How To Play Against Better Players Than You

Good table selection is the key to profitable poker but what if you are up against better players than you? It’s far from an ideal situation but you will often have to lock horns with superior opponents.

Facing weaker players is the perfect scenario for a cash game or tournament poker player. Lesser skilled players make more mistakes and we gain, in the long term, from the errors of our opponents. Better players make fewer mistakes and put you into difficult situations, often for your entire stack.

Think of it this way. You are the sixth best no-limit hold’em cash game player in the world right now. This is great, but you will struggle to win any money if you constantly play against the top five players. Sometimes, however, you have no control over who your opponents are and have to play against better players. This is what to do if that is the case.

Playing against better players: Keep your cool

Imagine you’re playing in a World Series of Poker event in and discover your table is full of pros. Daniel Negreanu, Phil Ivey, and Justin Bonomo have all been drawn on your table. What do you do?

The first thing to do is try to keep your cool. Of course, this is easier said than done when the aforementioned trio has almost $120 million in winnings between them! Realise these players are only human regardless of their status in the game. They receive the same cards as you. All the rules are the same for them as they are for you.

Take your time. Play your usual game and let Lady Luck take care of the rest.

Avoid marginal hands when playing against better players

Try to make your life easier for yourself by avoiding playing margin hands against better players. All too often players come up against better players and think they have to think outside the box. This “Fancy Play Syndrome” is a recipe for disaster because the better players are used to mixing it up more than you are.

King-jack in a three-bet pot is relatively simple to play against your typical loose-passive player. This isn’t the case when you are taking on a talented loose-aggressive star. Flopping a jack on a J-6-4 board can still give you plenty of headaches.

Weak aces, unsuited connectors, and one-gapped connectors should be avoided in a raised pot against better players.

Use your table image to your advantage

Although you will know the better players from watching them on television or reading about them on the internet, they probably won’t have a clue who you are. Don’t be despondent, use this lack of information to your advantage.

The likes of Negreanu, Ivey, and Bonomo will tag you as a typical recreational player and play against you accordingly. This means they will give you more credit for aggressive actions, until you get out of line. Defending your big blind with a re-raise from one of their late position steal attempts will often see you win the pot uncontested. As will a three-bet from one of their many opens. Even a cold four-bet can work wonders, don’t overdo it and get caught with your fingers in the cookie jar.

A working example of using table image

For example, I played in a £1,100 buy-in live tournament a few years ago where I used my image to my advantage. Ludovic Geilich raised from middle position, EPT Loutraki champion Zinman Ziyard called in the next seat. Swedish star Anton Wigg put in a raise from the button and the action was on me in the big blind. I cold-four-bet almost half my stack with Ts-7s.

This looks like suicide on the outside but in reality I was using my tight “fish” image. Ludovic was raising with almost any two cards and I know Zinman was calling lightly. Anton is a much better player than I and his raise was almost certainly an attempt to get heads-up against Ludovic or Zinman. I knew all three players were aware this was my biggest tournament. I also knew all three knew I wasn’t a professional player.

My raise, committing almost half my stack, looked incredibly strong, all things considered. All three players folded in turn with one commenting “It must be nice to find aces”. I never did show my bluff, the reasons why are for a whole new article!

Learn from the better players

Enjoy the experience of playing against better players and see if you can learn something from them. Watch how they act when active in a hand and when they are not. How do they move their chips? How long do they take to act? What was their bet sizing? You can improve your own game by studying better players. What better way to learn than to watch them in action at your table?

Matthew Pitt

If it’s something you can play online for real money, chances are Matthew knows a bit about it. He’s been writing about slots, craps and poker for the better part of the last decade. He’s written for PokerNews, PartyPoker and many other respected online gambling websites during the last nine years.

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