Top 5 Ways to Judge New Poker Opponents

Published On: 24 November 2008 / Modified: 29 June 2018
Created By: Ronnie Schwartz
Joao Barbosa

For the most part in life, we're taught to be respectful and courteous toward strangers and not jump to conclusions about someone solely based on what they look like.

The classic adage to "not judge a book by its cover" is a valuable life lesson to absorb at any age. But in poker - as with many other rules - there is an exception.

In poker, sometimes all we have is the cover of the book, and thus we need to hone our skills in deductive and inductive reasoning to try to get any possible edge we can.

Today's Top 5 list looks at five ways to make snap judgments about new opponents that could yield that slight edge when tough decisions need to be made.

How to Read Your Poker Opponents

5) Be superficial. Poker is a game that requires the accumulation and computation of many types of information.

Dan Alspach
Remember: The matching shirt and visor could just be a ruse.

Not only do players need to gather great deals of numerical information, they also need to gather social and psychological idiosyncrasies that can help piece together parts of an ever-changing puzzle.

Try to peg your opponent on a particular style based solely on his or her appearance. After about two orbits you should know whether or not your assumption was right.

Be careful to take your character prediction for what it's worth and not as fact. The player could be putting up a façade or, as hard as it may be to believe, you could just be plain ol' wrong.

4) Conversation. Be genuine and cordial to new players at your table. There are two benefits to this.

Not only do you gain valuable knowledge of the person's character, but befriending a new player could save you a lot of chips if he decides to take it easy on you when he has the nuts because he doesn't want to be mean to his new buddy.

Try to nonchalantly steer the conversation toward anything poker related that could expose the player's expertise or, you hope, lack thereof.

Nico Behling
How does he handle chips?

3) Body language and comfort level. How comfortable is this new player when he joins the table? Is this a seasoned vet or a n00b fresh from accruing his first initial deposit bonus online?

Signs to look for are things such as how the player handles his chips, the way he removes them from the rack, his knowledge of when/why he needs to post.

Check to see if the player knows anyone else at the table. If so, is his buddy sitting in front of a castle of chips, or does it look like they both came from the bar and felt like they should try their luck "gambling" at the casino?

2) Listen for lingo. This ties in closely with 4). How often does your new opponent speak with poker terminology that isn't strictly regurgitated from an episode of Poker After Dark?

There is a fine line between a guy who eats/sleeps/drinks/urinates poker and one who simply watches it occasionally on TV and plays the monthly home game at his old college roommate's house.

If you can pick up on this early on, you may be able to squeeze into some favorable situations (or out of some unfavorable ones).

1) Sniff out the fumes. Perhaps the most important sign of all is the one that requires stealthy alertness from not just your eyes but your nose as well.

Gavin Smith
Captain Birdguts.

I am speaking here of the Captain Jacks of the world, who represent the old-school "spare no vices" generation of poker player and adamantly hold to the notion that no good game exists unless experienced whilst three sheets to the wind.

When the poker gods rain sunshine on your day and honor you with these sorts of blessings, be sure to cherish each and every moment.

Not only will your stack increase but your EVofEE* will shoot through the roof.

Get into as many pots with these players as possible and enjoy the ride!

*EVofEE is a phrase coined in mid-November 2008 by PokerListings blog writer Ron Schwartz. The standing definition is Expected Value of Experienced Entertainment and denotes how much fun, from an entertainment standpoint, an event is likely to be.

- Crazy drunk guy at table = +EVofEE
- Watching molasses relocate to a new rock = -EVofEE

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