Poker: Every Poker Player Is Different

A good poker player can adapt well to the constantly different situations he finds himself in. Whether playing poker in non GamStop casinos or traditional casinos, he can always make the right decision while playing.

Poker: Every Poker Player Is DifferentThe Fun in Poker

This made poker a lot of fun for me. I kept trying to add new things to my game and try to avoid going on autopilot and playing a standard, easy-to-read ABC game.

An ABC game involves folding with nothing, raising or betting with good hands and calling with draws. This is very effective against players who just look at what they have in their hands and what’s on the table and base all their decisions on that. These are players who have stuck at the first level of thinking.

The different thinking levels are as follows:

  • What’s my hand?
  • What does other player(s) have?
  • How does other player(s) think/think I have?
  • What does other player(s) think/do I think he/they have?
  • What does other player(s) think I think they think I have?
  • How does other player(s) think I think what they think he/she has?

Be Better Than Your Opponent

Crucial to playing optimally is thinking exactly one level higher than your opponents. An example to illustrate why this is so important occurred in a tournament with only 12 participants. And a $125 buy-in at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

There were only six poker players at the table and my five tablemates were all a lot older than me. And were quietly waiting for good hands. To exploit that I played almost every hand and showed a lot of aggression to easily pick up points. Even though as a poker player I often raised preflop, nobody wanted to re-raise me.

I picked up AQ which is a pretty strong hand with only six men at the table and of course, raised again only to be finally re-raised. It is tempting to think: ‘I’ve raised so many times and now I finally have something so nice that I get action’. However, it occurred to me that the player who raised me on level 1 had stuck. And totally not concerned with what I can have there and re-raising based on his hand.

Keep Track

He doesn’t do that with AJ or lower and probably just a few women or higher and maybe AK. So my AQ is way behind and I have to fold. I show hoping he shows too and he sheepishly shows KK.

If you find yourself in exactly the same situation but against a good, experienced tournament pro, it is very bad to fold AQ there. He will often re-raise me there based on the hands I can play there and not based on what he has himself.

I was then playing about 60% of the hands I got so also hands like 87o and J2s (bottom of my range or the worst possible hands I raise). It’s hard to play against a reraise with those hands because they’re so bad. But AQ is a hand that’s heading towards the top of my range so I’m up against his much larger range hands that he re-raises very often.

Put Yourself in Your Opponent’s Shoes As a Poker Player

The above illustrates to a large extent the importance of knowing who you are playing against and how that person thinks. It gets even more interesting when you play heads-up online. And preferably on several tables at the same time against the same player.

We’ll stick with no-limit Holdem for a while. If you have an opponent who only raises absolute monsters (TT+ and AK) preflop, i.e. only 2-3% of his hands, it’s very easy to play against them. If the stacks are very deep (200 blinds or more) you can call profitably. This is because you can easily make optimal decisions post-flop.

If the stacks are too small, you fold every time he has a strong hand. If you call a reraise you can get your opponent in big trouble on certain flops like 567 or TT9. He never improves his hand with that. And guess if you did.

Once you have to guess, you will make mistakes and you will lose money. The solution to this, of course, is to reraise both your top hands and somewhat lower, well-playable hands preflop. Preferably suited connected hands that you can easily discard after a re-raise.

Bringing Balance to Your Game

The latter is called ‘balancing your range’. At a low level with players who don’t think much, this is irrelevant. If this poker player always calls preflop reraises, you can always just reraise your strong hands ‘for value’. And get into favourable situations.

Against thinking players, it is important to alternate how you play your hands. You want your opponents to make mistakes against you. So alternating how you play strong and weak hands is important so that thinking opponents don’t know how strong your hand is. And therefore have more difficulty making optimal decisions.

The importance of balancing your range is in my opinion overrated by thinking players at low stakes. And in live tournaments with a low buy-in. The opponents are then mainly concerned with how good their hand is and do not think about what you have.

How you can best play against that differs per opponent and is not that complicated. If they call too often then ‘light value betting’ (betting with a relatively weak hand with the expectation of getting called even less) is wise. Weak hands just give up against them. If they fold too often, you can bluff very often.

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