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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

How's Your Poker Opponent Doing in the Game?

24 May 2003

A prime reason why poker is such a mentally challenging game is because your opponents can play their hands any way they please. In blackjack, you never have to worry that the dealer might decide to stand with 15 against your 14 if he happens to have a 10 underneath his 5 showing. You know proof positive that he'll definitely hit his hand, and that's precisely why you can stand with your 14 against his 5 up.

In poker, however, some opponents will raise you with the exact same hand that another player might only call with or even fold. To make things even more complicated, the same opponent might raise you one time, but just check and call another time with the very same hand. Lots of good players will vary their play like this to keep you off balance, but all too often the impetus for playing the same hand different ways is a person's emotional state at the moment.

You see, the majority of poker players are more conservative and think more clearly when they're winning than when they're losing. Most of us come into the poker room with a positive mental attitude and a pretty clear game plan. But after Lady Luck and the psychological ploys of other players have ruffled our feathers, we sometimes veer off path and play less than our best game.

Because of this, there are times when a certain player might play his hand a certain way against you that indicates you're probably beat and you should go out. Yet at other times, those same strong signs from that same player shouldn't be taken quite so seriously. Look at the following Texas Hold'em hand:

  Your Hand  
A/10



  Ac - 3h - 6d -- 10s  
The Board
  Opponent's Hand  
?/?

There was no raise before the flop. You checked when the A/3/6 flopped as kind of a slowplay and your opponent bet. Happily, you called. When the 10 fell on the turn to make you Aces up, you coyly checked again, hoping to maximize your profit on the hand. Your opponent obligingly bet again, then you check/raised him and to your surprise and dismay -- he re-raised you.

Now, normally his re-raise after having been check/raised at this late stage of the hand would be such an aggressive move that he'd almost have to have a set of 3s or 6s (trips) and you should probably fold. If you're opponent is thinking straight, he realizes that either the 10 helped you big time, or you were laying a trap all along -- yet he came back over the top with another raise. But wait! Before deciding what to do, you need to ask yourself this question;

HOW IS MY OPPONENT DOING
IN THE GAME AT THE MOMENT?

Suppose it's a $10/$20 game and he's stuck $1000. Is he the type of player who flips a little open at these times? If so, he might only be thinking about the quality of his own hand, and wants to get back all the money he can as fast as he can. He may no longer be thinking rationally enough to realize that your check/raise means you've got a pretty strong hand yourself. The stress of his losing may have warped his reasoning -- and his patience. In this spot, he might very well only have A/3 or A/6 and you must call.

This is a rather extreme example of how you should not only play the player, but also play that player's mood at the time. The situation will not always be as graphic as this, but the same principle applies. You may have been betting all along in a stud hand with:

3-Q / Q - 3 - 10

when your opponent shows:

?-? / 7 - J - 7

Being high on board with an open pair of 7s, he bets into you. Now, when a solid player who's on his game pairs his door card like this you should usually recognize the heavily looming threat of trips and fold. But if your opponent is stuck and steaming, you're simply going to have to call him down since there are so many other lesser hands he might be playing in his current mental state.

The point is that there are some solid players who behave nearly the same whether they're way out in front or stuck like a pig -- but not many! The more gamble a poker player has in him, the more that tendency to gamble sneaks out when he's losing. So when it suddenly looks like you've become the "trappee" instead of the trapper, stop and take note of your opponent's playing style and whether he's winning or losing. If he gambles just to gamble and he's good and stuck, you're going to have to call him down when it would normally appear that you should give your hand up.

Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send $9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

Books by Fred Renzey:

> More Books By Fred Renzey

Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send $9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

Books by Fred Renzey:

Blackjack Bluebook II

> More Books By Fred Renzey