Just like Gollum can’t live without the ring, some poker players can’t sit down at a poker table without trying to be tricky. If Sam can tell that Gollum is not being fully truthful in his actions, in this mighty quest of the ring, then Gollum’s master plan can fail. If your opponents can tell you are not being fully truthful in your actions, then your master plan can fail.
While deceiving your opponents is surely a step in the right direction towards poker success, you should always carefully decide whether a play is really worth it. Being tricky usually means not playing in the most profitable way, so you can profit more in later plays. You sacrifice a little equity in a hand so you can be less predictable and therefore profit on your future hands. However, I believe most of the times, it is better to simply bet your hand accordingly. Your opponents might actually not give you credit for the hand you are representing and that in itself might be tricky (without losing profit).
As you move up in middle and higher limits, most of the hands are going to be either heads-up or three handed. Many marginal hands now become raising and reraising hands. You might end up playing middle pair the same way you play top pair, simply because you can’t give your opponent credit for any hand (for example if he was in steal position). When you play in games like this, it’s important to get in your opponent’s head. How is he going to react to my bet or raise? What is he going to think I have? Is a straight forward betting approach the better play?
Let’s say a player open-raises from the button and you call from the big blind with 8h7h. Let’s look at some reasonable flops:
1- 8d 6c 2s (giving you top pair) 2- Ks 7d 6c (giving you middle pair) 3- Ah 6c 3h (giving you a flush draw) 4- Jd 9h 6c (giving you an open-ended straight-draw)
All these flops are ok. Some are better than others but considering the action before the flop, you should probably play these flops the same way: you should play them aggressively (by probably check-raising your opponent on the flop). But that’s not what typical players do. They’ll raise with flops 1 and maybe 3 and they’ll call with flops 2 and 4. But what if you had pocket sixes and had flopped a set? Now the typical player will call the flop and try to check-raise the turn. Many times this will lead to your opponent folding his hand on the turn. But if you really want to be consistent with the rest of your game, you probably want to raise on the flop. And guess what, since you might be raising with, top pair, middle pair, a flush draw or a straight draw, raising with a set is actually more profitable and way trickier! Even if your opponent has not flopped anything, he should at least call your flop raise. And if you get in your opponent’s head, he will not give you credit for a hand that strong, and he might end up overplaying his hand and giving you too much action.
Here’s a hand I played recently in a 30-60 Hold’em game. I was sitting in the big blind with 88. A player open-raised from early-middle position and I was the only caller. This opponent and I play a lot against each other and he knows I can be really aggressive with many hands in a heads-up situation like this one. The flop came 8 8 Q, giving me quads and an almost unbeatable hand. Chances are that flop did not hit him (he knows that I know that), and I might raise here with almost any pair, a queen, or a hand like JT, J9 or T9. But would I raise with an eight? If I want to balance things out and be less readable, I have to be aggressive with an eight too (and with quads). So I checked-raised his flop bet.
Most typical players would never be aggressive on the flop with quads. The fact is, I might lose him right now, but if he flopped some kind of hand, I might get him to overplay his hand. Plus like I said if I’m only aggressive with draws and marginal hands, I’m becoming predictable and that’s not a good strategy.
He reraised me and I capped the betting. When I’m out of position I don’t waste any time. He might have raised me to get a free card. The turn was a blank and I bet. He raised me again! That told me he had a good hand, top pair with a good kicker or better. I three bet and he capped! He probably put me on a Q if he had AQ, KK or AA. Or maybe he had QQ and put me on an eight. The river was another blank, and I bet out again. He finally just called and flashed AA when I took the pot.
Did I get lucky out flopping his aces? Sure. But the way I played the hand was the best way to maximize my profit considering the situation and my personal general pattern of play. In this case, playing straightforwardly was a tricky play. And, it was the most profitable way to play the hand. When you are playing at the higher limits, try to always put yourself in your opponents’ shoes. What will he think if I do this? How will he react if I do that? What will it look like? Then, you can decide which play is the best and the more profitable.
When Mike Caro coined his FPS, Fancy Play Syndrome, it was a great way to summarize the thinking of many typical / average players. The fact is that many times the trickier play is actually the play mediocre players will make; betting and raising good hands on the flop. And at the medium and higher limits, since you are going to be more aggressive with marginal hands in short-handed pots, you should counter this strategy by being as aggressive with your stronger holdings. It’s a balancing act, and the better you are at it, the bigger your profits will be.
Nicolas Fradet runs http://www.livestraddle.com, the leading resource for free online poker, http://www.livestraddle.com/poker-room-reviews”>online poker bonus for reviews of Party Poker, Empire Poker, Paradise Poker, PokerStars, Pacific Poker, Full Tilt Poker, Poker Room and Ultimate Bet.