The Great Players Are Crazy

If you watch poker on TV, then you’ve seen some great players make a lot of crazy plays. Maybe it’s Tom Dwan calling down with nine high or Phil Ivey 5-bet bluffing the flop. These are world class players making insane looking plays based on very specific reads. When these plays work, they look genius. When they don’t, they look silly.

As sexy as it may seem to make outlandish call downs, extravagant bluffs, and wicked extortions of value, looking for opportunities for such excess is counterproductive. You don’t even need to make plays like this at all. You don’t need to play like your heroes. Tight and solid play will bring home the money.

If you were playing high school basketball, you shouldn’t be thinking about being LeBron James. You’re probably not 6’8”, and if your goal is to make the NBA, you’re going to have to conquer your current game before moving up. You would develop your fundamentals, form a sound foundation for your game, and never stop working to improve.

You should approach poker the same way. It’s easier to envision yourself playing as well as the best in the world, because you can probably slide your chips in the pot just as well as Phil Ivey does it. There are no obvious physical differences that keep you from playing as well as he does. But there is a huge amount of work that has gone into developing every outstanding player’s game. There is time spent away from the table, pondering exactly how to combat an opponent’s strategy. There are thousands of hours spent at the table, actively practicing the skills honed away from it. Great players are not sitting down, waiting for a lightning bolt of inspiration to strike them. They’re reaping the rewards of hours of perspiration.

Holdem is a simple game to learn, and it’s easy to fall under the illusion that it’s a simple game to master. But it’s not tic-tac-toe. No one can give you a cookbook filled with instant recipes for success. We’ve given you our best advice in this book, but it’s up to you to apply it. Learn to make the most of it and never stop working on your game.

A lot of people think they play tight and solid, but still can’t beat a $10/$20 game online. It’s not for lack of crazy plays. It’s just about understanding ranges.

Against passive players, this is easy. When they raise, you put them on a strong range and take cover. When they’re just calling, you value bet hard and charge them for their fishy ways.

Against aggressive players, hand reading becomes more difficult. But it’s still the same game. As you move up in stakes, pay attention to how players’ ranges change. In general, high stakes players will put in aggressive action with wider ranges than lower stakes players.

If a guy 3-bets you at $.25/$.50, maybe you can fold pocket tens. At higher limits, you may want to 4-bet against your opponent’s wider range. Some guys may be 4-betting with pocket fours, but you’re doing it with tens. You’re widening your range as an adjustment, but not going overboard.

You may be able to run over most players by 3-betting aggressively at small stakes. At higher stakes, you have to be willing to get it in with some weaker hands, since everyone knows how to play back at you. High-stakes regulars know how to handle an aggressive 3-bettor.

Instead of getting involved in a crazy 3-bet/4-bet/ shove war, you can be a conscientious objector. Sidestep the problem. You don’t have to fight for every pot. Observe your opponents’ ranges, pick your spots, and set yourself up for more profitable opportunities later on in the hand.

Many of the chapters in the second half of this section have dealt with sophisticated bluffing lines. These lines can give you a huge edge to replace the smaller edge that you’re passing up by avoiding the 3-bet war. But don’t go out of your way to find these spots. View your opponent’s range objectively and determine which line will yield the highest return.

The truth is, the great players don’t have to actively look for opportunities to make these crazy plays. They just play their hand against their opponent’s range and consider the full range of options. They see more opportunities to make creative plays, but not because they discount the value of making the straightforward ones. They just have a better idea of their opponents’ ranges, and how they’ll respond to different lines. They’re still betting their good hands, folding most of the bad ones, and bluffing at an effective frequency.

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