Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2014) in Poker Player newspaper.
Many poker players lose for a single, simple reason. They don’t grasp the nature of the majority of their opponents.
Because of this common and fundamental misunderstanding of opponents’ natural state at the poker table, players pour profit down the poker drain trying to accomplish things that are impossible. What does that mean? Listen, and I’ll tell you.
Why they play
In order to take advantage of your opponents’ greatest weaknesses, you first need to understand why they came to play poker. No, really. Let’s examine that. Imagine that you’re a regular guy or gal with a regular everyday job. Maybe it’s standing all day long behind a used tomato booth at a secret black market for fruits and vegetables. Maybe it’s painting over minor scratches on the bottom of automobile mufflers. Just some common job.
Okay. Now imagine that your job is only thrilling for the first seven hours each day and that, by the final hour, you’re bored and eager to get home. Fine. So, that’s where you are right now. Home.
Then a monumental thought bombs your brain: “Maybe I’ll drive to the casino and play poker.” Immediately, your pulse quickens. An adventure awaits.
So, now I want you to stop imagining and jump back out of the head of your pretend opponent. You’re you again, in your own head. And that’s the “you” to whom I’m posing this important question. Here it comes. Do you think, while driving to the casino, your opponent is thinking, “I hope I can just sit at the table and not have to play any hands,” or “I hope I get to play a lot of hands”?
Rhetorical question. We both know the answer. Your opponent is hoping to see action and play hands. And that reality is important. It defines your poker path to profit.
Let me interpret this for you. Most of your opponents fall into the category of players who are looking for reasons to play hands, make calls, and see showdowns. That’s the emotional payoff for them. It’s the reason they took the trouble to enter the game — even if it’s just a matter of loading software to play online from their computers and not requiring as much effort as physically traveling to a poker room.
When they’re willing to go through the process of entering a poker game, they’re hoping for action. And this means something special to you.
It means your typical opponents have a bias toward calling. They’ll fold, of course, but only reluctantly. They’re disappointed when they fold. You, on the other hand, should never be disappointed when you fold, because you realize that folding is just a decision, like any other in poker. Good decisions make money; bad decisions are eventually punished and lose money.
So, folding is a means of making profit. How? By avoiding expensive mistakes. Calling when you should fold is a mistake — and often a costly one. But even most of your opponents are going to fold hopeless hands. Fine. That’s not where you extract profit from them. Your profit comes from getting these common opponents who call too much to exaggerate their error against you.
And that means you can’t bluff them successfully very often. Their nature is to call too often and to call bets that are too large. So, if you make an exception and try to bluff them, it better be at exactly the right times. For most players, the solution is to never bluff loose opponents. Going against their calling natures is, like I already said, pouring profit down the poker drain.
The first thing you need to do is ensure that you’re in the right game. Don’t look for players you can bluff successfully, because those tend to be quiet players who play sensibly. If they don’t call quite often enough, it’s not likely to be a main source of profit, anyway, because most conservative opponents call almost often enough.
Look for tables with loose players who aren’t aggressive. This means they’ll reward you by calling too often when you have an advantage, but won’t exercise their option of raising as often when they have you beat. These loose, but timid opponents are the most profitable.
Thirty or so years ago, I began describing something I termed the “calling reflex.” That’s the habit weak opponents have of immediately leaning toward calling and then following through by doing so if they can imagine any reason whatsoever why they should.
In order to take full advantage, you need to make these opponents suspicious. That isn’t hard to do. They’ll call anything that moves, so be animated. Unconsciously, they’re more likely to call if they see you do something. Anything. Jiggle you chips. Sip your coffee. Talk. It doesn’t matter. They’re looking for reasons to be suspicious, so they can justify calling. If you have an advantage, provide those reasons.
Most opponents are callers by nature. They came to the poker table hoping to play hands and to keep calling as long as there’s hope of winning. Take advantage of that by leveraging their calling reflexes — be animated and vocal. But be fun to play against at the same time. Poker is an amusement park to them, and they want to enjoy their rides. — MC