Mixing up your game
In poker, especially online poker tournaments and cash games, you want to be very careful about being too predictable. If opponents can easily decipher what your bets mean, you will get no action on your good hands, get called on your bluffs and get forced off your draws. To be a successful poker player, you need to be able to mix up your game.
Ways to Represent Yourself in Poker
When people start to play poker, they tend to fall into the "strong means weak and weak means strong" system. This means that they act like they are confident and have a big hand when they have a bad hand, and act timid and fearful when their hand is very strong. The problem with this strategy is most savvy poker players are hip to it, and their initial impression will be that you have a big hand when you act like you are afraid of the flop. Much better would be to act strong when you are strong and weak when you are really weak, as Jamie Gold did throughout his successful 2006 World Series of Poker run, but if you do this too much, opponents will catch on too.
Mixing Up Your Image
The solution is to play one way for awhile, then switch to the other way. If you've been boldly pushing in chips on marginal hands and slowplaying your aces, mix it up by pushing your big hands for awhile. Assuming you've shown down enough hands for opponents to get an idea of your style, this should be very effective for you. If you've been cultivating a tight image, only playing premium hands or strong hands in position, switch it up and start playing some rag hands, or trying a few bluffs. Even if it is not your typical style, it may confuse your opponents enough to work, and once you have them convinced that you have a few different styles, you can revert back to your typical style if you are more comfortable with it.
What Range of Hands Does Your Opponent Put You On?
Figuring out the range of hands that your opponent puts you on is known in the poker world as third level thinking, with the first level being your objective hand strength and the second level being your hand strength relative to your opponent's likely holdings. If you want to make it to the top of the poker food chain, you will have to reach the third level, evaluating your hand in the context of what your opponents are likely to think that you are holding.
Benefits of Third Level Thinking
If you can generate a range of hands that your opponent thinks you are likely to have, you are in a much better position to bluff, try to get free cards, or extract extra money from your opponents. Knowing this range is information, and in any form of poker, any kind of information you can acquire is gold.
How to Determine the Range of Hands Your Opponent Puts You On
Determining the range of hands that your opponent may put you on is easier than it may seem. What you will want to do is pretend that you don't know what you are holding, and then consider your hand from your opponent's perspective. Be realistic of course. Don't make determinations simply to confirm what you want to believe. Don't say "if I were him, I'd put me on a monster," just because you want to bluff. Rather say, "if someone I was playing followed this betting pattern, I'd figure them for a big pair half the time, a set 10 percent of the time, a semi-bluff 10 percent of the time, and a complete bluff 30 percent of the time," then proceed accordingly. With practice, this skill will come more naturally.
When to Mix it Up
You may feel that your current style is working just fine and you have no need to mix it up. If you are happy with your results, this is fine. However, you should take an honest look at your sessions to see if your results are really as good as they could be. If not, failing to mix it up sufficiently may be the problem.