Monday, June 12, 2006


Bigger Fish To Fry

When I was a kid, I had a poster on my wall. You might remember the one, there's a line of fish. At one end there's a really small fish. Then there's a slightly bigger fish about to eat the small one. And a bigger still fish about to eat the second one. And so on up to an uber-fish at the end that's going to eat everyone. The caption said "There's no such thing as a free lunch". Even at nine years old I thought "well, there is for the biggest one".

Reading through the blog I was talking about at the weekend, an image of this poster popped into my head. As I was saying, the point is that when you have a large group of "book players" playing in a predictable style, a style that's winning against the little fish, then the better player still, the uber-fish, can actually make more money off the book players than he can off the players at the very bottom of the food chain.

I think this is very clearly shown by the discussion I had with the guy who advocated "thou shalt always continuation raise". For a moderately winning book player, or 2+2er if you like, that might well be the right thing to do most of the time, against the kind of players who regularly call a raise pre-flop with sub-standard holdings. What I was trying to say is that if you take it to a higher level, then you are exploiting the "must continuation bet" mindset and part of that exploitation is not doing it yourself so much.

I also have to go back to the play I'm always banging on about on here, flat calling a raiser in position with a big pair. If the raiser is a bottom-feeding loser who will call a big reraise with 55 or KQ, then yes, just calling with Kings is probably giving up a bit compared to moving in. However, it's making a lot more against the book player who uses his hand-reading "skills" to assume that because you just called you don't have a big hand, whether that book player is the original raiser or someone round the back who's read about squeeze reraising.

Books can only take you so far. Even the best ones, like Harrington, Rodman and Gordon. There's only one book I've ever read that tells you about playing like an uber-fish [1] and that's John Fox. But most books are still worth reading at least once, even the bad ones. Perhaps especially the bad ones. Because you're reading them and thinking "how can I exploit someone who plays like this ?". Particularly someone who's not that bright and will half-understand the concepts and try to apply them too rigidly.

At the end of the day, you can study and practice all you like but playing the same way as half the field is only going to make you so much. Step out of the box. Be the uber-fish.

[1] I have very carefully said "about playing like" and not "how to play like". This is the whole point, a book can't tell you how to do it. But this one tells you about how he does it. The fact that it's set in the world of draw poker is neither here nor there. It's how you think about exploiting other players.

Hi Andy, nice to see you are still working hard at your game.

I like your thinking and fully understand your reasoning about not playing too similarly to 50% of the field.

Please could you give us some insightful examples of plays which work very well against average-good players.
You know I like to help Alex, but there are a couple of reasons why I'd rather not in this case. For one, these really are plays that I don't want other people using and I don't want people to know that I use. More than that though, the whole point is that it's far more beneficial to work it out for yourself.

Just think about the best way to play against someone who always bets out on the flop when he had the lead pre-flop, and take it from there.

Hi Andy,

There are many different ways to be a winning poker player, so many in fact you can see why people like to at least start with books and tables. I personally read a book on poker strategy before ever playing just to test the water. Of course back then I didn't have a clue who Phil Hellmuth was...

I actually tried a total uber-fish strategy myself the other day, with incredible results. I made almost every poor play that the authorities advise against, short of becoming a complete calling station.

It was a mid-stakes NL cash game with plenty of 'by-the-book' types, but after a couple of hours of complete mania they were calling me down for huge great over-bets with no pair, no draw, and wacky pre-flop bets of 25xbb with utter trash (when I had aces or kings).

Conclusion, another post that is bang on. I had often been concerned about the availablity of all this great information, but in many ways a player that is able to think for his/herself can simply use the herd mentality to their advantage as you suggest.

Good luck in Vegas!
I've long been of the view that it is better to play limit at a level where you can beat the winners for a bit than at a higher level where you can beat the losers for a lot.

One reason that you do not mention is that the winners are likely to be around for a lot longer than any individual set of losers.

"By The Book" moderate winners are indeed at times almost comical in their predictability. However, one thing that I have learnt in the land of limit is that the winners, unlike the losers (who tend to vanish) do learn. You can't carry on playing the same way against them month after month, and it is necessary to "shape-shift" against these opponents every 1,000 hands or so that you play against them.

I'm trying to adopt a number of personas under my single name at Party (where I play most and where I meet the most repeat opponents). I might have to do the same at Virgin eventually, but for the moment the opponents are either utterly brain-dead, not clever enough to learn, or quite good enough to keep me on my toes just the way I am. But, back to Party. I have to assume that if I am carefully keeping notes on the styles of the regular moderate winners, then at least some other player are doing the same to me. So, "a different style for a different day" might be a good idea. There's more than one way to be a winner, so why not use more than one way.

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