(First in a two-part series)
Sometimes poker writers, in their zeal to chronicle winning strategies and techniques, fail to address the human mechanics of the game.
For example, if a player fails to protect his cards from another player, no amount of bluffing will convince his opponent to drop. If a player’s face lights up when he makes a draw, he loses any chance at check raise or even a call.
Low-limit games and satellites are often stocked with players who could have modeled for the Book of Tells. Many pros believe "playing the player" is as critical as playing the cards. Here are a few tips that can help understand the mechanics of playing.
The first thing a player must learn to do is memorize his cards so that he is not constantly reviewing his hole cards. Almost invariably, the cards you were dealt remain the same cards throughout the hand. Trust me. The easiest way to remember your cards is to say them to yourself mentally, i.e., "ace of hearts, six of diamonds."
And don’t move your lips when you do this or you are wasting your time. When you have a good card or a pair hit from your flush draw, you will not give out any clues. Also, players watching you will never know whether you liked a new card or not. So put a chip over your cards and watch the other players.
It is always better to look ahead of the betting to see how players are reacting to the bets, but don’t make the mistake of watching a player who you fear, or wincing when your flush or pair cards are dealt to someone else.
Watching players when the turn card hits will give you much more information than looking at the card as it is turned. Stud players can see who the last round bettor is afraid of if he looks at another player’s hand before he checks. The poker face rule applies during the play of the hand.
Beginners often try to manipulate other players by acting sad or happy, but if their act is patently obvious, they might as well show their cards. Take a tip from the pros. Give your opponents nothing with which to work and you will be much tougher to read.
Learn to look at your cards without flashing them to your neighbors. Do not rearrange your up cards in stud. After you have memorized your cards, do the same thing every time. Put a chip over them. Don’t fidget or make folding motions and don’t look down at your chips or reach for any chips. Keep your hands relaxed and your posture straight until it is your turn to act.
If you missed your draw, don’t stare at your cards as if wishing for some other result. More information is leaked by players acting out of turn than any other method.
Place your chips out in a timed deliberate motion every time. You can practice this at home until you get it consistent.
Players who throw chips or slam chips down or rush to get their chips out or hesitate are just broadcasting to the other players. If you have a great hand and want a call on the end, do not bet before the last card. Surrender your hand at the same pace. Make it seem as if you are considering a call when you have no intention of calling and a raise when you are only going to call.
Your opponents might give you some extra information by cringing or looking back out of the corner of their eye. If your hand is so strong that you would raise automatically, slow your pace down to the same as when you call so only you know you can’t be beaten.
At the showdown, the etiquette is to let the last bettor or raiser show his hand first. So let him. The fewer cards you show your opponents, the harder you are to read. If you were last bettor and you think you are beaten, you can call out a general description of your hand. "Two pair," but don’t name them. Take a beat and see if your opponent is going to show you his cards first. You may be able to fold without showing your hand. I am not advocating delaying the game, just take a beat or two and then open your hand if you get no reaction.