Arts & Entertainment

Daniel Negreanu on Poker: Changing Gears

I recently played in an episode of High Stakes Poker, a series that appears on GSN – The Network for Games. Normally when I play in No Limit Hold’em cash games like this one, I want to be in control of the table and press the action. On this particular day, that wasn’t possible.

You see, I found myself in a super-high speed game with the likes of Sammy Farha, Eli Elezra, Phil Hellmuth, and 2006 World Series of Poker champion Jamie Gold. All of these guys are notorious for being aggressive, and they play a lot more hands than the average player.

Whenever you jump into a game, you should have an idea as to what your plan will be for the day.  But you also must be willing to switch gears quickly if the speed of the game changes.

The speed of the game is defined by how loose or aggressive your opponents are playing. The more aggressive the game, the faster the speed is. Games where play is very conservative, with few pre-flop raises, are considered slow games.

When game speed is slow, you need to play more aggressively. When game speed is fast, sit back and pick your spots.
Anyway, back to the game. Though I was hoping to control the action, this lineup forced me to change my plan immediately and sit back and wait.

I’m generally a player that’s willing to ignite the flame and get the action going with aggressive play. With four lighting rods in the game already, though, there was no need for me to add any more fuel to the fire.

As an added benefit, my reputation for aggressive play assured that I would still get plenty of action, at least until my opponents realized that I was playing a bit conservatively. Once they figured that out, I could start bluffing them, since my table image was that of a tight player.

I changed gears to try to establish control of the table. Ideally, you want your opponents to play into your hands, but if that’s not possible, don’t stubbornly stick to your guns.
It’s also extremely important to watch how game speed will change during a session. The factor that most affects game speed is the mental state of other players — more specifically, the loose and aggressive players.

A player who has just taken a bad beat can go from first gear to top speed in the matter of just one hand. These players are known in the poker world as steamers. When they’re even or winning, they’ll play it on the safe side. Get them chasing their money, though, and they’ll steam all the way into high gear.

Later, when the steamer wins a big pot, his mindset could be affected in a way that causes him to clamp down and try to hang on to his new found fortune. That’s yet another gear change!

Also, you need to be aware that a more controlled player might just leap out of his shell and pick up his level of aggression after winning a big pot.

It’s your job to figure out which player is in what gear. Knowing how someone plays when he’s winning or losing is even more important than the cards themselves.


Visit for information about Daniel Negreanu’s new book, Hold’em Wisdom for All Players.


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