Dual Mentalities

A student once asked me, when do I play A5s against a raise? What type of player has to raise for me to call A5s, and what type of player does it take for me to fold? I thought about it for a few minutes, and I realized that I’d play A5s against ANY type of player. How could that be? Obviously when there is an input change (the player making the raise changes) there has to be an output change (the way we play changes). It was at this point that I came to the realization that there is more than one way to cook a turkey.

It turns out that there are two different mindsets we can take into any given hand, and that those mindsets depend on what type of player we’re up against. In fact, we’re always up against one of two types of players:

  1. A player who is likely to have a strong hand, and thus will rarely fold postflop. OR
  2. A player who is unlikely to have a strong hand, and thus will usually fold postflop.*

When people first begin in poker, they hear the expression “Don’t play fit or fold.” Sometimes, this advice is good. Other times it’s unbelievably stupid. If you KNOW the other guy has pocket aces and that he’ll NEVER fold them postflop, your mission is to beat AA postflop. Given this information and sufficiently deep stacks, you should play 100% of your hands preflop and play for the chance to stack his aces (and fold every time you don’t make two-pair or better). However, against somebody who has a wide range of hands (of which AA is a tiny portion), playing fit-or-fold is a recipe for disaster. That doesn’t mean, though, that playing loose against that type of player is bad. It just depends on what mentality you take to the hand.

  • Nuts Mentality. This means that you enter the hand intending to flop a big hand (usually 2-pair or better) in order to stack the preflop raiser. You’re unlikely to put very much money in the pot without a big hand. This is against a player who is likely to pay you off. This might mean somebody who plays unbelievably tight preflop (a super nit whose range is only premium hands) or somebody who plays very passive preflop (somebody who would limp his average hands and only raise very strong hands). The latter is likely to pay you off anyway because his passive style indicates that he’s probably very bad.
  •   Air Mentality. This means that you enter the hand intending to play back at the opponent without a strong hand. This may mean raising with air, floating with a weak hand or draw, or making several calls with a weak pair. This mentality is used against a player who is relatively unlikely to pay you off based on the width of his preflop range. And, if he’s unlikely to pay you off, that means he’s a prime candidate to be bluffed. Against this type of player, look at flopping 2pair or better as a bonus—you’ll still win a lot of big pots with strong hands against this player, but you’ll also win a lot of small pots by playing aggressively.

The moral of the Dual Mentalities story is that you need to change your thought process depending on which villain(s) are involved in the hand. Sometimes, you’ll play a pot with two different villains and you’ll have a different mentality against each of them. For example, let’s say you hold Q♣J♣ on the button. A fish raises UTG, we call on the button, a reg calls in the big blind. The flop comes down T♦4♦9♠. Reg checks, fish checks, and we bet at the pot. If the reg check-raises, this might be a good time for us to reraise all-in—the reg is likely to have a reasonably wide range, be creating some dead money, and will fold often. However, if the fish check-raises, we immediately know we’re up against a monster so we call and hope to spike on the turn (assuming the check-raise gives us correct odds).

*Of course, there are two more types of players—people who have strong ranges that are likely to fold them postflop (highly unlikely and generally illogical) and people who have weak ranges and are unlikely to fold them postflop. This second type generally describes bad-aggressive players and the only thing that we can do is value-bet them thinly. This may require that we tighten up somewhat preflop. None of the other types necessitate us playing more tightly, though.

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