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Deception And The Ability Of Your Opponents

A question you must always address, then, is when to play a hand straightforwardly and when to use deception. The most important criterion for making this decision is the ability of your opponents. The tougher they are, the more you must consider playing a hand other than optimally to throw them off. The weaker they are, the more you can get away with optimum play. Thus, if you have a good hand on an early round, you would not put in that last raise against tough players, but with a weaker hand you might consider putting in an extra bet to make your opponents think your hand is stronger than it is. For example, with a three flush on third street in seven-card stud you might throw in a reraise to create the wrong impression. Now if you happen to pair on board, you have the extra equity that your opponents may fold incorrectly, afraid you have three-of-a-kind or two pair.

On the other hand, if you are playing against dunces or just mediocre players, you don't gain enough in deception to justify the cost. Against such players you should put in an extra raise when you think you have the best hand, but throwing in an extra bet with a weaker hand, against someone who won't fold anyway, simply costs you extra money. In using deception, then, you must weigh the ability of your opponents against the extra cost.


Another criterion for deciding how to play a hand is the size of the pot. As the pot grows larger and larger, it becomes less and less important to disguise your hand because good players are not likely to fold any more than bad players are. Nor will good players try to bluff as much when you show weakness, because they too recognize that the pot is so big there is almost no chance you will fold. So when the pot has become large, you usually no longer have to think about using deception.


There is a related concept. If early bets are much smaller than later bets, you usually shouldn't throw in a small raise with a big hand. You may put people on guard so that even if they don't fold immediately, they will when the bets increase in later rounds. You're likely to get more action on your big hands by slow playing them. Conversely, with a large increase in bets from one round to another, you may decide to put in extra action with a weaker hand on an early, cheap betting round to create the wrong impression later when the bets are expensive. Thus, you should consider not only the amount in the pot now but also how much the bets are now compared to what they may be later. You might check a big hand early to win big bets later, and on the other hand, you might bet with a weaker hand early in hopes that your opponents will check later to give you a free card.

Obviously, you can better afford to disguise your hand in early rounds in pot-limit and no-limit games than in limit games, since both the size of the pot and the size of the bets may increase enormously from one round of betting to the next. With a big hand and a lot of money in front of you, you can check and give your opponents many more free cards. You are not so concerned about protecting the money in the pot as you are about getting paid off when you bet a much larger amount later. Furthermore, it costs too much to protect small pots, especially when you have only a fair hand. To win them, you need to make a considerably bigger bet than you would in limit games, and so in no-limit you would tend to give more free cards even when you are not altogether happy about it.


With weak players, with a large pot, and with large early bets, you need not be so concerned about disguising your hand. A corollary is that the more players in the pot, the less you gain by disguising your hand. You cost yourself too much when you do. You won't be able to make everybody fold when you bet with a weak hand, and you cost yourself too many bets when you miss a raise with a strong hand. What's more, when you let many opponents in cheaply, you increase the chances of being outdrawn. Heads-up situations require disguising your hand more than do multi-way pots.

Let's look at two early-round betting situations - one in which you don't care that you've given your hand away and the other in which you should use deception. In both situations you have a pair of aces in the hole before the flop in hold 'em. That is, you have the nuts, the best possible hand at that point.

The first game is no-limit. You've made a small raise, four or five people have called, and now someone puts in a substantial reraise. You must reraise again even if your play gives away your hand completely. It is worth dropping all disguise because as the pot gets larger and larger, what's in the pot right now counts more than potential bets on later rounds. With two aces you should put in all the bets you can.

On the other hand, with two aces against a good player in a limit hold 'em games, you should often not put in all bets. A reraise is fine because you could have a variety of hands. However, if your single opponent reraises again, you should probably just call. If you raise one more time, your opponent figures you for two aces. All you have gained is one small extra bet right there, but you may have cost yourself two or three bets later on. In this case, you have lost too much by giving your hand away. You stand to gain more by using deception.

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