The Many Shades of Grey in Poker Strategy

July 11, 2019

 

There are few definitive, black-and-white statements that we can make during a poker game. While we may want to always maintain a solid mental game and always pay close attention to the action, there’s not many things we want to always or never do.

 

We might find ourselves thinking along these lines, however. “I should always call the maniac,” or “I should always continuation bet the flop when I hit top pair.”

 

One of the first step towards becoming a better poker player is eliminating these generalizations from your thinking. By mixing up your play, you’ll become more adaptable, more difficult to read, and, likewise, more difficult to exploit.

 

 

Danger!

 

If we make the same plays too often, then we begin treading into dangerous waters. If our opponents are paying attention, then they’ll notice that we always make a certain play in a certain situation. This allows them to use that information against us.

 

For instance, if we always continuation bet when we hit our hand, then opponents can exploit us by folding to them more often or by betting into us when we check. By picking up on these trends, opponents get a read on us.

 

Plus, poker involves a ton of variables. When we make sweeping statements about certain spots, then we can lose track of the big picture. We neglect the context of the decision, which prevents us from making the optimal play.

 

 

Playing a Balanced Strategy 

 

By eliminating these dangerous play patterns from your game, you’ll become more balanced. By definition, a balanced style requires us to choose different alternatives when confronted with the same scenario.

 

We can, however, weigh our choices based on their context. Let’s go back to the continuation betting example. Against a tight player who we expect to fold to our bets most of the time, we might only want to make that bet 30 or 40% of the time. If we’re playing against a loose calling-station, then we can fire with a frequency around 80%.

 

Notice that we’re never betting 0% or 100% of the time in either case. Now, this may seem counterintuitive. After all, if we prefer to bet against the calling-station, then shouldn’t we just do that?

 

Though we might get away with it against truly awful players, we’ll see more overall success if we show some restraint and vary our play. It can be difficult to fight against the temptation to always make what seems like the better play.

 

If we zoom out and view the game from a macroscopic perspective, however, then we’ll find that embracing the many shades of grey is a major +EV move.

 

 

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