Threatening, with a gun, or with a knife?

by PokerAnon ~ May 22nd, 2010. Filed under: Poker aggression, Poker psychology.

A couple days ago we had some people visiting. The conversation topics were far ranging but at one point one person was talking about carrying a knife when traveling for self-defense and then continued on saying how people are more afraid when faced with a knife than when faced with a gun. Another person suggested that this may be because you don’t know if the gun is real, or if it has bullets, whereas you know that the knife is ready to use. I added, “And how many times have you hurt yourself with a knife, compared with how many times have you hurt yourself with a gun?”

Most of us who are not police, army or seasonal hunters have probably never handled a gun beyond a pellet rifle nor seen in real life the damage that it could inflict. We’ve seen movies where people are shot but we don’t feel the pain or smell the blood. We’ve also seen movie and television images of unarmed people successfully jumping behind a parked car or behind a desk in order to avoid being shot. In real life we’ve all hurt ourselves slicing our hands with kitchen knives, vegetable slicers, exacto blades, hedge trimmers and razors. We’ve all felt the sharp, clean pain and seen our own blood running out. For most of us guns are not as real a threat as are knives.

What’s the connection to poker? Well, there are “real” threats and not so real threats. Too often when I’m donking around at $10 Rush Poker I pay people off when they make really stupid plays, just because the dollar cost is not much of a threat to me. I guess my annoyance with their play outweighs the cost for me.

A similar process could apply to bet sizing. Say you call on a flop that has a draw, whether you hold the draw or not. The draw gets there on the turn and you bet. If you bet exactly the manner that  you would if you held the draw (either betting out, or betting the river if the turn is checked) and betting exactly the amount that you would bet if you hit, then you create a better threat. If your opponent has been burned in exactly that manner before, then you’ll draw on that painful memory for them and have a better chance of taking the pot down with nothing. On the other hand if you did have the draw, then maybe playing it in a different manner (check-raising the flop, then checking the draw, or betting out when the draw hits or using an unusual bet amount) would be less likely to arouse suspicion from your opponent. It may not seem like such a “real” threat.

Last night I had AA in early position at $10 Rush Poker and was called by the big blind. Flop comes Ten-6-2, blind checks, I bet, he raises, I call. Turn comes and he insta-shoves all the rest of his stack in. The check-raise on the flop was fine; maybe he had a set but I decided to see what happened on the turn. When he shoved in the rest of his stack on the turn a set didn’t seem likely anymore so I called. He had Ten-2, soooted, of course, that he opted to call from the blind. Now if I’m going to stack off with overpairs then calling with Ten-2 is fine, but it was his weird insta-shove on the turn that sold me, made it less threatening to me. Well, that combined with the check-raise on the flop because players at $10nl do this infrequently with made hands; they’d rather call down or slowplay, or check-minraise with either nothing or the nuts, so the combination of the unreasonably-reasonable flop check-raise followed by the unexpected insta-shove on the turn, plus the low stake level, all combined to make the threat less real to me.

At the other end of things I’ve been experimenting with smaller bet sizes, particularly on the turn and river, trying to make players more comfortable with calling down with their second best hand. This is the theory working in the other direction, trying to make my bets look less threatening, trying to get more calls while still building the pot (at least when the board doesn’t have a lot of draws). What I’m not sure of at this point is whether I get sufficient folds the times that I don’t have a hand and whether smaller bets open me up to more raises that I don’t want to face when I have medium strength hands.

And my playing levels in the past two weeks has included hands at $10nl 6 max and FR as well as at $100nl FR, and tournaments from $1 matrix and $2 superturbos to player point freerolls and across three different poker sites. Not the same level of opponents in all these situations so the language and interpreter that I use has to be different.

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