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Online poker is crammed full of "good"
games. A good game is understood to be loose, with lots of players staying
and paying through the nose to see the flop. There is a lot of betting
action in a "good" game, with many pots capped. But this type of game is only good for a very specific style of play, one that requires a level of
discipline and patience that very few players, good, bad, or otherwise, genuinely possess. Besides that, the much-repeated theory that these games belong to the
"rocks", those bastions of strong-tight play, is questionable at best
and quite possibly incorrect, at least not without significant modifications.
There is a circle of profit in poker that a lot of successful players are aware of, even if they cannot articulate it in as many words.
Basically it goes like this: rocks will beat maniacs;
maniacs will actually beat crafty players who mix it up a lot, and crafty players (let's call them "foxes" in honor of the famous article on
poker tournament strategy written by Chuck Thompson years ago)
will beat rocks. Inside this circle, and well and truly surrounded by all three types of player, we find the passive-weak players, derisively referred to as
calling stations. It is safe to say that this type of poker
player is beaten more often and by more types than any other. There is a good deal of subjectivity when it comes to Hold'em strategy and poker theory in
general, but one issue is not a matter of opinion or interpretation: passive players who call repeatedly at any level will eventually lose all their chips.
The beauty of poker is that each discrete game where you sit down will have its own character, and that character is also dynamic and fluid. It
takes only one strong table personality to shift a game, making other players around him more or less aggressive. Because poker is ultimately a
situational battle, there is no single overriding answer to the question of how to play the game well. One must, however, constantly adjust and
vary one's own game, reacting to the manner in which your opponents play while keeping your own style as enigmatic as possible.
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If you play in an online limit game where there is a high pre-flop percentage, with five or more regularly staying to see the flop (in a full ten-handed
game), you will need to adjust your game away from the standard strong-tight school of thought and become more of a fox. There are certain holdings that
are cherished by strong-tight players, but which really struggle to hold up in these frenetic online games. AQ (unsuited), QQ, KQ (suited or unsuited),
JJ, and AJ (unsuited) are all deceptively dazzling, and my contention is that in loose online limit games these hands all cost money in the long run.
In fact, if you only played the premium starting hands
(AA, KK, AK), all nut flush hands, all pairs (but only to hit a set on the flop), and mixed in one-gap and no-gap suited connectors (again, only waiting
as far as the flop for immediate improvement), you would almost certainly do better than a by-the-book strong-tight rock. By mucking those
big-paint starting hands early on, and playing lesser hands like
small pairs far more aggressively you give yourself the best odds in online limit poker. You are essentially looking for volume hands that have the ability
to take down monster pots. You cannot hope to isolate with those
in-between hands, and instead you should be looking for hands that appear to come right out of the blue, and which your opponents cannot put you on.
If you raise aggressively with AQ in a limit game online there are very few flops that will give you both disguise and action, plus if you do get
action holding AQ you can hardly ever feel safe about holding the best hand. If you raise aggressively with 79, however, there are a number of
flops that give you disguise and action (77x or 99x, 79x or 68T) - and that's not even taking into account whether that 79 is suited, in which
case you might flop a flush draw and still be on the come.
It is very difficult to play the opponent and not the cards when you start out in online poker. But you can play a style that adapts to the
situation, and frequently that situation calls for you to place a high value on true volume hands that contain an element of surprise, and to
discount the value of more stable starting hands. When you're sitting at a no-limit table at the World Series Of Poker you should feel free to drive
your pocket Queens as far and as hard as you can, but online with maniacs to the left of you and calling stations to the right there is a very good
chance you'll need to see a third Lady before you can breathe a little easier.
Marc Weinberg is the Senior Editor at Online Poker Insider