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StrategyWeekly No Limit

Deception (1) - Basics



Deception - Basics

by MiiWiin

Deception is one of the basic principles of poker. In this article I'd like to mention the sense and the basics of deception and why it is so important.

First of all I will quote David Sklanskys „Fundamental Theorem of Poker“: „…every time opponents play their hands differently from the way they would have if they could see all your cards, you gain; and everytime they play their hands the same way they would have played if they could see all your cards, you lose.“ [1]

Someone, who masters the standard play normally tries to play without any moves. He bets or raises strong hands, in order to maximize their value and he checks or folds weak hands because he doesn't want to invest too much money in a pot he will probably not win.

You don't need to argue against this type of play, but Sklansky finds fault with the fact, that you become readable. Someone, who always raises or bets strong hands and checks or folds weak hands, simply becomes readable. He will sooner or later reveal his cards, so that Sklanskys proposition can be applied.

Our opponents will be able to read our play. They will determine our range and adjust their play. They won't know our exact hand, but they know what kinds of hands we use to play. In the long term they will come closer to our actual hands and make less mistakes.

But this point is annoying. Our opponents should make mistakes. This ensures, that we make profit. We profit from every opponent's mistake. On the other hand our mistakes cost money. But as long as we allow reads on our play, our opponents won't be able to make too many mistakes.

To this topic another quote from David Sklansky: „Your opponents' mistakes are your opportunities for profit. Good no limit players try to win the battle of mistakes.“ [2]

Now we have to consider how to benefit from deception. We must mislead and confuse our opponent. And we must not become readable. Our aim should be tempting our opponent to make mistakes and avoiding our own mistakes.

But we also have to consider situations, which demand a straight-lined play. Sometimes we can even give a hint about our hand and still make profit because in some situations we must protect our hand if we think, that we play against a draw, which could possibly be completed with another card.

Basically we have to consider three points if we want to decide, whether we should play misleading or straight-lined.


Firstly our opponents' skills: Is our opponent able to determine our range. Should we try to mislead him? Against weak players, especially against calling stations, you should prefer a straight-lined play. Bet on every street against them.

There is no point in representing a strong hand, if your opponent is not interested in your cards and your play. He will be concentrated on his own hand and not make more mistakes if we try to make special moves.

But what about strong opponents? How do you play against someone, who is very aggressive and analyses your play? In this case you should try to become unreadable. This kind of player may not understand our strategy completely, so that he will still make mistakes facing a strong opponent, who adjusts his play, we should start minding deception.



Secondly the pot size: The bigger the pot is, the more important becomes deception. The fold equity will decrease and all kinds of players will rather play their own cards instead of estimating their opponents. There are only two possible ways of playing in a big pot. We will fold weak hands, which will probably lose if they remain unimproved and we will play strong hands aggressively, in order to maximize their value and protect them.

Smaller pots can be played in a rather tricky way. You can try to win a pot with a weak hand. If you manage to steal small pots in the correct situation, they will add up to a considerable amount. Moreover you will become unreadable, which should definitely be your aim. Stealing small pots with a weak hand has a positive effect on your image. An opponent will eventually not believe your strong hands and he will play a big pot against our better hand.


The third important point is the number of our opponents: Deception should help us make our hand unreadable. You can successfully do that in a heads-up, but an increasing number of opponents means a decrease of fold equity, which we need if we want to pretend a strong hand. Who wants to check/raise a weak flush draw in a 5-handed-pot?

Against a big number of opponents we should prefer a straight-lined play. We should bet our strong hands and fold our weak hands.



In every hand we have to consider, whether we need deception or if it would be better to play straight-lined. Therefore our opponents are decisive: Against many players in a hand, especially many weak players, you should rather fold weak hands and avoid special moves. A big pot has the same effect, it will give a small chance of pushing opponents out of the hand.

But deception can be a big advantage if we play small pots against strong opponents, especially in a heads-up or 3-handed pot. We draw the curtain over our hands and will cause opponents' expensive mistakes.

As a last point I will quote David Sklansky about "reverse thinking":

“Sometimes it might even be the best type of deception to play straightforward, since especially strong players will assume that you are bluffing." [3]

[1]-[3] "The Theory of Poker", David Sklansky, S. 63-69


Comments (13)

#1 mouse89, 14 Oct 08 15:49


#2 JvanHealen, 28 Oct 08 05:05

Very interesting stuff. Thanks.

