Possibly the hardest aspect of poker is deciding whether an opponent is betting with a real hand or is bluffing. This dilemma faces every poker player and it changes from street to street. To become expert in determining the real intent of an opponent’s bet takes time and practice.
What Do Poker Players Do to Get Better at Reading Opponents?
It is very difficult to read an opponent. The rules of sound betting go out the window both when you’re playing very experienced players and very inexperienced players. The purpose or motivation of the two types of opponents are vastly different: the inexperienced player doesn’t fully understand what is going on and may make odd bets whilst the experienced player knows very well what is going on and makes bets to confuse his or her opponents.
It’s relatively easy to learn how to evaluate hands, especially pre-flop. The best medium for doing so is to play poker online. Playing online poker gives you a large number of hands to learn from in a cost-efficient way. At an online casino, you don’t have any of the ancillary costs of going to a land-based casino. In addition, you can play for as long as you like and then go on with your daily life.
At a land-based casino, you are somewhat stuck in a gambling mode since you’re not at home. Furthermore, when you play poker at a land-based casino, you might have a long weekend of gambling. As much as you might like gambling for a long weekend, you still need the convenience of practicing whilst playing online poker.
So, it is a lot easier to evaluate a hand than to know what your opponents’ hands are and why they are betting as they are betting. You can learn how to evaluate poker hands by playing regular casino poker, video poker, and poker against live opponents. The really difficult part is to make excellent analyses about your opponents’ hands.
Betting or Bluffing
A bet comes to you and you either have to call, raise, or fold. You need to decide if the opponent who bet is bluffing or not. There are many factors that go into this determination, including the position the opponent was in when he or she bet and their poker-playing tendencies.
Unless you’re a pro who plays against the same people all the time in tournaments, you’ll probably not have enough time to study an opponent’s betting tendencies in full. However, you can study every move they make from the first hand so that your analysis is at least based on the information you have available to you in that session.
Early Position or Late
A common betting advice is that in a late betting position, you can raise if no one before you has raised. The point of this article is that you don’t always know if a call from an early bettor was a ploy to get you to raise and then the caller will re-raise.
In addition, a re-raise might also be a bluff. So, how do you know what the opponents are really doing?
Play Tight and Pay Attention
Until you have developed a fine sense of what an opponent is doing—and this sense takes a very long time to develop and cultivate—it is wise to play tight. Over the course of a game, you might detect subtle tendencies in an opponent. If you do, you should exploit them as much as possible.
Here we have two aspects of the learning process in poker. You want to play as many hands as possible in order to gain as much experience as possible. On the other hand, you want to conserve your stack until you know how to utilize it better.
So, you should play tight and pay attention as closely as if you were in the pot.
How to Play Tight
One of the best ways to play tight is to not overvalue your hand. The top pros can play bad hands as a ploy to get their tournament opponents guessing, but you are not at that level. You should play only top hands with perhaps a venture into a medium hand once in a while.
You must also never overvalue an opponent. There is a famous YouTube clip of Phil Helmuth cursing out an opponent for making ridiculous bets and then getting lucky and winning a big pot. The mistake that Helmuth made in that hand is he overvalued the skill level of his opponent. It is likely that the opponent didn’t fully understand the hand, but Helmuth assumed that he did and it cost him dearly.
When you play poker online, you can play as tight as you want. Playing tight will keep you in the game for a long time even if you aren’t winning many pots. By playing tight, you can play and see many hands. You should try to learn something from every hand.
One of the most overvalued hands is two low-suited connectors. When you have high cards that are suited and connected, you have much better chances to win, but low-suited connectors will almost always lose the pot. You might get a flush but an opponent might have a better flush. You might get a straight but an opponent might have a better straight. If you flop a pair, it will be a low pair and the chances of a low pair winning a pot are slim.
How to Pay Attention
First of all, people with ADD and ADHD have a really hard time playing poker. Daniel Negreanu tries to appear to be hyper-active but it’s all part of his close attention to detail. He feigns restlessness translated into constant talking, but in reality he is studying every player, every bet, every movement, and the outcome of every hand.
He studies every hand, not just the ones he’s in.
Filter out the World
It sounds impossible but it is truly possible. The deeper we concentrate on one thing, the less we think about everything else. The outside world is a distraction. Of course, there are thousands of little things we need to think about in our daily lives, but when we’re learning how to be better poker players we need to concentrate on poker to the exclusion of almost everything else.
If you let your attention waver, it will take a relatively long time to get back to full attention to the hidden details in poker.
Becoming very good at poker is a long-term project. Just as getting into shape physically is a long-term project that you start slowly so as not to strain previously unused muscles, you should start out your poker education slowly. For some that means one-hour sessions whilst others can go for a longer time or a shorter time.
Combining this piece of advice with the previous one, we get to a very important point in your attention development: when you’re not playing poker and concentrating exclusively on the hand at hand, let yourself go. Become interested in everything around you. Look closely at everything.
There is a lot of wisdom in the notion of letting go, so we’ll speak about it in the next article.