How Past Actions Dictate Future Decisions

Gilbert Diaz
Never take your eyes off your opponents.

Success in live poker depends on learning your opponents and their motives and then using that information to your advantage in later hands.

Online, tons of players have come to rely almost exclusively on poker tracking software and a heads-up display (HUD) attached to their table to do that for them.

At the very basic level, the software remembers the actions of your opponents in every hand and lets you access the stored information, giving you insight into how they play and how you can tailor your own play to take advantage of it.

Unfortunately, this online HUD training is of little help to you AFK ("away from keyboard" for the non-CHUDS out there).

In live poker, all you have to count on is your own head. So you better be using it to keep track of what's happened as you've played.

The Live Game

Online, you're primarily playing against the aforementioned HUD numbers rather than against the opponents.

If your opponent is a 60/10/1 (very loose calling station), you'll play a wide open game to take advantage of him. Against an 8/4/2 (very tight nit), you'll play completely different.

In the live game, you obviously don't have these numbers for players at the table.

The only help you get is what you can remember from previous sessions. In most cases, though, you'll have never played with - or can't remember - the majority of them.

Daniel Negreanu and Phil Ivey
Some players are easier to profile than others.

In this case, you need to build a profile for each player at the beginning of your session.  Every hand they play (or don't play) needs to be monitored and committed to memory as much as possible.

Exploiting your opponent's game is the ultimate goal of poker. The more information you have on what they're doing, and why they're doing it, the easier time you will have taking his or her money.

And only when you have a strong, accurate profile of your opponent's game can you modify your own game to suit it.

Building a General Impression

The first thing you need to develop is a general impression of every player at the table and the type of game they're choosing to play.

This is as simple as actively paying attention to hands played and making note of anything that stands out.

Things you want to look for:

  • Player checking the nuts
  • Bluffs, large and small
  • Large calls with marginal hands
  • Tells
  • Willingness to draw
  • Pre-flop aggression
  • General poker awareness and knowledge

Everything a player does or doesn't do is a clue. Do they play too many hands, or are they playing too few? Are they able to fold a hand? Are they capable of making a bluff?

Once you know all of this information, and more, about your opponents, you will have little trouble knowing how to play them.

If you've decided your opponent is incapable of folding a hand, you no longer have to consider making a bluff against them.

Marcel Luske
PokerStars team patches make for easy profiling.

Good is in the Details

Once you have a general impression, you want to hone in on the players that you think are the easiest to exploit and find as many details as you can about their game.

What kinds of hands do they like to play, and in what situations? Why are they playing the game in the first place? What's his or her goal? How strong do they think they are? How strong do they think I am?

There are countless details to be found for every player. Take the time to make sure you get it right.

It's important to know if the player likes to three-bet drawing hands such as 6 7, but will only call with hands such as A K. Do they have any superstitions? Are they scared of any hands?

An example:

The player a couple seats to your right is an overly aggressive player who really likes to bluff and bully. He also figures that he's the best player at the table.

In an earlier hand you witnessed him three-bet all-in on the turn with no pair, no draw. His opponent called with an open-ended straight-flush draw and missed all outs.

About 20 hands later you find yourself in a hand with the guy. You call his pre-flop raise with a hand you would normally never call a raise with. You believe that you stand to take his entire stack if he makes a similar bluff into you as he did earlier.

Keeping in mind that even the worst players are dealt the best hands just as often as the rest of us. You still need to play the hand with due diligence; just because it's him, doesn't mean he doesn't have a monster.

You flop top pair jacks with a king kicker. He bets out, and at this point you're most likely ahead. The only hands you lose to are AA, KK, AK or some random set or two pair.

If you raise, you'll never get called by any hand other than the ones that have you crushed. On top of that, a raise will shut down his bluffing on any later streets.

You just call. The turn's a blank, and he bets again. The situation hasn't changed, so you make another easy call.

If you're Luke Schwartz, you just assume all players are fish.

The river comes a blank and he instantly moves all in. At this point you should be as convinced as you can be that he is bluffing.

Moving all in is the scariest thing a player can do in a poker game. If he wanted your call, chances are he would bet less. It's still possible that you're beat, but it's highly unlikely.

You make the call with your one pair, and take down the pot beating his A 10 - again no pair, no draw.

Although this call wasn't particularly impressive, it would have been almost impossible to make without having the knowledge of his previous actions.

If that had been the first hand you were dealt, you would have been forced to fold - most likely pre-flop.

Information is King

The first step at a poker table is collecting the information; the second step is putting the information to use.

You also need to constantly update what you know of each player as the game progresses to make sure the information you're acting on is current and accurate.

Never forget: at the poker table, the man with the most information is king.

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