Copyright 2005 Full
May 2, 2005
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Poker Lesson: Keep Your Toolbox
Author: Chris Ferguson
I often get asked about my playing style. Rather
than answer the question myself, I'm more interested in what my
opponents say. And I've heard it all: "You're too tight."
"You're too loose." "You're tight aggressive."
"You're too passive."
Actually, I never hear that last one, but I've heard
all the others, which makes me believe I must be doing something
right. Loose, tight, aggressive - my style is that I'm all of
the above, depending upon the circumstances.
One essential element of playing winning poker
is forcing your opponents to make difficult decisions. That's
why raising is almost always better than calling - because it
forces an extra decision on your opponents. To take this a step
further - you'll win more money by forcing your opponents to make
decisions when they are out of their comfort zones.
Here are some examples:
Your opponent is on your left, playing too tight
before the flop. You want to punish him for this. The best way
to do that is to raise more often, and be more aggressive. Either
you end up stealing a lot of blinds, or he adjusts his play.
If you get the blinds? Great! If he adjusts? Better!
It's the best outcome you can hope for. If he starts playing more
hands pre-flop, you now have a real edge. Anytime your opponent
changes his pre-flop playing style, he's going to run into trouble
later in the hand. A guy who usually plays nothing but very strong
hands isn't going to know what to do with weaker holdings on the
turn and river.
If a tight opponent raises in front of you, wait
for a stronger hand to call. By playing tight when you are acting
behind your opponent, you avoid losing money to his stronger hands.
Again, if your opponent catches on, you're forcing him to play
more hands up front, and you can outplay him after the flop.
What about the guy who plays too many hands? If
you're acting first, you want better starting hands than normal.
Most of the value of a marginal hand comes from the chance that
your opponent will fold immediately. If your opponent has never
seen suited cards he doesn't like, the value of your marginal
hand decreases because it's unlikely he's going to lay his hand
down. He may win more pots preflop, but this is more than offset
by the extra money you're going to make when you do see a flop
with your stronger hands.
If a loose opponent raises you, you can call --
or even raise -- with weaker hands, and raise with hands you'd
ordinarily just call with. By taking control of the hand, you
can pick up more pots later. Again, you are daring him to change
his style. If he doesn't, you're getting the best of it. If he
does, he's a fish out of water, prone to making mistakes later
in the hand.
It's important to have a lot of tools in your arsenal.
First, it's helpful in being able to adjust to your opponents
and force them out of their comfort zones. Additionally, it will
enable you to take advantage of your own table image when you
have already been labeled as a tight or loose player, and to adjust
For example, Gus Hansen and Phil Ivey are known
as extremely aggressive players. The only way they have been able
to survive with that image is by being able to adjust to different
opponents and to slow down occasionally, when appropriate. I have
seen this happen sometimes just before an opponent starts reacting
to their aggression. They are somehow able to sense what is happening,
and change their games accordingly. Other times, they won't adjust
much, and force their opponents to try and beat them at an unfamiliar
To best take advantage of this, pay attention! To
everything. All the time. Not just when you're in the hand, but
especially when you're not in the hand. Every hand your opponent
plays gives you valuable information about how he thinks, and
how he's likely to play hands in the future.
If there's an expert at your table, watch how he
plays. See what hands he expects to work, think about how he plays
them, then try incorporating it yourself. See how he pushes weaker
players out of their comfort zone. Paying attention is one of
the best ways to learn, and a great way to move up the poker food
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