With the holiday season coming up, the action online in particular always starts to heat up. The weather keeps people indoors more often and they tend to have more time off work and more disposable income. As a result, this can be a great time to take advantage of some games that have more recreational players in them.
Even so, many people fail to react profitably to bad players. I even have people tell me sometimes that they prefer to play against better, “more predictable” opponents. This, of course, is crazy on so many levels, even if such an viewpoint can be understood.
In this article, I am going to provide you with five specific ways to maximize your success at the lower limits this holiday season.
1. Remember Success in Poker is an Attitude
I can often tell you straight away if somebody is successful in poker or not just by the way they talk about the game. One giveaway is if they use big generalizations such as
- “they always hit their flush on the river against me”
- “they always have aces when I have kings”
The truth, of course, is that nothing happens 100% of the time in this game. Sometimes a bad player will get lucky against you and sometimes they will cooler you. But many more times they won’t do either.
If you choose to think in absolutes like this and ignore the reality of the situation, then this will give you a poor outlook on the game and probably hurt your play. You will be more hesitant to act correctly when you should be betting or raising, letting your poor attitude negatively affect your decision-making.
2. Understand We All Have to Pay That Tax
Yes, the bad players are going to hit their lucky card against you sometimes. And they are going to cooler you sometimes as well. However, this is a good thing — in fact, it is the very reason why the game remains so profitable.
Regarding this phenomenon of bad players sometimes beating the good ones, I always to compare poker to chess. If somebody of a moderate skill level at chess like myself were to play 10 games against a Grandmaster, I would without a doubt lose all 10 times. This is because there is no element of luck in this game — it is 100% skill, all the time. After losing so many times, I would be forced to conclude that my lack of success was due to the fact that I was up against a more highly-skilled opponent.
This is not the case in poker, however. In poker I could go play a world-class opponent at the nosebleeds right now, and while I am most likely going to be an underdog over the long run, there is certainly a chance I could walk away a winner today.
When the bad player beats you in a pot by getting lucky, it is better to view it as paying a tax. If you didn’t throw them a bone once in a while, then they wouldn’t keep coming back. Rather they would accept the reality that they lost to a more highly-skilled opponent and likely give up altogether.
But the beautiful thing about poker is that the short-term luck element allows bad players to remain in a perpetual state of delusion by blaming their lack of success on bad luck. We all have to pay that tax sometimes.
3. Lower Your Aggression
“Aggression, aggression, aggression” has been the mantra in online poker for many years now. Three-bet, four-bet... double-barrel, triple-barrel...!
This approach can work great against the many weak regulars who often populate lower limits online, but it is a disaster when applied against the many holiday season recreational players whom you will encounter in the coming weeks.
You can’t out-bet or out-raise a calling station. They will simply call you down and force you to show up with an actual hand.
One of the biggest keys to my success at the lowest limits online has been simply to give up more often. Let them have the smaller pots and refrain from trying to bluff them every chance that arises. Some might view this as weak, but poker is not an ego contest in my opinion. The only thing that I am interested in is my bottom line at the tables.
Don’t get me wrong — you should absolutely get involved with the bad players as much as possible. But you have to be more patient when it becomes obvious they aren’t willing to back down.
4. Don’t Get Into Ego Wars With the Maniacs
To go along with the last point, it is important you stay composed against the Friday night maniac. This is the rare form of recreational player who often turns up just as the weekend is getting underway, and who is absolutely crazy, raising and bluffing up a storm.
If you get into raise-reraise game of chicken with these players, you are really just playing right into their hands. If they happen to have the right cards at the right time or get lucky, then it is likely to cause you to tilt badly. They, on the other hand, don’t care if they lose. They are just screwing around having fun.
As difficult as it might seem against a player you know is constantly bluffing you, you need to remain patient here as well. You should even consider tightening up your preflop range against them, especially if they have position on you.
The bottom line is don’t get involved in an ego contest with a maniac. Wait for the right cards and stack them.
5. Don’t Take This Game So Seriously
Poker is a lot easier when you simply learn to take things in stride and not get so wrapped up in a specific pot or your results on a certain day. The fact is you will win some and you will lose some. The whole goal, of course, is to win a few more times than you lose.
It is a lot easier to accomplish this goal when you bring some levity to the situation. So what if the rec player got lucky against you? Sure, you had to pay the tax this time, but you know that you will win in the end.
Learn to see the lighter side of things in poker because you will get knocked down so many times it is hardly worth counting. The best players simply learn to take it all in stride and focus on the bigger picture.
This can be a great time of year to jumpstart your win rate at the lower stakes. The recreational players are out in bigger numbers during the holiday season and this means softer games.
However, it is important not to get wrapped up in all the craziness that can come from playing against these types of players in the short run. You should instead learn to be more patient, understanding that they will get lucky from time to time against you but that you are a big favorite against them in the long run.
Nathan “BlackRain79” Williams is the author of the popular micro stakes strategy books, Crushing the Microstakes and Modern Small Stakes. He also blogs regularly about all things related to the micros over at www.blackrain79.com.