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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JJ 2009-06-12 21:51:00

Tine, I am not sure if i go out of line with my post that I am about to place, just know that it is just my opinion and no offence is intended.

I for one have always ears to listen to developments to assist those who are in need of technologic development to be able to do something as "normal".

Though for me what you just described is not part of that topic. Lets take the example of a runner. I am not a good runner myself, this is how it works in nature. For me to implant biological technology to be able to run with the fastest and perhaps even win, is not part of it.

In this case it is ever devoping software that is creating assistance in outcomes for players to make a better decission in a (money) game that these people naturally would not be able to.

Lets just state that i really suck at playing poker (for what ever reason!), I only loze money with my natural abilities. What gives me the right to enhance my abilities artificially to then win in a (money!) game from other people?

tino 2009-05-28 11:00:00

I dont really want to become embroiled in a debate regarding the use of so far legal trackers etc etc etc.
What I do wish to say though is, 18 months ago I had a virus play games inside my head which has left me with a very poor instant memory. This has affected mu poker to some extent. I find it very hard to remember names, faces, hands played, pots and how someone took them down, etc etc. I have since found the use of a couple of poker tools invaluable to help me play poker.
I have a spreadsheet that i constantly update myself with a lot of data involved and sometimes, its hard to remember what i need to enter and what i dont.
So as long as its legal to use tools to help the odds in my favour, instead of having to use my poor short term memory, I will do so.

Sean Lind 2009-05-07 19:20:00

You're welcome. To be honest, I really dislike all tracking software and HUD's. I'm a live player and like a more "pure" game. But I'll fight till the end for people to have the right to use their own computer however they see fit (always within reason).

Well, the other option is for the poker sites to encrypt their hand histories, making the only readable via the poker client. This would force tracking software to have to "crack" the decryption to read the files. That would put a stop to tracking for a while at least.

TT 2009-05-07 00:00:00

Thanks for the clarification.

Sean Lind 2009-05-06 18:13:00

Ahhh, Punk Buster. I remember that from my CS days.

There are a few problems with PB for poker. Firstly, punkbuster is a borderline sketchy program to start with. If it wasn't purposely installed, it would be classified as spyware. It moniters what's going on on your computer, and sends that information to an outside server.

PB exists because it only monitors specific items on your computer, that could only be used for cheating at the game. Basically, it only monitors its own game, looking for that game behaving in a fashion it's not supposed to.

In the poker world, tracking software doesn't actually affect the game in any way. It simply reads the plain text files that the game produces. This means a Poker Punk Buster would have to moniter EVERYTHING you do on your computer. That's illegal and a gross violation of privacy.

Secondly, all "anti cheat" programs like this can be circumvented. The only people who something like this would stop would be the ones who are only using the software in a legitimate fashion. The people datamining hands they're not part of will be able to continue doing just that.

Finally, the last thing any poker site wants to do, is create any software that monitors your computer, sending their servers regular updates of what your computer, and poker software is doing. As soon as that happens, the "poker is rigged" arguments will flare up like never before.

Sean Lind 2009-05-06 17:56:00

BB, as much as I wish it wasn't, the fact is that this whole thing is political.

The other fact, is that the only people fighting against poker, rather than with it, are the owners of casino's, and fundamentalist right wing (mostly catholic) Americans.

I'm not making this up, it's just the facts.

And much like Liquor, gambling is just fine in moderation. Although a handful of people are drunks, millions drink responsibly.

TT 2009-05-06 16:55:00

Oh common BB, if you disagree at least do it with some respect...jeez.

BB 2009-05-06 16:24:00

Hey Sean, you're an idiot because of your closed minded political views. Right wingers are not the sexist, homophobic biggots that the press makes us out to be. I'm a conservative and I enjoy playing poker.

But gambling is like liquor and drugs, it can ruin your life and that's our concern. How about keeping politics out of it.

TT 2009-05-06 00:33:00

On second thought, online play would be best to be as close to real-life play as possible, and real-life poker doesn't have real-time trackers of course. Ignore my first paragraph ;-).

TT 2009-05-06 00:27:00

Hey Sean :)

Any data mining at tables you play at, doesn't seem like privacy violation because you were playing at that table (you could also write that info on paper, so no real difference). Pretty much the same as remembering style, hands played and such, if you are playing RL poker. It's data mining of players you haven't played with or at tables you weren't playing at, that would violate privacy IMO. I don't really know how those miner tools work, but from what I understand it can get access to player style of players you have never played with. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

On the side of not knowing what a player does on his own computer, is false. Take the Punkbuster software for instance, that is used to catch cheaters in online FPS, like Wolfenstein - Enemy Territory. It is comprised of two pieces of software (PB-A and PB-B), the first being resident, the second is launched along with the application (Wolf ET in my example). The software tracks all known cheats and add-ons of all sorts (even mods that are not part of the game programme that influence OS aspects), that could influence gameplay in a way that would give any abnormal edge to a player.

Punkbuster is an open community that is linked to a lot of known FPS games, and gathers the cheating-knowledge of all those games. Most FPS gaming companies have a stake in Punkbuster, not surprisingly, to protect the integrity of their game(s). A similar strategy could be adopted by online poker site companies to counter tracking add-ons. Anyway, I'm just thinking aloud here... It might not be enough to simply tag add-ons as being "not allowed", it is best to counter these with punk-busting software :) and bust the punks then and there :)


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