Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (2009) in Bluff magazine.
Also see Part 1: Three poker tips to maximize profit.
I’m a poker hermit in the Ozarks. Whenever I repeat that, players scoff, thinking I just say it because it sounds weird and is in keeping with my image. Well, I’m not just babbling words that bounce around in people’s heads; it’s who I’ve really become.
Yes, I leave here sometimes to do seminars, make public appearances, or play poker. And that’s when I try to seem normal, but it’s an act. I’m not normal. I want to be, but I can’t.
Most days I sit by the lake or walk the paths in my forest, and I think about poker and life. Sometimes I explain these concepts to the furry creatures hidden in the trees or argue with the armored knights or concrete statues I find along my trails. When I return to my office, I’m surrounded by technology – computer screens, broadband, high-definition TV, and all kinds of stuff that contrasts with my surroundings.
That’s when I simulate poker hands, calculate, analyze, and put my thoughts into words that often find their way into Bluff magazine. Last month, I shared three tips with you.
Today, I’ll present another three, but I also need to talk to you about something that’s really bugging me. I’m so angry I can scarcely think straight. So, let’s start with the complaint. No, wait, let’s start with the three tips, so I can cool down a little and address this huge poker grievance more rationally later.
TIP #1: Feigning weakness
We all have egos. But sometimes it’s better to let your opponent’s ego prevail. Whenever you’re against an aggressive opponent intent on bullying the game, you need to think about what that means. Actually, you don’t need to think about it, because I’m going to tell you.
It means you almost always need to back off. By being extra aggressive, your opponent is attempting to make a costly mistake — although he doesn’t realize it. It’s up to you to make that attempt succeed.
The mistake is this: In order to bet more aggressively than normal strategy dictates, a player must necessarily be betting too often with too many hands. Poker analysis and even game theory suggest a correct percentage of times you should bet. If you bet less often, you’re making the mistake of letting opponents escape cheaply and saving them money. If you bet more often, you’re making the mistake of giving opponents extra profit when they call.
You need to balance your bets in accordance with the strength of your hands so that opponents can’t take advantage. This means betting the appropriate percentage of times with the right hands.
Fine. But if an opponent is terrorizing your game by betting and raising significantly more often, you know that must be a mistake. And you can capitalize by feigning weakness. Just check hands into that opponent, surrendering the stage. Give him an opportunity to make the mistake. You should save your aggressive betting for opponents who call most often, but seldom try to dominate the game.
TIP #2: Betting the worst hand for value
Most players get embarrassed when they bet the weaker hand, get called, and lose. I actually enjoy doing that. And it adds money to my bankroll.
There are many times when I’m first to act on the river, holding a semi-strong hand that I think is probably beat. That sounds like the obvious time to check, but it isn’t.
First, I ask myself whether I’m likely to be raised if I bet. If that answer is no, then there are important questions two and three that follow: (2) If I check, will my opponent bet into me if I’m beat?; and (3) If my opponent bets, will I call? If I answer yes to both those questions, I should bet, rather than check.
How come? It’s because I’m going to lose a bet if I’m beat, anyway. I’ll check, get bet into, and call. If I bet into the better hand, I’ll probably just be called. So, it’s the same result either way — I lose a bet. But what if I’m not beat? What if I hold the better hand? Then, my opponent will often just accept a showdown if I check. I’ll win nothing. But if I bet, I’ll frequently be called and win extra money that would have been forfeited by checking.
So the sequence of questions must be answered no-yes-yes in order to justify this river bet. No, I’m not likely to be raised; yes, my opponent will probably bet the better hand if I check; and yes, I’d reluctantly have to call that bet.
TIP #3: Showing my cards
Sure, I know that showing cards is against the rules in most poker tournaments. That’s a shame, though. I never show cards when there are two or more opponents against me, because that might unfairly influence the action among other players. But heads-up, I see nothing wrong with it, especially outside of a tournament.
I’m only influencing my single opponent by showing cards. And we’re talking about my cards and my money.
Sometimes when an opponent bets into me, I can’t figure out whether to call or not. If I don’t see a tell, I’ll sometimes try to elicit one by showing my cards face up on the table and asking, “What would you do if you held this hand?”
I carefully gauge the response. In particular, I’m looking for immediate, instinctive relaxation. If an opponent has bet a moderately strong hand, he’s worried. There’s tension. Will he be raised? Will his hand win in a showdown? Well, when I show my hand, the mystery is solved. The opponent either sees that he’s beat or that he’s going to win.
If you notice tension immediately vanishing and the opponent becoming more relaxed and animated, that’s a sign that he now knows he’s going to win and is hoping for a call. If he remains unmoving, tense, or unresponsive, that’s often an indication of a bluff.
They say you should be careful never to expose cards. But why?
My poker complaint
At the beginning of this column, I decided to save my monumental poker complain for last, giving myself a chance to cool down and reflect. The issue was bothering me too much to write about rationally when I began typing. I teach that often it’s best to wait a while before uttering words of rage.
And now it’s not bothering me at all. So, I’m done. — MC