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Changing Gears in Poker

Poker isn't the only game or sport in which the concept of changing gears features. It's actually more common than you might think. It's important in any poker form but no more so in tournament play, for reasons I will come on to. Most of the top players have many different gears with the greatest skill in knowing when it’s time to change. Whilst poker literature can tell you the facts, experience and good old practice is what will give you the instinct to know how to use gear changes to your advantage.

There are many different factors to be considered. First things first – why is it important? The simple answer is to make sure your play does not become predictable. Predictable players don’t tend to throw many curve balls and are easy to play against. As long as your opponents are kept guessing, you have an edge over those that don't. Many articles online and most poker books refer to Phil Ivey when talking the art of gear changing, however most successful top pros frequently change gears. Gear changes can be important for short bust gains. If you have been playing tight for an hour and sticking largely to premium starting hands, a gear change (to playing aggressively) very often wins you some easy pots as your table image is a tight player, so you are more likely to be given credit for your aggression.

This will only last so long and it won’t be long before players wise up to your antics. A player who only raises with a top 5 hand will not fly under the radar for very long. It won't be very easy to represent a hand on a low flop. Keeping your opponents guessing, will give you far more freedom in your plays.

Dynamics at the Table

Occasionally during the game, the play style of the table will change as players begin to play tighter or more aggressively. The ability to spot when these dynamics change allows you to capitalize by changing your style to adapt and counteract. When players tighten up, you should be looking to be more aggressive. In the reverse, when there is heightened aggression, it might be time to take your foot off the gas.

Reaching the Bubble in a Tournament

As players close in on the money positions of a tournament, their play style will change depending on their goals. Some players will begin to play extremely tight to hold onto their stack in an effort to make the money. Others will be more aggressive, taking advantage of the blinds on offer and the tight play. Selective aggression / small ball against the tight players at the table can be very profitable.

Gear Changes and Stack Sizes

When a players stack size has changed in a significant manner, they need to adjust their play accordingly. Having a larger stack allows a more expansive game whilst a short stack will certainly limit the pre flop range. Your stack size would be used in conjunction with the table dynamics and what you know about players to choose appropriate gear changes.

So how do i change gears?

There is no written rule around how you this is done. Some players make the change more gradual, others change quickly and frequently. It largely depends on what you are comfortable with. The key is not to make the change obvious. By the time your opponents start to work out your style, change it again. Keeping players guessing will make your plays less transparent. Additionally, bluffing will be easier as good players will be less likely to put you on a hand.


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