How to approach better players

Sooner or later, you will meet players that are better when yourself. You must approach these players differently than other players. This is not to say that you should change your main strategy, it is rather about adopt in some special ways.

Don’t try to outsmart the better player – use game theory

A winning player normally win because he is more sophisticated when his opponent. He exploits the inferior knowledge of the other player. The same thing can’t be done against a better player, and trying the exploiting method can make it even worse.

In his celebrated book Theory Of Poker, David Sklansky dedicates a chapter to the concept of game theory. Game theory isn’t originally a concept associated with poker, but can be adopted in a situation when you meet a player better than yourself.

As long as the other player is inferior you can rely upon your judgement, Sklansky writes. But things take another turn when the other player is superior. In this situation you could get ahead by using game theory.

Game theory is not used to win over the better player but to neutralize the possibilities for those players to exploit you. To hinder the opponent from exploit you and can be achieved by not use you own instincts or strategy, but instead use a strategy that is random in a way it can’t be exploited.

Sklansky uses an example with a simple child’s play when both players choose to show one or two fingers. If the total number of fingers are even one player wins and if it’s odd the other win. The outcome from a game such as this is not purely decided by chance; a skill player could win more often by using psychology and recognize patterns which the other player would be unaware of – some of these things have resemblance to poker.

So, in this case game theory could be used no nullify the possibility to observe patterns from your decisions to use one or two fingers. This is done by not act from your own judgement but to let something outside your thoughts decide the act. You should not try to think of the best decision, but instead choose randomly.

By choose to show one or two fingers completely randomly it will be impossible to beat you in the game. Sure, you wouldn’t win more than 50%, but that is great since you facing a superior opponent. So how to choose completely randomly and not involve your own judgment? You should use something outside yourself, for example toss a coin and let the sides decide your act.

Of course, in poker there are more than two possible decisions to be made, but the important thing is to not use your own judgement to much against a superior player because that is a dead end.

Increase the gamble elements

Another strategy when playing against a better player is to force the other player to gamble more. Instead for using many small bets, you should force the game to include a few big pots that will decide the outcome. By doing that, the edge of the opponent would disappear or at least decrease a lot.

David and Goliath

David draw his sword to kill the giant Goliath. (Image source:

When you have a choice to avoid the better player

In can also, be the other way around: you want to play small pots. Of course, if you only play a few pots to the superior player and a majority of hands against other weaker player, you could try to keep the pots against the better player small and these pots would not affect your total session result very much.

If you have the possibility, you should to a high degree avoid to get involved in pots with superior player. Your cards should be extra strong for you to participate in pots with these players. You could also try to isolate weaker players by raising to get the superior player to fold already before the flop. But don’t to it to often, he will notice what you doing and re-raise you more often.

Written by Oscar Sand

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