Fancy Play Syndrome kills your poker bankroll



By Mike Wolf

Dear fellow 19- and 20-year-old grinders,

Some advice: Refrain yourself. Don’t do it. Do NOT get caught up with fancy play syndrome in $1-$2 and $2-$5 live games. For those who don’t know what FPS is, it’s when you get creative and play your hand in an unorthodox manner to manipulate a thinking opponent. One caveat: Your opponent must be THINKING, and in live low-stakes games most of your opponents are stuck forever on Level 1 and can’t see past their noses.

FPS will destroy your bottom line, as well as your ego. Grandpa came to play some cards and by God he’s not laying down second pair! Here’s what you may not understand: He’s set up financially for the rest of his years, so making a curious call of $40 here and there will not ruin his session. He doesn’t want to wonder, “What if?” so he counts out eight red chips and snaps off your well-disguised bluff.

The Situation

You’re grinding in your local cardroom against the Level 1 goons and slackjaws when, in what feels like forever, you pick up two red kings on the button. It folds to you. “Oh no,” you think, the one time I finally have a hand it folds around. So what do you do? You want to get the maximum amount of value, right? You notice the small blind has headphones so he must be aggressive, right?

Time to trap someone with A-Q on a Q-2-2 board. You decide to limp. This is mistake No. 1. By limping you fail to do a few things.

• You fail to build the pot with what likely is the best hand.
• You give the SB correct odds to complete with almost any two cards and possibly outdraw on you with rags.
• You have no real plan for the hand. What happens if the flop comes 5-5-4 or 2-3-4 all spades?

So it turns out the SB limps. “Huh? But he’s raised every pot?”

Grandpa checks his option. “Uh, oh! But they limp with aces and kings on TV all of the time!” you say to yourself. Players on shows such as High Stakes Poker and Poker After Dark have been playing together for years and have tons of history, so they absolutely need to mix up things to remain unpredictable.

The dealer burns and turns the flop. {a-Hearts}{9-Hearts}{j-Spades}

The ace always hits when you have kings, right? Wrong, that’s just selective perception working its wonders on you.

They check. You bet to see where your are in the hand, gain some info. Super-aggro 19-year-old folds before the Red Hot Chili Peppers can spit out, “Californication.”

The BB calls. OK, you think, he could have anything in this spot.

The {2-Clubs} hits the turn.

Check, check.

Now the {7-Diamonds} falls on the river.

Here’s the problem: With your line, if he leads, you can put him on a busted flush draw. But here’s the thing: He would play the hand the same way if he had A-x, so his range in this spot is completely balanced. Meaning good for him, bad for you. You must guess at his possible holdings at this point.

He checks. You reason that if he had an ace you would have heard it by now. Your brain goes all Phil Ivey and you decide to overbet the pot in an attempt to represent the busted flush draw and get a loose call from a jack.

He snap calls and says: “Ace any good?”

You sheepishly ask to see the other card. It’s an offsuit four. You feel like a victim of the Poker Gods, when in fact you are just a victim of yourself … oh, and FPS!


For a start, you should have raised preflop. If both blinds fold, so what! You win $3 and move on. Separate yourself from outcome and worry about playing the hand correctly every time. If you had decided to raise then the BB would have shook his head and folded. Even if he called, you would be building the pot with the best hand.

The problem with limp reraising is it sends a very strong signal to your opponents, unless you balance your range by sometimes doing it with garbage hands. I would recommend doing it online but not live because your opponents aren’t attentive enough to take note of these types of things.

Everyone knows people like to do that with aces and kings preflop. If you are an aggressive player then you should do the same thing you do with all of your air. Raise! If all the sudden you limp on the button when it folds around to you, you might as well turn your cards face up.

Second, you should try to keep the pot as small as possible when you have a mediocre hand in small stakes. Use tools such as checking back, playing in position and blocker bets to control the size of the pot as much as possible.


What went wrong? Here are a few rules to stick by when you’re playing live low-stakes NLHE.

• Do not flat call in multiway pots with aces.
• Do not slow-play big hands on draw-heavy boards.
• Do not overthink simple situations. The majority of the time, everything is exactly how it seems in $1-$2 and $2-$5. A 55-year-old woman called your flop and turn bet on a two-club board, then led out on the river when the third club hit. She has it. Fold and move on.
• Master basic concepts such as patience, discipline, focus, game and seat selection, and keeping tilt at bay.

Keep these things in mind and next time you decide to play $1-$2 in a brick-and-mortar setting; you’ll remember to raise and get the money in with big pairs before the flop. You’ll thank me, and so will your wallet.

Until next time, see you on the road.

— Mike Wolf is a small-stakes pro living on South Beach in Miami. You can email him at

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