Scott, I have been having a bit of trouble in my local no-limit cash game. I haven't been losing, but I feel like I could be winning tons more than I currently am. It's $2-$5 no-limit hold 'em with 10 players at the table. The game is generally pretty solid - no pros, but nobody who's clueless either. However, on the weekends there are two complete morons who play with us. Problem is, I never win one cent from either of them. Can you give me any tips that may help me build a better strategy for when the donators sit down? - lennY
Dear lennY, There are some very minor adjustments that will help you, along with some more drastic measures that will also reap rewards. If I had detailed information about your table image and your natural playing style, I could much more easily feed you some impenetrable advice. Without those specifics, I'll simply give you a few tips/tricks that I use when I'm facing a situation like yours.
First thing, figure out what seat (positionally) will be the most beneficial to you. Ideally, you do not want to be to the immediate left of the fish, contrary to popular belief. Your plan is to "attack the attacker." Simply put, you'll be targeting the guys in the game who have adjusted their strategy in order to exploit the weaker players. You will need to be the brick wall that this "attacker" slams into when he tries to outplay the fish.
One of my favorite tactics is the "donkey magnet."
Study the body language of the donators in an attempt to figure out which hands they're planning on playing before it's their turn to act. This will serve you well if you're to the right of the fish and will usually have to act before them pre-flop. Weak players have a habit of telegraphing the fact that they will be entering the pot. When you see this sign, you should enter the pot first, usually with a limp. This will ensure that the weak player will limp behind you.
This is precisely when the attacker likes to strike. His goal is to raise and isolate the fish in the pot with him in a heads-up scenario. The attacker should initially view your limp as weakness and expect that you will usually fold after his raise, leaving him alone versus the donkey with the positional advantage. When you feel comfortable that your reads are correct and you see this pattern emerging often, it's time to strike back. A limp re-raise from this spot will be effective and should help you increase your winnings. Remember, you don't have to be taking the donk's money for your gameplan to be effective. Often you'll be taking the money of the good players instead. It will probably take some trial and error before you start winning, but keep experimenting with these new strategies and find out what works for you.
Your question illuminates a major aspect of the game - the part of poker that is a mind game. Part of being a winning player is your ability to read opponents. That doesn't just mean their physical tells when they play a hand - you need to be able to get in their head. Figure out their strategy and counteract it.
In the type of situation you described, the good players don't really have a way to disguise their intentions. The adjustments they're making are obvious. Instead of sitting there hoping to win money off the weak players, focus on punishing the good players, because you know exactly what they're thinking.
Scott Fischman is a professional poker player who has won two World Series of Poker bracelets and has accumulated more than $2 million in career earnings. He is also the author of the poker book "Online Ace." Send your poker questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Poker Pros will appear every week.