Evaluating the Players and Adjusting to Them

When you are deciding whether to play and how to play, the other players in a given game are much more significant than the structure. Rarely will the structure deter good players from sitting down, but if they look around the table and see nothing but top players, relative to their own abilities, they should probably find another game. There is an old and true adage in poker: If you look around and don’t see a sucker in the game, you’re it.

At the same time, everybody in the game does not have to be worse than you. For a game to be potentially profitable, all you need are one or two bad players or five or six mediocre players. However, if everyone in the game is as good as you or nearly as good, you may not be taking the worst of it, but you cannot expect your hourly rate to be very high.

Players Who Play Too Loose
Once you have decided that the caliber of your opponents allows you to sit down and play profitably, your next step is to evaluate their mistakes and see how you can best take advantage of those mistakes. The most common mistake players make is playing too many hands. In Las Vegas I frequently find this tendency to be the only weakness in some opponents. Everything else about their play is top-notch. Consequently, there is little I can actively do to take advantage of these players’ mistakes other than not play as loosely. as they do. Yet just playing better starting hands than they do on average is a decent edge. Sometimes I play a very unimaginative game against them, simply to make them think I’m not much of a player. I thereby encourage them to play even more hands. When the night is over, I usually have the money, and they are shaking their heads, wondering how I beat them. Well, I didn’t outplay them, just as they suspect, nor did I get lucky. I simply played better openers than they did, and so when I was in a pot against them, more often than not I ended up with a better hand than theirs.

Often players who play too many hands will make many other mistakes as well. A typical loose player will call too much, not just on the first round but on all rounds. These players are the kind you encounter most often in home games. They play poker only once a week, and they want action. Against such opponents, conservatism and patience pay big dividends. You play your solid cards, and you don’t bluff nearly as much as game theory indicates to be correct. There is clearly no value in bluffing when you know you’ll be called – except perhaps once or twice early in a session for advertising purposes, to make doubly sure you’ll get called later with your legitimate hands.

Players Who Play Too Tight
Occasionally you’ll run into the oppopage type of player – the player who plays too tight. These players may play too tight on the first round or on every round, but the tighter they play, the more they are giving away. You take advantage of the player who’s too tight on the first round by stealing antes with more frequency than game theory would indicate to be correct. In fact, you should test such a player by raising the forced bet just about every time you and he are the only players left in the pot. You shouldn’t raise every single time the situation comes up, because eventually that tight player will realize you’re robbing him and he’ll loosen up, which you don’t want him to do. However, you should try making a play on that player at least two times out of three when he is the only person left behind you on the first round.

Many players who play too tight on the opening round tend to play too loose later on. Since they’re playing only good starting cards, they hate to throw them away. Consequently, if you get called by such a player when you try to steal the antes on the opening round, it is very important to give up your bluff because this type will not fold on later rounds, having called your raise. However, if you have a legitimate hand which you figure to be the best hand, bet it out since this player will probably give you crying calls all the way. Much rarer are the tight players who throw away too many hands on all rounds, against them, you should semi-bluff just about any time you’re able to represent a good hand, and you should bluff more than game theory would indicate to be correct.

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