The Art of Changing Gears

World Series of Poker, Las Vegas
$10,000 No Limit Hold’em World Championship
Report by Tony Bloom on Tuesday, 25 May 2004 at 2:41 am

Racing Drivers know it, runners know it, so do jockeys. But how many poker players know it? And of those, how many poker players do it? The ability to change gears and more importantly the experience of knowing when to do it can make the difference between an otherwise good tournament player being a great one. Although applicable in cash games, it`s greatest importance is in tournaments – in particular a big No Limit Hold`em Event.

Like a lot of skills in poker books can explain how and why, but only feel and instinct at the table combined with experience can tell you when to change gears. Knowing your opposition`s style of play, knowing your opponents thoughts on your style of play, and even on a 3rd level knowing what your opponents feel you know of their style will enable you to change gears with impunity.

There are so many factors involved in deciding which gear you should be in, and when to move up or down. Most players will only really consider what the other players have been doing over the last 30 minutes or so. You can use this to change the other players` perceptions of the way you play to your advantage.But you must always consider your opponents plays from the moment they sit at the table and how their play may have changed and why. You must recollect as best you can their playing patterns from previous encounters on other days. You must consider the skill levels of each player to understand their ability to change gears and their ability to spot others changing gears. These people generally exist only at the higher echelons of the game.

A few days ago in the $5,000 Pot Limit Omaha, Chris Moneymaker raised on the button with KK76, I made a large re-raise and he went over the top for a small amount more. I called, and as I showed my AAxx he commented "I knew you had aces, but I don`t play short stacks well so I had to gamble".

Now that`s an honest enough comment. It`s been well documented that he played his large stack at last year`s big event with tremendous heart and aggression which gave him his victory. He needs a large stack to play to his strengths. I love a large stack and can play it as aggressive as most. However, to play tournaments well you must know how to manage a short stack. Unfortunately it`s a position you`re going to be in a lot of the time.

There a some top players, Phil Ivey being a good example, who always want to be ultra aggressive and be in top gear almost all the time in a tournament. They don`t want to be scrambling around with small chips after 2 hours. They either want to have a lot of chips, or be knocked out where they can play in a large profitable side game. Their rationale is their Expected Value (EV)
playing with a small stack is too small compared to their EV in a cash game. In my opinion for these great players this makes financial sense, even though it reduces their EV for the tournament. But this only applies to a handful of players, not the many hundreds who play this way.

PS Yes, Moneymaker rivered a straight against me to cripple my stack.
PPS Ram and Devilfish are two great exponents in the art of changing gears.

The two pictures below were taken by David Goudie (Crown
Photographer) during the Aussie Millions final. Check out Tony’s T-shirt and his little gold Lizards!