PsyEQ: Poker's "Secret Sauce"

Three things are needed to play poker; cards, chips, and people. If the cards are the bun, and the chips are the all-beef patty, then the players are the secret sauce and can drastically change the flavor of the game.

When we talk about “the cards,” we are talking about ranges and how they interact with each other. A solid understanding of ranges and how to modify them based on position, stack depth, number of players in the pot, and so on, is a fundamental part of the game. However, fine tuning ranges won’t have a huge impact on your game any more than adding or subtracting a few dozen sesame seeds will change the taste of your buns!

“The chips” refers to the betting game. This part of the game is evolving quickly. For example, I’m seeing more pros open-limping, using smaller c-bets, and larger 3 bets than a few years ago. Most players would do well to spend a lot more time on this part of their game… it really is the meat of the matter!

But the people, ahhhh, the people! Understanding your opponents is probably the most under-rated aspect of the game. It might also be the hardest part of the game to master, because people can’t be boiled down to formulas and equations. The richest treasures are always hidden in the darkest places, and the psychology of poker is more than a quaint legacy of the “old school” players.

“PsyEQ” is the umbrella term I use to describe a range of tools and techniques used to gain an edge over my opponents. PsyEQ involves controlling the information (or disinformation) given to the other players through things like bet timing, strategic showing of hole cards, and gear changes, to name a few. It also includes ways to accurately profile your opponent’s approach to the game, ways to exploit your table image and their’s, and other techniques. Not much has been written about this part of the game… it’s the “secret sauce” of the tastiest poker burgers!


I guess I should give an example of PsyEQ in action…

I’m sure most of you know that Daniel Negreanu is well known for calling his opponents’ exact hand, but have you ever wondered why he does this? He doesn’t do it just to show off, he does it because it gains him a huge psychological edge against those who haven’t played a lot of hands against him.

Most players play tighter against him, which, ironically, makes them even easier to read. It also makes his bluffs much more effective. If you’re convinced that he knows what you have, how are you going to react when he raises you? This can lead to people checking when they should be betting, calling when they should be raising, folding when they should be calling, and generally making more mistakes that benefit him.

Here’s a classic hand that shows the power of this aspect of PsyEQ…

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The DNegs live read wasn’t magical - it was a pretty easy one vs a weaker player. Weaponizing the read to set up a bluff was where he shined. Some very good live players are fantastic at using table talk to extract the information they want.

Until you are playing vs very skilled opponents, this is probably the most important aspect of the game, after solid fundamentals. I don’t know if it matters all that much at the very bottom end of the game though. When people are so basic that they are playing their 2 cards in a vacuum (at best), I don’t know how much meta game is even noticed by them. I guess you can make bad players play even worse but that seems like too much work to me. When someone will walk into the wood-chipper on their own, why bother disguising it? :wink:

No, it’s pointless to try to lay the groundwork for PsyEQ in the early stages of a tournament.

For one thing, half the people at your table will be gone in the next 40 minutes. Of those who will be remaining, many won’t be paying much attention to anything you do.

Aslo, PsyEQ is a persistent effect, and the tables will be rebalancing too fast for most of the techniques to “stick.” The early-game to mid game transition is the first real chance to bring these tools to bear.

Post bubble on, and especially when the final table sits, are when these things really pay off, and build upon the groundwork laid in the later game stages. Basically, things you do to establish a particular table image when the blinds are relatively low can carry over to when the blinds are high.

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Daniel Negreanu once said, “Everything you do at a table conveys information.” This is both obvious and true, but it got me thinking. I think that most poker players start with a baseline strategy, then make adjustments based on how our opponents are playing. To me, this suggested a point of attack: if we can convey information that makes our opponents make incorrect adjustments, we profit.

One of the cornerstones of PsyEQ is the kind of table image manipulation that falls under the general heading of “range distortion.” The simplest way to distort your ranges is to play a mixed strategy where you use a variety of bet sizes and actions across your entire range. The basic idea is to show no obvious connection between what you do and what you have, and this can be an effective strategy.

As they say, first impressions are lasting. Most players will evaluate your play and put you in a class within the first few orbits. You might be classed as tight aggressive (TAG), loose aggressive (LAG), and so on. You should always be aware of what image you are presenting to the table.

We can strategically show or not show our cards to help establish a specific table image. If you want to be seen as a LAG, show more bluffs and marginal hands. If you want to be seen as a TAG, show the nuts when they all fold to your bets. Once you notice them making adjustments, switch gears.

It will take everyone some time to realize you have switched styles. I call the period between the gear change and the realization a “transition,” and these transitions are some of the most profitable opportunities in the game.

Let’s say you start by establishing a LAG image, then switch to a TAG style. People will adjust to the LAG style either by opening their ranges and playing back at you more or by trying to trap, and both of these will play right into your evil plans! Use bet timing to appear hesitant, let them take the betting lead where appropriate, and start stacking those chips.

Or let’s say we start off presenting a TAG style, then switch to a LAG style. The other players will usually adjust by either tightening their own ranges or by bluffing at you more. Your TAG image will let you bluff more on flops that should hit your TAG ranges, and you will also get paid when you connect with boards that should have missed a TAG range.

There are other gear changes that create nice transitions too, such as switching from TAG or LAG to a tight passive style. This works well when you are significantly ahead of the average stack during the mid-late game. You can switch to a more “small ball” style to preserve your stack, and this can look very weak. Look weak, be strong, stack 'um up!

There’s a lot more to PsyEQ than clever table talk. PsyEQ includes many “bread and butter” strategies that you can use all day, every day, and they can make a big difference in your bottom line. There’s a lot more to it than can be included in a single post, so stay tuned!

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