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Playing competitive games such as poker, it helps to have as much information as possible about your opponents.  

You are at your favorite casino and get seated at a low-limit Texas hold’em table where you recognize some of your about-to-be foes because you have played against them recently. So, you have a pretty good idea of what kind of players they are, and can adjust your key decisions accordingly.   

For example, if you know an opponent is a very tight player, you will muck your mediocre hole cards or, at very least, play very cautiously when he comes out betting pre-flop – even more so if he raises.  Save those chips for another hand.  However, if you know he’s very aggressive, try to be seated as close to his left as possible, so he must act before it’s your turn to declare. Knowing each of your opponents’ playing traits is important information. Use it to your best advantage. 

What about the “new” player against whom you have never played before? Many of us are prone to look at how many chips he has in front of him. Multiple racks suggest a winner; lonely chips suggest a loser. You are bound to play more cautiously against the perceived winners – less aggressively and less likely to go for a bluff.. It’s just the opposite when playing a hand against losers; aggressive play is one of your weapons (unless your losing opponent has gone on tilt and gets reckless).    

 How reliable is chip count as a measure of his win rate? Why do some start with several full racks of chips?  For one thing, it earns him a psychological edge over his opponents.

If you watch carefully, that opponent proudly seated behind all those racks of chips may actually not be ahead in this game. I have seen players arrive at the table with three – even four – full racks. Why do you suppose they do that? Why not just start out with one full rack of chips (or less, in a low limit hold’em game) – as do most other players? 

In my opinion (I admit that I am speculating), such players want you to think of them as big winners. That’s the image they want to create in their opponents’ minds, including yours. Then you will – perhaps subconsciously – fall victim to their bluffs and tend to fold more often – even when you have a strong drawing hand with lots of outs and a positive expectation.   

On rare occasions, I have observed a player who started with four full racks, replenish a full rack after losing a few big hands. Why does he want so many chips continuously displayed before him?  Opinion:  He wants to keep that image of being a big winner in his opponents’ minds. Those players who are too busy watching the football game up on the big TV screen on the wall, or enjoying their dinner while playing (there are many such players), often will fail to observe that re-buy and, hence, unable to consider its significance.  

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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