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I have had the time recently to play a few live, poker tournaments. While I've had one nice cash of $3,000, there have been three times where I ended up just out of the money finishing 21st and 24th twice.
I have been so intent on playing ABC poker with a few moves thrown in, I have forgotten the need to play against myself as well.
What does it mean to "Play against the player and not your cards?"
As you know, I believe one of the most important keys in winning poker is to play against the player rather than just playing your cards.
One way to simply define "playing against the player" is to evaluate what range of hands you think your opponent holds and playing in a way to beat him by using his bets, his table image and the board against him--that is, representing a hand that can get your opponent to fold.
A simple example: A player who raises pre-flop way too often and always follows with a c-bet when his hand doesn't improve on the flop. You call this player in position, take the flop heads-up, and when he bets the flop, you raise.
It's easier said then done. And I think it's easier when you are playing live and the stacks are deep.
What does it mean to "Play against yourself?"
I think all poker players get in a habit of how to play good poker. I would say that players are better at pre-flop play than ever before. They know the "right" cards to play pre-flop in position and bet sizing. However, these same players often end up waiting forever for a big hand.
These players need to play against themselves. That is, they need to mix it up and play poker in a style that is counter to their table image.
For example: If you've been sitting and waiting forever for a big starting, you are viewed as a tight player. It's time to make a move and raise pre-flop with any two cards or re-raise a frequent raiser. You won't get action unless a player finds a big hand--which doesn't happen often.
The same is true of those players who come in too often with pre-flop raises. Change your game and slow down once in a while--maybe even fold, so the next time you come into the pot, your opponents will fear your raises.
I think most players are still thinking "Tight, aggressive" is the way to play a poker tournament. Survival is the key.
That thinking is fine as a starting point.
In addition, though, consider adding in one more element to your game. If you have not been entering any pots for a long time in a tournament, mix up your game, and play "Loose, aggressive." That is, if you find that you have suited connectors like 6-5 in an early position, raise like you have pocket Aces. If you find, that the small blind limps against your big blind, raise him even though you only have 7-2 offsuit.
Once you believe your image has changed, you can always switch back to your "Tight, aggressive" style.
The result is going to be that you will mix things up and make it more difficult for your opponents.
Frankly, I have been making the mistake of waiting too long to mix things up. The result has been that I have had to move all-in with good or mediocre hands and hope for the best. I need to open up my game more--and mix things up.
It seems being away from playing these events has resulted in my thinking I can outplay my opponents. While I tend to outplay opponents in the first two rounds, I have forgotten that "Risk is Good."