Playing Against Superior Opponents

Taking on solid opponents can be a lot like David and Goliath

Whenever you sit down to play poker you should always try to ensure you are seated with opponents who are lesser skilled than yourself. In cash games this can be quite a simple task but in other forms of poker -- such as multi-table tournaments -- your control over such matters is far more limited.

In a tournament scenario you have no choice over the table you are seated at and you can often be stuck on a "bad" table for hours; particularly in live tournaments where your table may not break for the entire day's play

The reason for sitting down and playing against weaker players should be frighteningly obvious; weaker players make more mistakes than strong ones and each time an opponent makes a mistake then we gain, at least in the long run. Whilst playing against weaker players can be frustrating at times due to their lack of understanding of the game and their inability to fold, ask any poker player worth their salt if they would rather be facing a table of random weak players or seasoned pros and I will bet good money the answer from 99% of them is the former.

As mentioned, choosing a good table in a cash game is simple. You simply choose your table, sit down and if the table is not to your liking you can sit out and leave. However, in a tournament scenario you have no choice over the table you are seated at and you can often be stuck on a "bad" table for hours; particularly in live tournaments where your table may not break for the entire day's play. So what should you do if you find yourself on a table that has skilled opponents seated at it? How should tackle this particular problem? Two scenarios spring to mind when I think of this problem. One of them I witnessed at the recent WPT Merit Cyprus Classic and the other I was actually part of. We'll deal with scenario one first.

Do Not Play To Your Opponent's Strengths

I reported on the WPT Merit Cyprus Classic and got to see the action unfold in front of my eyes. At the final table there was no doubt the eventual winner Marvin Rettenmaier was by far the best player of the six who remained and although one seemed to know what he was doing (he busted out in sixth place) the other players tried to take on Rettenmaier at his own game. of course this did not work out too well for them and Rettenmaier went on to win the tournament and become the first-ever back-to-back WPT champion. Anyway, back to the scenario I witnessed. When play was four-handed each of Rettenmaier's opponents tried to play small ball poker, making min-raises preflop and trying to outplay their dangerous foe on the flop. Even when they were down to 10-20 big blinds they allowed Rettenmaier to open plenty of pots and they played to his strengths. 

In his winner's interview Rettenmaier said he was happy to keep the pots small and outplay his opponents, which is exactly what he did, but had they left their egos at the door and not worried what their style of play looked like to the prying eyes of the poker fans at home they could have played a style of poker that would have allowed them to accumulate chips and prevent Rettenmaier from playing poker. By making their bets larger, even as large as being all in (especially with 10-18 big blinds), they would be taking a large element of skill out of the game and this would work against Rettenmaier. As he felt he had a large edge against his weaker opponents, Rettenmaier would not want to risk a significant percentage of his chips as a small favourite when he felt he could win lots of smaller pots. At one stage Joseph El Khoury open-shoved from the button (Rettenmaier was in the big blind) then a couple of hands later three-bet all in against a Rettenmaier open and picked up the pots uncontested on each occasion. My fellow blogger Lee Davy commented on how he though El Khoury had finally sussed out this new tactic but alas it did not last long and Rettenmaier's opponents went back to gifting him their chips in dribs and drabs.

Use Your Own Image To Your Advantage

The second scenario was one I found myself in during last year's GSOP 8 Grand Final. It was a $500 buy-in event and I was completely out of my depth, I will admit it. This year I will be much more confident but last year I was like a fish out of water (maybe I was a fish in shark infested water?) At one stage I had Jonathan "xMONSTERxDONGx" Karamalikis and Chris "NigDawG" Brammer to my left along with p0cket00 all three are players who have forgotten more than I actually know about poker. For the most part I found excuses not to play in hands with them because why would I want to play in pots against players who are far, far better than me, but as my confidence grew a little (not too much mind) I realised that I could win  few pots by keeping matters simple.

None of the three players mentioned had a clue who I was and if they were inclined to look me up on the online tracking sites they would have seen a player with limited online tournament cashes. This means they would treat me as a fish, someone who will be easy to read and will act in a very rigid way; think if he has it he bets, if he checks he doesn't. I used this to my advantage a couple of times when I check-called the flop that had two hearts on it and then check-raised when the flush came in and another when I check-raised a dry flop. Both times I won the pot because I had acted in a way that made my hand look obvious.

The majority of good, solid players do not want to play big pots without big hands, nor will they give lesser-known players credit for being tricky or creative so bets and checks will be very polarised. Try not to get involved with talented players but if you do then use the above information and experiences to aid you in your decision making.

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