|January 25, 2005
You've graduated from the Baby No Limit Games with the $1/$2 Blinds and the $100 buy-in. You crushed them by playing your percentages, taking advantage of their tight/weak and wild styles. You built your bankroll and now you're ready for the $5/$10 game with no cap on the buy-in.
Admittedly, you're a little scared and intimidated by your opponents. They, presumably, have been at this a lot longer than you. Even so, you've got game. You know your percentages. You know how to pick your spots. You feel ready.
Many of the players in these higher games seem very worried about their image. They email me asking what they need to know about "table etiquette" so they don't stand out. Or they want to know what moves they can use to impress their opponents so they won't be thought a rookie or a novice and so their opponents won't take shots at them.
Well, good news. You're not a novice. You're good enough to hold your own with the vast majority of these players - even if the stakes seem high to you. Most of the people who play at any level are losers. You have an advantage going into the game.
The key is not to worry about your image, whatever it may be, but to use it. Start by thinking how your actions look to others - and how that may affect how they play their hands.
Admittedly, this kind of second-level thinking wasn't necessary or even helpful in the Baby No Limit game. There, players barely understood their own hands, let alone yours. It would have been counterproductive to think about how they thought of your game because they never played like that. But as you move up in stakes your opponents will be better and more thoughtful. It will help you to think not just about how they are playing but about how they view your play.
Let's say they notice that you're stepping up from the lower stakes game. Or let's say that they are a tight little bunch of no limit players - so they notice anyone new. And you're new. How can you use that to your advantage?
First of all, expect some of them, the more aggressive players, to try to push you around. They know you're new. Their image of you is weak -- a scared, understacked weakling. That's how they view you. Don't try to change it; profit from it.
Now if this were one of those muscle magazines of old, I'd be giving you advice on how to improve your physique so you wouldn't be picked on. "Hey, don't let those bullies kick sand in your face, skinny man! Bulk up with …"
But poker is very different. You'll make more money by letting them kick sand in your face as long as you play correctly.
Let's say, for example, it's pre-flop. You have $500 in front of you - about two times the minimum buy-in in this game. You're the small blind and post your five dollars. The table folds to the cutoff seat who has a stack of three times yours - about $1,500 or so. He raises the $10 big blind to $50. The button folds. It's to you.
You look down and see Ah 9s. You don't want this guy pushing you around. You have some kind of hand. You're tempted to stick him back for $150 or so. That will show him. (Some players play exactly this way.)
Don't do it. Let him have his glory and win the hand. Let him smile thinking he bullied you. Let him brag to his friends - maybe even show his hole cards to demonstrate how expertly he bluffed you out of the pot.
OK. Maybe he only had a small pair. Maybe he didn't even have that. But is it worth making a stand with your A9 offsuit?
The answer is no.
Statistically, with a small pair he's a small favorite to your two unsuited overcards - about 52% to 48%. But if he has a bigger Ace - like AJ or A10, that's much worse for you. You're about a 3:1 dog. Similarly, if he has a bigger pair than your kicker - about a 3:1 dog.
Sure, he may be on a total steal. But even then, with two completely random and unconnected cards, you're only about a 2:1 favorite. It's not worth it. Don't tangle with him now. Be patient. But remember what happened and use it later.
Don't allow your desire to be respected affect your play. Rather, you want to use the image that this fold, and subsequent folds in similar situations, will create in the minds of your opponents. What is that?
Your opponents are likely to see you as timid. You're not. You're smart and you have heart. But your opponent thinks that you scare easily and don't like to tangle without the nuts. Good. Let him think that. Use that knowledge against him.
How do you do that? Two ways. First of all, recognize that if your opponents think you timid then they will be more aggressive against you when they have mediocre and lower quality hands. You can call more bets accordingly when you are strong - even if you're not super strong. In essence, your timid play early on has brought down the quality of hands that your opponents will play strongly against you. That's good for you. So when you're calculating how you stack up you can estimate them for poorer hands.
This is especially helpful on the Turn and on the River when you have made a strong hand that isn't the nuts and are trying to decide whether to call a large bet from your opponent. You will be more likely to induce large bluffs when you check, if you're first to act. You'll be more likely to pick off bluffs when you're in late position and your opponent is first to act. So check and call more often when your opponent bets.
You can also use this to your strategic advantage by recognizing that your large bets will be more respected. This only makes sense. When you actually do make a large bet - especially if you suspect that he doesn't have the nuts - it will look to others as if you must be loaded. Why else would you, a typically cautious player, be making such a large bet?
So allow this weak image to form in your opponent's mind. Then exploit it when the situation arises. They'll be bragging and giving lessons at the table but you'll be stacking the chips.
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Ashley Adams has been playing poker for 42 years, since learning the game literally at his grandfather's knee. He's been playing seriously (and winning) in casinos, poker rooms, living rooms and kitchens all over the world, for the past 12 years. He started playing seriously in 1993 at the poker room in Foxwoods Resort Casino and he's been winning just about ever since. He's won No Limit Hold‘Em and 7-Card Stud tournaments in Connecticut, Massachusetts, California and Nevada.
He is the author of Winning 7-Card Stud (Kensington 2003) and articles in Card Player Magazine, Poker Player Magazine, Live Action Poker Magazine, Southwestern Poker Magazine, 5thStreet Magazine, and numerous online sites. He is under agreement for his next book, Winning Low Limit/No Limit Hold‘Em, due to be published by Kensington in early 2006.
He is by profession a union organizer and negotiator, representing broadcasters, health care workers and now teachers. He has two daughters, both of whom play poker.