In the Dark

Hello darkness my old friend. I have come to talk with you again. These are the words of an old song that has special meaning for me. There are a few of us poker players that are willing to embrace the darkness. Yes we choose to play poker in the dark. I am a fan to the point of almost playing too many hands in the dark. I suggest everyone try playing poker in the dark a few times. It is guaranteed to teach you a few things that you may not be emphasizing enough currently.

When I use the phrase playing in the dark it means playing poker without looking at your cards. The people that know me well are nodding in agreement and laughing, but most are stunned. “How can I play without knowing what I have?” I honestly believe it is more important to know what cards everyone else has. Yes, knowing how your cards relate to the board is important, but there are many other aspects to poker other than your relative hand strength. Playing in the dark is one way to develop those other skills.

Why would I ever want to play without seeing my cards? Well it is not to fool myself, I am trying to keep the table off balance. The trick is to make them think you did look at your cards. You can do this a number of ways. Simply make a motion to look at them and make some noise with your cards, but do not look.

The logic behind this is that there are times when you really do not want to know what your cards are. For instance, it folds to you on the button and the blinds are extremely tight. In a tournament with the antes and blinds, there is enough in the pot that you should raise literally every time. You know the blinds will not call unless they wake up with a monster. If they defend, you know where they are and if you make a hand it very well could take down their entire stack. In this spot, I am going to raise with any reasonable hand anyway, and I want to just scoop the pot right there. So I just decide to raise no matter what, and I raise before looking at my cards.

I have gotten in trouble with this move sometimes. For instance, when I was a little more reckless, I used to raise on the button anytime there was a few limpers. I loved to do this just to pick up the dead money. But often times, when there are multiple limpers, they either feel I am stealing too often or feel the need to defend their limp, and they call. If you can keep this move down to when it is just a single limper it will work like a charm.

Hear my words that I might teach you. There are many things I have learned and improved by playing in the dark against average opponents and they include:

Reading opponents. How has my opponent reacted? Is he betting and raising confidently? What are their timing tells? Do they check-raise with monster hands? Do I think they are on a draw? I have really spent a great deal of time and focused my play on reading other players. This is the single greatest skill developed by playing in the dark.

Positional awareness. Too often players give up opportunities to make positional plays because their cards are weak. There are times, especially in tournaments, where aggressive plays must be made with any two cards, but these plays are difficult when you have 42 off-suit staring you in the face. Playing in the dark forces you to be aware of your position at the table and allows you to take advantage of that position every time.

Understanding flop textures. Stop asking yourself “what do I have?” Start asking, is the board suited? Is a straight possible? Is there a straight or flush draw? Is there a pair on the flop? How can I take advantage of the fact that one of those things is present? Can I represent the flush or straight if the scare card comes? I learned this skill in my limit hold’em days when I often picked up pots playing an imaginary flush draw. I would play my hand just like a flush draw and when the flush card hit I would pick up the pot.

Bet sizing. How do I bet in certain situations? Am I making standard-sized bets? Are my bet sizes giving away too much information? What are players reading from my bets? Players do not pull the trigger on multiple street bluffs or bluff re-raises when they have weak cards. Having that primary knowledge taken away can force you into making those moves as it is the only way to win the pot.

If you are going to play in the dark as a learning tool, you need to make some preparations. You will need your full focus on the game. Second, pick a game that is extremely low stakes in relation to your bankroll. You are probably going to lose, but understand that the small investment will pay off in the long run. Do not be overly aggressive. Try to play only slightly more aggressively than your normal style, primarily when you have position and your opponent shows weakness.

Once you have played in this manner, try to recall your mindset as you made each call, raise, or fold. Certainly you will find times where the cards did not matter. Learning to win pots with something other than your cards is a valuable skill and the investment in playing in the dark will pay off.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: