Advanced Texas Holdem Strategy – Playing the Player

In our companion article on Basic Texas Holdem Strategy – Playing the Cards, you learned how to identify what hands are worth playing and for how long. But if playing superior poker were that simple, a computer program could do it (and believe you we – many have tried, all with miserable results). The reason why? What else is there to poker that makes it far more complex and strategic than most would have you believe?

In a word – people. In two – human beings. The fact is, on these sites, you are not playing against a computer. You are playing against another person with a different risk tolerance, level of experience, strategies, and personalities. Anybody can play the cards. The superior poker player plays his or her opponent. What does that mean? Here are a few key examples:

If Location-Location-Location is everything is real estate, than Position-Position-Position is everything in Texas Holdem. Exageration? Sure. But the lesson is a powerful one nonetheless. The farther along in the betting round you are seated, the more information you get to glean from your opponents before acting yourself. And being last to act (called being “On the Button”) is prime real estate. This is why everyone is more likely to try to Bluff when they are in last position, why you should be wary of this, and at the same time why you should also consider doing the same thing. If you’re in last position and you sense weakness around the entire table, you can work it to an almost sure win.

Learn to Smell Fear:
A player is more likely to stay in with a weaker hand when they are in the big or small blind. The rationale is familiar to many in a strategy-cum-cliché’ “defend your blinds”, a questionably wise morsel of advice that suggests you consider enduring a tad greater risk when you already have money at stake. The best way to capitalize on this suggestion, though is to realize that a ton of other players do it, most of them unconsciously. Therefore, it’s always worth asking yourself a player is Calling, or even riskier Raising, simply because they don’t want to lose the money they’ve already poured into the pot – blinds or otherwise. If you sense a bet is a defensive act, that puts you in a powerful position.

It’s not a dirty word. It doesn’t make you a wimp or a woos or whatever they’re calling you in chat. Folding is what happens most often at the World Series of Poker and all the World Poker Tour Events – which is how the editors know which parts to cut out. Don’t let the glitz and excitement of a televised tournament fool you. In between each nailbiting hand you witness are inordinate inconsequential and flat out boring hands where most players fold and one person walks away with the blinds. Not great televison, but a sign of wise poker strategy. Take great care in choosing which hands you will play, weighing in all the factors available to you. And when you play, play 100%. And the rest of the time, sit back and let your opponents beat the crud out of each other for a little while. Rest up for your next bout.

We are human. We have feelings. Those feelings can be hurt, especially when money is at stake. Tempers flare, words are exchanged – and not all of them are later regretted. In poker it’s called being put On Tilt, and it’s a surefire way to impair your judgment and start making poor decisions. And while we are by no means advocating belittling your opponents over the chat feature in order to distract and weaken them, realize that it does happen. At the very least, don’t let yourself be thrown by it. You can also learn to recognize when a player is on tilt already and take advantage of it. That’s a legitimate part of Texas Holdem and other players will certainly be watching you like buzzards for the same cues of (mental) decay. If a player’s chip stack is rapidly shrinking, if they’ve just sufferred bad beat, or a string of bad beats, if they start playing erratically – all of these are online cues of an opponent being on tilt. And all of them can be exploited by the observant player.

Mixing It Up:
Whatever strategies you employ, don’t employ them chronically or to excess. In other words, don’t give your opponents a chance to get a clear read on you. The entire time you’re sitting at a table, your opponents are trying to read you – to see what kind of a plyaer you are – tight, loose, aggressive, sly, sloppy, fearful, etc. Even the best poker strategies are worthless once your opponents are on to you. Prevent that from ever happening by making your bottom line strategy – and therefore quite intentionally the final strategy in this article – to mix up your poker strategies all the time.

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