AngusD switched from pro chess to poker two decades ago and has been professionally involved in the game on numerous levels since the very beginning of online poker, including playing as a poker ambassador both online and at major festivals around the globe. He has written much about the game over the years, and brings to YPD a wealth of experience in all aspects of the poker industry. Meanwhile, his many years on the pro chess circuit (he’s an International Master and prolific author) afford him an interesting perspective on the psychology of poker.

· Published 26.03.2021 · last updated 26.03.2021

Whatever kind of game we play, whether it’s Cash games or tournaments, it’s inevitable that we’ll eventually encounter a so-called Rock. These players are easy to spot after a while because they’ll have barely played a hand during the last few orbits. Indeed, they’re conspicuous in their distinct lack of activity, folding hand after hand while everyone around them is engaged in countless battles over chips.

Then, all of a sudden, the Rock comes to life and opens with a raise. We need neither the poker skills of a WSOP bracelet winner nor the other-worldly deductive powers of Sherlock Holmes to appreciate that the Rock has a massive hand. They could be (sort of) bluffing, relying on their mega-nitty image to get busy after hibernating for so long, but what would be the point of such a strategy? Instead the situation is almost always as obvious as it looks, and we should be seeing red flags and hearing alarm bells, and getting out of the way.

But so many of us are guilty of tangling with Rocks. We ignore the danger signs and make a stand with a good looking hand of our own. This often happens after we’ve been card dead for a while, resulting in us spending almost as much time sitting out as the Rock. But whereas we can be guilty after a run of poor cards of jumping into a pot with anything half decent, the highly disciplined Rock will experience no such impatience – they’ll simply carry on folding until a hand that falls within they’re highly selective range comes along. When these two events coincide, when our impatience sees us give into temptation and send our KJs into battle at the very same time the Rock wakes up with a monster, we’re committing a serious error that usually results in our stack getting smaller.

If we keep engaging with Rocks when not strong enough we’ll just keep losing chips. Typically, we’ll call the pre-flop raise, flop something we deem worth investing more chips in and maybe even call on the Turn, before finally giving in to the final (too large) bet on the River. This is a bad habit, and a costly one. Over the course of a tournament, for example, we simply can’t afford to bleed away chips in this way. And this leak is all the more unforgivable if we’ve already identified a Rock and decide to tangle with them, nevertheless! You’ve been warned…

However, as is so often the case, there is an exception to the rule, and that is seeing the Flop with a pocket pair. If we can manage this reasonably cheaply, then at least it’s the kind of hand that’s relatively simple to play. If we miss the Flop we can step aside without any doubts, while hitting a set introduces a potentially juicy situation. This is because the Rock, often having already started with a very strong holding, expects to continue piling on the pressure from Flop to River. Moreover, their intent is clear – they tend to be willing to shove with their strong hands – and we can exploit this to the full with our set. Of course, it’s not necessarily as simple as this, but when Rocks do lose their stack, it’s often when succumbing to a well disguised set.

It should be noted that this subject has been stripped down to the fundamentals, and that I’m not advocating never playing against Rocks, per se, rather that we avoid doing so with hands that can’t compete with their ‘superior’ range. As we gain in experience we learn when to pick our spots, so along the way it will pay to err on the side of caution…

Have fun!

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