The advice in this column may seem counterintuitive at first, but soon you’ll understand why it actually makes sense to bluff more and play more aggressively against skilled opponents.
The old-school rule on this topic has always been to play tough competitors very cautiously, favoring a more conservative, straightforward approach to the game. I agree with that thinking for the most part.
However, when every player in the game is a real tough cookie, well, that changes everything dramatically.
Suppose you’re in a cash game with just one solid player and the others are all novices. It just wouldn’t make sense for you to tangle with the shark, especially if you have a marginal hand. You’d be better off avoiding him whenever possible. Instead, look to exploit mistakes that the weaker players will eventually make.
Let’s tweak that scenario a little bit.
This time you’re playing tournament poker. At your table you find Doyle Brunson, Gus Hansen, Phil Ivey, Phil Hellmuth, Johnny Chan and Ted Forrest – some of the best players in the world. If this weren’t a tournament, your best move would be to pack it in and find a softer game. Unfortunately, that’s simply not an option in tournament play.
The first thing you should do — even before playing a single hand – would be to ask a floorman about the table breaking order. Knowing this information will help you gauge how long you’ll likely be stuck at this tough table.
If your table is one of the earliest to break, tighten up your game. Don’t get involved with marginal hands. Conserve your chips; you’ll want as many as possible when you get to an easier table after the break.
Now, if your table isn’t set to break for a long while, face it, you’ll be forced to play against the big boys. As much as you might like to sit back and play ABC poker — slowly accumulating chips by playing strong hands and rarely bluffing — that approach isn’t going to work well against Doyle and his pals.
Remember, great players won’t pay you off on your strong hands. They’ll push you around like a mop if you lay down your cards when nothing solid hits on the flop. It’s a tough situation. To succeed, you’ve got to be willing to go down fighting.
It’s all about recognizing when you’re outclassed and then doing something about it. In these situations, play borderline hands aggressively, bluff more often in dangerous situations, and take more calculated risk than you normally would.
Here’s an example.
Playing against a pro, you’re dealt Kh-10h. You hit a flush draw when the flop comes Qh-7s-2h.
This is precisely the kind of situation when you should take an aggressive approach. If your opponent leads out with a bet, raise him back. Unless he has a very strong hand himself, or puts you on a bluff, he might very well fold. And even if he does call your raise, you still have a chance to win the pot by catching another heart.
When playing against a table full of novices, however, go ahead and play that ABC style of poker. There’s no need to take big risks; eventually one of the weak players at the table will make a big mistake and hand his chips to you.
So, in that same example, if a novice bets the flop, your best course of action would be to simply call. If you raise, he’d probably call anyway, putting you in a position where you’d need to get lucky to win. Relying on good luck is not the way to play against a weaker opponent.
Visit www.cardsharkmedia.com/book.html for information about Daniel Negreanu’s new book, Hold’em Wisdom for All Players.
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