If you have ever driven a car with a stick shift transmission, you know that the terrain of the road, speed and torque dictates the gear that you need to operate. You can’t stay in one gear for your whole trip; otherwise the car will struggle mightily and you will take the risk of damaging the engine.
Something similar happens when you’re playing poker (Both online poker and at real tables). The ups and downs in poker mirror those of a long drive, in a way. As you attempt to win real cash and play through a number of sessions, you need to get ready to change your play, including “changing gears.” The strategy you have heading out might work for a time, but you eventually need to make a change, or your outcomes are going to start heading south.
So what is changing gears, exactly? You move away from your typical playing style so that others can’t predict your poker game as easily. Are you a tight player? Loosen those starting hand requirements and start being a little freer with your money. Are you a loose player? Start playing fewer hands and make your hand requirements more stringent. Just hopping back and forth from tight to lose isn’t changing gears, though. You need to show more subtlety by playing with degrees of looseness and tightness as the game goes on.
The most important reason to change gears is that, if you don’t, your opponents will figure out how you play and start guessing right. Then they’ll use these guesses against you. If you stay with that evenhanded tight style throughout a session, your opponents will eventually have an easy time putting you on a hand. However, if you are less predictable, your opponents won’t gain that edge. Instead, you’ll have it.
Think about tight aggressive play as being analogous to third gear in a car. You can use it most of the time, but there are some situations where it doesn’t work well at all. If you can change gears now and then and keep people guessing, you can slip back into 3rd gear when they lose the handle on you, only again to change later.
So when should you change? If your stack sizes change, as when you see yourself deep stacked or short stacked, it’s likely time to change. Have the table dynamics shifted? Have new people joined the game? Are you feeling static in your play? Have you hit the bubble in your tournament? Those are all signs that you need to shift gears.
Most people tighten up when they reach the bubble, because they want to keep their position and get into the money. You can take advantage of this by picking up some uncontested pots. Everyone else is trying to hold onto what they have, so why not pick up what people are leaving behind? You can follow the crowd and edge your way into the money with a lighter stack, but if you pick up the extra money now, your chances of coming in first are much, much higher. Following this advice will help you be the player that no one can figure out – and that no one can beat.
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