The power of outliers in poker

March 4, 2016

A few weeks ago I played in a live poker game which ended up being a really great night for me for a number of reasons. The first and most obvious was that I ended up a massive winner in the game. The second reason was the psychological manipulation I was able to inflect on my opponents during the game thanks to a single outlier hand which happened early in the session

Horrible play + a lot of luck = “What the hell were you thinking”

The hand started with a weak player at the table raising to 42 shekels. This is considered an above average raise in this game. I was out of position with K9 off which is a weak hand. I decided at this point that the raiser most likely had a medium range hand, most likely something like 55 – 1010, 2 royals and some aces.

I decided I was going to use my aggression and try and take the pot away from him either pre-flop or on the flop by representing a big pair. I also had position on the player which was key to my decision. This is something which I do very rarely in the game because there are so many better spots that it simply isn’t worth the risk.

I 3bet the original raiser to 120 and he called. We were heads up. The flop came A 10 3 with two spades. I read weakness in the original raiser on the flop but he shoved in his last 200 shekels anyway. I thought about it for roughly a minute and decided to hero call with K high.

When I put the money in I knew I was making a horrible call. I guess I wanted the pot too badly and talked myself into making a horrible play. I convinced myself that his range is so wide here that he could have a flush draw or something like QJ for the gut shot. There really is no excuse though. It was a horrible play.

Turn 8 of spades, river 5 of spades. I look down and see that I have the 9 of spades. I announce that I have a flush and my opponent looks in shock as I open up my K 9 as the winning hand. “What the hell were you thinking”, was repeated multiple times from that point on.

The power of getting lucky from an outlier hand

Outliers in poker are very powerful since most players get caught up in individual hands instead of realizing that exceptions to the norm do exist. Observing players can take advantage of ourliers by leveraging the current mindset of the player affected by the outlier hand/s.

Let’s use the example above as an example.

Let’s say that a few minutes after the K9 hand I find myself in another pot with the player I sucked out on but this time I flop middle set on a dry board. In this typical spot I’d want to grow a pot but not over do it. I’d rather bet a bit bigger on the turn and river than risk pushing my opponent out of the hand. If I was out of position I’d check 100% of the time on a dry board and bet 100% of the time on a wet board.

Since I had the suck out hand with this opponent and he is most likely still steaming, I’m much more likely to check-raise him on the flop and for me to be a bit more creative on the turn. This way I “mess” with his mind which could result in him trying to push back or refusing to fold his single pair. If I felt he was very weak but still taking a stab then I’d just call and either check-raise the turn or lead out, depending on the texture of the board on the turn.

The power of getting unlucky from an outlier hand

Now imagine that the rolls were reversed in the K9 hand and instead of sucking out on your opponent, you are the one who got their money in good and lost by the river. You can use this scenario to your advantage during the session by playing a bit wilder than usual with strong hands. Players will think you are steaming and not thinking clearly.

Make sure you are not steaming and every move is premeditated. One of the best things you can do when steaming is to run different scenarios in your head and how you are going to take full advantage of them. This will relax you and prepare you for upcoming hands.

Remember, how you address both negative and positive outcomes in poker is completely up to you. Learn how to control your mind and body throughout the ups and downs of the game, and you open up a new arsenal of weapons that you can use to climb up the poker skill pyramid.

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Justin Butlion

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Welcome to my blog. My name's Justin Butlion and I'm the owner of The Great Grind. At The Great Grind I share my thoughts on beating the game of poker. The blog covers poker strategy, game theory, poker related statistics and the psychology needed to grind out consistent profit at micro and low stakes online poker.