Anytime you sit down at a table some of your opponents are going to be better than others. All other things equal, this should affect your starting hand selection. But how?
In a cash game, you should tighten-up slightly preflop versus the better players and loosen-up slightly preflop versus those you perceive as less ferocious. So you might find yourself in a situation where, with A-J offsuit on the button, you could fold to an early position raise from the best player at the table, but call (or raise) versus the weakest player at the table. This isn't new age poker wisdom: you are going to have a mathematically lower return on your money in the exact same spot, all other things equal, depending on the skill of the opponent you face.
Now your adjustments should also vary in proportion to how strong or weak you perceive your opponent to be. If all of your opponents are more or less the same, you might not find yourself taking this into consideration often. But if they vary greatly, as opponents often do, a fold of A-J against one player in the same spot might be a call with A-8 or J-T offsuit against another.
These kind of adjustments become more interesting, and potentially extreme, in tournaments and satellites. As you reach deeper into your stack in both formats, the chips you have left become more and more valuable. This is a situation where theory and practice are one and the same, you should be more willing to risk chips against the weakest player at the table and less willing to risk them against the strongest.
Note that it isn't always strictly true that you should play more hands because your opponent is less skilled. You should be more willing to play hands, but because of their style, or because of their tendencies, you might know to adjust extremely. So say an opponent normally only raises to three times the big blind when they have a strong hand. Even if they are the weakest at the table, if they raise three times to big blind, you should proceed very cautiously. This "tell" is part of what probably led you to categorise them as you did in the first place. In this circumstance the "all other things equal" clause above isn't true — they did something to make other things unequal. And here we should use our tell to fold more than we otherwise would.
There will still be unavoidable situations against opponents of all stripes. You will be dealt A-T in the small blind with 15 big blinds, the best player at the table will raise the button, and you will have to risk your tournament life (and try to breathe while you await your fate). We're not really talking about that; there are situations that can't be avoided and shouldn't be avoided, in tournaments, satellites, and cash games. Your opponent's skill level is just another ingredient to add to the soup, like their position or their style of play, when making decisions against them. And the better they are, the more you should stay out of their way!
Article by Gareth Chantler