Note: This is only for shorthanded games (6 or fewer people) and to be used mainly against other good players.
One thing that most people do wrong, including myself at times, is play consistently. You may play your AQ differently sometimes preflop or when you hit an Ace or Queen. You may bet a different amount (in No-Limit) or choose to jam the pot at a different time (in Limit). However, most decent players will be able to identify you as a certain type of player: tight-aggressive, very tight-aggressive, etc.
One way to help your earnings is to simply switch up your play sometimes. This way, when they're expecting that you're going to bluff, you bluff rarely because they'll call you more. Likewise, if your bets are usually for value, you start to bluff at the pot a lot. People generally won't catch on if you do this discreetly, and it can add more mystery to your play.
This strategy is obviously more effective at No-Limit because it is much easier to bluff at NL. However, it can be used at Limit as well. Generally, the game must be 5 or fewer people (preferably 4 people total.) With stakes large enough, you can effectively bluff at the flop or turn if you played it tight at first, and you will receive more callers for big bets if you bluffed earlier.
For those of you who are mathematically inclined, I'll use some game theory to prove my assertions. Suppose you are playing a soccer match and you have a penalty kick. You predict that if you kick left, you will have an 80% chance of scoring if the goalie does not expect left, and you have a 60% of scoring if you kick to the right and the goalie does not expect right. However, if the goalie blocks left and you kick left, you only have a 45% chance of scoring, and if the goalie blocks to the right, you will only score 35% of the time. Here's a matrix to quickly summarize:
|Goalkeeper Blocks Left||Goalkeeper Blocks Right|
|You Shoot Left||45%||80%|
|You Shoot Right||60%||35%|
As you can see, even though shooting left may be what you are best at, it is in your interest to shoot right from time to time because if the goalie always knows you will shoot left, you will score less than if you shot to the right sometimes.
Now, instead of percent chance of scoring, think of the numbers as hourly profit. Left means playing your standard tight-aggressive game and the right means playing a more loose game.
|Opponent Expects Tight||Opponent Expects Loose|
|You play Tight-Aggressive||$45 / hr||$80 / hr|
|You play Loose-Aggressive||$60 / hr||$35 / hr|
Bad players may not 'block' at all or will always block the wrong way, so you can keep on playing your standard tight-aggressive game and earn $80 an hour. However, against good players, they'll quickly realize what you are doing and defend against it. Your profit drops down to $45 an hour.
Now, suppose you play tight-aggressive 70% of the time and looser 30% of the time. If they continue to just play against you as if you were a tight-aggressive all the time, you will earn $49.5 an hour:
(0.7 * $45 + 0.3 * $60) = $49.5
Now, if your opponents caught on to what you were doing and played you as a tight-aggressive 80% of the time and a looser player 20% of the time, your profit would actually increase as long as they don't know exactly when you were playing which way. Your profit would be $52.9:
(0.7 * 0.8 * $45) + (0.7 * 0.2 * $80) + (0.3 * 0.8 * $60) + (0.3 * 0.2 * $35) = $52.9
So, in order for them to defend against your changing pace, they need to know when you are changing pace. Obviously, if they treated you as a tight-aggressive 70% of the time and they were correct the whole time, your profit would drop. However, as shown before, predicting a change of pace when there is none will actually help the person who is changing pace, so people generally will treat you as the same even when you switch your style!
Thus, I recommend you change your pace some, but randomize it so they can't catch on and correctly predict when you vary your style.
Note: This article only applies to No-Limit Hold'em.
No-Limit Hold'em ring games require more psychological and bluffing skills than any other popularly played poker game. However, you should only use these tools based on the type of opponent you're playing.
If you are playing a lower stakes No-Limit game (with a buy-in of $100 or under), I wouldn't suggest using psychological tools much. An occasional flop bluff against few opponents may be profitable, but these opponents will frequently pay off their whole stack on hands as low as second pair. In these games, you should just wait, make a good hand, and then ream your opponents with pot-sized bets.
Once you play in a higher stakes game ($200 buy-in or more), mind games will play a larger factor, especially if people's stacks are deep (more than 100 big blinds). However, the first thing you need to do is categorize each of your opponents you are facing:
In general, you should only play mind games with tight-aggressive and hyper-aggressive players. These other players act predictably, so there is no real reason to change them. However, you do not want to be bullied by hyper-aggressive players, and you do not want to live in fear if a tight-aggressive player bets because this is what these players want. You need to consistently change your image to these players. You want to make it difficult for them to think you are tight-aggressive or a hyper-aggressive. When changing your pace, you should also pay attention to several small, important things such as:
However, perhaps the most important mind game is how much you bet. You should not bet based on how much your hand is worth, but how much your opponent's hand is worth. Bad opponents will let you know what their hand is worth by betting its value. However, good players will bet how much they think you value your hand. To bluff someone out, you generally must bet more than how much they value their hand (if someone is smart though, they may realize this and call you if you have been bluffing a lot). However, to maximize the value of your made hands, you should bet how much your opponent will be willing to call given their hand. Examples of this in play:
Tells are traditionally associated with people's physical twitches in which one gives away the strength of his or her hand. Tells exist both in the brick and mortar and the online world. Here are some common tells: