"Pitching is grinding it out. Every batter is a new battle." -David Cone
When I was growing up, my brother was one of the best baseball players in my neighborhood. He had a great arm and was a star pitcher. When I taught my brother how to play Texas hold 'em almost two decades later, we often used a lot of baseball terminology and analogies when discussing strategy. My brother incorporated a lot of what he learned on the baseball diamond into creating his own playing style at the poker tables, because the pitcher versus batter situation has many similarities to playing heads up poker. Baseball and poker are situational games where decisions are based on the mitigating factors at hand.
Sometimes baseball becomes a guessing game, much like poker. That puts you at a disadvantage when you have no idea what the other player is thinking. The best poker players in the world and Hall of Fame baseball pitchers have an added edge when they become totally unpredictable, yet know what you're thinking. Deception is a main component to a winning strategy. The best pitchers always seem know what to throw and when to throw it. They consistently induce their opponents to guess incorrectly...by
throwing a changeup when a batter is expecting a fastball, away or blowing away an opponent with a fastball when the batter was looking for a curve. Conversely, hitters inflate their stats when a pitcher gets complacent and falls into a discernable pattern. They know what pitch is coming and take advantage.
Basic winning pitching strategy includes changing speeds and location. I incorporated that in my poker game. The key to deception is avoiding a specific betting pattern because the keenest opponents will pick up on that immediately. You always have to mix things up at the tables and shouldn't always play a hand the same way against the same player. That means occasionally raising with mediocre hands, limping with monsters, or flat calling bets that you would normally raise. All of your previous moves are purposely done to set up your opponent.
Sometimes players can get a reputation based on their style of play. You have to use that to your advantage. For example, a pitcher might be known as a "first ball fastball" pitcher, which means his opponents are expecting a fast ball. The batter knows that the pitcher knows that the batter knows he likes to throw fastballs. That's why the pitcher has to mix things up from time to time and occasionally throw something off speed on the first pitch.
The equivalent in poker is when you have flop top set and set the flop with a two-thirds pot-size because you know that your opponent knows that's what you always do on big flush draws. One of the primary goals of poker is to induce your opponent to bet as much of their stack with an inferior hand. In order to do that, you have to convince them that they have the best hand or that you're bluffing.
Veteran pitchers often pitch differently early in the game in order to set up hitters later on when it matters most. For a future hall of famer like Greg Maddux, his pitches are never the same speed and deliberately thrown in specific areas to either exploit his opponents' weaknesses or to set them up at a later time. That's why every hand you play at the tables is important, even if it's for a small pot early on in a cash game or a tournament. You need to take advantage of those opportunities to set up your opponents for a later time when you have the opportunity to take down a monster pot or eliminate your opponent.
Paul "Dr. Pauly" McGuire is a writer, poker player, and avid traveler from New York City. He's the author of the Tao of Poker blog which can be found at taopoker.blogspot.com. Feel free to contact him at email@example.com.