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Chris " Jesus " Ferguson
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Chris Ferguson
Poker Lesson #7
Keep Your Toolbox Well Stocked


I often get asked about my playing style. Rather than answer the question
myself, I'm more interested in what my opponents say. And I've heard it all:
"You're too tight." "You're too loose." "You're tight aggressive." "You're too
passive."

Actually, I never hear that last one, but I've heard all the others, which
makes me believe I must be doing something right. Loose, tight, aggressive -
my style is that I'm all of the above, depending upon the circumstances.

One essential element of playing winning poker is forcing your opponents to
make difficult decisions. That's why raising is almost always better than
calling - because it forces an extra decision on your opponents. To take this a
step further - you'll win more money by forcing your opponents to make
decisions when they are out of their comfort zones.

Here are some examples:

Your opponent is on your left, playing too tight before the flop. You want to
punish him for this. The best way to do that is to raise more often, and be
more aggressive. Either you end up stealing a lot of blinds, or he adjusts his
play.

If you get the blinds? Great! If he adjusts? Better! It's the best outcome you
can hope for. If he starts playing more hands pre-flop, you now have a real
edge. Anytime your opponent changes his pre-flop playing style, he's going
to run into trouble later in the hand. A guy who usually plays nothing but very
strong hands isn't going to know what to do with weaker holdings on the
turn and river.

If a tight opponent raises in front of you, wait for a stronger hand to call. By
playing tight when you are acting behind your opponent, you avoid losing
money to his stronger hands. Again, if your opponent catches on, you're
forcing him to play more hands up front, and you can outplay him after the
flop.

What about the guy who plays too many hands? If you're acting first, you
want better starting hands than normal. Most of the value of a marginal hand
comes from the chance that your opponent will fold immediately. If your
opponent has never seen suited cards he doesn't like, the value of your
marginal hand decreases because it's unlikely he's going to lay his hand
down. He may win more pots preflop, but this is more than offset by the
extra money you're going to make when you do see a flop with your stronger
hands.

If a loose opponent raises you, you can call -- or even raise -- with weaker
hands, and raise with hands you'd ordinarily just call with. By taking control
of the hand, you can pick up more pots later. Again, you are daring him to
change his style. If he doesn't, you're getting the best of it. If he does, he's a
fish out of water, prone to making mistakes later in the hand.

It's important to have a lot of tools in your arsenal. First, it's helpful in being
able to adjust to your opponents and force them out of their comfort zones.
Additionally, it will enable you to take advantage of your own table image
when you have already been labeled as a tight or loose player, and to adjust
accordingly.

For example, Gus Hansen and Phil Ivey are known as extremely aggressive
players. The only way they have been able to survive with that image is by
being able to adjust to different opponents and to slow down occasionally,
when appropriate. I have seen this happen sometimes just before an
opponent starts reacting to their aggression. They are somehow able to
sense what is happening, and change their games accordingly. Other times,
they won't adjust much, and force their opponents to try and beat them at
an unfamiliar game.

To best take advantage of this, pay attention! To everything. All the time. Not
just when you're in the hand, but especially when you're not in the hand.
Every hand your opponent plays gives you valuable information about how
he thinks, and how he's likely to play hands in the future.

If there's an expert at your table, watch how he plays. See what hands he
expects to work, think about how he plays them, then try incorporating it
yourself. See how he pushes weaker players out of their comfort zone.
Paying attention is one of the best ways to learn, and a great way to move
up the poker food chain.

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