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Becoming A Tricky Player

by Steve Zolotow |  Published: May 30, 2012


Steve ZolotowSome opponents are easy to play against. Some are not. If you want to be one of those who are tough to play against you must do two things. First, you must play different hands the same way. Second, you must play the same hand different ways. What does this mean? Number one means that you must occasionally play a hand like A-K suited the same way as you play a completely different hand, say a pair of fives. Number two means that you will play the same hand, say A-K suited in the same situation and sometimes raise or re-raise, but at other times just limp or call. Doing these two things will make you a tricky player. You will be hard to read. Your opponents will be confused and make mistakes. Now let’s examine a specific situation and see how this is done.

Here is the situation: In a cash game (or early stage of a tournament) everyone’s stack is fairly deep (everyone has at 100 big blinds.) For this example, I’ll use a $5-$10 cash game with stacks of at least $1000. After 2 players fold, the next player raises to $35 and one player limps. You are on the button. Here are some different hands you might have:

1. ASpade Suit AHeart Suit
2. KSpade Suit JSpade Suit
3. 9Spade Suit 8Spade Suit
4. 6Spade Suit 6Heart Suit
5. 4Spade Suit 2Heart Suit

According to the first method of being tricky, you must play different hands the same way. Therefore you must try to take the same line with all of these different hands, some of the time. Second, you must play the same hand different ways. Therefore you must avoid taking the same line of play with the same hand every time.

Hand 1: ASpade Suit AHeart Suit clearly your default play is to re-raise. Generally a re-raise to around $120 is appropriate. To be tricky, occasionally min-raise to say $80 and occasionally over-raise to $185. You should also limp some of the time, hoping an aggressive blind decided to try a squeeze play and re-raises.

Hand 2, 3 and 4: With these hands your default play is to call. Occasionally you can make a normal raise to $120. Occasionally you can over-raise to $185. With both the normal raise and the big raise, you are making a squeeze play of your own. (A squeeze is an attempt to win the pot immediately, by getting the initial raiser who probably has a reasonable to hand to fold since he is scared of both your re-raise and the limper’s unknown hand. Usually the limper is weak and folds as well.) Rarely you might even try the min-raise. It probably won’t win the pot right away, but has a good chance of getting everyone to check to you on the flop, allowing you to take a free card, value bet or bluff.

Hand 5: With 4-2 offsuit, your default play is to fold. But occasionally you can raise as a pure squeeze play, hoping everyone folds. If you get re-raised, it is an easy fold. If you are called you can evaluate what to do on the flop. Joe Tehan made a hyper-aggressive all-in raise in an analogous situation in one of the Epic Poker tournaments. His opponents had pocket queens and pocket aces, and called. Joe’s 4-2 connected and he knocked out two players, and went on to win the tournament. He did, however, miss a great opportunity to use an old pun and state that, “It was a fortuitous hand!”

These examples illustrate one situation in which you can play to same hand in different ways and different hands in similar ways. You can find many other opportunities for tricky play. There are a variety of situations in which deviating from your default play will confuse your opponents. Just be sure to avoid what Mike Caro calls ‘the fancy play syndrome.’ Your default play is usually the best play in these situations. The alternatives should never be overused or they lose their effectiveness. ♠

Steve “Zee” Zolotow, aka The Bald Eagle, is a successful games player. He currently devotes most of his time to poker. When escaping from poker, he hangs out in his bars on Avenue A — Nice Guy Eddie’s at Houston and Doc Holliday’s at 9th Street — in New York City.