Skill #10. Taking On The Pros – P1

If you learn to exploit aggression, and you can handle playing deep—either by avoiding playing deep with the toughest players, or by learning its intricacies—and if you’ve mastered the other skills in this book, you can win at 5-10. Indeed, you could win enough to support yourself as a professional player (provided you have the bankroll).

But if you play 5-10 at a pro level, you won’t be the only one. Wherever a game this big or bigger is played regularly, a pool of professional players will be there to feed off it. Chances are there will be two or three other pros in the game each time you play.

Most people start out with the idea they’ll try to avoid playing the pros, and they’ll focus on beating the softer targets at the table. Many people assume other pros will also have this mindset. Indeed, some pros will in fact have this mindset. But the best pros usually don’t. They’re out to try to beat every single player at the table.

Ultimately, if you want to maximize your potential at 5-10, and give yourself the chance to move even higher, you must learn to take on the pros.

There are two main ways to get an edge on the pros in your 5- 10 games. The first one is simple, gimmicky, and works only as long as you remain unknown to your opponents. The second one is much harder, but will work indefinitely.

REVERSING LIVE READS

The first path toward an edge is a gimmick. It works, as I said, when you’re relatively unknown to pros in your game. So you can use this tactic any time you’re playing while traveling, you can use it on new strong players who enter your player pool, and sometimes you can even use it against pros who know you, but who may have forgotten that you use this strategy from time to time.

Here’s the idea. You intentionally give off live reads, but you reverse their meaning. When the pros react to your tells, and they make an assumption about your hand, you surprise them with a different sort of hand.

Here’s a simple example. It’s a 5-10 game with $2,000 stacks. A recreational player limps, and a pro makes it $50 to go from two off the button. You call in the big blind with 4♣4♠. The limper calls. There’s $155 in the pot and three players to the flop.

The flop comes A♣6♣4♦. You check, the limper checks, and the pro bets $80. You call, and the limper folds.

The turn is the K♥. You bet out for $100 into the $315 pot.

To a pro, this is a betting pattern that should indicate weakness. Most players who take this line hold a weak ace. This read is especially believable because you began the hand in the big blind, and many players love to defend their ace-rag hands out of the blinds.

It’s this donk bet (betting out of turn or out of flow), combined with your smallish bet size that completes this live read. A lot of pros are conditioned to react to action like this with brute force. They’ll raise your turn bet and strongly consider barreling the river. They’ll do it with a hand like A-Q, because they’ll assume their hand is good, and they’ll want to get value. And they’ll do it as a bluff, since it’s likely to work. (Their bet sizing with A-Q and the bluff will likely be different, with A-Q bets shaded small to encourage calls from A-x, with the bluffs shaded larger to blast A-x out of the pot.)

When you hold bottom set, obviously you crush almost anything the pro can hold. The problem is that anyone strong enough to be a pro at 5-10 will know they shouldn’t give tons of action to an unknown player on static, ace-high flops. At the very least, they’ll be wary you just called pre-flop with A-Q, and will be unlikely to shovel money at you with anything weaker.

By reversing the “weak lead on the turn” live read, you increase the chance your opponent decides to bluff. You also get a bit of extra money into the pot those times your opponent does have a strong hand.

This live-read reversal has one potential problem. If you were to reraise the turn raise that you induced with your weak lead, it would be a sign of great strength. In other words, say you bet $100 into $335 with a set. The pro makes it $400 to go. If you were to reraise, the pro’s first thought would likely be that you reversed the tell on the original bet and you were looking for action. This might encourage him to get away from a hand even as strong as A-Q.

As well, you could take a live-read reversal one step further and do it with a drawing hand as an elaborate semi-bluff. Instead of 4-4, say you held 7-5 on our A♣6♣4♦ for an open-ended straight draw on the flop. You could check and call a flop bet. When the turn bricks, you could bet $100 into $335, inducing the pro to raise to $400. Then you could drop a massive reraise. As long as you’re relatively unknown to the pro you’re targeting, the pro would be essentially forced to give you credit for a hand after this action. You’re likely to get a ton of folds to the reraise.

The better your facility with live reads at your game level (Skill #6), the better you’ll be able to reverse these live reads to exploit your opponents. And you’ll want to use these reversals against pros because your opponent has to recognize the live read in the first place for a reversal to succeed. Therefore, it’s best to use the ploys which most pros at your level are familiar with. You can’t run a gimmick on a player who has no idea what you’re doing.

You can figure out which of the tells you know about are useful to reverse by watching pros, and seeing how predictably they react. When a tell comes out through the natural course of play, if the pro reacts with the appropriate counter-strategy, this may be a tell you can reverse. If you’re good at this, you’ll be able to watch a hand, see some specific action, and think, “That pro is going to raise 100 percent of the time here.” And, naturally, you should be right about it.

Reversing live reads is an effective strategy when it works, because often you can induce your opponent to do precisely what you want them to. When you can paint the best players into a corner, it’s powerful. And profitable.

But as I said, it’s also a bit of a gimmick. The same pros won’t fall for it indefinitely. You trick them a few times, trying to induce their live reads, and they’ll remember and adjust. Yet, because it can be worth so much when you do trick them, you might want to try to save these shots for the juiciest opportunities.

But don’t save them too long, because the rest of your play can out you as an atypical opponent. If you routinely distinguish yourself by 3-betting aggressively pre-flop, or barreling well, or value betting accurately, or reacting well to board textures, some pros may suspect you quickly of being a pro-level player.

Once they have that read, they’ll react less predictably to you if you try to throw a reverse tell. They’ll know it could be a trap.

Caveats notwithstanding, if you’re an unknown player in a new card room anywhere in the world, the reverse live read is a fantastic weapon against savvier players.

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