Switching Gears in Poker: The What, Why and How

Poker is a dynamic game. One hand or situation will always be different from the next, even if it’s with the same two players, hands and flop. Because of this it’s important that you learn to switch gears. That way you’re never predictable, and so that you can take advantage of certain players and situations to make more money.

What is “Switching Gears?”

Switching gears is merely changing up your strategy or playing style.

For example, say you have position on a tight player. You are able to 3-bet a lot and get him to fold. However, after a couple of hands that player gets up to leave and a loose player takes his place. Continuing the same strategy against this player won’t make sense. A loose player will 4-bet or call you often, so you need to switch up your strategy to compensate.

If you don’t switch gears against this player you’ll probably fold a lot, losing a lot of chips. Or you’ll be in awkward situations where you’re more likely to make a mistake.

The point is that you want to switch gears because each player is different. One style of play may be profitable against one player, like you playing loose aggressive against a tight player, but not against someone else, like an equally loose-aggressive player.

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Knowing When and How to Switch Gears

The trick to switching gears is knowing when to switch and how. Lets look at the different scenarios where you might consider switching gears, and how you might consider adjusting your poker strategy.

Your Opponent

The player you’re up against will play a big role. If you’re up against a table of nits, you can open up hands left and right. Steal as much as you want, c-bet and win most flops. No one is going to stop you.

However, say half the table leaves and are replaced with loose players. You don’t want to continue to open left and right because you’re not going to get folds. What’s going to happen is your opponent will start to re-raise or call you. Opening 98s to steal might’ve worked before, but now against a looser player you want to open hands that have showdown value, like pairs, stronger aces, kings and even queens.

History

Your history with your opponent will play a role, too.

For example, say you’re in the blinds of a sng tournament. You have 10 big blinds left, and the standard play is to shove any two cards (ATC). So you shove with 64s and the player calls with K2o.

The next time you’re in the blinds versus this player, you won’t want to shove ATC because you know this player calls lighter than he should. So the next time you shove you lop off the bottom of your range, and shove most aces, kings, some queens and all your good hands.

This is an adjustment you have to make, or else may get called light again, which can put you at risk for your tournament life.

Perceived Image

It’s not just how your opponents look to you that matter. Your playing style and image matter, too.

In other words, if you’ve been really tight for the last couple of orbits, it would make a ton of sense to start opening up hands. Your opponents are going to think that you hit a streak of playable hands since you weren’t playing anything beforehand.

You can continue to steal as much as you can get away with. Then switch gears once again when your opponents start to get suspicious of how many playable hands you’re truly being dealt. Once they think you’re stealing, you can then switch the hands you choose to play to hands you want to play for value.

Recent Loss / Potential Tilt

If you (or your opponent) took a big loss, that could be a signal to switch gears.

Say you lost half your stack the hand before. A lot of players that lose their stack might tilt, and then start playing wildly, raising and re-raising their hands. They start spewing.

Even if you’re not the type of player to do that, you still need to consider how opening the following hands (after a big loss) will look. Players might think you’re tiling, and as a result may open up their own range. So you won’t want to get too loose, and if you do decide to open, you’ll want to make sure it’s for value. You can then use this to your advantage, leading your opponents to think you’re on tilt, when in fact you’re calm and under control.

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Stack Sizes

Stack sizes will affect when you change gears because it will often follow a situation where a player lost or gained a lot of chips. It also changes the dynamic at the table, as well as who you have fold equity against.

For example, against one player you might have fold equity. They’re the chip leader, and calling you could cost them most of their stack. So you can shove or raise into them often, knowing that they won’t play back at you lightly.

However, the next hand say your only opportunity is to shove into the shortest stack at the table. This player has nothing to lose, so they’re going to call with anything good. In this case, you need to switch gears and opt for a hand you’re willing to race with.

Two different hands, two different players and two different strategies. The epitome of switching gears.

Table Dynamics / Player – Stack position

I already covered this a bit above. But as the button moves around the table, so does the position of each player and their stacks in relation to you. In other words, one hand you have a deep stack in the big blind, but the next you can have an average stack and the next the shortest stack at the table.

What this means (in theory) is that if you choose to play every single hand you’re dealt, it’s possible that you’ll have to switch gears every hand just because of the ever changing stack sizes.

New Players

Whenever a new player joins the table you’ll need to switch gears. This player has a different style, hand ranges, twitches, etc that you’ll need to adjust for.