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Never Interrupt Your Enemy When He is Making A Mistake

by Steve Zolotow |  Published: Jan 07, 2015


Steve ZolotowPoker is frequently compared to war. Hands are the battles that make up the war. In all wars, it is important to know why you are fighting and what will signify a victory (My personal opinion is that the United States has conducted most of its recent wars without understanding this. We aren’t clear why we are fighting, what result we hope to achieve, and how we will know we’ve won). Poker is much simpler than politics. The objective is to win money. To be more specific, it is to win the maximum while risking the minimum over a given period of time. Players often appear to focus on winning pots or winnings sessions, not winning money over a long period of time.

Let’s look briefly at those two faulty objectives. If you focus on winning pots, you may play too many hands. You may stay in a hand too long, hoping for a miracle. These are two big leaks for the average player. If you focus on winnings sessions, you will play too long and too aggressively when losing. Almost all players, even some of the greats, fall into this trap. They can’t quit when they’re losing. They may resort to overly aggressive play in a desperate attempt to get even for the session. This is more likely to make them bigger losers than to make them winners. Remember that money you don’t lose impacts your annual results just as much as the money you win. At the end of the week, winning two hundred more on Monday is exactly the same as losing two hundred less on Tuesday.

Given that poker is like war, it can’t be bad to look at some advice given by a man who may have been the greatest general of all time. Napoleon Bonaparte said, “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.” All poker players should take this advice to heart. Here are some common situations revolving around bluffs, which are frequently mishandled:

Suppose your opponent has a clear tell or behavior that they manifest when bluffing. Don’t let them know what they are doing to give themselves away or that you can read them. This not only means that you shouldn’t tell them what they’re doing, but that you should encourage them to do it. Don’t call quickly. Nothing is more likely to slow a bluffer down, than an opponent whose call, “beat them into the pot.” Even though you know that they’re bluffing and that you’re going to call, hesitate before calling. Leave them thinking you nearly folded to their well-timed bluff, not that you had an easy call.

Occasionally, opponents form an erroneous opinion about some aspect of your play. Someone decides that your big river bets are only made with good hands and starts to fold to your bets. First of all, you should begin to bluff him more often. Don’t interrupt his pattern by showing him a bluff that isn’t called. Instead, reinforce his assumption by showing him some good hands that aren’t called.

A lot of pundits will tell you to never show your uncalled hands. They are afraid that showing hands gives away information. If you make your normal raise with aces in late position, everybody folds, and you show your hand, you haven’t given away any information. They already know you raise with aces. Showing your hand may have three benefits. First, it reinforces their belief that you have a good hand when you raise. Since you won’t always have a good hand, it is beneficial to convince them that you do.

Second, voluntarily showing some of your hands may get them to show some of theirs. They may do this in spots that definitely give you some information about their play you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. Third, it makes the game more social. You are making a friendly gesture. This is pleasant for everyone. It will make you an opponent who social players like to play against. It may help get you invited into a soft home game.

Another counter-productive way of interrupting your opponents’ losing behaviors is by teaching them. It is common to see a pro who has just lost a big pot to a hand they shouldn’t have called explain to the winner why he made a bad call.

In summary, your opponents will make mistakes. Do everything you can to get them to continue making the same mistakes, and do nothing that will interrupt their losing behavior. ♠

Steve ‘Zee’ Zolotow, aka The Bald Eagle, is a successful gamesplayer. He has been a full-time gambler for over 35 years. With two WSOP bracelets and few million in tournament cashes, he is easing into retirement. He currently devotes most of his time to poker. He can be found at some major tournaments and playing in cash games in Vegas. When escaping from poker, he hangs out in his bars on Avenue A in New York City -The Library near Houston and Doc Holliday’s on 9th St. are his favorites.