Looks Can Be Deceiving

Confused Opponents

Manipulate Poker Players"Oh, what a tangled web we weave when we first practice to deceive." -- Sir Walter Scott

Never judge a book by its cover is a cliché, but it is a good one. With some plants and animals, looks don't just deceive, sometimes they kill. Poker is a game where it pays to make opponents feel all warm and fuzzy and comfortable when they are actually in great danger, and fearful for their mortal souls when they are actually safe as can be.

Deceiving, tricking and outmaneuvering opponents leads to their defeat. Baffled, bewildered and confused opponents should not be your goal as a player. Think of playing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. You are blindfolded, spun around and disoriented, and then you have to try and stick a tail on a donkey's butt. It's hard, and you'd rather not have been spun around, but still people often do get the tail on the donkey, or at least close. Getting opponents in that condition is mediocre poker. Sure, it is better than an un-blindfolded opponent walking right up to the donkey and sticking the tail in the perfect place, but it is a thousand times worse than having convinced your opponent that a "donkey" is actually a motorcycle. Instead of pinning the tale on the donkey right in front of their nose, you get them to go pin the tail on the Harley in the garage.

There simply is no comparison between the effectiveness of actions that lead to confused opponents as opposed to tricked opponents. Confusion is not "bad"... it just isn't very good.

Fortunately many mediocre players want to confuse us. This is a wonderful strategy, for us. When we can't read a situation with a high degree of confidence, please let me be confused. If I don't know what to do, I normally have a one-in-three (fold, raise/bet, call) chance of doing the right thing by choosing at random. Not bad for a worst-case scenario.

Many Omaha High-Low players take this backwards philosophy to a real extreme. A2 is the most obviously playable two-card Omaha holding. It is by far the most common nut holding. It's also the most grossly misplayed holding in poker. Some players only raise before the flop when they hold A2. Duh. Why not just turn your hand face up and show everybody what you have? But that is not even the worst of it. We normally want our opponents to think we have a hand where they will act in a manner that is financially beneficial to us, and lousy for them. A2 is a hand that welcomes everybody. It makes the nuts more than any other hand, so let's get a bunch of not-as-good hands to put money into the pot with us.

At the same time, players seldom fold another A2 when a pot is raised, so by raising A2 you don't run players out of pots that you want out. In Holdem, if raising with KQ or AT gets a weak player to fold AJ you do something that dramatically affects your hand value. This simply isn't the case with A2. You won't lose anybody with hands that you truly don't want to face.

A2 is the holding that wins the most pots, but that simple fact is deceiving. You don't want to telegraph your hand. If you are playing with a bunch of weak players who "only raise with A2" then you certainly don't want to tell them what you have. (There are exceptions in Omaha where you do want your opponents to know exactly what you have because you want to kill the action, but those exceptions are not important here.)

Suppose you are on the button with a flop of K65, and a 3 on the turn card. If you hold AKKQ, what do you want your four opponents to do -- where two have straights and one has A2? Well, you sure don't want them betting and raising! You want them passively checking to you because you raised before the flop and they think that means you have A2 and that you will be betting. They aren't confused at all. They have consciously made a wrong decision based on your actions. Cool.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't raise with A2 sometimes. You definitely should, but you should normally be raising because of your entire hand and position in that hand, not simply because you have A2. And you should be raising with lots of other hands besides A2.

More Manipulating not Confusing Opponents and Playing the Other Person's Game