Observing poker opponents

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Cory | Poker Articles, Poker Cash Games, Poker Strategy

Submitted by Cory, this article belongs to the Poker Cash Games series.

Observing opponents is one of the key skills to hone as a poker player.  You need to notice what hands your opponents are showing down from which positions, how they bet, and their standard bet size etcetera.  The best time to make these observations is when you’re not in the hand.

When you’re in a pot, you have a personal vested interest on what you want the results to be.  If you’re trying to make a read in this situation, you’ll tend to put opponents on what you want them to have, in other words, any hand that you can still beat rather than what they really might have.  However, if you’re not in this pot, the outcome of the hand has little effect on you, so you’re better able to make a non-biased, logical assessment of what each player might hold.

When you fold is the perfect time to engage yourself in the hand.  You might pick up a key body language tell that might help you when you are faced with a call for all of your chips with a marginal holding.  You may pick up a betting pattern where an opponent bets half pot when he wants a call and ¾ pot when he wants you to fold.  Players let far too much information just pass by after they fold because the football game on the big screen demands their attention once their hand is in the muck.  If they could only see how much money it costs them later on.

The tricky thing with tells is that the same reaction could mean the complete opposite when one person does it than another.  Many people who are weak tend to talk a lot more than normal.  I call this the nervous babble and it tends to happen in periods of high stress, the police pulled you over and you ramble on about how you were speeding because your mother is in the hospital and proceed to want to tell your whole life story, or going out on a date with the prettiest most popular girl at school.  However, with other people, they just like to talk a lot, so the nervous babble is less reliable and some people who normally talk a lot completely shut down when they’re bluffing.

Another great tell is the way people place chips in to the pot.  However, so many people know about the strong is weak and weak is strong system of tells they are often reversed or reverse reversed, but against novices it is still very effective.

One of my all-time favorites is when a player bets, it’s up to me to act and the player behind me is cutting out a big raise when it’s still my turn.  This means he’s almost never raising and is likely calling if I call and almost 100% of the time folding if I raise.  I see this so much on my live tables that I make it a point to get this player on my left because I know when he cuts out chips while the action is on me I can safely call with a draw and raise with a hand I want to isolate.

Observation is also paramount online.  Sometimes with the distractions of home and six tables, picking up on things can be a little more difficult than not watching the cocktail waitresses or sports on TV at a live casino, but is still required nonetheless.  Though body language clues are absent from the on line game, you still need to be paying attention to bet sizing and getting an idea of how your opponents value their hands.

Online tells become more of a question of based on your previous history with this player are they capable of showing down specific hands in a certain spot.  If a very tight player raises from UTG are they capable of having K9D, probably not, so if the board comes out K, 9, 2, you don’t really need to worry about them having two pair against your Ace King.

If you practice your reading skills on line just trying to narrow down your opponent’s possible range in each hand, when you play live you can use this same information and also add in the prospect of physical tells and opponent observation becomes a huge edge that very few players are taking full advantage of.

Try it next time you play.  Block out all other stimuli and you’ll be amazed at how easy that fold was when you just know your opponent is showing strength based on your impartial observations.  Just see how many pots that you thought were easy folds become great stealing opportunities because you noticed that bet has always meant weakness.  Tells and betting patterns are not meant to be noticed just when you’re in the hand, but their meant to be picked up on when you’re not in the hand and taken advantage of when you’re money is at stake.

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1 Comment to Observing poker opponents

Fubusama
July 22, 2010

This is a great article on watching your opponents. Way too often players are not paying attention to the action when they are not in the hand, what a huge mistake!

Keep up the great work.

@Fubusama

PS I’ve linked this article in my Guide.
.-= Fubusama´s last blog ..Ultimate Guide to Poker- 25 Essential Tips to Make you a Winning Player =-.

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