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Poker Tip: Psychology

In poker, an erratic image is more powerful than a stable one. The more predictable you are at a poker table, the more apt opponents are to figure you out and take advantage. When opponents can accurately gauge how you probably will play a hand, they feel comfortable. When they feel comfortable, they're more of a threat -- because they can focus on finding the right tactics to take advantage of you. Conversely, when opponents are unsure of what you're apt to do next, they're disoriented and they play worse.

The most profitable type of opponent you can play against is the “weak and meek” one. Used in this context, “weak” means that the player calls too many hands. “Meek” means that the player doesn't take full advantage of his winning hands. When you have the combination of weak and meek, you get maximum profit by betting your good hands into players who call too often, and your suffering is reduced when you're beat. It's the best of everything. Obviously, you should seek out weak-and-meek opponents, but it isn't always possible to find a game heavily populated with them. The next-best thing is to weaken the threat of opponents who are initially playing more adequately.

You can do this quite simply. Your image needs to be erratic. That doesn't mean you should play foolishly. It means that you should stick pretty much to your most basic winning strategy, while making it appear that you aren't. You can do this by being a lively personality and by showing just a few hands you've played in strange ways. The impression you'll convey is that of a player who doesn't know what he's going to do next. This tactic is effective for making otherwise aggressive players behave. When they think you might do anything -- that you're erratic -- they'll surrender the stage to you, and you can bet and raise in accordance with the strength of your hands, and you'll get extra calls because they're suspicious. Added to that, you won't have to pay off as many extra bets when they have you beat, because they fear you.

Many players think it's appropriate to appear professional in a poker game. But seeming steady and stable only makes your opponents comfortable -- and empowers them to play better. Usually, you want your poker image to be erratic.

Poker Tip: Statistics

It's 110-to-1 against a Hold'em player holding either a pair of aces or kings before the flop. More precisely, it's 109.5-to-1 against. Are these odds large enough that you should have little fear when you raise with a pair of queens with a lot of opponents waiting to act? Of course not.

•  First of all, queens get conquered quite regularly, even if there isn't a bigger pair out there before the flop. All it takes is one ace or king hitting the board, and then an unimproved pair of queens is in sad shape. But, more importantly, especially in No Limit Hold'em games, is the monumental fear of having to call an all-in bet from a trailing player when you hold those queens.

•  Second, consider that there are nine opponents who have shots at beating you. That means that the chance of someone shooting down your queens is almost nine times what a single player's chance would be. (I say almost, because this isn't a precise way of calculating. Actually, we need to consider the chances of two or more opponents having you beat.) You're going to be beat before the flop more than 1 in 10 times.

It's tricky determining how to play queens when you consider this statistic. I believe that in a no-limit game, you should usually choose to raise significantly, but not so large a raise that you can't make a considered laydown if you get reraised all-in. For instance, if the big blind is $100 and I had $10,000 on the table, I might raise from $200 (making it $300 total to play) to $400 (making it $500 to go).

Of course, this varies, depending on the nature of my opponents and many other factors. And I won't always make the laydown if I'm raised all-in -- I've just left enough room to do it by not raising too much. The exact amount of my raise also depends on how I gauge the opponent.

It is risky to make a huge raise with queens because most serious opponents are likely to throw away a pair of jacks and there is a greater than 10% chance that an opponent starts with aces or kings -- you will get called. Even if you figure someone might call with an A-K, that will only give you a slight advantage. Because there's a greater chance of someone holding a pair of aces or kings than most players suspect, a pair of queens is vastly less profitable than a pair of kings.

Poker Tip: Tactics

Seldom bet a hand that seems average for the situation. This practice of betting medium hands drives me crazy. Listen, when your hand seems about average for the situation -- right in the middle of what would be defined as a good hand or a bad hand -- you should almost never bet. The few exceptions tend to center around wanting to stay on stage and maintain the pressure.

This especially happens in 7-Card Stud, when, if you're the previous bettor, pairing your board might drive an opponent out on the next bet, even if you have the worst hand. But, in general, it's unwise to bet middle hands.

There. It's simple, and I said it. There's almost never a motive to bet a medium hand. You can bet weak hands for posturing or as a bluff, and you can bet strong hands hoping to be called. But medium hands are the perfect hands to check.
I'll prove it. Suppose you played poker with only three cards: an ace, a king and a queen. You shuffle and deal a single card each to an opponent and to yourself. You have each anted and now you look at your card and decide whether to bet.

Well, if you have a queen, you must have the worst hand; but you might bet, hoping to bluff a king. Obviously an ace would call. And if you have an ace, you might bet hoping that a king would call. Obviously a queen wouldn't call. But what would be the purpose in betting a king -- the middle hand? No purpose at all. You'd get called when an ace beats you and never get called when you were the best hand against a queen. Betting this middle hand would be foolish. And that's what I want you to remember; because the same concept applies throughout poker.


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