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Flash in the Pan

How to see the big picture, and bigger profits, in your poker game by keeping fancy play in check.

Well, it’s the beginning of another year and another attitude on how to improve your overall outlook on life. So after you’ve made amends with the mother-in-law and signed up to the local gym, it’s time to reassess those cracks in your poker game. Specifically, something called fancy-play syndrome (FPS), or playing backwards. It’s a common pitfall that causes high short-term unpredictability and returning negative expected value in the long term.

Players in this mindset exist everywhere but are more typically found mid-limit players whose egos get the better of them. You know—the ones who get a bunch of chips in early with marginal hands. Maybe you’re one of them.

Other symptoms of FPS include:

• Overusing sneaky poker tactics
• Betting when you should be calling
• Checking when you should be raising
• Calling when you should be folding
• Trying too hard to outplay everyone

The theme here is playing hands in the opposite fashion you should. Throwing your opponents off the scent is one thing, but being reckless is totally different. Going against the grain of proven profitability feels great when it pays off, but more often than not you’ll lose money.

The Antidote to FPS

The first step to treat FPS is to recognise you have it and see where it causes problems. This is where keeping a poker log comes in handy because then you’ll see consistent patterns in your game. Also, input from your poker colleagues can give you a point of view of flaws in your game you otherwise wouldn’t have been aware of. So the more input you get from accomplished players, the better.

After you’ve gone back to the source of the problem, it’s time to go even further back—all the way to the drawing board. The foundation of your game and attitude toward the game need serious structural reassessment. Recall how playing a tight and aggressive style yielded better results overall, rather than the smash-and-grab style that typifies FPS. Be patient as the loose-aggressive players bully the table and just wait for your opportune moment to deflate their egos and chip stacks.

Ways to avoid FPS are:

• Play tight and aggressive
• Drop down a limit
• Play a single table so you can focus on making better reads
• Block any distractions
• Play by the odds
• Review hand histories and get feedback from other successful players

Adjusting to a fancy player

When you’re on the right track, you can always take advantage of FPS when someone else has it. It’s easy to spot and those stricken by it—as you know by having been a victim of it—are the most exciting and profitable opponents. They loosen up tables, build huge pots and typically pay very well—they’re not called backwards for nothing. When they bet out, they usually have a draw or nothing at all. When they call, they could have a monster hand, and when they check, you have to be careful betting with anything marginal, because they’ll often be planning a check rasie. Sometimes they’ll hit a few big hands and win some big pots—that’s always a scenario to consider. But stick with the longevity plan. Those chips will eventually find their way back to you.
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