The opponents you’re up against are equally as important as the cards you hold. I discuss gathering information at the tables to help you exploit them.
Gathering Information at the Tables (4:20)
You’re at a table and a new player sits down to your right. You have no idea how they play, but you can make some reasonable assumptions before the first hand is dealt.
As an online player, you can think about the average player at your stakes and use that as a baseline. If the average player is positionally aware, isn’t super loose pre-flop, 3bets for value mainly, and is turn honest, then go ahead and assume all of these traits until they show you differently.
If you’re playing LIVE, look at their outward appearance. Young or old, fashionable or slovenly, Asian or Mexican or white, sun glasses or no glasses, hoodie or 3-piece suit… go ahead and assume that they play like the average player they resemble. It’s okay to profile in poker. Just play against them as you would others like them until they give you a reason not to.
Within one or two rounds with a new player, you’ll already have a better idea of which of the 4 types she likely is.
- LAG – Loose-aggressive – donks or maniacs (they can be profitable) who play a lot of hands aggressively so.
- TAG – Tight-aggressive – often considered an ABC Poker Player: plays by the book, profitable poker.
- LP – Loose-passive – fish or whales who play a lot of hands and passively so, making them great value targets.
- TP – Tight-passive – the “rocks” at the table who play a small percentage of hands.
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Your job is to observe her play, note her actions, interpret what you think they say about her, then use that to crush her.
Even though she’s an unknown, in poker, every player is beatable. Even the best of the best have weaknesses and frequency issues and tells, it’s your job to find and exploit them. This only comes from observation and experience.
In poker, you must not base your plays only on the cards you hold and the board at the time. That’s just first level thinking. The player you’re up against is a huge factor, and must be considered before every decision.
Your first task when assessing a new player is to observe her. What observations can we make to help us categorize her, then exploit her play?
Things we should observe
- SD hands – what hand did she have? How strong was that pre-flop, on the flop, turn or river? How did she play on each of these streets given the strength of her hand and the board at the time?
- Bluffs – what sizing did she use when she bluffed? Did she donk lead, bet when checked to, raise a cbet, check-raise, or float the flop then lead the turn?
- Value Bets – what bet sizing does she use? Can she go for thin value, or does she only get aggressive with 2p+?
- Draws – how did she play her draws? Aggressively or passively? Does she call big bets with little equity, or does she call small bets with tons of equity, or raise with tons of equity?
- Stats – this is the quickest way online to size up your opponent. If her VPIP is 30%, and her PFR is 25%, we’d classify her as a LAG. But, if VPIP is at 30% and PFR is at 10%, then she’s very loose-passive. And if you’re a LIVE player, stats are still there, just not readily accessible. You have to guess or estimate them, but your online poker experience in understanding stats will help you in the LIVE realm.
Whatever observations you do make I want to hear you speak them aloud or type them out in a note. More on notes in a bit.
The 6 most important characteristics to look for (9:25)
- Aggression – aggression is a player’s willingness to bet and raise. Aggressive players are prone to doing these over checking and calling. Betting and raising gives you fold equity, which is the chance to win the pot without having a good hand and going to show down. Your bet or your raise could take it down right there.
- Passivity – checking and calling. When you check or call a lot, you rely on hitting hands to win pots. So, it only gives you one way of winning.
- Looseness – loose players like to play lots of hands and are willing to pay to see flops. Whether the payments come in the form of raising or calling depends on their level of aggression.
- Tightness – Tight players overvalue big hands and only like to play when they think their hand is stronger than their opponents. They play a small range of hands in every position, and when they’re in you can assume they’ve got something worth playing.
- Riskiness – Some players are happy getting it in on the flop with the nut fd (or even as bad as the 4th nut fd). Some players will never raise w/ any draw and only do so when they hit. Knowing their level of riskiness will help you to get more value or to avoid their nutted hands.
- Stickiness – the characteristic of being unwilling to fold once they’re invested in the pot. We’ve all seen players call down the flop and turn with the low-end gs draws, or call 3 streets with two over-cards AK because they don’t want to lose the money they’ve put in. Find these players and take them to value town. And of course, DON’T BLUFF ‘EM.
Taking Great Notes (14:00)
I’m sure many of you take notes on your opponents, but I know from coaching that many of you do not. If you don’t record your findings you can't expect to remember what you discovered at a crucial time.
The value of notes comes from the fact that doing so reinforces what you learned about your opponent. Making a habit of taking notes makes your reads and memory stronger, even if you never review your notes in critical situations. You must be actively writing down or typing out your observations every time. This takes your past experiences and projects them into the future, so you can use them to exploit your opponent’s tendencies and characteristics every time you review your notes.
I recommend you use the note taking utility within PT4 or HM2, and NOT the poker site’s notes feature. And for the LIVE players, use Evernote and organize it alphabetically by player name.
4 things to look for when taking notes
- Important actions – these are the details of hands that help you to understand other comments or the way the opponent played an important hand. It could be something like: “3bet resteal in SB w76s, f straight c/c ft then 1.5xpot donk lead on river.” These actions could help you dissect their play in future hands.
- Psychological reads – likes to squeeze from the BTN or 3bet bluff from the SB; likes to c/r; like to make ps donk bluffs on the flop; doesn’t get aggressive on f/t w/nfd
- Bet sizing tells – makes min donk bluffs; overbets the nuts; ½ psb = weak; 2/3 psb = strength
- Adjustments to make – things you’re telling yourself to do or not do – “Only value bet vs him” or “Never 3bet bluff OOP”
Taking notes is great, but pulling them up at crucial instances is important as well. Train yourself to look at their HUD stats before decisions AND click on that notes icon to read what you might’ve observed or noted in the past. If you’re playing LIVE, read your notes in Evernote once you realize you’ve played with them before.
Here’s my challenge to you for this episode: Dissect the player to your immediate right at each of your tables this week. Whip out a piece of paper, and write down the following 3 things about them:
- The type of player they are
- Any psychological reads you’ve made
- Any weaknesses they have
And add anything else that can help you better understand this opponent.
Now it’s your turn to take action and do something positive for your poker game.
The NUTTS (Notably Urgent Things To Study 20:05)
‘Rev Up Your Poker Success' course by Dr. Patricia Cardner. It’s all about knowing where you want poker to take you, setting goals, and accomplishing those goals. Dr. Cardner is a great author, a psychology professor and a licensed therapist and she’s putting all of her skills and experience to work helping poker players. And, she’s a poker player herself so she understands what we all go through. Get access to the free course by going to http://www.peakpokermindset.com/.
Support the Show
Thank you to some super rocking poker people for purchasing my Smart HUD: Paul M, Jason J and Dalon M (rhymes with Talon) for purchasing my Smart HUD – Get your own copy for PT4 and support the show
Thanks also to Laura S who took a major leap towards improving her game. She purchased Splitsuit's Hand Reading Lab through my affiliate. To learn more for yourself, visit the show notes for episode #64.