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Psychology and Future Impressions

Varying your play and making an "incorrect" play intentionally are also part of the psychology of poker because you are trying to affect the thinking of your opponents for future hands. To take a simple example, you might make three-of-a-kind on fourth street in seven-card stud with two of the cards showing and check your open pair on a slowplay. Assuming your opponents saw your hand in a showdown, if you make a similar three-of-a-kind later in the session, you might bet it then. Since you checked three-of-a-kind before, your opponents are now likely to think you do not have three-of-a-kind, but something like two small pair or one pair and a three-flush. In other words, you are taking advantage of the impression you created earlier to get paid off later when you bet.

By the same token, let's say you make an open pair on fourth street, but this time that's all you have. You check. Now your opponents will be suspicious that you may have three-of-a-kind. They may give you a free card, and if one of them bets, you can be fairly certain that player has a good hand.

In general, you should evaluate any play you make on its merits alone - that is, on its expectation in a given situation. However, as we suggested in the page on bluffing, you might occasionally want to do something that is theoretically incorrect, especially in a no-limit games. You might either bluff a hand when you are almost sure you won't get away with it or fold a legitimate hand when you think you are getting bluffed and then show the hand. What you are trying to do is create an impression for the future. You are making a bad play so that it sticks in everybody's mind. Once you have opponents thinking one way, you take advantage of that thinking later. These types of plays will work against players who are good enough to try to take advantage of their new-found knowledge but who are not good enough to realize that you know they are going to try to take advantage of it and that they should therefore ignore it. Once again it comes down to knowing your opponents. You have to know how they think and whether they are capable of thinking on the level you are giving them credit for. If they think on a still higher level, you have to step up to that level too.

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