To improve as a poker player, you must be able to adapt your strategy based on changing variables and table dynamics. Playing in one gear throughout your session will make you easy to read, allowing your opponents to make strategic adaptations that will lower your win rate.
Poker is a dynamic game; failing to adapt to changing table dynamics or an inability to read your opponent will have a significant impact on your ability to stay a winning player. You should constantly take in new data about your opponents and the dynamic at the table, then use that to know when to slow down or when to speed up.
Playing poker is like driving a car. If you don’t get out of first gear, you’re not going to get anywhere fast! Being able to change gears is an essential part of driving a car, just like changing gears at the poker table is an essential part of being a winning player.
Understanding Changing Gears in Poker
Changing gears is deviating from your established playing style to exploit the adjustments players are making against you. During your poker session, your opponents will start making judgments on how you play and try to adjust their strategies to beat you. By changing gears, you can subvert their expectations and make considerable money by doing so.
For example, you’ve sat down in a live cash game and you’ve played reasonably tight for the first hour or so due to a bad run of cards. Your opponents will likely notice that you’re playing tight and will start to make adjustments to counter that, such as folding more to your bets and raises and betting more often when you check.
By changing gears and upping your aggression, you can take advantage of these assumptions by raising wider preflop and bluffing more liberally postflop. This will cause your opponents to make mistakes based on their assumptions and increase your win rate.
Conversely, if you start your session aggressively, bluffing everyone left and right, your opponents will soon start to catch on. Once they understand your aggressive style, they will start to call you down lighter, making your bluffs less profitable. By pumping the brakes and notching down a gear or two, you can save money on bluffs that aren’t going to get through.
When to Change Gears in Poker
Changing gears isn’t just a nice tool to have in your locker, it’s a necessity if you want to be a winning poker player. If you stick to one style of play, your opponents will figure it out and will start to exploit you. They’ll adjust how they play to adapt to your playing style, which will increase their win rate and make it much harder for you to play your regular game. If your opponents start adjusting their game, then you should too! Failing to make changes will lead to a decrease in win rate, and could even turn you from a winning player into a breakeven/losing player.
To go back to the car analogy; when you’re driving on the roads, you don’t stay in one gear for the whole drive, you change your gears based on the situation in front of you. If you’ve got a wide open road, you can move up through the gears and start to open things up, but if you see a lot of traffic in front of you, you should slow things down and move into a lower gear.
So, if you’ve started your session playing tight, sitting comfortably in first or second gear, you’ll be plodding along nicely, but you won’t be going very far. Once you notice your opponents adjusting to how tight you’re playing, the time is right to kick it up to 3rd, 4th, or even 5th gear to start taking advantage of your tight image. Failing to make this change is leaving money on the table; you know your opponents will fold more often because of your tight image, so use that against them!
Despite what many people think, changing gears isn’t just about ramping up the aggression, it’s also about knowing when to slow down. If you’ve been flying along in 5th gear since you’ve sat down, a few people will realize you’re speeding and will try to play the part of table sheriff. In these situations, knowing how to slow down to avoid a hefty fine is necessary to preserve your stack, so hold off on making that big triple barrel bluff until the heat is off.
Changing gears is, in its essence, a way for you to maximize your returns at the poker table. A good poker player is always aware of changes to the dynamic and how they should adjust. If you’re blind to these changes, you’ll play the same, boring, predictable style of poker for the whole night and miss opportunities to exploit your opponents and increase your winnings.
Situational Examples of Changing Gears
Knowing when to change gears is a vital part of unlocking your potential and maximizing your win rate; change gears at the wrong time and you could be walking into the hands of your opponent, but change gears at the right time, and you’ll see a marked increase in your win rate. Let’s look at some situations where changing gears would be a profitable decision.
Changing Gears In Cash Games
Cash games are ideal places to implement this strategy as players are often at the same table for a significant amount of time. This means your opponents will be invested in making assessments of how you play and adjusting based on those assessments. Plus, if you end up on the wrong side of variance, you’re free to buy back in and continue exploiting your opponent’s assumptions.
For example, you sit down in a $1/$2 cash game and for the first hour you run as hot as the sun; you get lots of playable preflop hands and find yourself in situations where betting postflop is the most profitable situation. However, you rarely see a showdown, so your opponents don’t know how well you’ve been running.
In this scenario, your opponents will likely assume that you’re an aggressive player with a tendency to bluff. They’ll start to call your bets with a wider range, hoping to catch you in a bluff and win a big pot. In this situation, the best adjustment to make is to slow things down and drastically reduce your bluffing rate. When you think your opponents are going to start calling your bets more often, stick to playing value hands and try to extract maximum value.
