Note: This section is only intended for shorthanded games (six or fewer people), and when you are playing against other good players.
One thing that many people often do wrong in online poker is something that does not even sound like it is wrong: they play consistently. After all, is not consistency generally a positive word? Well, not in this case. Let us explain.
Though you may play your A-Q differently pre-flop and when you hit an ace or a queen, and though you may bet a different amount (in no-limit) or choose to jam the pot at a different time (in limit), the actual variation in your play is, well, a little bit predictable. Most decent players will be able to identify you as a certain type of player: tight-aggressive, very tight-aggressive, etc. These guys know how to read you better than a lot of other players, so you’d better be ready for it.
A good way to help your earnings is to simply switch up your play sometimes. This way, when your opponents are expecting that you’re gonna bluff, you should bluff rarely so they’ll call you more. Likewise, if your bets are for value, you should start to bluff at the pot a lot. People generally won’t catch on if you do this discreetly, and it can add more mystery to your play.
This strategy is obviously more effective at no-limit because it’s much easier to bluff in a no-limit game. Still, it can be used at limit as well. Generally, the game must be five or fewer people and, preferably, four people total. With stakes large enough, you can effectively bluff at the flop or turn if you play it tight at first, and you’ll receive more callers for big bets if you bluff earlier.
For those of you who are mathematically inclined, we’ll use some game theory to back up our assertions. Suppose you’re playing a soccer match and you have a penalty kick. You predict that if you kick left, which you’re personally much better at, you’ll have an 80% chance of scoring (if the goalie isn’t expecting left). You also predict that if you kick right, you’ll have a 60% of scoring (if the goalie isn’t expecting right). However, if the goalie dives left and you kick left, you only have a 45% chance of scoring, and if the goalie dives right and you kick right, you only have a 35% chance of scoring. While all of this might seem like nonsense at first, notice that your chances of scoring decrease more if you always shoot to your favored left side. Your chances of scoring decrease LESS, however, if you shoot to your unfavored right side. In other words, it’s in your interest to shoot right from time to time. Being unpredictable will increase your odds of putting the ball in the back of the net.
In expert-level poker, it generally works the same way. Instead of your percentage chance of scoring a goal, think of the numbers as an hourly profit. Shooting to the left means playing your standard tight-aggressive game and shooting to the right means playing a looser game. Bad players may not dive at all or will always dive the wrong way, so you can keep on playing your standard tight-aggressive game and earn $80 an hour. However, against good players, they’ll quickly realize what you’re doing and defend against it. Your profit will drop down to $45 an hour.
So suppose you play tight-aggressive (left) 70% of the time and looser (right) 30% of the time. If your opponents continue to play against you as if you were tight-aggressive all the time, you’ll now earn $49.50 an hour [(70% x 45) + (30% x 60)].
Now, if your opponents catch on to what you’re doing and play you as a tight-aggressive 80% of the time and a looser player 20% of the time, your profit will actually increase, as long as they don’t know exactly when you’re playing which way. Your profit would be [(70%)(30%) x 45] + [(30%)(70%) x 80] + [(80%)(30%) x 60] + [(20%)(30%) x 35], which equals $52.90 an hour much better than before.
Let’s think of things from a reverse perspective for a moment. In order to defend against players who change pace, you need to know WHEN they are changing pace. This should help you when you think of it from an offensive perspective as well. Obviously, if your opponents treat you as a tight-aggressive player 70% of the time and you actually ARE a tight-aggressive player during that time, your profit will drop. As shown before, however, predicting a change of pace when there isn’t one will greatly help you out, since people will generally treat you the same even if you switch your style. Take advantage, ladies and gentlemen!
On the whole, we recommend you change your pace a little bit, but be sure to randomize it so your opponents don’t catch on.