You cannot consider yourself a very good poker player unless you are at least competent at reading hands. Hand-reading represents a gateway skill to advanced poker. Once you acquire this skill, at least to some degree, you can begin to play a few more hands profitably and start looking for the types of plays described below.
In Part II, we will look at the final group:
Avoiding Traps: Amarillo Slim Preston is fond of saying “All trappers don’t wear fur hats.” In fact, many of them wear eyeshades, poker jackets and sunglasses indoors. Poker traps come in an enormous number of disguises and nobody avoids them all. I will point out a few here that occur frequently.
Your aggressive opponent raises before the flop and gets a couple of callers. After the flop, they check to the raiser, who uncharacteristically checks! What is going on? Has he suddenly become timid? Did he miss the flop completely and just does not to waste a bet? Well, no. If he missed the flop, he would bet just in case the others missed as well, hoping they would fold. Instead, he has hit so much of the flop that he feels a need to check and either hope the others catch a second best hand, or that they bet into him so he can raise them on the turn for additional large bets. Remarkably, this ploy works frequently, which is why people keep doing it.
You limp in late with a hand like 98s. The flop comes Q88, there is a bet and call to you, you raise (good play!) and they call. Now the turn is a Q. They check to the raiser (you) and you bet. One of the players calls. Gee, what does he have? Does he have a pair like 99, and is calling in the hope that you were raising with nothing? Does he have an ace, and is calling hoping to get a split pot if you have an ace too, so you both have two pair with the same kicker? Well, no. Almost certainly he has a queen, and is sitting with queens full. He is afraid to check-raise the turn as he does not want to drive you out. When the river comes, he will either bet right out, or check again, hoping to get a check-raise. His choice depends on how he plays and what he thinks of how savvy you are.
Finally, a subtle example. You are in the big blind with J6 and get a free play in a 6-way pot. The small blind is an expert player. The flop comes 882, and everyone checks. The turn is an ace and everyone checks again. Now the river is a jack (giving you jacks and eights with an ace. The pro bets from the small blind. Should you call, raise or fold? Most players will call here, figuring the pro has a jack, and they will be splitting the pot. But in reality, you should fold, as the pro cannot hold a jack. First, there is no point betting a jack (for a thinking player), since nobody will call with anything less at this point, and there are still five players to act. Second, there is no point bluffing into five players, as it is quite likely that one of them does hold a jack. So what does the pro have? Possibly an 8, but most likely an ace. Why not bet the ace on the turn? There is little danger in giving a free card if the pro is ahead, and if someone else also has an ace, the pro’s kicker might not be good. There is also a decent chance that someone slow-played an eight on the flop, and the pro does not want to have to decide how to proceed if raised (or waste a bet if it goes bet-raise-reraise). But the river presents an excellent chance to pick up a bet from a player with a jack who might not see the trap.
Winning without the best hand: Pretty much everyone wins or loses with their Sbobet Indonesia Aces, Kings, Queens and AKs. Many times, however, no premium hands are dealt. In these circumstances, the pot does not always go to the player who happens to own the best hand. Or even the one who makes the best hand. The pot sometimes goes to the player who convinces the others that he has the best hand, and does it in such a way that the others fold before the showdown.
Successful bluffing is easiest against players who can also read cards. You paint a picture of a holding you might have that they can clearly see they cannot beat, and they fold. You do not need a hand as much as you need an excellent imagination and an ability to look at things from your opponents’ perspective. You read from your opponents’ actions how likely they are to be strong or weak. You determine from the texture of the flop what sort of hand they might be afraid of. You look at whether your previous actions would have been consistent with your having such a hand. Then you bet/raise to represent it, they believe you, and you take down the pot. Simple, huh?
Of course, it is anything but simple. It’s an acquired skill, and it is something top professionals do daily to win pots to which they are not entitled.
Inducing calls and bluffs: Making 1 BB per hr requires winning an occasional bet that another player might not realize is available or know how to get. Pros are always thinking about how to extract the maximum bets from any favorable situation that might arise. When holding what is likely the best hand, they do not just think “bet, bet, bet,” but “how can I play this hand to get the most out of it.” Frequently, this requires playing the hand more slowly, or even with more risk of losing, just to get one extra bet.
For example, in a head up situation, a pro has two pair on the turn. After his opponent checks, he feels there is a good likelihood that the opponent will now fold. So instead of betting and winning the pot, he checks. This play may embolden the opponent to bluff the river. Or is may cause enough doubt in the opponent that after a blank falls and the opponent checks, the pro now bets, and the opponent may make a curiosity call. Either way, the pro makes a bet that a more straightforward player might not get.
Playing the players: Bad players provide most of a pro’s income. Tight pros simply wait until they have a good hand, then play it and hope the bad players are in with their bad hands to add extra money to the pot. However, top pros will alter their hand selection criteria and playing style substantially to get into pots with the bad players.
You are probably familiar with isolation plays, in which someone three-bets another player to eliminate others and get heads up. Some pros extend this concept to playing substandard hands if a weak player is involved. Others may even forego a raise and simply call if the weak player is behind them and they feel the raise might eliminate the poor player.
Of course, after the flop, the pro will play in such a way as to exploit the bad player’s specific weakness (calling too much, being too timid, bluffing too often). Playing in this manner will add significantly to the volatility of the pro, but the long-range profit available from simply being in pots with losing players will eventually create profits.