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Gaining an advantage over poker opponents occurs when knowing how they play while they have little awareness about you.

That information can make all the difference in the world. What kinds of hands make them stay to see the flop? What hands do they raise with? How aggressive are they? Are they deceptive?

It’s easy to evaluate your opponents. Just observe! If a player stays to see the flop for more than half the hands, he’s a loose player – a Poker Pigeon.

Whereas, a player who folds three out of four hands without seeing the flop, is a tight player – likely a Poker Shark. If there are more than two Poker Sharks at your table, consider making a table change. It’s hard to win any money from them.

Whenever the hole cards are shown face up, observe what kind of starting hands each opponent stayed in with, what they raised with and how that played their hands.

You will be surprised how many Poker Pigeons play any ace, even when the kicker is a small card and unsuited. Keep in mind which players make that mistake.

Occasionally you will find a player who does not raise preflop with a made hand. He simply does not understand the statistical probabilities related to such hands.

Often you will find a Poker Pigeon with a small pocket pair going all the way in the hope of improving on the turn or the river. He doesn’t understand the odds of improving to a set are so much against him.

Observing the hands at showdown is an opportunity to determine if your opponent is deceptive (“tricky”). Does he like to bluff?

Maniacs: You may observe a very aggressive player often betting and raising. A “maniac” raises almost every opportunity. (I find few female maniacs.) Knowing this, you can take steps to protect your chips or take advantage of him.

Try to get seated as close as possible to the maniac’s immediate left. Then you can see if he raises before you must declare, and take advantage of the situation.

If you hold a made hand – A-A, K-K, or Q-Q – you re-raise to chase out opponents behind you. Then you gain position when the other opponents behind you fold. If everyone folds to the maniac, that’s OK too.

What if you are seated to the right of the maniac and must declare before him? Options: Change tables, take a break while waiting for a seat to his left to become available. You can play conservatively.

If a player to the maniac’s left is preparing to leave the game, tell the dealer you would like to move into that seat when it is vacated.

Reading hands: Wouldn’t it be great if you actually knew each opponent’s hole cards? You’d hardly ever lose a hand you played to the river. Well, unless the cards are shown, the best you can do is make an educated guess. It helps that you have evaluated your opponent.

Example: A tight player calls all the way to the river. Then he comes out betting when a third spade hits the board. Your two-pair is not a likely winner. If the pot is small, why waste another big bet? Fold.

On the other hand, if your observations indicate that he’s a deceptive player, often bluffing, you might even re-raise. Without knowledge of your opponents’ playing traits, it is impossible to get a good “read.”

Send your comments or questions for “The Engineer” to [email protected].


About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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