by David Chicotsky
We’ve all heard the phrase, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” Well, in poker, in the vast majority of situations—you can. For the most part, players are very straightforward with their intentions, and when you have a read on someone (assuming you’re competent at gauging other players’ tendencies) you can usually use that info against your opponent in the future. In my previous articles I’ve highlighted how important it is to shift-gears, since playing the same way throughout a tournament makes us predictable. Despite this advice, be aware that the average player doesn’t shift gears enough.
As a good training exercise to work on shifting gears, play a tournament and alternate between playing loose and tight every other level. Obviously there is no other logic behind this exercise than to get you comfortable switching gears. Normally, you’d want to switch gears during opportune times of a tournament, but in this case it’s easy enough to go from tight to loose at the start of each level. In tournament poker there is a perceived need to reconfirm information to help substantiate our thoughts on various opponents. I caution you against this...and here’s what I mean. If you think someone is loose, and you’re correct let’s say 80% of the time, you’re better off treating him accordingly right away (by re-raising the player on our right in this example). If you reconfirm this information by not re-raising and deciding to wait until the player has made another loose open, you’ll be that much more sure the player is loose (let’s make up a number, say 90% sure). The problem is, now this player realizes you’ve seen him play loose and can adjust accordingly. So even though you’ve increased your hypothetical certainty percentage from 80 to 90, the effectiveness of using that information against your opponent drops drastically. Essentially, the longer you wait to counter-act your opponent, the easier it is for your opponent to be conscious of this and adjust accordingly.
One of the most important points to take away from this article is to just trust your instincts and the information at hand and “run with it.” If you feel like a player is loose— they’re loose. If you feel like a player is tight—they’re tight. You might find out more information in the future that forces you to reconsider your original read, but as a whole, your first impression is usually right. Also, trust in the fact that most players (especially amateurs, beginners, and even intermediate players) are unwilling or unable to shift gears appropriately throughout a tournament. If you find a player playing very loose in a tournament and they move your table, when you re-unite with them hours later at the final table—you can rest assured they will be playing loose again. Take the information and run with it!
There’s no certain one way to play that is ideal for tournament; in fact the more ways you can play during a tournament the harder you’ll be for your opponents to play against. When you sit down at the poker table, make a point to shift gears. Whether that’s adjusting your play to accommodate the players you’re going up against, the chipstacks or simply the time of the tournament—when you alter your play it forces your opponents to treat you differently. I’m a big believer that the hardest players to play against are the players that are very middle of the road; it’s hard to tell if they have it or not—keeping me on my toes (playing a big guessing game). Be one of those players that varies their style throughout the tournament.
David “The Maven” Chicotsky is the 2008 Online Player of the Year and a successful poker coach—you can reach him at TheMavenTraining.com. David is currently the Marketing Director for PokeroomUSA.com and founder of TicoTours.com, a travel and business development company based in Costa Rica.