Back to strategy basics: Mix your game up

We’ve taught you a lot about the basics and ABC poker but it’s important to keep your game unpredictable and your opponents guessing too

Being predictable at poker is one of the quickest ways to ensure that you’re a losing player. If you raise every time you have A-A, K-K, Q-Q, J-J, T-T, A-K, A-Q and limp/call/ fold the rest of your hands pre op, even an average opponent is going to suss you out pretty quickly. The very best players have learnt to mix their game up in order to keep their opponents guessing, but it’s actually pretty easy to add a layer of unpredictability to your game.

Say you’ve got Aces on the button and you’re facing a raise from the cut-off. Conventional wisdom might tell you to re-raise here, to try and build a pot and get all of the chips in the middle pre op, which is definitely the optimal outcome with Aces.

However a at call will disguise your hand completely, and if you’re lucky might even elicit a squeeze from one of the blinds. It’s a risky way to play big pairs and you certainly don’t want to be doing this as your standard practise, but it could prove the optimal play in this specific situation, with the cut-off obliged to lead out on any op with a standard continuation bet.

If the hand makes it to showdown, win or lose, you’ll have shown the other players at the table that you’re capable of calling with big hands. The next time you do that with 6-8s, they might not be so quick to go over the top.

Of course, you shouldn’t just be playing unpredictably with big hands. Three-betting with hands like suited connectors and even two random cards should be added to your arsenal as well.

Time to play

Top poker author Dan Harrington used to use his watch to decide whether he should be raising or calling in situations like this. He calls it the ‘second hand sweep’ – if the second hand is between 12 and 1 he goes for the non-conventional play.

You don’t have to go that far but this does show you how often you should be deviating from the more conventional lines.

Mixing your game up will lead to outdraws and it will lead to occasions that force you to lay big hands down in the face of aggression on a co-ordinated board. The benefits of doing it though will outweigh the pain of these specific hands in the long run. It will also lead to you being paid off with other hands that you’ve played deceptively with and flopped huge.

A couple of words of warning. Don’t let your game get horribly out of line. If there’s been a limpfest before you and you’ve got a big hand don’t even think about looking at your watch. Raise and be happy to take the considerable chips that are already in the pot.

Also, it’s only worth playing unpredictably against people that are good enough to notice what you’re doing. If you’re playing the lower stakes games online, people generally either aren’t good enough or paying enough attention to warrant switching from playing solid AbC poker. However when you start to move up in stakes and skill levels, it’s essential that you add a layer of deception to your game, unless you want to come crashing back down again in a hurry.

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