Poker is an extremely psychological game. At the table, you’re constantly watching your opponents, hoping to pick up signs that give away their hands. You’re observing patterns, trying to piece together bits of incomplete information that will help you determine your next move. The player to your right talks a lot when he’s in a hand. Is he bluffing when he does this, or is he sitting on the nuts? Perhaps he talks all the time just to try and confuse you. The player to your left just lost a huge pot to a bad beat and has opened the very next hand with a big raise. Is he on tilt, or did he wake up to a premium hand?
A game relying so heavily on the psyche demands constant awareness from its players, as missing the tiniest bit of information can make or break you on any given hand. Phil Hellmuth Jr., one of the games most notorious and most successful players, has been known to have said “I look into people’s souls!” While this comment is a popular punch line amongst poker circles, it does have some truth to it. To win at live poker, you have to develop a strong ability to read your opponents and get inside their heads. When you have a good hand, you need to somehow convince your opponent that you’re holding something he can beat; if he knows you’re sitting on a monster, he’ll simply throw his cards away and you won’t win anything.
So how do we get our opponents to doubt their reads and misuse the information they pick up? One tool you can use is advertising. The term simply means turning your cards face-up on the table after you successfully carry out a bluff. Many poker books advise against ever showing your cards at the table, mainly because you are giving your opponents information that they would not otherwise have access to. Generally speaking, this is good advice; the less information you afford your opponents, the better. However, there are certain situations that merit showing your cards and advertising is one of them.
Advertising has two major benefits: influencing your table image and putting your opponent on tilt. Consider the following situation. You’ve been playing a $1-$2 no-limit hold’em cash game for the better part of three hours with the same players. You haven’t played many hands and the only hands you’ve shown to the table have been big pocket pairs or made flushes and straights. Consequently, you’re not getting much action, because everyone thinks you’re a tight player, content with waiting for the nuts. So how do we turn this situation into a favorable one? First, it’s time to change gears. Open up your starting hand requirements and bet more aggressively; your opponents will not immediately recognize the change, still having you pegged as a tight player.
Next, it’s time to start advertising. Pick any random hand, probably one that you would never normally play, and bluff with it. Ideally, you should target another tight player so that your play has a higher likelihood of working. If he plays back at you and seems pretty serious, do not hesitate to abandon your play; you can always try it again later. If things go as planned and you’ve won the pot with a bluff, flip your cards face up on the table to show everyone what foolish bets you just made with an awful hand. The more perceptive opponents at your table will remember your play and you’ll have a better chance of getting action on one of your better hands in the future. More importantly, as soon as you think your opponents have figured out that you changed your playing style, immediately switch back to a tight, conservative style and hope to pick up a premium hand; you will almost certainly get paid off.
Advertising a bluff can also serve to take a player completely off his game. The ideal target for this maneuver is an emotional player who gets visibly upset when he loses a big pot and has a tendency to take things personally. Showing a big bluff to this kind of player has an excellent chance of creating future action in which you’ll almost always have the best of it. Emotional players have a hard time moving on from past hands and often times seek revenge against the bluffer. Wait for this player to try and get you back and be ready to scoop a big pot when your plan works to perfection.