Drawing the Wrong Lessons

I was surprised to see Eddie at the table at Motorcity last week. A few months ago he would regularly show up at the Shark’s Club, a charity room in Howell. He played a loose, aggressive, and creative style. He clearly enjoyed the game and wasn’t afraid to bluff. If you folded to him you were usually in store for some good-natured taunting. Although there were flaws in his game, he certainly wasn’t easy to play against. Then he stopped showing up, and we heard he was taking a break from the game after going on a $20,000 downswing.

It was a different Eddie that showed up at Motorcity. He was quiet and withdrawn, listening to headphones. He seemed to be playing tighter and less aggressive. It’s not uncommon for an aggressive and creative player to talk himself into a more conservative style after going through a downswing. That probably means his bluffs haven’t been working, so maybe he thinks, “No one ever folds anyway. I’ll just stop bluffing. Every time they call me down, I’ll have the goods.”

This rarely works out well. Typically live players aren’t great at adjusting to their opponents, but most are aware enough to tell the difference between a raging maniac and a big nit, and they’ll call less against the nits. So the aggressive player won’t get paid off as often as he thinks. Plus, poker hands aren’t played in a vacuum — everything is tied together in your overall strategy, and plays that work for one player won’t necessarily work for another. A player who suddenly switches from an aggressive to a passive style will likely find his game out of whack in ways that aren’t easy to fix.

On the opposite end of the spectrum from Eddie is PJ. Whereas Eddie is (or was) aggressive and creative, PJ is one of the biggest nits of all time. He usually doesn’t raise any hands pre-flop other than big pocket pairs. He rarely value bets, even when he’s almost certain to have the best hand, and he almost never bluffs. Interestingly though, PJ is probably still a more successful poker player than Eddie. While Eddie is smart and creative, he’s also a gambler, and he plays too loose and puts himself in tough situations. PJ understands very little about poker fundamentally, but he stays out of trouble and his style matches up well against big fish who pay him off even though he’s not bluffing.

A few nights ago PJ decided to spring one of his rare bluffs. Several players including PJ limped and Jonny raised his straddle to $120. PJ re-raised to $250, it folded around to Jonny, and he called getting a great price. The flop came ten-high and PJ bet $300 on the flop, $375 on the turn, and $500 on the river. Jonny agonized, but called him down all the way with jacks and was good.

PJ rarely bluffs, so he should get a lot of credit for having a big hand when he bets. The thing is, he bluffs so rarely that he’s liable to fuck it up when he actually goes for it. In this case Jonny more or less believed him, but PJ bet so small that he almost forced him to call. By betting only $500 on the river into a $1900 pot, he gave him almost 5-to-1 on his money, meaning he only has to have the best hand a little more often than 1-in-6 times to justify a call. That’s pretty tempting, even against a big nit.

But that’s not the lesson PJ will take away from the hand. He’ll think, “There’s no point in bluffing when no one folds anyway. I’ll just go back to playing solid hands.” The truth is, bluffing does work sometimes. A player with PJ’s image could make a lot more money by bluffing more, but he’ll probably never realize that, because it’s not his style and he’ll never get enough practice to learn to execute his bluffs convincingly.

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One thought on “Drawing the Wrong Lessons

  1. […] example, PJ (I wrote about him before) is tight, meaning he starts with good hands, so bluffing him would seem like a dicey proposition. […]

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