You may want to argue that psychology in poker is bullshit, and you should simply play as close to Game Theory Optimum as you can, but i strongly disagree!

In cash games where you play the same stakes and same stacksizes in basically every hand, you probably can separate your ranges from your feelings. But one specialty of tournaments is the chance to play for life-changing money. Even if you are a seasoned pro and you are not emotionally attached to the prizes, your opponents certainly are!

The strong emotions combined with the close to infinite non-standard situations (ICM, different stacksizes, extreme playertypes, etc.) result in emotion-based decisions, which is a great field for a psychological battle. And if you are able to find the proper guidelines you can definitely gain an edge over your opponents.

The most important rule is: Players don’t like repeating a ’mistake’.

This is a strong rule hardwired into us by evolution: if you tried something and it didn’t work, don’t repeat!

If you check the records of a soccer player who shoots penalty kicks: you’ll probably see the pattern that he is more likely to switch side if he failed with his last attempt and he is more likely to repeat the earlier shot if he succeeded. The same applies for the basic level of rock-paper-scissors: beginners almost always switch when they lost and stand with their earlier choice when they won.

Most of your opponents will work along this principle in the end game: if they tried a light 3bet and it didn’t work, (or they won the pot but they had to show down a light combo) the next time they face a marginal spot where they could again try a 3bet-bluff, they will just pass up on the opportunity, as they don’t want to repeat their ’mistake’. Therefore their next 3bet will be more likely to be a strong holding.

Back in the days this used to be surprisingly reliable in highstakes mtts as well, then around 9 years ago the Portuguese regs started to 3bet light after a failed 3bet and they had great success with it as most regs adjusted incorrectly. Since then levelling got more complicated and became a less important factor in highstakes tournaments.

But in low-stakes tournaments you can still rely on these basic rules:

  • if someone failed with a certain move, they are less likely to try it again without a hand
  • if someone showed down a strong hand against you, they will be more inclined to attack you light in the next potential spot
  • if you are up against a competent player, feel free to experiment with light 3bet after a failed light 3bet –> you’ll probably enjoy high success rate



I like to put my opponents into one of 7 categories as a start and made slight adjustments later on. This ’profiling’ helps you make useful assumptions in rare spots where you have no reliable direct stats, but you have usable estimations how the players of a certain profile behave.

Weaktight (recreational or reg) : nomen est omen, this guy is there to survive. Don’t expect him to make any move without strong holdings, feel free to use unusually small bets to bluff/get value against him

WannabeGTO reg: he has watched some videos and/or has some cashgame background and he feels entitled to crush tournaments. He tends to pay off faceup value lines vs anyone because he sticks to his minimum defense frequency. He may make bluffs in spots where the average mtt guy rarely bluffs. Don’t try to apply too many of the exploitative tricks of this channel against him, just play solid. One spot he often miscalculates is when facing extremely huge (e.g. 5x-10x) overbets with capped ranges –> he usually convinces himself to defend slightly too light. Many of them is not conscious enough about ICM, so they often earn you dollars by clashing too light/too often.

Feelplayer mtt reg: he is quite the opposite of the previous category: he never played cashgames, he probably never opened PIO, he has very little clue about any theory, but he might still be a successful tournament player. His secret is having strong reads on the population, having good individual reads on his most frequent villains and having a good sense of psychology, metagame. Old time US crushers and many of the South American regs fall into this class.
How to fight against them? 1. expect them to know all the tricks (+more) you can read in this channel and try to level them further 2. they are very happy to herocall way out of line or herofold with extremely good odds, so try to find spots where you can benefit by deviating from the tendencies of the population

End-boss regs: they have solid understanding on the theory but they also have strong reads on the population and individual reads on their opponents. They are capable of shifting gears really fast according to their stack/icm/metagame etc. I suggest observing them and trying to learn from them, but try not to go into pots with them with marginal holdings as long as there are weaker players in to fight against

Agro whale: 60/40 and similar guys, they are there to have fun and to fight, their preflop game is quite simple: they need 1 of the holecards to be likable or both of them to be so ugly that it’s a challenge to play them :slight_smile: Try to get into many pots with them, isolate them because they won’t be around for too long. Expect them to be fairly active preflop and on the flop, but they often become passive/clueless on the later streets. Watch out for their sizing tells: full pot often means monster (or something they think is strong) while smaller bets are often air/weak. Expect their smaller bets to be still much larger than bets of the population (half pot or two-thirds), so be careful when floating.
Expect them to have very little understanding on the board texture – they may bluff textures other guys barely do. One of their signature bluff ’line’ is the half pot-half pot-half pot, they do this frequently without any connection to the board.
One special hint: use fast timing against them for value – i’m not sure why but they get carried away with the ’battling’ experience and they call down with higher frequency than if you let them think a bit.

Passive whale: 50/3 and similar stats. Their motive is simple: to get cards and to see if they hit or not. If you play with them live they often fold the river out of turn if they missed 🙂
I used to play in a private game where one guy of this player type put in a $1000 straddle (it was a $5/$10 game btw 🙂 ) and another guy of this player type limped UTG for $1000. Somehow noone else was able to enter the pot, so they saw the flop heads-up, they checked it down, and on the river the UTG limper announced 3-high and mucked against the 8-high of the straddle guy. So you can see that this player type is very different from the previous one, he is not there to take away pots, he just want to relax and see cards.
How to exploit? Isolate, isolate big, build pots! Never-ever try to bluff him off a medium+ holding. Feel free to use extremely small bluffs on the river just to make him fold busted draws. Expect him to call full pot bets with gutshot and to do other suboptimal plays. Be friendly, be entertaining, never make fun of him or of his plays! Note: they are often end-bosses in real life and they just want to have fun and relax a bit. It’s your job to provide this experience!

Optimist fish: 30/10 and similar stats. Their approach to the game is different: they see poker as a skill game and they would like to make smart plays, but as they lack fundamentals they make mistakes. They don’t want to look stupid, which often ends up in being too passive, especially when it comes to committing their last chips –> when value-betting, leave them with 5-10 big-blinds and they will be much more likely to pay off; when bluffing, go for their full stack. Don’t expect them to make too many full-stack moves themselves! Don’t expect them to make thin value bets! Isolate them, feel free to use exploitative sizes on any street.

Do you have a hand with psycho reasoning? Upload it to CheckDecide and drop the link here!

Valdemar 'Luigi' Kwaysser

13 years as professional poker player 10 years experience as poker coach. Born Hungarian, living in Valencia, Spain. 36 yo, married, happy father of two. Founder of CheckDecide