When sitting down at a new table, whether it be a ring game or a tournament, you should always pay attention to the dynamics of the table. Knowing whether a table is loose, tight, tight-aggressive, et cetera, can mean the difference between winning or losing the session.
There will be individual players who break out of the pattern the table has fallen into, but even the most conservative players can become loose if the table is loose, and vice-versa. It is also possible for table dynamics to completely shift due to the actions of a newcomer. A prime example of table dynamics occurred when I was playing a limit Texas Holdem game at PartyPoker recently.
I sat down at the table, waited almost an entire round, and posted my big blind. During this time, I noticed that the table was playing extremely tight. This stood as an excellent opportunity for me to make a bunch of steals, however I knew that I should lay low for a while and build my image first. I did this, throwing away a lot of hands early on, and built up an image of being just another tight player at the table.
Then I began to shift my play into my stealing mode, raising often and frequently making stabs at the flop. I made a nice profit this way until the table began to react to me, as I had intended. Through my actions, I had opened up many of the players at the table, who became loose under my constant stealing, exactly as I had intended.
Now that the table was loose, I withdrew and waited for a solid hand to rake in a lot of money with. I eventually got it, in the form of pocket kings. With the table loose and expecting me to bluff or make bets with marginal hands, I got about half the table to call and continue on with me. I was betting so consistently that it appeared to the other players that I was representing a bluff. Players slowly dropped out along the way, until I showed my pocket kings, taking the pot from my two remaining opponents.
Normally, this sort of play would just be considered shifting images, however I influenced the whole table into changing their actions and caused them to be more willing to play marginal hands. I received more calls preflop and on the flop, thanks to the change in the entire table’s play. It was also easier to perform this sort of operation at a fixed-limit table At a no-limit table, players would have been fearful of making the call, as they would have been concerned with a large reraise or a large bet on the flop. But on a fixed-limit table where it is easier to call, I was able to successfully influence the table to be caught in the wide net I had cast. My manipulation was a complete success.
So how can you apply this story to your poker game? Easy. Always look for ways to manipulate your opponents into doing what you want them to do. Manipulation is one of the easiest ways to cause others make mistakes. In the case above, I manipulated an entire table into becoming loose players after being tight players. I then induced them into making weak calls when I was finally dealt an excellent hand with which I could clean up with. Those were my intentions from the moment I discovered that the table was tight.
Pay attention to the dynamics of whatever table you are sitting at, and look for ways in which you can manipulate them. It is easier to win when your opponents are reacting to you. However, if you find that your manipulations aren’t working, don’t hesitate to fall back into playing solid poker. Your manipulations aren’t going to work all of the time, and you need to be prepared for that eventuality.
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