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Fourth Rule of Poker

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The Fourth Golden Rule of Poker
Know the players at the table; adjust your playing style accordingly.


In a previous example, I spoke of the player who not only never folded, but rarely let a bet leave him without a re-raise. Let's assume that I'm the kind of guy who bluffs with a certain frequency. Playing heads up against this player, how would I adjust that frequency to compensate for my opponent's style? A bluff is only used to make a player fold immediately, or to suggest enough strength that the player will fold on a later round. So, if I'm playing against a player who NEVER folds, then even one attempt to bluff is a waste of money.

Therefore, if the frequency with which I bluff was written in stone instead of flexible, I would lose money against this type of player. Knowing what I know of his style, I'm now smart to the fact that he will not fold. Further, attempts to bluff would be wastes of money. Therefore, I won't even try to bluff, and this will save me the money that I would have lost if I didn't adjust my game plan according to what I know of my opponent.

Sandbagging -having a strong hand, but not opening a betting round, waiting for somebody else to open it, and then raising the bet when it gets back to me- has one criterion where it concerns the other players at the table. If I do not think that one single player at the table will open the betting round, and that everybody checks, then the strategy of sandbagging would be an indirect waste of money. It would allow every player at the table to stay in the game for free, since nobody bet. And considering my strong hand, it would mean less money in the pot that I intend to win.

As noted, it is an indirect loss to not maximize the amount of money in the pots that you win. Playing at this table, how would I adjust the frequency with which I sandbag? A failed sandbag is one where nobody opens the betting round that I "should have" opened, and the number of failed sandbags is certain to increase at a table where everybody checks and call, but nobody bets and raises. Therefore, each attempt to sandbag would mean allowing players with poor hands to remain in the game for free (also allowing them the opportunity to put together a better hand if there are more cards to come) as well as reducing the amount of money that could have accumulated in the pot had I won.

Therefore, I won't even try, or may simply reduce my attempts, to sandbag, and this will save me the indirect loss of money that results from failed sandbagging. Again, my game plan adjusted according to what I know of my opponents at the table.

Home games offer the irreplaceable benefit of seeing the same mugs at the table on a bi-weekly, or even weekly basis. Whereas figuring out a stranger requires you to analyze and evaluate from scratch, playing with the same people allows you to use your knowledge of how they typically act in given situations. Taken a step further, it even allows you to use your knowledge of what they think you are doing based on the way they think you typically act in given situations.

Broadly speaking, there are three categories of poker players: tight players, loose players, and players who are neither consistently. Tight players play a more conservative game where the dispensing of money is concerned. They will fold before they call, they will call before they raise, they will play 'honest' before they bluff. Loose players play a more liberal game. They will call before they fold, they will raise before they call, they will bluff before they play 'honest'.

A solid poker player falls into neither of these two generic categories, falling rather into neither. The player who is neither loose nor tight (or enough of each to evade this classification) is the hardest to nail down. Your game plan needs to reflect this distinction. A bluff is a play more sound against a tight player than a loose one. A slowplay or downright sandbagging is a play more sound against a loose player than a tight one.

The tight-versus-loose player analysis is an excellent, but general one. It will tell you in very general terms how a player will react to a given situation. If it is a situation involving 'monetary intimidation', it will be more effective against the tight player. If it is a play involving 'monetary extraction', it will be more effective against the loose player. It, of course, is not nearly enough to rely on altogether. If the general feel of the table is tight or loose -a tight table or a loose table, as they say- then certain general playing is effective. However, specific players will be prone to specific characteristics going beyond tight and loose.

Some players sweat when they bluff (or scratch their face, or light up a smoke, or adjust themselves uncontrollably in their seat, or pretend they're not interested in the hand, or show that they are far too interested in the hand, etc.). Note this and use it to your advantage. Some players only raise when holding a certain hand at a certain point in the game. Note this as well. Some players slowplay more times than not. Some players are watching you carefully. Some players are not watching you at all. Some players take the game very seriously. Some players are having fun first and playing a serious game second. Note all of this. When you can observe with certainty that a given player has a trigger that suggests what that player is holding, it's as good as gold.

How liberal is a player with their money? Does a player reek of tells? What consistencies are in that player's game? In short, in what ways does a given player illustrate consistency? Consistent play is what you can depend on from a player, and use to your advantage. You have to know the players, and adapt your game plan.

First Rule of Poker - Second Rule of Poker - Third Rule of Poker - Fourth Rule of Poker - Fifth Rule of Poker - Sixth Rule of Poker - Seventh Rule of Poker

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