'Mixing It Up'

by Daniel Negreanu

You'll often hear players talk about "mixing up their play." It really is an important aspect of becoming a successful and unpredictable player. If you play each and every hand the same way, it makes it that much easier for your opponents to get a read on your play.

The problem is that there is no textbook that will give you a formula for mixing up your play. So much of it depends on your opponents, what's happened recently, and their impressions of you. In order to mix up your play effectively, your memory of your own play has to be as good, if not better, than your recollection of what your opponents are doing.

The simplest example of this would be the following: Let's say you have just been caught three times in a row trying a check-raise bluff on the river. Well, if your opponents are paying any attention to the game at all, they are going to be very suspicious of you if you make that play again. So, you'll want to avoid that play for a little while, and if you are going to check-raise on the river, you have to be aware of the fact that you will get called because of your table image, so you had better have a strong hand!

Now, that was a pretty simple example, but I want to look deeper into a few tricks you can use to help mix up your play:

1. Lead with draws, check-raise with draws: If you are playing limit hold'em and have a drawing hand and are out of position, it's sometimes a good idea to just bet right out, hoping to pick up the pot with a semi-bluff. Or, you can even check-raise the flop with a drawing hand to make it look more powerful.

How you play a flush draw on the flop should depend on who your opponents are in the hand. If you know, for example, that the original raiser will bet every flop but fold to a check-raise unless he hits the flop, you might decide to go for the check-raise. Conversely, if your opponent would look to "save face" and call the check-raise with a wide variety of hands, you may be better off trying to win the pot by leading out.

There is a third option, of course, and that's playing it slow by checking and calling. By sometimes betting, sometimes check-raising, and sometimes check-calling with your drawing hands, it makes it more difficult for your opponents to know what you have.

2. Lead with top pair, check-raise with top pair: Similar to the previous example, you can also add texture to your game by mixing up how you play hands such as top pair, or even two pair or a set. Once again, let's say that you are playing limit hold'em and are in the big blind with A-J. A player raised coming into the pot, and you take the following flop heads up: Jh 8h 3h.

This is a great flop for your hand, so now you have to decide how to proceed. If you are up against an aggressive player, he will likely bet this flop regardless of his holding. Knowing this, you might decide to go for the check-raise.



Or, if your opponent would check a hand such as K-Q behind you, it might make more sense to bet. Now, those are the two basic thoughts that should go through your mind when deciding what to do.

Once you've had a playing history with your opponent, though, there are more variables to think about. What does he think you would do with top pair? What does he think you would do with a draw?

The best way to answer those questions is to go back into your memory bank and think of what your opponent has seen you do. Let's say he has noticed that you like to check-raise with made hands, but either check-call or lead out when you flop a draw.

If he reads your lead bet as weakness, you should go ahead and lead out at the flop. With the Jh 8h on the flop, there are lots of hands that he might convince himself he can beat. If he has 5-5, for example, he might put you on a hand such as 10-9, a flush draw, or even Q-10, and call you down having only two outs.

Once he calls you down in this spot, you've effectively nullified his "read" of your play and you will have him back on his heels guessing. At that point, you can really start to mess with his head and go back and forth randomly. That way, when you lead out at a flop, he'll know you do that with draws and with made hands. So, effectively, he will have no clue when you are semi-bluffing or when you are protecting the best hand!

These are just two examples of how you can mix up your play on the flop. There are many more examples and ways in which you can keep opponents guessing, and that is one of the most fun aspects of the game.

In no-limit hold'em, you might trap an opponent by just calling before the flop with A-A. Or, you might bet out at the flop with the nut flush and then check the turn. You could even try one of my old favorites: bet the flop with top set, check the turn, and then surprise your opponent with a raise on the river.

I just have to add one warning, though, and that's to avoid FPS and focus on making sure that you aren't veering too far from fundamentally correct play. Fancy plays work best when you use them sparingly. There is a fine line between mixing up your play and just using it as an excuse to play badly!


Additional Articles:
-Beating Up on Weak Players
-Go Big or Go Home
-Conditional Probability

-Mixing It Up
-Sit-and-Go Strategy
-4 Quick Tips for Better Online Play
-The Truth About Tells

-Asian Poker Players
-Seating in Cash Games: A quick way to increase poker profits
-Lessons From the FBI
-The Gordon Pair Principle
-Battling with 'The Mouth'
-Grinding Out the Borgata
-Standard Pre-Flop Raises in No Limit Tournaments


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