Poker Anti-Skills

The Bad Idea Toolbox

Poker Anti-Skills"I just started shooting, that's it. I just did it for the fun of it.
I just don't like Mondays. I did it because it's a way to cheer the day up.
Nobody likes Mondays." -- Brenda Spencer

Every player has poker skills. Obviously some people have more skills than others. Developing our skills, refining them, and recognizing them is an important part of being a winning player.

One of those valuable skills is the ability to recognize and exploit our opponents' anti-skills.

What is an anti-skill? Anti-skills are things mediocre and bad players do that better players take advantage of where the bad player is actually under the illusion that what he is doing is skillful!

I am not talking about players playing flat-out bad -- going on tilt, playing garbage hands, playing over their bankroll. Those things are exploitable too, but I am talking about those times and things where players think they are playing good when in fact their actions are extremely costly to themselves.

Perhaps the most common bad play that weaker players think is a good play is "the big laydown." This term is used in many different ways, and I am not meaning that making big laydowns is always bad. For example, big laydowns are one key to winning in big bet poker (as are big calls), particularly pot limit games. I'm talking about situations where players pat themselves on the back for folding a "big" or fairly powerful hand on the final round for one bet playing limit poker. Not only is this seldom a good play, it is often catastrophic -- especially against a strong player.

I know a player who almost always bets the river card in Omaha High-Low when no low is possible and the river card changed whatever the best possible hand is. He does this simply because it works. Weak players fold to these bets much more than they should. When a pot is ten big bets, and you bluff one bet into one player where you have very little chance of winning with a showdown, and you win the pot three or five or even seven times out of ten, you are making a huge profit at the expense of the folding player. And the opponent is cursing his bad luck, going a bit on tilt, and suffering disappointment -- even while patting himself on the back for being "clever" enough to save that one bet by making a "big laydown" and not calling.

Another key anti-skill is the use of the checkraise. No tactic is more misused in poker by mediocre players. Thousands of words could be written on this on tactic alone, but if you are a losing player or not winning as much as you should, and you think checkraising is a key weapon in your arsenal, you likely suck at checkraising.

In Omaha High-Low, the toxic anti-skill of limping before the flop "to see where you are" creates much of the profit for better players. Despite this, mediocre players the world over deliberately insist on not raising before the flop as a specific, thought-out game strategy. Bless them.

Previously I wrote about jailbird poker, making an individual play in isolation, not as a part of a bigger picture. A reverse phenomenon is the desire of many mediocre players to confuse their opponents. They attempt to be deliberately unpredictable, and thank goodness for that, because when I am in a pot with one of these folks, and they do confuse me and I don't know what to do, the chance for me to choose the right action is usually 50/50 (call or fold). Effective deception wins the money; confusion gives opponents a fighting chance at acting correctly. Brenda Spencer did something random one day, and pays for it every day in prison. Randomness is the enemy of successful people. Deliberate action, combined with deception and trickery make winning players. Aiming for confusion is an anti-skill in its purest form.

Obsession over rake, as opposed to the size of the blinds or the quality (or lack of quality) of your opposition is one of the biggest anti-skills in 21st century poker. Choosing to play in a lower raked game with good players rather than a higher raked game with lousy players is about the worst anti-skill a player can have.

Next time you see someone (in either limit games or big bet ones) buy into any game for the minimum as a deliberate strategy, smile and try and observe what other anti-skills that player has. Does he use the checkraise poorly? Does he often call turn bets but fold to river bets? When he bets in later betting rounds are his opponents usually confused? Maybe this player will just have the one anti-skill, but chances are where there is smoke there is fire.

Just like better players have a toolbox full of valuable skills, weaker players will have a toolbox full of anti-skills for us to profit from.

Also see: Poker Experts, Skill in Adapting, Bad Poker Decisions and Losing Poker