by David “The Maven” Chicotsky
It is not uncommon to hear players complain about having to play against amateurs. What is it about amateurs that can give more advanced players so much trouble? Quite simply, it is the fact that they are unpredictable and play their hands in unconventional ways. Prescribing to the notion that unpredictability makes players harder to play against - let’s go over some techniques that will allow us to operate outside of the normal scope of how most players play the game.
I’ve written in the past about alternating your openraise sizes pre-flop to throw off your opponents and this is one of the easiest ways to play an unconventional style. Whether it’s min-raising or 4x’ing it pre-flop, bouncing your open-raise sizings around allows us to manipulate our opponents from the very start of a hand. The same principle of alternating our sizings applies post-flop as well. When we get to the flop, we can make bets as small as 1x all the way up to the size of the pot (or in some cases over-betting the flop). This leaves us with a wide range of options when approaching a certain player, with a certain stack size, along with a specific board texture. It’s important not to fall into “robot mode” and just bet your default size on the flop every time.
Why are amateur players so hard to read? For one thing, when they call you it is hard to tell if they have king high on the flop, bottom pair or top pair. They also have a tendency to limp and call a lot of raises. I am not advocating limping and calling raises as a great general strategy for beating tournaments. What I am suggesting however is mixing an odd play here or there into your sequence of actions to keep your opponents guessing (and arguably make the game more fun than playing the same way every time you hit the felt). On this note, I like to work in limp-calls as well as limp-raises pre-flop, but I like to caution players (especially beginners) that limping in as your default pre-flop action is a recipe for disaster.
A lot of what we can or cannot do is based around the chipstacks in play. If we are sitting with only 20 blinds, limping and calling a raise with a hand like jack-ten suited would be absurd. If we (and our opponent) had 100 blinds to start the hand, I wouldn’t mind the play at all. Don’t fall into the trap of judging the available plays at our disposal solely based upon the hand strength we have. More often than not, the chipstack is as big or a bigger component of the options we have.
The bottom line is there are countless ways we can play any given hand and we need to think outside of the box in order to mix up our repertoire of plays. Remember that in a general sense, when we bet smaller we expand our opponents’ ability to make calls (and raises). When we bet larger, it contracts that range. We need to be sure to adjust our sizings relative to the reaction we desire from our opponents.
When playing online, the auto-bet buttons can be a real curse for many players as they hit the 1/2 pot bet button all day long on the flop - after clicking it over and over to 3x pre-flop for their standard open-raise. Reality is there are virtually an infinite amount of options as to how we can approach each hand and doing the same thing over and over again almost always is to our detriment. The next time you sit down to play poker, think about how you would usually approach a hand, then think of all the other available options.
David “The Maven” Chicotsky is the 2008 Online Player of the Year and a former #1 ranked online tournament poker player. He is also an experienced poker coach and can be reached at TheMavenTraining.com.