Adjust to the level of play of your poker opponents

September 25, 2012  

I hear over and over from people how they can’t beat lower limit games or play in small buy-in tournaments because the other players are so bad and never fold. I remember when I used to think this way and felt I had to play against better players because they know how to fold, won’t call with stupid hands, etc.

This is a major flaw in your thinking if this is how you think about the games and tournaments you’re playing. To win playing poker, you have to play in games where you have a major edge over most opponents. For every opponent that has the same or better skill level than you, your odds of beating that game are diminished. Your job as a poker player is to adjust to the game you’re playing.

Sometimes this may mean the game is not as fun for you as you can’t make as many moves, plays or sophisticated bluffs, but logically if opponents never fold then they won’t be folding when you have the nuts. You have to exercise a lot of patience when you’re playing against weaker players and not try to make these moves and bluffs. Your job is to control the size of the pot when you have medium strength hands and maximize value when you have a monster hand.

Realize that when you raise big pairs, or big broadway cards and get multiple players to the flop, that the relative strength of your hand has decreased unless you really hit the flop hard. Recognize these situations as they happen and know that small pairs and suited connectors increase in relative strength in multiway pots, while bigger cards’ relative strength decrease. Don’t get attached to that good starting hand. Base your assessment on how good your cards are for the situation. Heads-up, the value of top pair is pretty strong. In a five-way pot, it’s weak. When you have multiple players seeing a flop it’s going to be rare that just a pair will be good at showdown, so you have to try to get to showdown cheaply or just get out of the hand.

As with all hands against every level of opponent, you want to focus on playing in position to control the size of the pot, so when you find yourself out of position in a hand and you aren’t quite sure how strong your holding is, just get out of the hand and wait for better spots. Don’t play down to the level of opponents.

Use your skill to adjust. Focus more on maximizing value and getting them to call you on your made hands rather than trying to get opponents to fold hands when you have nothing or weak showdown value. Take responsibility and use your skill to assess the level of each opponent. Rather than having fun bluffing and making all kinds of fancy plays, you’ll have fun in the end when you go to the cashier.
Decide to win!

— Lee Childs is the founder and lead instructor at Inside the Minds. For information about his group training sessions and personal coaching, visit inside-the-minds.com.