Chapter 35: Metagame in Online Poker
Welcome to the holy grail of crushing high-stakes online poker. The master of the metagame will always be one step ahead of his opponents, leaving them wondering if he can see their hole cards.
The master of the metagame uses his vast knowledge about his opponent’s hand ranges, their tendencies and their history with him to manipulate every situation in his favor. The master of the metagame understands his image and how he has been affecting the table dynamics and he knows how his opponents are planning to react to this.
So what exactly is metagame? It’s the sum of all the parts of a poker session or multiple sessions against the same player. When a thinking opponent makes a decision, he considers all that you’ve learned: his and his opponent’s hand ranges, his and his opponent’s images, the table dynamics and the history of the table (what has happened in recent hands and what has happened in hands in prior sessions). The term “metagame” acts as an umbrella for considering all these things when playing the game of poker.
Good players understand metagame and do things to manipulate it when they’re playing other thinking opponents. Most metagame comes from players who play each other constantly. How you played your set yesterday will be in your opponent’s head and he will watch for the same pattern to avoid that set.
For example, I’m at a table with a tough $3/$6 regular on Poker Stars. We’ve played thousands of hands together and we have a good grasp on how the other plays. He knows that when I call out of the blinds with a medium pocket pair like 77, I check-raise when I flop a set and check-call the flop and turn when the board isn’t very scary, such as T554.
I know that as I hold 7s7h in the BB and he open raises from the CO, I’m going to take metagame into account and make a move. If I don’t flop a set, I’ll check-raise it like I have a set. If I flop a set, I’ll check-call the flop and turn, looking to induce bluffs since he will probably feel he can bluff me off a vulnerable hand like middle pair.
After I call with 7s7h, the flop is 9d7h3c. Nice! I check. My opponent fires out $36 and I call. The turn is the Js. It’s a good card because he can now represent that he has paired the J (and he might as well actually hit it, so he has a hand that can give me action sometimes). I check. My opponent bets out $90 into $112 pot and I think for a little bit, and call. I purposely think, even though I know what my action will be, because I want to him to think that I’m thinking if I should call again with a hand like middle pair. This is metagame again, dealing with timing tells.
The river is the 2d. I decide to think for a little while and check again. My villain thinks for nearly 20 seconds before finally checking his AdQc behind on the river. Against his hand, I maximized value by using our previous history to manipulate metagame and have him bluff at me because he thought I was holding a much weaker holding.
This hand will greatly affect the metagame further. Now he knows I can slowplay a set and play it in creative ways. He will be less apt to bluff me in the future in these spots.
Sometimes it’s worthwhile to make a play that has a slightly negative expectation or neutral expectation for the sake of metagame. When you’re playing opponents who you see every day, it can be worth it to “send a signal” with a play that you’re willing to go to the outer regions of correct strategy.
For example, let’s say we get 3-bet when we’re holding a hand like Ts8s. By 4-bet shoving, we don’t expect to make a profit on the play, as when we’re called we’re going to get crushed a lot. But if we do get called and he sees our hand, he will know we are capable of going all-in preflop with a marginal hand when we feel he is being too aggressive. Again, be very careful with a play like this. It shouldn’t be done often and there needs to be a good chance that he will fold to your 4-bet to make this play worthwhile.
Another example is when you find yourself on the river with a very weak pair and are facing a bet from an aggressive regular. Sometimes your opponent is bluffing, but you don’t know if he’s bluffing to make a profitable call. You’re just not really sure. You should sometimes make this call and let your opponent know you can make very thin calls when you think he might be bluffing.
Metagame can also come in the form of a single session. It’s a combination of table dynamics and image and previous hands that can affect how the current hand is playing out.
For example, you’re playing a fish at $1/$2. In a previous hand, you had double-barrel bluffed the turn with a flush draw and the fish called with a set he was trapping with. You hit your flush on the river and the fish berated you in chat.
The metagame between you and the fish has been largely affected by this hand. From now on, every time you bet, the fish will think you’re an idiot and call you down with anything. You exploit this metagame situation by only value betting the fish and not bluffing him.
Notes about metagame
Don’t worry about it that much at lower limits. Things like having a fish think you’re an idiot will come naturally and it’s pretty easy to know what to do when it happens. Don’t worry about outplaying regulars at $.25/$.50 by mixing up your lines – they are probably bad at poker and not thinking on a high enough level to make you stray from your standard value lines.
The plays listed in “mixing up your play” go great with metagame. It’s about keeping our good, thinking opponents off their guard about what we actually have. It’s also about confusing our weaker opponents into making bad, losing plays against us. You don’t need to play a hand in a tricky manner every time (and you shouldn’t), but if you just do it 1 out of 4 or 5 times, you will avoid being exploited and be able to gain value from more situations.
Nothing can replace actual experience when it comes to understanding metagame. For players with hundreds of thousands of hands played, it becomes almost instinctive while they’re playing to consider metagame in their decisions.
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