Poker Q&A

Players who read my articles often send me emails to discuss various topics involved in poker. From time to time, I will devote an article to some of the more interesting emails I receive. Today I will respond to an email I received from Leo, in NYC. Leo’s questions will be in italics and my responses will be in regular print.

I have a reputation at my club as a tight player. For the most part, this means that when I have a monster and try to build the pot the other players fold and I don’t get paid off. With this in mind, how can I maximize my big hands? Should I switch up my game (i.e. bluff more) to be less predictable?

I get asked questions like this very often and it is a very common problem for players with tight reputation. How to get action and maximize big hands. Well, changing things up is definitely one way to accomplish this. Sometimes, when I’m in early position, either under the gun, or second to act, I’ll look down and see a big pocket pair. If you instinctively always raise in this spot, you run the risk of everyone folding around and only picking up the blinds. No one really likes to do that. To change things up, sometimes I’ll just call the blind and wait for someone to raise behind me, which happens more often than not by a late position player. When this happens, and the action comes back to you, then go- ahead and re-raise. You have the best hand. Take him out and scoop up the chips.

Another tactic you can try is to “advertise a little bit”. Early on in the game, let’s say you look down and see the 8h-9h and it comes to you. Make a raise 7-8 times the size of the big blind. Since people perceive you as tight, they will probably all fold and the hand is yours. At this time, as the chips are pushed to you, just flip over your cards and say something like “Come on guys, I’m sure someone had 9 high beat.” This will make people think you’re playing loose and will give you action and pay off your big hands.

We have a number of players in my club who will raise pre-flop on almost every hand. Obviously everyone knows that they do not always have a good started hand and are frequently bluffing. When is a good time/position to go after these guys with a marginal hand? Keep in mind that I wouldn’t do it frequently because these are the aggressive players who possibly will re-raise over the top of me which is not a situation I want to put myself in often when holding a marginal starting hand.

Sounds to me like you play against a fair number of maniacs at your game. Well, first things first, just because a maniac doesn’t necessarily always have good cards, doesn’t mean they don’t pick up their share of big hands. That’s part of their strategy. They want you to get frustrated and play marginal hands. So I suggest that you stick to your game plan. Be selective. If you call a raise make sure you have good cards, suited connectors or a big pair and go after them post flop. Positionally speaking, you want to be to the left of this player, that way you have control and “final say” in the hand. If you are seated to the right of this person, you are at an even greater disadvantage because of your bad position and the uncertainty of what he holds. If you go after this person with marginal holdings you will be endangering your bankroll.

My last question also concerns my tight style vs. the loose/aggressive style of many players in the club. I barely ever bluff because there are many loose players at my club who are essentially calling stations. This means I may end up at the river with nothing and them still calling my bet. I know that I need to bluff at some point in order to turn a profit but in this type of an environment when would be the best time to do so?

Excellent question. When is a good time to bluff? Well, as a general rule, I like to win my first couple showdown hands which makes the whole table see that you were strong enough down to the river and beyond to take the pot. This will give the perception that when you go all he way with a hand, you will win it. This past success can set up your future bluffs. However, don’t make a habit of bluffing too often because if you do, astute players will pick up on this and punish you for it. To summarize, win some pots “fair and square” and then move in with the occasional bluff. Also, I usually like to bluff on the flop and turn and try to end the hand right there. Big enough bets on these streets will make it mathematically incorrect for your opponents to call and sometimes will make them fold marginal hands or draws. Put the pressure on early before they become pot committed and call your river bet.

Until next time, may the chips fall your way.