Study, understand your enemy

Study, understand your enemy

October 24, 2017 3:00 AM


If you play poker in a typical home game, it won’t take long until you know what to expect from your various opponents.

Of course, that will happen only if you pay attention. This also applies if you play in a small casino; the same players are at the table every time you come there. Of course, from time to time, there will be a new face. It won’t take more than an orbit or two before you know how he plays too.

And, assuming there are several tables of your favorite game of Texas hold’em in play at the stakes you prefer, you can use this knowledge in deciding at which tables you should prefer to play. You can ask for another table even before you are seated – before you invest your “hard-earned” money (chips).

If your opponents are all strangers – you have never seen them before – focus your attention on the kind of hands they stay to see the flop, and how they play each. Is he tight or loose? Is he aggressive? How aggressive – a maniac, perhaps?

Are they chasers, continue in the hand with very few outs? (Chasers are bound to be losers in the long run.)

Are any of them Calling-Stations who cannot be bluffed out? Are any deceptive, and likely to bluff quite often?

Deceptive players will often slow-play their stronger hands to keep opponents in the hand so they can build bigger pots. Check-raising is another strategy they often use to build the size of the pot. Check from an early/middle position, and then raise after an opponent has bet out, and (hopefully) been called by other players.

Tight players muck their hands before the flop most of the time. Perhaps they are familiar with the Hold’em Algorithm. (See ad for Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the KeyDecision.) On the other extreme, loose players are wont to pay to see the flop more than one out of three hands. (Curiosity killed the cat.) We label them PokerPigeons.

Those are the kind of opponents we usually prefer to play against; invariably, they will lose their money. They may get lucky for a while, but, in the long run, they are losers. (Occasionally you will see one such PokerPigeon get up and leave the table while he is still ahead – before he loses it all back and then some.)

Another way to know how an opponent plays his hands is to observe how he dresses and his overall appearance. Well-dressed, neatly appearing players tend to be play tight, exerting caution in their starting hand selection.

And, of course, there is always the opportunity to look for opponents’ tells. Some will hold out their hole cards ready to muck well in advance of their turn to act. Some will pick up lots of chips in preparation for raising the pot. Always look to your left when trying to decide whether to call or fold.

With a borderline starting hand, it is best to call only if there will be three or more opponents staying to see the flop, and no raises. (We call this the Hold’em Caveat for marginal/borderline starting hands.)

Once you know how your opponents play their hands, you have a big advantage over them – and against the other players who don’t make the effort to evaluate the “enemy.” Now your challenge is deciding how best to use this information in your best interests; i.e., to win more money or to lose much less. It is valuable only if you know how best to accomplish this ultimate goal: Win more; lose less.

By the way, in case you find it hard to remember all this information while playing the game, you can always take notes. Just tuck a small 5x6-inch piece of paper in your shirt pocket; take it out and make a note as you learn more. Make changes as needed. Briefly review your notes as the game progresses.

Next week we will discuss how best to use the information.