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How to play against good players

June 9, 2015

I started my poker life after watching the 2003 Main Event, the one where Chris Moneymaker won it all. Though I was personally cheering for Sammy Farha to win it all that year, the victory by the rank amateur, Moneymaker, over the season pro, caused an absolute explosion of interest in poker that the game had never seen before. I was one of those millions who suddenly discovered this amazing, yet very humbling game.

I work at a large company full of very smart people. There were a lot of people who were in the same boat as me, so it was not difficult to find enough participants to hold our own tournaments in various cafeterias on the campus of my company. Of course, playing against these very smart people meant that I was at a bit of a disadvantage. I am certainly smart, no doubt about that, but many of my opponents were absolute geniuses, and some would go on to be successful poker professionals.

I held my own over the years, but I never really “conquered” the tough company games that I and others organized. I certainly learned a lot, but I realize now that I could have made more money by playing out in the “world” at local casinos instead of where I worked. Out there, the average poker player wasn’t quite as smart as what I was facing at work.

Over time (about a decade’s worth), my interest in poker waned a bit. Part of that was my lack of domination of the company games I was playing in. Part of it was just wanting to do other things with my time rather than sitting in a chair for 4 to 6 hours (which I already did quite enough of at work and home). It came to the point where I was hardly playing at all. It was only when I went to Vegas or, rarely, to a local casino maybe once a year, that I actually set down at a table. And you know what? I invariably did very well.

I think the reason I had success even though I hadn’t been playing much was because I played tighter the less poker I played (which seems a bit anti-logical). I think that the more poker you play, the better you think you can play any hand in any position. By sticking to a tight selection of pre-flop hands, remaining aggressive on all streets, and using position as the club that it is, I found myself becoming a regular winning player. But this was against the dregs at the local casino and in Vegas. How would I do against my old friends at the company games?

Well, in a few weeks, we’ll find out, as I’ll be hosting a poker party at my house for all the degenerates who still work at “The Company”. Should I maintain my tight game or is that too predictable for opponents of this skillset? Should I mix it up more, raising out of position and with crappy cards in order to get paid off on my good hands? Should I just rock it up and set-mine?

After thinking about it, I do think I have to remain a tightwad when it comes to pre-flop hand selection. The key will be to ensure that I’m still aggressive post-flop, because without that element, these guys will probably eat me alive. No calling, just raising. If a hand is good enough to call with, it’s good enough to raise with. If it’s NOT good enough to raise with, then just fold. That’s my plan and I’m sticking to it.

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