Studying your poker opponent crucial

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“Know your enemy!” That’s essential if you want to be a winner. In a casino with its rake and other “costs to play,” 80%-90% of poker players are bound to be losers. You can be one of the “lucky” 10%-20% – the winners.

A new player comes to your table. You have never seen – or played against – him before. You have no prior knowledge as to what kind of player he is.

Appearance

He is neat, clean shaven, and relatively well-dressed. Conclusion: He is probably a conservative (tight) player. The opposite is likely if he is careless about his appearance and clothing. Perhaps he neglected to comb his hair. Sunglasses hide his eyes. His chips are not stacked orderly. He is probably a loose-deceptive player – plays many hands and is likely to bluff often.

Spending

He buys-in for several times the minimum – probably a loose player and possibly aggressive. He is prone to raise with half-way decent holecards.

What if he buys into the game for the minimum required by the casino? In that case, peg him as a tight player, and less likely to play aggressively – unless he has a very strong hand. That’s important information when playing in a hand where he raises – especially from an early position. Tight players are to be respected, even feared, when they raise.

Upon being seated, the new arrival tells the dealer he will wait for the button to pass him before being dealt in.

Skilled players use this strategy to learn how their opponents play and assess the texture of the table before getting involved. Conclusion: He is a prudent player – bound to play well. Label him a PokerShark; have respect for him. He is playing to win! On the other hand, a PokerPigeon comes to the table to play; winning is less important.

Important

As he starts playing, observe how often he stays (invests his chips) to see the flop. If he consistently plays more than one out of three hands dealt to him, tentatively label him a loose player. He is playing many marginal or mediocre holecards – possibly very poor starting-hands.

If he is also passive (calls bets but rarely raises), all the better. Loose-passive players are the kind we like to play against! They are bound to be losers in the long run.

On the other extreme, if he pays to see the flop only one out of four hands or fewer, he is a tight (conservative) player. Be cautious when he raises; he probably has a big hand.

We are all familiar with maniacs – players who love to bet, raise and re-raise. A big maniac might do so almost every hand he plays. Two or more at a table can be treacherous. (Change tables!)

Try to get seated to the maniac’s left, so he acts before you must declare. Then you can easily fold a marginal drawing hand in which you would otherwise invest to see the flop – if it were a multi-way pot with no raises. (We label this concept the “Hold’em Caveat.”)

If our new player fits this category, and you find yourself seated to his right, you have two options. Move to his left or to another table. On the other hand, if we observe that he is rather timid – folds whenever there is a raise unless he has a super hand, plan to bluff him out often.

Bottom Line

It pays to evaluate your opponents – the enemy. There are many ways and opportunities to do so.

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George 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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