by David “The Maven” Chicotsky
In many aspects, poker players are predictable. Players’ general characteristics generally don’t differ greatly. Take 100 novices, show them the absolute basics, and let them play for a couple of months. When viewing their play, general patterns will emerge. The term, “ABC player,” gets thrown around often, but it’s really true that the vast majority of people who sit down at a poker table have a tendency to play along conventional lines. So what are some unconventional lines we can take in tournaments, and how we can use them to our advantage?
A great example of an unconventional line is the limpraise, especially from early position. The vast majority of the time, when a player limp-raises, they hold a premium hand. When I think about unconventional lines in No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em tournaments, limp-raising with less than premium hands comes to mind.
Pairings like 10/9s or ace-rag-suited can be used to represent truly premium hands like aces and kings by limpraising against aggressive opponents who you believe are simply picking on a limper. It’s possible to initially limp in with a big stack in middle position with the intention of seeing a flop, only to be raised and isolated by a LAG player. If you’ve built up a tight image, this could be a good time to make such a limp-raise play.
Another option would be to simply call and checkraise if you miss the flop. The point here is to distinguish between the typical play that most people would make in a certain situation (like just calling the raise pre-flop, evaluating the flop and check-folding if you miss), and the other plays that are your possible options.
What are some other unconventional lines to consider? Maybe calling a turn bet in position with a light hand, from middle-pair to air, with the intention of raising the river. How often is someone on a stone cold float on the turn, only to bluff-raise their opponent on the river? It’s probably not very often. Just like with limp-raising pre-flop with less than premium hands, the real power of the move is just how often your opponent will believe you to have the range of hands you are representing rather than the true hand you are holding.
When it comes to bluffing, we want to try and identify spots where our competitors won’t expect a bluff. Very rarely does someone limp-raise from early position with air pre-flop, but the exact opposite is true of a flop continuation bet. These days especially, simply raising in position and continuation-betting on the flop once it’s checked to you won’t be enough to allow you to constantly accumulate chips. Opponents are folding less often to the most conventional plays like flop continuation-bets, forcing us as players to mix in more unconventional lines as well.
Along with flop continuation-bets garnering less respect, the less conventional lines we employ will undoubtedly include double and triple barreling post-flop. If you’re able to take down more pots post-flop with marginal holdings, you’ll be going to showdown less often. By going to showdown less often, you’re essentially trading hand-strength equity for fold-equity.
A little bit of experimentation goes a long way in this game. Finding new ways to pick up chips against your opponents will help you in your goal of building bigger chip stacks in tournaments. Remember, especially with tournament poker and the associated progressive payouts, there are certain times when taking on extra risk is rewarded. When you set out to play poker, try to find spots where you can work an unconventional line into your normal game plan.
David “The Maven” Chicotsky is the 2008 Online Player of the Year and a former No. 1 ranked online tournament poker player. He is also an experienced poker coach and can be reached at TheMavenTraining.com.