General concepts

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Strategy to Expert Poker Playing

What does it mean to be a great poker player? The answer is that it depends. More specifically it depends on the skill of your opponents. To be a great player, one should take into account not only how an opponent plays but also how well he plays.  This is true of the game as a whole as well as of the individual player.
            There are three kinds of expert poker playing:
            Level 1: Expert mathematical strategy.
            Level 2: Expert counter strategy.
            Level 3: Expert mixed strategy.

The tougher the game, the higher the level of strategy you must use in order to beat the game for the most money.  The typical pro is adept only at Strategy 1.  Higher-stakes players are usually best at Strategy 2.  The world-class players who you might have heard of sometimes use mixed strategy.  Ironically, however, almost no one knows how to play every one of these three levels of strategy when the time calls for it. I can think of only four or five exceptions in all of poker.  These are the truly great players. 

Let us now examine each level.

Mathematical Strategy

Perfect mathematical poker strategy involves such factors as the value of your hand, the size of the pot, the number of players in the pot, and your position.  In games like seven-card stud, the cards that are out are another important factor. 

Though I call this the first level strategy, it is by no means simple.  It is analogous to the computer-derived blackjack strategy that “counters” use, except that it is far more complicated. 

However, like the blackjack strategy, Level 1 poker strategy is basically automatic.  One factor is not really taken into account, namely how the rival play hands. 

It is assumed in this strategy that all your opponents are playing straightforwardly, i.e. betting or calling with a good hand, raising with a very good hand, and checking or folding with a bad hand.

This mathematical strategy works very well against loose, weak players.  In fact, in a weak game, a higher-level strategy would not do as well. 

Even if there are a few other expert players in the game, you should usually stick to Level 1 strategy as there will almost always be at least one bad player in the pot, which keep the experts from getting too fancy.

The fact of the matter is that most top players do not know the best way to extract money from pot of poker game .  When a sucker does enter the game I have frequently seen these top players become increasingly frustrated as they fail to get his money, while some good, but not great player is getting it all. 

The truth is that in this particular game, the normally weaker player has become the best player in the game! This is because he is more adept at the Level 1 strategy that the game now requires. As the game gets tougher it is a must that you switch to a high-level strategy. 

This is because your gain by playing the mathematically straightforward strategy is more than offset by the fact that your opponents will usually be able to read your hands usually narrow down to two or three players.  When there is a multiway pot, you should usually stick fairly close to the right percentage play.)

When using Level 1 strategy, you would play a particular hand the same way every time in a particular situation. This is not true for the higher level strategies.  You might very well play the identical hand differently from one time to the next.

Counter Strategy.
          

one of the main things that determines how you will play your hand is how your opponents play. This is what I mean by counter strategy.

If you know how your opponent plays, it is very possible that you can take best advantage of this information by playing your hand differently from what pure percentage would indicate.  For instance, you would tend to check more with a very aggressive poker player yet to act.

The various ways you should change your play depending on how your opponent plays could be the subject for a whole book.  Until I write this book, I refer to the chapter called “Evaluating the players and Adjusting to Them” in my book The Theory of Poker.

When your opponents are good enough to realize that you change your play according to your opponent, but still play a particular opponent the same way, it is time to go one step further.  In very tough games you must play identical hands in identical situations differently against the same opponent. 

Expert Mixed Strategy 

If there is more than one reasonable way to play a hand you should give strong consideration to playing it the slightly inferior way just to throw the other players off. 

Then again, you could also play it the standard (Level 1) way as your opponents will be worried that you are tricking them and thus don’t really have what you are representing. 

(I frequently check a weak hand yet still don’t get bet into, as my opponents fear I am slowplaying a very good hand.) Level 3 strategy, like Level 2 Strategy, involves mixing up your play. 

The difference is that in Level 2 you still play the same way against a particular opponent, based on the way he plays, using Level 3, you keep on changing your play even against the same player.

How do you decide how to play a hand some particular time against a tough player? There are two ways. If you have great instincts yourself, you should try to outguess him. 

This usually means that you should think back to how you have played against him recently.  Now you reverse it. (Remember, however, that you shouldn’t go to extremes to be tricky.  If the alternate play is far inferior mathematically, you probably shouldn’t use it.)

Against truly great players you may anticipate that they expect you to reverse your play, so you don’t! However, against players like this you are probably better off using the ultimate method of mix up your play. Do it randomly.

Use irrelevant factors, such as the color of your cards, to decide a close decision. For instance, you may check a hand if more than three-fifths of your cards are red. Otherwise, bet.  Now even the champions won’t be able to figure you out.

“Randomizing” your strategy is the ultimate way to play poker. Don’t forget, however, that it won’t work against lesser players. Deciding what proportion of different playing styles to use randomly requires real insight into poker and your opponents.

There is, however, a mathematical discipline which tells you the optimum way to mix up your play.  It is called Game Theory. Game Theory is too complex to go into here. 

In The Theory of Poker and in Getting The Best of It.In fact, no one knows how to play the more difficult poker games purely according to Game Theory. 

Even if they did, it does not work as well as other strategies unless your instincts are somewhat lacking, or you are playing against world-class superstars.  In this case, however, Game Theory becomes a killer.

Isn’t ironic? As we move up the levels of poker play we start with a mathematical strategy and then stray from it as we get better and the game gets tougher. Then when we achieve the ultimate strategy, we find that we are back to mathematics again.  Let that be a lesson to us.

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