Rules of Creativity

The dream is to have a simple system of lines to follow. Powerful lines that are guaranteed to generate profit in the vast majority of scenarios. And that’s exactly what is taught at . A strong system of default lines designed to routinely collect profits from the tables. We wouldn’t want it any other way.

On the other hand, we’ve likely heard that creativity is important in poker. The best players can generate unorthodox lines on a whim, deviating wildly from default lines. How can we reconcile the idea of having a “fixed system” with the ideal of being creative? Does following a default system of lines imply the death of creativity? Should it?

The Danger of a System

Following a systemic approach to strategy carries some vast benefits. For a start, it’s the easiest way to get a novice poker player up to a competitive and profitable level in a short space of time. No wonder BPC advocates having a strong set of default lines. In some cases, the student might not even understand every line they are taught; but since the lines are guaranteed to be profitable, it’s not a problem if the understanding comes later.

But what if that understanding never comes? What if the student is mindlessly following patterns without getting to grips with why he is doing it? The good news is that such a student can still make money, especially in soft games. You don’t need to be a genius to make money with BPC. The bad news is that such a player will find his progress capped. There is going to be a stake level where he is simply no longer competitive. He will be playing against creative players who have invested time in understanding theory. He doesn’t stand a chance.

The danger of a system is hence that it has the propensity to turn humans into mindless robots. Robots so intent on following the system that they fail to think outside the system in any meaningful way. Even if the system is being systematically and catastrophically destroyed by an advanced opponent, no adjustment takes place. After all…..the system is guaranteed to work…’s just a matter of time….right?

Scenarios that Demand Creativity

We in no way want to diminish the value of having a strong set of default lines. Never deviating from the lines is a recipe for capping our progress however. Even BPC players (especially BPC players) should be on the lookout for the opportunity to deviate intelligently from the lines that they have been given by their coaches. These creative opportunities usually occur in two main scenarios.

1. Against skilled, or unorthodox opponents.
2. In areas outside the scope of our system.

1. Against skilled, or unorthodox opponents.

Most default lines are especially designed to target average unknowns. In scenarios where our opponent clearly does not conform to average tendencies, we must be willing to step outside our default system of lines in a creative manner.

A worthwhile experiment for BPC students is to think about their own default system and contemplate counter-exploits against that system. I.e If we see a fellow BPC student at the table how would we theoretically counter him?

Let’s take one small example. BPC students are taught to float-bet (bet IP vs skipped cbet) the turn hyper-aggressively. Why? The average player folds significantly too often to turn float bets, so the line generates copious amounts of automatic profit.

Now imagine we are OOP on the turn in a single-raised heads-up pot as the PFR. We have a super strong made hand and have already fired a continuation bet on the flop. Our opponent, who religiously follows BPC lines, has called the flop cbet and is now awaiting our turn action. Do we:

A) Fire again for 80% pot. This is the standard BPC line. We should fire our best value hands again for a large sizing. If we deviate from this will end up with a bad mark on our database report.

B) Obvious check/raise. Who cares about the standard lines? Give me that bad database report and I’ll drown my sorrows with all this extra cash.

Interestingly, the average player never check/raises the turn as the PFR. It’s hence not much of a stretch to refer to this as a “creative” line. But which is the right answer? A or B? Whichever, you can decide. However, if it’s part of your plan to make large amounts of cash playing poker, you’d better make it option B.

2. In areas outside the scope of our system.

No poker system is 100% exhaustive. There are always going to be situations that are not explicitly covered by the system. Poker is simply too big for every eventuality to be covered. In situations where no system governs, creativity must be employed. And without a decent grasp of poker theory, we are really going to struggle.

Here is a simple example.

BTN open-raises to 4bb. SB folds. BPC hero in the BB?

A non-creative player is simply going to glance down at this BB-v-BTN defending range and play accordingly. In fact, there are many situations where some BPC students are defending exactly the same preflop range regardless of whether villain opens for 2bb, 3bb or 4bb.

Theoretically, this is a trainwreck. Defending ranges against 2bb and 4bb opens should be significantly different. Then again, if the student is a “robot” with no grasp of poker theory, this not-so-subtle point is going to completely elude him. After all, he has been given a system which tells him exactly which hands to defend in the BB against a BTN open. See how the robot cannot think outside the system?

A creative player is instead going to reason “so the ranges I have here are presumably designed for playing against a 2.5bb sizing, I need to tighten up significantly against a 4bb open”. It’s not that such a player is necessarily going against the system, but more a case of him realizing that the system is not specifically designed to deal with 4bb open-raises. He can use his creativity to construct a more appropriate defending range on the fly, based in part on his understanding of poker theory.

Most good players choose to have several different preflop ranges for each position, broken down by sizing. For example, we absolutely should not defend the same range against a 7bb, 9bb and 12bb 3bet, yet many players do. A good player might construct unique defending strategies for each of those three sizings. It’s impossible to cover all bases however. Villain is going to 3bet to 8bb with some frequency, a sizing not explicitly covered by our ranges. We’ll use creativity to formulate an approximation of a range that exists somewhere between our 7bb and 9bb defending ranges.

The Value of Deception

For the most part, we are taught not to slowplay or take tricky lines. If we have the goods, we bomb the pot. These guidelines make a lot of sense, because they are based on the tendencies of an average opponent. Deception has little value against weak opposition.

As we move up limits and face tougher opposition, deception can quickly become one of the most important aspects of the game. A good player is more likely invest large amounts of chips based on subtle indications that our range is week. (I.e an average fish is not going to suddenly overbet turn and river just because we checked back the flop. A strong creative regular might actually do that). There are a couple of lessons we can take away from this.

1. It’s important to know who the strong regulars are at our limit.

2. We should consider using creative/deceptive lines against strong regulars, but not against fish.

Note that unless we are playing high-stakes (500nl +) most regs are weak regs. Although decent players can be found at much lower limits than this, we should generally await confirmation before assuming that someone is decent. (I.e wait for a bigger sample of hands, see if their lines make sense etc). Many players might be surprised to learn that the 23/18 reg who is making their life difficult is actually guilty of some extremely questionable plays. Creativity is not needed against villains who will willingly donate their stack. If in doubt, don’t employ deception, stick to the system.

This is Not Permission for FPS

That’s right, you have permission to deviate from standard lines if you have a good reason. A good reason. This does not mean randomly 4bet bluffing the flop “because you had a feeling”. We are talking about logical adjustments based on hard data and a decent understanding of poker theory.

Of course, perhaps we are not yet at a level of theory understanding where we feel comfortable deviating from the default lines we are given. This would perhaps apply if any of the following are true –

1. We are new to BPC.
2. We have been playing poker for less than 6 months.
3. We are playing limits 10nl and below.

If none of the above are true, then we should be actively looking to improve our knowledge of poker theory. It’s that theory understanding that fuels creativity. Creativity without theory is like trying to make our morning coffee with an open container of kerosene and a few matches. Hey, it might work out, but if it doesn’t, we’ll probably die.

Actual footage of the last BPC student to suffer from FPS (fancy play syndrome).
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