BY RUSS SCOTT
RELEASE: TUESDAY, FEB. 9, 2010
New Players Trying to “Read” Opponents Should Simplify Process
Beyond calculating odds and picking hands to play, newcomers to poker also need people-reading skills and a way to mentally store their observations. This week, an Illinois player asks for help with that.
Q: In attempting to take my game to the next level, I’ve concluded that my biggest weakness (that I know of) is my memory. What is a good way to develop opponent-reading skills and RETAIN that information? — Aaron G. in Moline, Ill.
A: Every serious new player can relate to what you wrote:
“I have a hard time remembering who plays what hands from what positions, betting patterns, etc. This seems especially true in my live play. I do a good job focusing and observing, but sometimes I tend to panic when it comes time to use any information and I start to draw a blank. What results, obviously, is I make the wrong move and it costs me in chips.”
First, Aaron, I really like your dedication to improve by checking hand histories online, reading books, etc. For you to come up with “memory” as a weakness is a good sign you’re thinking correctly.
The time, effort and brain power a player devotes to reading opponents and remembering their playing tendencies can make a huge difference in results. But, as you learned, the effort can cause mental overload, confusion and mistakes.
I recommend you simplify the process. At this stage, you should consider a two-tiered approach.
Step 1: Categorize opponents based on their playing style — super-fast, solid, tricky, etc. The words don’t matter, but your labels should mean something specific to you and guide how you play against them. For simplicity’s sake, limit the categories to five or six.
When you join a table of strangers, immediately start watching their hand selection, betting tendencies, demeanor, etc., and mentally assign one of your general labels to each. It will take about an hour to label everyone.
For example, a player you labeled “hopeful” is calling too often with marginal cards and rarely folds. So, you know not to try a total bluff against him, but you can bet decent hands and expect to be paid off.
Watch for signs of labeling mistakes; it could mean an opponent has changed gears. Don’t alter their classification until you’re sure, but at least put an asterisk on their label indicating you might be facing a tricky opponent (the most difficult kind).
Step 2: In observing specific hands, such as your example of the woman twice playing K-2 under the gun, be careful not to demand too much of your brain. Ideally you’d like to keep track of all nine opponents’ tendencies and hand histories, but most of us can’t.
So, again, simplify and limit the effort, at least for now. In that first hour of observation, you should be able to identify the two most dangerous opponents and the two least dangerous. Pay special attention to their hand selections so you can get a good read in key situations.
Against good players, for example, that strong read can save you money or give you bluffing opportunities because they’re capable of folding. Against weak players, especially those who can’t be bluffed, your read can maximize wins and minimize losses.
Everyone else at the table should fall somewhere in between in ability, and they likely will be playing closer to a normal tight-aggressive style. Base your play against them on whatever category you chose for them under Step 1.
Don’t tax your memory beyond this for now. The whole process will get easier and more automatic over time.
If it makes you feel better, remember that even the game’s greatest players make bad reads and decisions — but fewer of them than the rest of us.
E-mail your poker questions and comments to email@example.com for use in future columns. To find out more about Russ Scott and read previous LuckyDog Poker columns, visit www.creators.com or www.luckydogpoker.com.
COPYRIGHT 2010 RUSS SCOTT
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