Thursday, February 16, 2006


There are many ways to play a poker hand.  It’s hard to argue with conventional play, like raising pre-flop with AK in late position, but there are times when going against the grain will pay dividends.

A few years ago, people marveled at the success Gus Hanson had in tournaments.  When we caught a glimpse into his madness via the hole card cams, traditional poker theorists were aghast.  How could someone playing what many considered to be garbage cards do so well?  Not just a few people relegated his success to simply being lucky, but in my opinion, what he was doing was exploiting predictable, traditional play.

A co-worker once brought up an analogy, which I think holds up well.  It’s like the maniacal driver on the highway.  Ninety-five percent of the people driving are doing so in a relatively safe manner, yet there’s always one jackhole weaving in and out of traffic at presumably unsafe speeds.  The only way that maniac can get away with such behavior is if he knows most of the people drive in the more traditional, safe manner.  If everyone drove like he did, there would be no way he’d get around as quickly.

(Irrelevant aside:  I’m listening to my iPod right now and AC/DC’s “Givin’ the Dog a Bone” is on.  I love that song.  ObSklansky: “Do you see why?”)

Back on track.  Playing against standard philosophy has obvious risks, like catching second best or simply misreading your opponent’s hand.  This is where secondary poker skills like reading your opponent become more important.

Reconsidering the earlier example of raising with AK pre-flop in late position, one of the sacrifices you make by raising is hinting at the strength of your hand.  Lately online, I’ve seen an abnormal amount of limping with AK and in certain cases, it’s paid off for the player employing that strategy.  Another example of countering accepted strategy is leading out when you flop trips.  Few people believe you have them because the traditional play is to slow play them and check.

So next time you’re in a hand, give a second thought to the non-traditional play.  It can be a gamble, but depending on the circumstances, it could be a gamble that pays off well.

Besides, what fun it is being predictable?

(Irrelevant aside revisited:  On comes Jackyl’s “Down on Me”.  Coincidence?)

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