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Home > Strategy > Changing Up

Poker Strategy - Changing Up

Note: This is primarily for shorthanded games (6 or fewer people) and to be used mainly against good poker players.

One thing that most people do wrong, including myself at times, is play consistently. You may play your AQ differently sometimes preflop or when you hit an A or Q. You may bet a different amount (in No-Limit) or choose to jam the pot at a different time (in Limit). However, most decent players will be able to identify you as a certain type of player: tight-aggressive, very tight-aggressive, or loose, etc.

A way to help your earnings is to simply switch up your play sometimes. This way, when they're expecting that you're going to bluff, you bluff rarely so they'll call you more. Likewise, if your bets are usually for value, you start to bluff at the pot a lot. People generally won't catch on if you do this discreetly, and it can add more mystery to your play.

This psychology is obviously more effective at No-Limit because it is much easier to bluff at NL. However, it can be used at Limit as well. Generally, the game must be 5 or fewer people (preferably 4 people total.) With stakes large enough, you can effectively bluff at the flop or turn if you played it tight at first, and you will receive more callers for big bets if you bluffed earlier.

For those of you who are mathematically inclined, we'll use some game theory to prove these assertions. Suppose you are playing a hockey game and you have a penalty shot. You predict that if you kick left, you will have an 80% chance of scoring if the goal tender does not expect left, and you have a 60% of scoring if you kick to the right and the goalie does not expect right. However, if the goalie blocks left and you kick left, you only have a 45% chance of scoring, and if the goalie blocks to the right, you will only score 35% of the time. Here's a example to quickly summarize this idea:

  Goalkeeper Blocks Left Goalkeeper Blocks Right
You Shoot Left 45% 80%
You Shoot Right 60% 35%

As you can see, even though shooting left may be what you are best at, it is in your interest to shoot right from time to time because if the goalie always knows you will shoot left, you will score less than if you shot to the right sometimes.

Now, instead of percent chance of scoring, think of the numbers as hourly profit. Left means playing your standard tight-aggressive game and the right means playing a more loose game.

  Opponent Expects Tight Opponent Expects Loose
You play Tight-Aggressive $45 / hr $80 / hr
You play Loose-Aggressive $60 / hr $35 / hr

Bad players may not 'block' at all or will always block the wrong way, so you can keep on playing your standard tight-aggressive game and earn $80 an hour. However, against good players, they'll quickly realize what you are doing and start playing defensively. Your profit drops down to $45 an hour.

Now, suppose you play tight-aggressive 70% of the time and loose 30% of the time. If they continue to just play against you as if you were a tight-aggressive all the time, you will earn $49.5 an hour (.7 * 45 + .3 * 60).

Now, if your opponents caught on to what you were doing and played you as a tight-aggressive 80% of the time and a looser player 20% of the time, your profit would actually increase as long as they don't notice when you are playing which way. Your profit would be $52.9
(0.7 * 0.8 * $45) + (0.7 * 0.2 * $80) + (0.3 * 0.8 * $60) + (0.3 * 0.2 * $35) = $52.9

So, in order for them to defend against your changing pace, they need to know when you are actually changing pace. Obviously, if they treated you as a tight-aggressive 70% of the time and they were correct the whole time, your profit would drop accordingly. However, as shown before, predicting a change of pace when there is none will actually help the person who is changing pace, so people generally will treat you as the same even when you switch styles!

Thus, I recommend you change your pace some, but do it at random so they can't catch on and correctly predict when you vary your style. Powerful stuff! Remember it's the long term benefits your after when its all said and done. Have fun, but treat the game as you would another day in your poker career. You had some bad beats but over-all it was a good month :D