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15/09/2006 No. 64
he Guardian Poker Column
Victoria Coren
Friday Sep 15th, 2006
How to play poker
(How to play has been running from issue 16)

Your heart is thumping. You feel hot. Your hand trembles slightly as you reach for a reassuring sip of Red Bull. Thus refreshed, you shove your entire stack of chips over the line. (It's a no-limit cash game, so you've been able to move all-in for five times the size of the pot.) You have absolutely no hand. It's a pure bluff. Thank heavens, your opponent is pausing to think. Now you know he doesn't have the nuts (the best possible hand). So he'll probably pass. What a relief.

You fool! You don't deserve relief. If you thought your opponent might have the nuts, what the hell did you go all-in for? It's the classic error of the no-limit hold 'em cash game. The big macho move, the totally unnecessary risk, which will probably send you skint. It's the poker equivalent of calling your boss a wanker in the hope that he will respect your confidence and double your salary.
If this opponent has a weak hand, he will pass for a pot-size bet. If he has a reasonable hand, he'll probably pass for double the pot. If he has a great hand, he will call any amount you bet. So why risk all your money, when you can risk a fraction of it for the exact same results? Pointless.

You may remember, from an earlier column, that you should bluff much less in cash games than tournaments anyway. A ticking tournament clock forces you to make moves. In a cash game, blinds are never worth stealing and you can wait for as long as it takes to find playable cards. Playing cash, you should have the best hand the majority of times that you bet. You might bluff to disguise a draw, to try and win the pot when you have missed a draw, or in a couple of other specific situations, but true cash-game profit comes from getting action when you're in front.

When you do bluff, no-limit can make things tricky. Those familiar with tournaments (which is where most new players start, even if only by watching them on TV) get used to the strength of the all-in move. They carry it with them to the cash games, where it is unnecessarily dangerous. You can bluff much smaller, and lose less if it fails.

A cash-game opponent is not thinking about "being knocked out" or "winning the tournament", he is thinking about profit margins. Therefore, cash-game bluffs should not be designed to scare people out of pots, but to trick them out of pots. You need only bet an amount that your opponent would consider an unprofitable call (and a difficult raise) if he has the hand you think he's got.

As David Sklansky puts it: "Bet enough to get the job done, but not much more."


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