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 09.02.2021 · last updated 09.02.2021

Let’s start with the definition of GUILE: ‘…crafty or artful deception; sly or cunning intelligence…’

Given that our poker strategy articles at YPD are primarily aimed at helping players progress on their quest for poker mastery, I make no excuses for sometimes repeating key truisms about the game. One such is that the value of our cards shouldn’t be too influential a factor in the decision-making process. If that were the case, we’d be too reliant on the poker gods. Some players might even say that hand value slots into the pecking order of their list of criteria behind numerous other considerations, and others that it’s not important at all.

In fact, the complex nature of poker is such that there are a host of elements that we need – and, indeed, want – to consider. Moreover, perhaps the most fascinating part of all is that, because nobody knows what cards we hold, we can (try to) deceive our opponents by representing whichever hand we think works best for us.

Of course, we can’t try to be so clever all the time. As we know, it’s all quite situational, and we won’t continuously get opportunities to hoover up chips by convincing our opponents that we have specific hands. And even when favorable spots do materialize, it’s by no means easy. It requires considerable thought, planning, awareness of the table dynamics, observation of the opposition, an understanding of (poker) psychology… and quite a bit of guile (we got there in the end).

Craftiness, artful deception, cunning intelligence – this is what poker is all about! And, as far as online poker is concerned, without the potential advantages that we’re afforded in the ‘bricks & mortar’ environment, where physical (and verbal) tells provide us with very useful information, we need to be all the more appreciative of how players tend to think, how they might react in this or that circumstance, and therefore how we might be able to impact on their thought processes in a way that fits into our desired narrative.

Note here that for us to able to represent a hand we need our opponent(s) to be at the level of poker development that sees them actually thinking about their actions, and this includes their trying to deduce what we might be holding, and what we might be doing. The object of communicating to them that we ‘have’ is to manipulate their thought process so that they come to a decision that, for instance, their top pair is beaten on a dangerous looking board. This tactic is very unlikely to be successful against new and inexperienced players for whom the value of their hand is the top – or only – factor, and who will not even begin to contemplate having to give up the chase.

So – we need to get into the heads of players in order to understand how they think, and also to effectively impact on their analysis with a view to influencing their judgment. And this, in turn, means having a heightened awareness of our table image, how not only what we’re doing is being perceived, but – crucially – what we’ve been doing thus far. We also need to factor in, depending on what the exact situation is, stack sizes, the size of the pot, the size of the bets, the opposition’s habits/image, the respective tournament situations of the protagonists, and so on.

It has to be believable. Sometimes just one key aspect could be the convincer, but it’s usually a combination of several elements, and these might be – in addition to those mentioned above – at which point(s) in the hand we bet, how much of our stack are we declaring we’re willing to risk, how long/short a time we take to act… we must be prepared to do whatever is necessary to make our story a convincing one.

This has been an introduction to the subject of representing hands. Elsewhere in our Poker Strategy section, you’ll find articles being added that look at examples of the various situations where this strategy can be an effective weapon. So, keep your eyes peeled, and have fun at the tables!

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