The Poker Shrink Vol. 57: Adaptation

Poker Shrink

Things change at a poker table. Players get tired. They get short-stacked or big-stacked. Blinds go up, antes kick in. Players bust out and are replaced by new players. The money bubble approaches; someone goes on tilt. The one constant at any poker table is that things change.

Things change in life. To be successful, we also must change. We have to keep up with trends in the market, with the growing capacities of our kids. We have to keep up with technology, economics, politics, and the latest music, food, movies, and reality shows.

Adaptation refers to an individual’s ability to adjust to changes and new experiences. Adaptation relates to a person’s ability to accept new information, to integrate that information and then alter his behavior accordingly. A high degree of adaptability is a positive trait in rapidly-changing environments such as online poker games.

Not everyone is highly adaptable, in life or in poker, but adaptability is something you can learn or relearn. The first simple step is to remember that what you know about other players is subject to change, because they are adapting too.

Several years ago I was playing in a big buy-in event in Tunica, Mississippi. Just after the dinner break, I was moved to a table with two professional players. One of these players you would all know and the other was a very successful local pro. Clearly these two were both better poker players than I was, and my game plan was to avoid them. The “big” pro was opening a lot of pots for three times the big blind plus antes, and limping into pots with more than two limpers in front of him. Because he was so regular in his betting amounts, I couldn’t pick up anything from his bets.

Though it was clear that allowing him to limp from late position was a bad idea, the table was letting him get away with it and then he would take over the hand post-flop. The only thing I did notice was that he was avoiding the other professional at the table, just as I was doing. No need to mess with the good player when the rest of the table is giving you easy chips.

Then the second pro also limped into a hand and played back post-flop, and he got pro number one to lay it down. I saw this adaptation and the very next time the same scenario played out, I limped into the hand with nothing and reraised pro number one off the pot post-flop. I had adapted – albeit with the assist of the demonstration from pro number two – but I had adapted.

Then we lost a player and a new player was brought to our table. On the very next hand, pro number one broke his pattern and opened the pot for only twice the big blind. I was dumbfounded; I had my read, it had been good for hours, so what was this? I was going to need to adapt to something brand new. How do you adapt to new information? Fortunately, this hand didn't reach a showdown, but the question still remained.

Thankfully, the new addition to the table turned to pro number one and said: “Well I see you are up to your old tricks.”

To which the pro replied: “Don’t be giving free information to the fish.”

Aha! This new move was targeted at the new player. He clearly had an “old tricks” read on the pro, and the pro was attempting to reinforce that read with what the new player thought was his normal style. So I was going to need to adapt to the new move by pro number one and to the style he was adapting to the new player. I wondered what pro number two would do based on this new player at the table. How many more adaptations were taking place?

Did I mention that poker can be a difficult game? Did I mention that things are always changing? How good are you at adapting to the changing game of poker?

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