One of the defining steps to improving as a poker player is your ability to change gears. By that I mean to change up your style of play within a session or tournament, often multiple times. As a newer poker player, you are working hard on developing structure and discipline in your game. You are learning what range of hands you should play pre-flop. You are learning learning when to continuation bet the flop. You are learning the highest percentage plays to make to ensure success; like when you should chase or when you should fold. You are looking to establish a tight aggressive foundation for your game. But as you move up and play tougher players, that isn’t enough.
As you refine your game and determine the “proper” move to make in each situation, you also become predictable. Observant opponents will pick up on your predictability and exploit it.
Once you learn to make the best percentage plays, in order to advance and become unpredictable to your opponents, you must change gears and deviate from those plays. You need to introduce a certain element of randomness so they don’t have a clear read of what kind of hand you have. There are various ways you can accomplish this randomness.
You want your opponents to see that you are capable of unpredictable play, so that they never completely know what you have. If they are guessing what you have, they can never make the best possible play against you.
In tournament poker, there are distinct stages where gear changes are particularly effective. As you near the money bubble, players will tighten up to ensure they make it. If you ramp up your aggression, you can often steal a few extra pots. If certain players are short at the table, you might want to tight up your opening range knowing that they are desperate and likely to three bet or shove over your opening. In the early stages of a tournament, when you are typically deepest, players will often only play their best hands. Changing gears at any stage, if done judiciously, will throw off your opponents temporarily. Don’t overuse the concept, but include it in your arsenal.
In a cash game, where you may be at the same table with opponents for long periods, it is particularly helpful to mix up your play to keep your opponents off guard. They are likely to take notes, or form a picture in their mind of your play. This gives you the opportunity to set them up. For instance, some players will bluff a few times early in the game, so that later they can get paid off when they bet their strong hands. Others will play very tight early on, so that all their later moves will be respected due to their perceived tightness. In changing gears, you are simply using the table image you establish over time to your advantage by deviating from what other players will expect of you. Used sparingly, changing gears will make you a much tougher player to play against.