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This is the last of the 10 mistakes originally selected by our Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Lab. I wondered why Failing to “Read” Your Opponents wasn’t higher on the list. My next two columns will announce the winners who submitted their candidates for what we will henceforth call the “Dirty Dozen” – the Top 12 Mistakes Limit Hold’em players make.

In poker, there are two types of “reads.”

1. Reading the Player

When you evaluate your opponents, you are getting a “read” on how each plays his hands. That’s important if you expect to be a winning poker player. Is he tight or loose? Is he a “rock,” calling only with made or premium hands? Passive or aggressive? Is he a maniac, raising almost every hand? Is he a “calling station” who calls all bets? Is he deceptive – bluffing, slow-playing, and check-raising? Is he on tilt and likely to bet or raise on impulse or in desperation to try to get even in a hurry?

Often there is a pattern of play. It’s like a blueprint that you can later use to your own advantage. This is not difficult; but it does take conscientious effort. Most players practice this aspect to some degree. It’s there staring you in the face. But it is an art; few are truly expert.

2. Reading his Hand

The other form of “reading” is when you put your opponent on a hand. Based on his pattern of play, the cards on the board, how he has bet so far and the type of player he is, you can make a guess as to what he has in the hole. This is where most players are likely to be lacking. How good are your guesses? But it is important.

For example, if you firmly believe your opponent is trying to bluff, you can take advantage of this and take a pot with a hand you might otherwise have folded. If your “read” indicates several possible hands, almost all of which have your hand beaten, you can save chips by folding to his bet. But if you doubt the accuracy of your “read,” then it makes sense to rely on the pot odds to make your decision whether or not to call on the river.

It’s an Art

Some players never try to get a “read” on an opponent’s hand. They are too busy focusing on their own hands. Smarter players try to “put” an opponent on a single hand – and then make the mistake of sticking with that assumption throughout the play of the hand. The really astute player will “put” his opponent on a range of hands, adjusting his “read” as the hand progresses, depending on how his opponent reacts to the board cards and bets made during the play of the hand. Being able to do this is an art; it’s certainly not science. It’s best learned by practice and requires consistent awareness and effort.

Most poker players have not developed this skill, or they do not have the inclination to make the effort. (I’ve been told that most people are naturally mentally lazy. Is that true?) Being able to observe and interpret tells is another skill that can help in reading an opponent’s hand.

I wondered why “Failing to Read Your Opponent’s Hand” was relegated to last place by the members of our Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Lab. My best guess is that it reflects their own manner of play: They, themselves, are not adept at reading opponents’ hands. It’s not easy, but still it is a mistake to fail to “read” your opponent’s hand.

Comments? George “The Engineer” Epstein can be contacted at [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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