Violating Conventional Poker Wisdom – Part II

By Ashley Adams | July 10, 2010

In my last article I addressed the first three of the six pieces of conventional poker wisdom that I have found exception to. In this article I’ll deal with the remaining three. Here’s the complete list:

  • Never play poker with scared money.
  • Don’t draw to an inside straight.
  • Never play poker with strangers.
  • Don’t drink alcohol when you play poker.
  • Don’t play poker when tired.
  • Play loose in a tight game and tight in a loose game.

Don’t Drink Alcohol and Play Poker

(Before I begin this exposition, a word of caution. Some people cannot drink for medical or personal reasons. For all of you, always stick to the conventional wisdom.)

Exponents of this old saw like to point to the movies that show poker players sucking on a bottle of whiskey in the old Westerns. They then wisely warn players against practicing similar behavior in their poker games.

In general, this is sound advice. Alcohol is a sedative. It tends to make those who imbibe tired, less attentive, and less aware. It tends to interfere with good judgment and self-restraint. As such, it can only serve to diminish your ability to think precisely and clearly while playing poker.

Even so, there are some occasions when playing poker and drinking may not be bad for your bottom line. There are also some situations when drinking, at least to some degree, will surely help you win.

Let’s face it. A lot of poker players like to drink alcohol when they play. They’re playing poker for fun and they like to drink when they have fun. Accordingly, you will stand out if you are the only one not drinking. You will be seen as someone who is seriously trying to win when you play rather than to just have fun like everyone else. This may not matter in a casino, but in a home game it may be a reason for you to be left out of future games. I’m not saying that you have to drink a lot to fit in. But if everyone is drinking beer or harder liquor and you are there with a bottle of Poland Springs or Diet Coke, you may convince some of the more attentive folks that you are there to make money, not just to kick back and have a good time. If that’s the case, you should grab the nearest beer, sip on it during the course of the night, and not draw attention to your abstemious tendencies. No one is going to notice how much you’re drinking – just that you are drinking, like everyone else. That’s what you want. To be seen as just one of the guys or gals – not a hard nosed and serious poker player.

I’ve also found it profitable to drink in home games to encourage others to drink. Though perhaps unethical, this is especially true when I’ve invited people I haven’t played with before to my home game. Some players, new to a home game, attempt to size up the type of game before they decide how they’re going to behave. If everyone is stone cold sober and drinking water, they’ll do the same. That can make for a tougher poker game than one with everyone drinking. On the other hand, if it seems like a more relaxed affair with everyone imbibing, then they’ll drink too. That’s what I want. Toward that end, I stock the refrigerator with beer and make sure that I take one out at the beginning of the game while I ask others if they’d like one too. I want to show them that this is a casual affair where the host drinks. It gets them started, as it were. This, I find, helps loosen up their play. I am careful to drink slowly and very little over the course of the night – or only early on. Others are rarely so careful. I find that I can make more money, in some cases a lot more money, in games where everyone else is drinking. Maybe I should be ashamed of myself.

Don’t Play Poker When Tired

This is generally good advice. When you’re tired, you tend to be less aware of what’s going on. You tend to call too much and raise too little – going on auto-pilot so to speak. You’re generally less able to pick up on tells, are less likely to adapt your game to changing circumstances, and are more prone to mistakes. When you’re tired you should generally get away from the poker game and get some sleep.

But this is surely not always true. Sometimes it is a big mistake to leave the table when you are tired. This is the case when the game is so good that it is profitable even when you are not playing your best game. I’ve found, for example, that when the hour is very late that other players may tend to play much worse than I play even when I am tired. I’ve found that they make more mistakes, are less aware, and much more predictable than they are when they are alert. Accordingly, the difference between their diminished skill level and my diminished skill level is even greater than the differences are when we are all at our best. In those circumstances it borders on the criminal to leave – even if I’m exhausted.

Play Loose in a Tight Game and Tight in a Loose Game

This is just plain awful advice – for many reasons. Discard it.

First of all, games are rarely defined accurately with such simple terms. There are many types of tight games and many types of loose games. A poker game can be tight but filled with aggressive sharks who push every tiny advantage. If you want to stay in against them it’s going to be expensive – so few players do. But games can also be tight and very passive – with few players calling but none raising. You can see how your strategy in the former might be very different from your strategy in the latter. In the former you might want to be very selective, but when you have a hand you’ll be very aggressive against the very strong and aggressive players – typically winning from them in heads up contests. In the latter games, with tight and timid players, you might want to play many hands aggressively – stealing pots with practically nothing.

Similarly, loose games can fall into different categories. You can have loose passive games, when players stay in with nothing but rarely raise or exert any pressure on you. In those games you can be loose at first, as you’ll be able to see cheaply how the hand develops. You can then discard it if it doesn’t seem to be developing into what is likely to be the best hand against many opponents. On the other hand, in a loose and aggressive game – a “no fold’em hold’em game” for example, you must be much more selective up front because the cost of playing is going to be very great.

Again, this advice isn’t even worth considering. Just pitch it out with the other trash.


As you can see, there’s certainly something to be learned from conventional poker wisdom. But the wisest of poker players will also learn what the exceptions are to those rules of thumb. And by recognizing those exceptions, he’ll be able to profit from his unconventional play.

By Ashley Adams

Ashley Adams lives in Boston, Massachusetts and has been playing poker for decades. He is the author of two poker books and his specialty is 7-card stud and no-limit hold'em.


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