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Mix Your Game Up by Mixing Your Game Up
A constant drumbeat echoes in my ear: "Mix up your game, mix up your game … mix up ..." It isn't crazy advice, of course. The best players have a lot of trick in their game.
Deception is good in poker. Being readable is bad. The guys with neon signs over their heads blinking away have a tough time getting paid off.
So, I have nothing critical to say about the specific strategic components of deception that have been put forward.
Rather, my concerns are about deployment of this advice, about when it is useful and when it may not be, about whether it should be tempered based on who's sitting around the table with you, and whether following it can actually cost you in the long run.
If you're playing with top-level opponents, mixing up your game is good advice.
In fact, low and mid-level stakes where the vast majority of poker is played are just not paying attention. Deception here has little value.
2. Even when they are, you won't gain much.
Even when you're playing with a stronger crowd - where your opponents are actually paying attention - Harrington's approach may still not be financially viable. You have to play an awful lot of hands with the same people before these random deceptions have any impact.
Suppose you've got a weak hand on the button with two limpers already in. You decide to engage a 70-20-10 breakdown for "fold-call-raise" because you believe that dumping the hand is optimal but you want to mix up your game with some calls and, for serious deception, a couple of raises.
Fine; what does it gain you?
First, there aren't going to be many situations where you're on the button with this kind of hand, two limpers and these particular opponents. If you fold, which you will most of the time, you won't have gained any deception points because no one knows what you folded. Ditto if you call and miss the flop.
The primary gain is with the loose raise that hits, which is only going to happen a very small percentage of the time. True, you gain, in that you become harder to read, but it's just not clear that you're making back what you've given up on these hands.
So, what to do? There are a couple of things to keep in mind.
First, yes, deception is an important part of a winning player's game. You need to be hard to read. But Harrington's probabilistic breakdowns and using your watch are, for virtually any game you're going to find yourself in, of little practical use.
Mix your game up by mixing your game up. Make the occasional surprise raise UTG with 7-5 suited. Reraise in late position with 9-8 every once in a while. Push a missed flop by firing two barrels to neutralize someone trying the "float play" on you.
This will be sufficient to make your game appear mysterious and you hard to read. Avoid FPS or "fancy play syndrome." Go for TAWT ("tight-aggressive with a twist").
Arthur Reber has been a poker player and serious handicapper of thoroughbred horses for four decades. He is the author of The New Gambler's Bible and coauthor of Gambling for Dummies. Formerly a regular columnist for Poker Pro Magazine and Fun 'N' Games magazine, he has also contributed to Card Player (with Lou Krieger), Poker Digest, Casino Player, Strictly Slots and Titan Poker. He outlined a new framework for evaluating the ethical and moral issues that emerge in gambling for an invited address to the International Conference of Gaming and Risk Taking.
Until recently he was the Broeklundian Professor of Psychology at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. Among his various visiting professorships was a Fulbright fellowship at the University of Innsbruck, Austria. Now semi-retired, Reber is a visiting scholar at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.
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