Sports Juice Poker Tip #7: Adding variety to your play without the need for judgment

I had planned for the next tip to be an introduction to ‘game theory’ in an effort to help the casual player play close to an optimal strategy.  It turns out that my memory of game theory is significantly less complicated to the real thing to the point that I am basically out to lunch on the topic.

I will do some more research and follow up with a proper post on game theory later.  For now, I will just put forward my application of game theory in my game.

In tip #5, I wrote about the general types of hands that should be played from early, middle and late position.  The advice results in a very tight style of play which would arguably be too tight and too easy for opponents to read.  The question I left was how to fix that problem.

Tip #7: How to Add Variety to the Number of Hands Played Without the Need for Judgment

When I wrote about the fundamental theorem of poker, I discussed the fact that your opponent needs to be somewhat off balance to facilitate their making a mistake against you.  A mistake can be calling against a strong hand or folding with the best hand.  Either result makes you money over the long term.

My solution is based on game theory and it is pretty simple:  in addition to the premium and near-premium hands discussed in tip #5, the casual player should identify certain ‘key cards’ before the deal that will be played if they appear.

I will give you a quick example from middle position.  In addition AA, KK, QQ, AKs, AKo, AQs, JJ and 10-10, I am going to decide before the deal that I will play the hand if one of my two cards is a king.  And I decide that I will play it just as I would if I had received one of the hands listed (i.e. a raise).  It doesn’t matter if it is K-Q or K-2.  I will also likely make a continuation bet after the flop as long as it is some sort of semi-bluff or better.   However I will not play the hand in a manner that costs me significant chips.  If my bet is faced with a large raise, I will fold the hand and live to see another day.

In early position, I might decide that I need to see the jack of spades or the queen of hearts.  In late position I might say any ace or any black queen will get me into the hand.  The early the position, the fewer number of key cards will be identified.  The later the position, the more key cards I would identify.   This ties back to my tip on position and the fact that you generally want to play fewer hands in early position and more hands around the button.

I should also note that the fewer the number of players remaining, the more key cards I will use.  This ties back to the fact that we should be playing a higher percentage of hands as we work towards heads up action.

Ok, let’s take a step back and identify what this strategy is accomplishing.  I have moved from a strategy of only playing really strong hands to a strategy of playing strong hands and the occasional mediocre hand.  Essentially, I have introduced to the table that I am capable of bluffing from time to time (though no one knows just how often I bluff except for me).  The result is that I am going to have more players willing to call my bets because my opponents can’t be sure if I am betting AA or K-2. 

Any questions so far?  Please put them in the comments section and I will do my best to answer them.

The strategy detailed ties back to game theory which can be used in situations where you are playing against players that are better than you are.  The logic is that the casual player is unlikely to play better than a quality player (make better decisions), thus they can even the field by bluffing and calling bluffs at a precise mathematical frequency.

What I have proposed is by no means a precise mathematical frequency, but it is closer to optimum than a) playing only premium or near-premium hands, or b) playing 50% of hands to try to see the flop.

I will wrap this tip up with one important point about who should make use of this strategy.  I think it applies in most situations where a player is up against a player or a table that has more experience than the player.   For the casual player that means this strategy can be used until they have the requisite experience to make correct decisions a high percentage of the time. 

For the intermediate player, it can be applicable later in tournaments when up against opponents that seem to be reading you like an open book.  If you suspect your play has become too predictable, use of this strategy for 15-20 hands can confuse your opponents and introduce the doubt necessary to take their chips.    

Summary of tip #7:

  • Move from very tight playing style in the direction of an optimal tight playing strategy by adding certain key cards before the deal.
  • If you are dealt one of your key cards, play it as though it were a premium hand.  This introducing a bluffing frequency that will get you more action.
  • Select 1-2 specific cards (King of hearts for example) in early position as key cards.
  • Select 4 cards in middle position (any queen for example).
  • Select 6-8 cards in late position (any queen plus jack spades and king diamonds).
  • Increase the number of key cards as number of players at the table decreases.
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