Poker Lesson 14

On the importance of observing your opponents
I have by now several times preached on the importance of generally entering the pot with good starting hands (though at times you will and should take calculated risks!), and on the importance of respecting the immutable laws of poker mathematics; but now I will introduce another factor which is equally important when taking your first decision in each hand of hold'em, ie. whether you should fold, call or raise.

And this factor is: How do your opponents play? Which of them are "tight" (= only enter pots when they have good starting hands), and which are "loose" (= more inclined to gamble with a wider range of starting hands, including hands worse than yours)?

When a player before you raises, you may (and should) interpret it in different ways. Let us assume that it is before the flop = the first betting round, and that you are in fifth position, holding 10-10 ("pocket Tens") as your starting hand.

The first player folds; the second player raises; the third and fourth players both fold, and now it is your turn to act. What do you do now?

This is where knowledge of your opponents comes into play. Never forget to constantly study your opponents whenever you are seated at a poker table, whether live or on the Internet! If you from experience know that Player #2 is a "loose" player, meaning inclined to take chances with hands such as K-5 or 3-3, you should re-raise with your pocket Tens, for two reasons: first of all to get the remaining players to fold so that you cut down on the competition, but secondly to force the loose Player 2 to take another decision, which may be expensive for him.

If Player 2 however is a "rock" (= you know he or she enters the pot very seldom and then only with very good starting cards), and you know from experience that he would have been very unlikely to put in that first raise with anything less than pocket Jacks? Then you should think about either folding right now to save money, or to call in order to see how the other players will react, and to take a look at the flop – and on rare occasions you should of course re-raise the other player, as a semi-bluff.

But what if instead all four players before you fold, you raise with your pocket Tens, and the player on the button re-raises? Then once again you will find all your knowledge about that player useful, in order to decide whether he/she is capable of re-raising as a bluff, or is 99% likely to do that only with a "monster" hand (= an extremely strong hand).

Therefore make sure you pay attention, from the very first moment you sit down at the table, to what all your opponents are doing. Remember the types of hands they expose at the showdowns, in order to form an idea about their playing patterns. And keep in mind the classical proverb in poker: "If you can't point out the beginner at the table within the first thirty minutes, the beginner is you."