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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

Poker Tells Take Your Performance Beyond the Odds

17 April 2004

Poker and blackjack are two casino games that can be beaten by skillful players. The way you beat blackjack is by having knowledge of the remaining cards and playing all the odds out to the "nth" degree. To beat poker though, while playing the odds does matter, the most important thing is to play the player. Here's the difference.

When you play blackjack, the dealer doesn't know what card she has in the hole. So you play your hand assuming that every other unknown card has an equal chance to be there. Combine that with larger bets when lots of high cards are left and you have the upper hand in the overall game. That's playing it by the odds.

Now when you're playing poker, things are quite different. In poker you should actually raise some hands against certain players and fold that same hand against other players. Playing the odds is fine, but in the end, psychology more so than the odds separates poker winners from poker losers. Why is this so?

Since a blackjack dealer has no idea what she has and has no stake in the outcome, every dealer plays a given hand the same exact way. So the only thing left for you to do is figure out all her odds.

In poker you have much more than that available to you. That's because no two poker players play a given hand quite the same way. You'd need to recognize this fact, and pay attention to how each individual tends to play a particular type of hand. If you don't, you'll fall behind the game because everybody's trying to recognize how you play. The player who recognizes the most about his opponents' tendencies is the guy who usually gets the money.

So how do you recognize these tendencies? Watch the hands play out when you're not in the pot. That's when your mind is free to notice everybody's personal behavior. Throughout the course of a poker game, players will make several "artificial" moves designed to elicit a certain reaction. If you can recognize the true intention of these moves, you've turned those moves into "tells" and can profit from that extra information. The next time you play poker, see if you notice any of the following common tells being given by your opponents.

  1. Your opponent bets, waits motionless for three or four seconds and then pump-fakes his cards towards the muck, as if he expects you to fold. This move is usually designed to cause you to become defensive and to call. When in doubt, just give him the pot.
  2. Your opponent throws his chips into the pot and says something like, "If you got it -- you got it" or "No way can you call this bet". Most of the time, this player has a solid hand and is looking for a call. Unless you're pretty strong yourself, throw your hand away.
  3. You're first to act and while you're thinking, the player behind you begins to reach for his chips as if to call a bet. Well, guess what? He's got a weak hand, can't call and is trying to stop you from betting. Fire those chips out there -- even if you'd be bluffing! Most of the time, you'll pick up the pot right there.
  4. You're at the river and have just made a bet with a fairly good hand. Your opponent pauses for several seconds as if uncertain whether to call or not. Then he raises you! The old "delay raise" is usually concocted to put enough doubt in your mind to make sure you call that raise. This opponent has probably made a huge hand.
  5. It's early in the hand, say on the flop in Hold'em or on fourth street in 7 Stud. You're first to act, have a decent hand and bet it. Instantaneously, your opponent raises with animated vigor and forcefulness. More often than not, this manner of raise is intended to "slow you down" on the next betting street. If the game is Hold'em, look at the board to see if there's a straight draw or flush draw. If it's a Stud game, review your opponent's board for the same things. If the straight or flush card doesn't come out on the next card, bet right into him again.

Recognizing these and many other tells transcends the long term odds. They narrow it down to what's happening right here -- in this hand -- right now.

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