How Not to Suck At Poker Examples: Distractions

Jason Mercier
Jason Mercier distracted by our photographer.

Televisions, friends, MSN, showgirls, email, phone calls, text messages … regardless of where you play poker, chances are there are countless distractions looking to steal your attention.

If you want to be a consistent winner at the game, it's imperative you give poker 100 per cent of your attention, 100 per cent of the time.

We're not just talking about the hands you're in. Sometimes the hands you've folded can be even more important.

In the article How Not to Suck at Poker: Pay Attention, we went over why distractions hurt your bottom line. In this article we're going to explore a couple of examples to help clarify that point.

Troubles with Kings

You're playing $1/$2 No-Limit and pick up pocket kings in the cutoff. A couple players limp before you throw in a $15 raise (standard for the table you're playing at).

You get just one caller from mid position, a forty-something guy wearing a very dirty and faded Denver Broncos hat.


Broncos checks to you, you throw in a quarter, $25. He calls.


Broncos checks again, you put out another bet, this time $65. He calls.


Broncos instantly goes all in for $250, $40 more than the pot. You think about it and are worried about the nut flush draw having caught an ace, a set or a random two-pair but can't figure out why he would have check called the latter on a dangerous board.

If he did hit his ace, he still wouldn't be sure he has the best hand, making his stop-and-go massive bet feel like a bluff.

What do we do?

If we had been paying attention during the previous hands at the table, our answer would be rather straight forward.

5 Hands Ago

While buddy Broncos was on the button, he got into a hand that would have given you all the information you need to make the correct play in your hand.

Under the gun raises to $12, you fold some sort of trash hand and buddy Broncos makes the call, heads up to the flop.


Under the gun bets out $20, Broncos raises to $50, UTG calls.


UTG checks, Broncos bets $75, UTG calls.


UTG checks, Broncos bets $100, UTG raises all in for $225.

Broncos thinks for a while, then folds 8 8 face up, a surprised UTG takes down the pot.

If you had paid attention to this hand, you would have noticed that Broncos is a scared player, who is only comfortable with the nuts, and not willing to risk his stack. The only thing that beat him would have been a better set, or a couple of clubs for the back-door flush.

Although Broncos had no way of being 100% sure he was ahead, there are too many hands which play the pot this way he has beat (lower set, two pair, top pair, bluff). Not to mention he was getting just under 6:1 on his money, it should have been an easy call.

Any player tight and weak enough to lay that down, is never bluffing on the hand we're playing against him. Having paid attention to this hand will save us $250.

The Erratic All-In

You're sitting with $280 at a $1-$2 No Limit game, watching the game on TV and hitting on the waitress. You figure you're about half of the way to getting her digits when you get dealt 10 10 on the button.

After excusing yourself from the conversation you call the $15 raise and see a flop 3-handed.


The first player instantly moves all in for $115, the second player folds leaving you to make a decision.

You're calling $115 to win $160, or about 1.4:1 on your money. The odds are not great, but the board is dry and you're holding an over-pair.

Do you make the hero call, or wait for a better spot?

The rail at the WSOP

Two Hands Earlier

Had you not been trying to look down the waitress's shirt at the time you would have seen the very same player 3-bet (re-raise preflop) all in for his $60 stack holding 9 4. He hit the 9 on the turn to beat his caller with A K, but still had one arm in his jacket, halfway out the door.

Had you known that this opponent was looking to go home, trying to gamble/double-up to get even or go home broke (far more common live than you may think), you'd know that calling with your tens is a no-brainer.

Although it's possible he has a better pair, it's far more likely he's bluffing, or has some sort of draw, or one pair. Chances are you're good here, and don't need any odds to make the call.

The Bottom Line

The more details you pay attention to at the table, the more hands you watch, reflect on and analyze at the table, the more likely you will be to make the correct decision when your own money is on the line.

The most profitable players are constantly studying the game, as well as their opponents' approach to the game. In the end Phil Ivey probably doesn't know any more stats or random statistics than most geeks with a shelf full of books.

But he does pay more attention, and pick up more information at the table than any other player in the game. Poker is a game of actions and reactions, you have to understand fully what your opponents are doing before you can figure out the most profitable response.

Pay attention, even if you're not sure what you should be paying attention to. Just watch the hands, make a note (mentally) about who's betting, who's calling and what hands they ended up having after making those actions.

Your subconscious brain will pick up far more information than you would believe, giving you the intuition you'll need to make the correct plays down the road. Just watch, observe, reflect then play. Poker is a thinking man's game, it was never meant to be played idly.

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Sean Lind 2010-03-12 19:16:27

Someone Else,

When playing live it can be tricky. Here are the two tricks I use, maybe they'll help you:

1) Watch the whole hand without trying to force anything into memory yet. When the hand resolves, and you get to see cards then you need to push things to memory:

You're looking for things that are abnormal. If the person had a flush draw, and played it like you would play a flush draw, you only need to remember that much.

If they did something abnormal, that's where you want to remember everything you can.

2) Trust youself. If you watch the hand, and actually watch it, think about what's going on, try to figure out what the have, you'll pick up a lot of information without knowing it. Trust yourself to collect this info, and trust yourself to act on it later in the day.

Sean Lind 2010-03-12 19:09:32


It sounds like you're using Google Chrome. For some reason the cards don't show up properly in that browser (we should fix it soon though).

Here are the cards as they should be:

first example: 9s Js 4c 6h Ac

Second example: 8h 9h 3c Ac Kc

Third: 9h 4s 3c

Someone Else. 2010-03-12 17:49:29

Great article! I often have trouble paying attention when I'm playing and trying to improve on that. One thing I have trouble with though is trying to make mental notes of who's betting, calling, etc. I know there are online notes, but when you're playing live you can't do that. Just wondering how I can improve on that?

havinalaf 2010-03-12 15:28:59

Yeh good article i agree with it and i'm guilty of not paying attention sometimes.Sometimes though esp at the micro limits paying too much attention can make you go crazy.When every single player at your table is a hugh fish you absolutely never know what the correct play is unless you have the nuts.These players are playing any 2 card combination pre vs any action whatsoever.They'll call you down to the river with an under pair or a backdoor straight draw.If they shove, you NEVER know if they have tp/wk ,some raggedy 2 pair or complete air.So paying attection to they're play isn't gonna give you too much insight.It really is better to just wait for good hands and push them hard,which actually doesn't require too much attention to be paid.Having said all that when you advance to the late stages of a low buy in mtt it's def worth paying attention and obv for higher stakes to.

J 2010-03-12 03:01:11

Hi i was trying to understand this but in your examples i can only see 2 cards for the flop, 2 cards for the turn and 3 for the river.. Would you be able to tell me what the cards where meant to be on here please?

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