#3 Pokeripro, 01 Feb 09 09:35


#4 MrMardyBum, 19 Mar 09 01:09

I think when you are playing live games this is a very good point, but when you are online, on a site that has a lot of traffic all you have to do is vary your times of day to meet different opponents, maybe at the high levels you will meet the same players over and over, but at the low stake tables, you rarely see that many players and when you do it's also rare that they are fully aware.

Even if they have PT or something running, many don't take note. In conclusion, this could be a misleading article for a new low stakes player, and could cause them to make the mistakes you are trying to ask them not to make.

#5 usun, 11 May 09 02:21

agree with MrMardyBum, basically deception is crucial for higher limits. Too tricky play online NL5-10 is less profittable.

#6 RacoonCity, 29 May 09 00:57

The strategy play advocates here in PokerStrategy.com is in general much more súitable to meduim and high stakes online poker and its very difficult to apply it to low stakes poker where the majority of players are loose and aggressive in which situation the only option available is to play like them and just hope to get lucky!!!!

#7 justgeo, 24 Jun 09 20:28

i am inclined to agree with racooncity here. i have been pplaying low level tournaments and sit n go's for some time now and am about even across the board with one account closed with a good profit. most players at low level understand some rudimentary basics, but most throw the book out of the window. who would honestly play j2o in a game? if you look at all the articles etc etc, you might try it as a bluff, but otherwise, you just cant make a contingency for people who play those hands. i just had aces beaten by that same hand. when faced with a raise, the villain re-raised, lol. of course i called and was done by 2 pair.
still, i do enjoy reading and i am sure once i progress through the ranks, the articles will become even more enjoyable and if nothing else, make me a better player.

#8 oFISHnCHIPSo, 10 Jul 09 09:33

It might not sound like it makes sense, but I both agree with justgeo and disagree with RacoonCity. Yes, most people will play loose, some too aggressive, some too passive. If you personally fin they are all too loose aggressive, why do you decide the solution is the play the same as them? You have to find an edge, and the best way to do this is just to be a very straight-forward rock against the idiots, and a loose-aggressive thief when 2-handed against the (few and far between) smarter players who are paying attention to your rock-tight table image. Against the calling stations: don't over-commit with easily beatable hands. After all, you know someone will call, and you'll be likely to have to fold on the flop or be likely to lose a showdown.

#9 shocktactics, 14 Aug 09 14:29

i like them people that play j2o, i just make plenty of notes on them, times of day and things like that, if it wasnt for the muppets playing these hands then no-one would make any money now would they.

i have to agree with racooncity on this one, medium to higher stake players tend to play a better game due to the expense risk factor.

#10 danielctin14, 20 Aug 09 12:48

I obviously disagree with racooncity, and agree with ofshnchipso.

The reason is this: The looser your opponents are, the tighter you should be, and the tighter they are, the looser you should be.

At the low stakes, as many of you said, there are a lot, and I mean A LOT, of loose opponents, so the best way to play these stakes is using a very tight/ aggressive style. You are taught this right here at PokerStrategy, the SSS is a 8,4% VPIP at its maximum, late position-not opened. It is a very simple mathematical logic that by playing better hands you will win, but you need to have some post-flop skills so you won't lose buy-ins to the junk they play. Still, tight has its limits, you won't be profitable if you don't play enough hands to survive the blinds, cause your opponents will fold when you play and happily play the rest 98% of the hands.

At the higher limits there is a constant battle between those players, they try to mix their game and change they starting ranges based on their opponents.

In conclusion, I recommend to never try playing like your foes and just hoping that your post-flop skills are better or you'll be luckier, try to get the edge preflop by adjusting your hand selection, and use those skills after the flop to crush them.

Sorry for writing this post about hand selection in a deception article, but after seeing the comments I felt the need to state some of the basic principles I know.

#11 siawase117, 21 Sep 09 04:26


#12 Harnas31, 11 Sep 11 01:25

nice one

#13 jawoftheox, 03 Jan 14 00:30

Limits doesn't actually matter that much, because there are "regulars" even on NL2, much less than on NL100 of course, but I've 4-bet bluffing on NL2 successfully. All that takes are good reads.