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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

Reading Your Opponents Is a Must to Win at Poker

8 April 2006

Poker is a truly unique gambling game. Other casino games are made up entirely of mathematics. Poker's foundation too is rooted in math and the odds, but you'll never be a winning player if you can't understand and use its vital psychological aspect. That's what makes you more money with your winning hands and saves you money with your losing hands. Here's a good example.

Say you're playing Texas Hold'em, $10/$20 limit and you're holding A/10 in a late seat. The player under the gun (first to act) is wild, loose and losing. He comes into the pot raising it to $20 as he often does, and everybody else folds up to you. If this were a tight, solid player, you shouldn't even call him with a hand like A/10 – he most likely would have that beat going in. You wouldn't even want to flop an Ace, because you'd be likely to have kicker problems (be against A/J or higher) against a sound opponent.

But a wildman who's "stuck" (losing) could also have a whole flock of other, weaker hands like A/5, 9/8, 6/5 suited, 4/4, etc., which the solid player wouldn't play from that seat. So you should call him because, on average, your hand might well be better than his.

Already, we can see that the card game of poker has an important facet that doesn't exist in the card game of blackjack. If you're dealt 14 in blackjack and the dealer – any dealer - shows a 6, you should stand every time. It doesn't matter who you're up against because every dealer in the world must play that 6 the same way. So there's absolutely no psychological analysis in blackjack, but only the odds. In poker, however, your correct play varies according to how your opponent plays.

Okay, let's proceed with our Hold'em hand and take a look at the flop:

A-7-3

You flopped "top pair" – a pretty good hand against a "steamer" (a loser who's playing poorly). Chances are, you've got the best hand. Wildman checks and you bet the $10. He calls. The turn card is an offsuit deuce making the board:

A-7-3-2

Wildman checks again. You go ahead and bet the $20 on your pair of Aces, then Wildman check-raises it to $40. Now stop and think.

If Wildman was just steaming, he probably would have bet $10 right on the flop and just kept on betting. But no. He checked and merely called your flop bet, then checked again to you on the turn. Now, after you've already put a $20 bet into the pot, he cuts loose with the check-raise. This time, Wildman has a big hand. Your pair of Aces with a suspect kicker are no good. Save this $20 plus the $20 on the river, and fold. He's most likely got either "Big Slick" (A/K), or a pocket pair of 7s or 3s.

Somebody who doesn't use psychology to make his decisions would probably go all the way with a pair of Aces when there's no 3-flush or pair on the board, because they'll often be good. But you can save $40 here by reading the situation. Just muck your hand with the confidence that if the hole cards were reversed, Wildman would call you all the way down with his pair of Aces.

The key to reading this hand was the point where the check-raise was made. When a check-raise comes right on the flop, your opponent is usually not all that strong. In fact, many times he will merely have a flush draw or an open-ender. But if he plays it soft until the bigger bet has already been made on the turn, then he was most likely setting a trap with something serious. At these times, you must have the presence of mind to realize this and get away from your hand.

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