bluff you.
Let’s say that in this case, you’ve decided that you don’t want to be deceptive with your pair of tens. You just want to decide whether one more raise is worthwhile or whether you’re in trouble.
Now there is a common piece of poker advice that’s very costly. It says that when you’re in doubt, it’s usually worth a raise to find out where your opponent stands. If he raises again, you’ll have a clearer idea about his hand than if he just calls. But, wait! This extra raise designed to gain information is usually a poor choice. When you make a raise that you wouldn’t normally make on the basis of the strength of your hand, you’re sacrificing money, because the more sensible decision was obviously more profitable. But, by making this sacrifice, you’re hoping that you’ll get something in the way of information about your opponent’s hand that will be worth the cost of a substandard decision.
But, I’m telling you that it isn’t usually worth it. Even if your opponent has a very powerful hand, chances are he might try to disguise it and not put in that one last raise. So, you’ll only gain bad information about what he holds. And if he has a medium-strong hand, he may raise or just call at whim – and that doesn’t provide valuable information. Guess what? The tired-old advice that you should raise to gain information is generally wrong.
OK, so here you are with your hidden pair of tens and a nine showing, raising the last remaining player who has a six showing, and he reraises. Now what? You’ve already decided that this time you won’t call just to be deceptive and you won’t raise just to try to gain information. So, you’ve decided to either reraise or just call simply based on your prospects of having the best hand right now.
Should you risk one more raise?
Here’s the key. Ask yourself whether this is a tricky opponent who likes to hide like a snake in the grass. Have you often seen him just calling at this point with three-of-a-kind or a big buried pair just to mislead you? If you have seen this, then it’s less likely that he has a big hand now! Why? Because many of his strongest hands would have been used for deception – he would have just called in an attempt to confuse you. So what disproportionately remains are many medium-strong hands that this tricky opponent chooses to overplay. And since your two 10s are certainly at the top of the medium-strong spectrum, chances are you have him beat. Usually go one more raise.
However, if your opponent is not tricky and plays transparently, then his reraise probably means more. He wouldn’t have just called with a strong hand – he would have always reraised with it. So, since that’s what he did, a big hand is more of a threat than it would be with a trickier opponent. You should just call in that case.
Yes, as I’ve said many times before, you should be less willing to value bet or make the first borderline raise against tricky opponents. But when you’re well into a raising war, it’s different. Most of the time, he’s already decided whether to confuse you by just calling or to push a medium hand beyond its limits. Now it’s just a matter of whether you can profit from going one more raise. Against a tricky opponent, you’re usually more likely to win with your strong hand at this point in the raising war than you are against an equally aggressive, but less deceptive opponent. So, against the less-deceptive opponent, just call. Against the tricky opponent, risk that final raise. It’s worth it.
And that’s all there is to it. When you’re in a raising war against one aggressive opponent, ask yourself if he’s tricky. If he is, go ahead and make that extra raise. If he isn’t tricky, don’t do it.
This is “The Mad Genius of Poker” Mike Caro and that’s my secret today. — MC