Over the past few weeks or so, I have been discussing the merits of playing certain types of hands in short handed limit games before the flop and comparing full ring game from short handed play when it comes to hand selection and their various strengths and weaknesses.
I want to round off this mini pre-flop short handed series by talking about the importance of having unpredictability in your game. It really does not matter which form of poker you are playing, you simply cannot allow your opponents to place a tag on how you play.
Sure, they may be able to say “this guy does not play many hands and he always comes in either raising or re-raising….he is tight aggressive”
I don’t mind people knowing that I am tight aggressive, after all….a blind man would be able to see that I was tight aggressive. But what I don’t want anyone getting an angle on is how I play. I don’t want them knowing that every time that I three bet pre-flop that I have either got a premium hand or a medium pocket pair or higher.
You might get away with not deviating your play at the lower levels and probably in some $10-$20 games if they are soft enough but once you start to hit the $15-$30 and $20-$40 levels then it becomes a whole new ball game. But what you should strive to avoid at all costs in an attempt to be unpredictable is to steer too far into un-profitability.
This is done by either being too aggressive with the wrong hands or attempting to deviate your play with the wrong hands. It amounts to the same thing really in some cases, just that you are taking aggressive action with hands that have poor profit potential.
For instance, suited cards are not an excuse to raise in a short handed game. Do you seriously expect to have to make a flush to win? Do not get me wrong here, suited cards can be very powerful for many reasons. They allow you to semi-bluff more and have fold equity in situations where your opponent has nothing that they can get involved with.
But open raising with a hand like 10h-4h from the button or three betting with that hand is just plain crazy. Even if you made one of the cards a Broadway card like with Js-5s or Qc-6c for instance then this is still too weak a holding to be making that type of play with. This gets back to what I was saying in past articles about avoiding potentially dominated hands.
The advantages of your hand being suited are more than off set by the fact that you are taking aggressive action and overplaying your hand with a one card holding. But change that hand to a hand like 9c-8c and suddenly we are in an entirely different territory.
You must make plays like three betting with a hand like 9c-8c every once in a while simply to throw your opponents a curve ball. Hands like these are deceptive and can make straights, flushes (which you do not need to make but they are a bonus) and can also make higher pairs which can dominate a hand like A-5 on flops like K-9-5 for instance.
I tend not to take an aggressive posture with non suited connectors simply because you increase the frequency of hands in which you raise and the better players at the higher limits start to make plays against you and play back. But when it comes to playing suited connectors and raising or occasionally three betting then I will not take it too far.
For instance, I will not three bet with a hand like 5h-4h. Most of the time, I will need to make a pair in order to win with a hand like that as getting called down with ace high is a real possibility. But even when you pair with the five or the four then the pair that you make is not high enough to take the pot anyway most of the time. It is true that you can represent hands on the flop but this is just pushing the boat out a little too far.
Ditto with hands like 6c-5c, for me the cut off line for taking aggressive action with suited connectors is 7-6. I will not three bet with an A-6 so why should I do it with a 7-6? This is a hand where if I make a pair, it is just a little on the low side for me to be comfortable. Once it gets to 8-7 then I feel better about my prospects.
But when you three bet with a hand like 9d-8d and get called and are forced to showdown then this can increase the pay offs on your future hands and the best part about this is that in the long term the play has not actually cost you anything.
Why is this? Simple... because you cannot play in such a way as to make your play an open book. Because if you do that then this will certainly lead to you losing money in most games so deviating your play actually saves you money in the long run. Anyone who would like to ask me anything about this article is free to do so on the forum as usual.
Carl “The Dean” Sampson can also be found playing free poker