After a few hours, you notice that many of the opponents who originally saw you play aggressively have left the table, and a new bunch of faces are sat across from you. All they’ve seen is your adjustment to the initial dynamic and likely think of you as a tight player. You’re now free to start moving back up the gears and begin ramping up the aggression, as your opponents will fold more often due to your tight image.
Changing Gears In Tournaments
Changing gears isn’t limited to exploiting your opponent’s view of your play style, other factors such as the game dynamics and game state can have an effect. The tournament bubble is a perfect example of when shifting gears becomes a necessity; players on a short stack must tighten up to increase their chances of making the money, and players with a big stack can exploit this by increasing their aggression.
For example, there are 5 players left until the money in a live tournament. You’re one of the shortest stacks at the table with 14bb, and you see a few other players around the room with stacks shorter than yours. In this situation, your priority should be to try and make the money. This means you should move down the gears, tighten up your game, and conserve your chips as much as possible. If you continue to play an aggressive style with no regard for the game state or table dynamics, you’ll likely be eliminated in the tournament before the money and go home with nothing.
Avoiding Predictability: Static Play and Changing Gears
As a poker player, you should be constantly taking in information and adapting your game based on the data presented to you. Sitting down and playing a set strategy no matter what’s in front of you may be easier, but it’s not going to maximize your win rate. It won’t take long for competent opponents to notice how you play and make adjustments to exploit you. They’ll start being able to accurately predict how you play certain situations, making it incredibly difficult to make money.
That’s why you should be using the information in front of you to regularly change gears and incorporate some variety in your strategy. By being able to play both tight poker and aggressive poker, you give yourself the ability to maximize your win rate in a variety of situations. Your opponents are all hyper-aggressive LAGs who love to fire off? Sit back and play tight. Your opponents are always folding to your bets? Kick things up and start bluffing their pants off.
However, this doesn’t mean you should start punting off for the sake of changing gears; you should still be making profitable decisions. However, you should be able to notice when the situation changes enough that a previously unprofitable situation becomes profitable. Bluffing into a group of players who’re looking for any excuse to call you is a bad idea, but bluffing into a group of timid players who’ll fold if you cough loudly enough is definitely a good idea.
Evaluating the Significance of Changing Gears
To highlight the importance of changing gears and adjusting your strategy at the poker table, let’s look at how you’d expect an average poker session to go if you play the same way throughout the night. Below, we’ve created a graphical representation of your win rate during a 12-hour poker session.
Things will start well as you are able to implement your winning strategy, but as players become more familiar with your game, they’ll make adjustments based on how you’re playing. This will result in your win rate trending downwards throughout the session, as your opponent’s continue to make strategic adjustments which in turn make the game much more difficult for you. After a while, the adjustments your opponent’s make will have less and less of an impact, resulting in the flat line we see towards the end of the session.
However, if you regularly mix up your game in a profitable way, your opponents will be constantly fighting an uphill battle to figure you out. They’ll make adjustments based on how you play, but once you switch it up, they’ll have to adjust again, and then again, and again, and again.
We can see the first initial dip as your opponent’s start to figure out how you play, but rather than a continued downward trend, we can see an uptick in your win rate as you change gears and make counter adjustments. When your opponents are able to figure out how you play, you’ll see a decrease in your win rate, but when you change gears to counteract their adjustments, you’ll see an increase in your win rate.
The outcome resembles something of a sine wave as you and your opponents fight to exploit the other. By doing this, the overall average win rate is significantly higher than if you were to play a consistent strategy throughout the night. So, if you want to optimize your results at the poker table, you need to learn how to change gears!
Conclusion on Changing Gears in Poker
If you want to be a long-term winner at poker, you need to be able to change gears and adjust your strategy based on the information gathered at the table. You need to identify when the table dynamics and game state have shifted enough to warrant a change of strategy and then implement that strategy in your game. We recommend that you practice playing different styles of poker as this will make it easier to implement these adjustments and integrate them into your game. By utilizing this strategy, you give yourself the best opportunity to increase your win rate and set yourself up for long-term success.
Jordan Conroy, a respected name in the online poker arena, has cultivated his authority through years of dedicated play and content creation. Since 2020, he has earned a stellar reputation for his in-depth analysis of poker theory and his ability to keep a finger on the pulse of the latest developments in the poker world.
Jordan's dedication to staying at the forefront of poker knowledge allows him to consistently deliver top-quality content that resonates with both novice players and seasoned professionals.
Beyond his poker expertise, he brings a diverse perspective, closely following other competitive domains like soccer, snooker, and Formula 1, enriching his insights and providing a comprehensive understanding of the gaming landscape.