Some decisions, both game and non-game, are relatively easy to make while others are more difficult. Everyone makes bad decisions from time to time, but the key to being successful is to make as few as possible. It is from poorer players frequent bad decisions that better players make their long-term profit.
So if the key to poker is to making as few mistakes (bad decisions) as possible, how can we avoid making them? Well we can’t, at least not completely. Poker is a complex enough game that even the best players will make mistakes from time to time, and often it is very difficult to determine what the best course of action is at all, even after heavy analysis. All we can do is make the best decision we can in any situation, taking into account as many variables as possible and drawing fully on our knowledge and experience.
But what if I were to tell you that there are certain decisions you could make that would almost never be wrong, and even if they were it would be by a very small amount? And what if I told you that despite this, many players choose to make the opposite decision with alarming regularity? Well read on because in this article I have three decisions that can be made remarkably easy.
1. Not showing your cards
The only time in poker you are required to show your hand is if you are still in the hand when it is called on the river. Yet players come up with all kinds of justification for showing their opponents their cards at other times.
‘I wanted my opponent to see how he sucked out on me’
‘I wanted to show the table a bluff to improve my table image’
‘I wanted to show I had a genuine hand and was not bluffing’
‘I wanted to show the monster I had’
I’m sure that some of these reasons sound convincing. Hell, they sound pretty convincing to me, and the second and third ones especially may have some strategic value. Professional players will often do it at the highest level when playing against other professional players, and I’m sure they have very good reasons for doing so. But why make things complicated for yourself? Not showing your cards is never wrong and to be honest, unless you are a world-class psychiatrist, you probably can’t spot the few times when showing your cards is beneficial. To fully evaluate the impact of showing down a hand you have to know:
· Which players are even paying attention (especially pertinent on the internet)
· Of the players paying attention, which ones will attempt to make generalisations on your play based on you showing this hand
· Of these, how will they play differently against you as a result?
All of these factors can be difficult to determine and the last one especially so. Often when you show down a hand you may be doing a lot more harm than good. This is best illustrated with an example. Let’s say you have KdJh in the cutoff and it is folded to you. You raise, and both blinds call. Flop is AsQhTs, it is checked to you and you bet. SB check-raises, BB folds, you call. Turn is the Queen of spades, SB bets, you raise, SB calls. River is a blank, SB checks, you bet, SB folds and you show your flopped straight in an effort to show the table you had a genuine hand and were not just trying to make a play.
However, if someone really is monitoring you and adapting to your play, what have you just told them?
· You will try to steal the blinds from late position with any half decent hand.
· You are capable of slow-playing the flop with the nuts, but you don’t go for the suspicious ‘raise pre-flop then check it through’ manoeuvre.
· You don’t automatically go passive when confronted with a scare card
That is a whole lot of information you have just given the table in order to try to engineer them into an over-reaction. Information is a powerful tool in poker and giving people free information in the hope that they misuse it is a very dangerous thing to do indeed. Why not save yourself the trouble and just muck your hand, leave your opponents wondering if you were bluffing or not.
2. Keeping quiet
Play in any online poker room and you will see a wide range of table chat, ranging from the social ‘where are you from?’ kind of chat, through discussions about the previous hand, insults about each others play and even hurtful personal remarks that would earn people an ejection from a brick and mortar card room. When hiding behind the anonymity of the Internet, it is very tempting to just say what you think at any given time, but is it always wise to do so? Well certainly the personal remarks aren’t because they could get you banned from the site for very little appreciable result, but what of the rest?
Well the potential to increase your earn rate through strategic table chat is, at best, debatable. Personally I have used table chat in an effort to tilt another player, mislead opponents about my own play skill or stop a player who I am feeding off of being harassed away from the table. However, it is very rare that I notice any appreciable reward for my troubles. On the other hand, the penalty for inadvertently giving away needless information over table chat is potentially large. For example, by criticising someone else’s play you are potentially flagging information about your own play to the better players at the table, which can be costly. Plus of course you may scare away the bad player and that’s not really what you want is it?
Given all the potential negative effects of table chat, you will be happy to know that there is practically zero damage that can be done by just keeping quiet. Don’t respond to insults, questions about your hand or queries on your play and you will reveal nothing and probably annoy the perpetrator in the process. As an added bonus you will get less distracted and so will be making better decisions. Note that some people elect to disable table chat for this reason. However I would argue that monitoring table chat to pick up information about your opponents is a valuable tool. If your opponents are going to give up free information, you might as well use it.
3. Hard playing a good hand
In other words, betting, raising or check-raising when you think you are ahead. In this day and age, most players like to add some deception to their game by slow-playing their big hands. Many people will, as a matter of course, check-call their flopped sets, trips, straights and flushes, and some even slow-play top pair, top kicker type hands. This can be a legitimate strategy, but is fraught with problems:
· So many people slow-play big hands, that the deception now has very little value. Nobody will assume that you can’t have a monster based on passive play on the flop, and in many circumstances it actually looks suspicious.
· By not betting and raising at every opportunity, you may be giving your opponents the opportunity to outdraw you.
· If your opponent also has a good hand, you may be missing out on several bets.
· If you are actually beaten, it may prevent you from spotting this.
This is not saying that slow-playing is not a good tool to have in your armoury, merely that it is very overused. It is my opinion that in limit Hold’em, playing a good hand hard is never wrong. There are hands that it may be wrong with hindsight, but these are difficult to identify at the time. It would require one of the following to occur:
· One of your opponents to improve on the turn (but not overtake you) that would have folded to your flop aggression.
· Driving out opponents by forcing them to pay multiple bets when they would have continued to pay single bets, while at the same time not have them outdraw you.
· One or more opponents betting/raising the turn or river when they wouldn’t, had you shown more aggression on previous streets.
Now all of these scenarios are possible, but even collectively not terribly likely. By betting and raising at every opportunity, you will protect your hand, while allowing you to win the maximum possible if your opponent also has a hand. You will be hard pushed to find a good player who will criticise you for doing this.
With all three decisions mentioned here you have an opportunity to make an easy and unglamorous play that has the added bonus of almost never being wrong. In a complex game full of complex decisions, why not give yourself a break and make an easy one once in a while.
Ian Taylor, aka Piemaster