I don’t usually talk about strategy too much on here, because this blog is about poker tells, not about poker strategy. There are much better blogs and forums to read about strategy in. I also don’t claim to be a great poker strategist, so consider yourself forewarned. I’m writing this for my own self-interest; to plug a leak I’ve been noticing in my no-limit game. I’ve noticed that when I’m fairly deep with a decent, aggressive opponent, I often play big overpairs and flopped top pairs in a suboptimal way. Similar to the leak I noticed in my limit game, I’ve noticed that I am too apt to be afraid of my hand becoming transparent as an overpair or top pair hand, and I get nervous that I’m opening myself up to aggressive plays from opponents who sense that I have a good but not great hand.
For instance, if I have KK, and I raise and get it heads-up in a no-limit game, and my opponent is aggressive, and both me and my opponent have around 150 big blinds or more, and I’m first to act, then I tend to “play dead” too much. I am often not wanting to make that continuation bet, even on a super dry, unscary board, because if I get called, I don’t like feeling at the mercy of a bad turn card and feeling like I have to make a large bet on the turn and not know where I am. Or if I continuation-bet and get raised there, that also puts me in an uncomfortable spot. I tend to give my aggressive opponents too much credit for being able to make big plays at me, and I don’t like to get myself in tough spots where I have to decide for my stack if I’m facing a huge hand or a bluff. Part of this is just discomfort at playing a good-but-not-great hand out of position against an aggressive player, which is a reasonable situation to be concerned in. But I think I’ve got a bit of a phobia and definitely tend to not be playing these spots as I should.
Part of that phobia is that I dread having to lay down an overpair or a similar hand if I do come to the conclusion I should fold. That’s probably the crux of the matter; that fear that I made a weak laydown and am being run over. Nobody wants to feel that they’re being run-over, and in avoiding those situations I think I am playing far from optimally.
I don’t think I should be afraid to play these spots more aggressively, because I usually play aggressively enough to where my opponents shouldn’t have a sense of my strength or lack of it in these situations. For example, of course I would bet out in the same way with a flopped set in such a situation. And I would bet out with air on the flop most of the time, and I’d follow up with a turn bet with air a good amount of the time. I shouldn’t worry so much about being exploitable or obvious when I actually have a decent hand, because my opponents are, or should be, just as afraid of me having a big hand, or making a move on them, as I am of them. When we play scared, even if it’s just a little scared, we tend to forget that our opponents have every reason to fear us as we have to fear them. As is typical with my low poker self-esteem, I tend to give my opponents more credit for hand-reading ability and aggression than they have actually shown.
Sure, some brave opponent might occasionally make moves on me and I’ll have to fold a top pair/overpair type hand. But that won’t happen often considering there just aren’t that many players who will play for stacks without very strong hands. And even if someone does make a move on me, I will make the right play in at least some of those spots. And if my opponent is so aggressive that I have to rightfully fear a move so frequently that it’s really a concern, then “playing dead” will actually become the proper strategy for some of those hands. But I think that’s a rare game where that should be a frequent strategy.
Basically, it boils down to; even when I don’t think I’m playing scared, I am playing a little scared in situations like these, and it helps to try to be consciously aware of what factors are making me “scared” and if they are real concerns or just figments of my overactive imagination.