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Tips From the Full Tilt Pros

Steaming is bad but pretending to steam isn't by Esther Rossi

I’ve been playing poker for 23 years, and one thing I can say about my play with great pride is that I never steam. In fact, that’s true of a lot of pros. In general, the more experienced a player is, the less likely he or she is to have a steam factor.

But because your opponents might not realize that you don’t go on tilt, one of the most profitable plays in poker is the “fake steam.” If you’ve just taken a really bad beat, the other players at the table might expect you to enter the next pot with a weak hand or try to run a bluff because you’re not thinking clearly. And if you actually pick up a strong hand in this situation, you need to recognize how everyone else views you and play accordingly.

Just recently, I was playing in a No-Limit Hold ’em tournament and fairly early on, I picked up pocket Kings. I went to war with them and, wouldn’t you know, I lost the pot to someone holding J-8.

On the very next hand, with blinds at 20/40 and my stack below average at about 2,700, I was in the big blind with pocket threes. Four players limped in, the small blind folded, and I checked. The flop came A-2-3, giving me middle set. I checked, everyone else checked too, and then the button put out a bet of 140 into a 220 pot. I took my time and smooth-called, and everyone else folded.

The turn was an inconsequential card, a ten. I checked again, and now the button bet 300 into a pot of 500. This is where I sprung into action with my fake-steam plan. I was confident my hand was good, since the only hands that could beat me were pocket Aces (which he would have raised with pre-flop), pocket tens (which he would have raised with pre-flop), or 4-5. If he flopped the nut straight, then that’s just unlucky for me, but realistically, I believed my hand was best. So what I did was push in a big raise, but not quite all of my chips. I raised to 1,900, leaving 625 behind.

I was trying to get into his head and confuse him, because I knew he thought I was on tilt and he thought I didn’t have a real hand. I raised enough to make it look like I was trying to steal the pot, but by not pushing all in, I hoped it would give the impression that I wanted to save some chips in case he called my “bluff.”

Immediately, he re-raised me for my last 625 chips, I called, and it turned out he just had K-2. The only possible excuse for him thinking bottom pair was good in that spot was that he was sure I was steaming and stealing.

If he really knew me well, he would have known that I don’t steam. He would have known that I don’t let my emotions dictate my actions.

But not everyone you play against is going to understand how to read you, so if you can accurately interpret how they think you’re playing, you can use that to your advantage and take their chips.

Esther Rossi

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