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Reading opponents, by Steve Larson

One of the most common rookie anti-skills, is keeping opponents confused. Because it's a tiny bit better than having your opponents know exactly what you're about to do, many beginners actually consider it a skill.

Giving your opponents a fair 50-50 fighting chance however, is not what you should be aiming for.

You don't want your opponent to have a doubt in his mind about what you want to do and consequently about what he wants to do. Confusion is a passive approach, you however, need to go out there and actively plant the seeds of deception, so that he/she will know what he/she wants to do. In the military, they call this counter-intelligence, and it has been considered an integral part of warfare for quite some time.

Bottom line is: you cannot afford the luxury of just leaving your opponent be and not letting yourself be read. You have to manipulate people into doing the wrong thing. In order to be able to manipulate them, first you need to have them read.

Reading the opposition is one of the most important things in online poker. If you know you're not good at it, and you know there are sessions during which you don't make a single read, then you've already partly failed as a poker player.

A good poker player is constantly on the move. It's not like you graduate poker school, get a diploma and then consider yourself a good player from that day on. Successful play is about constantly learning, constantly being on the lookout for bits of information dropped by opponents every now and then, and constantly keeping several channels of communication open all the time.

I'm not saying this is a simple task to achieve, heck I found it pretty damn exhausting in the beginning too. Dividing your attention in so many directions is not something that comes natural to most players, and it's probably one of biggest hurdles a player needs to overcome in this respect.

The first stage in your "opponent-reading" endeavor, is learning. You watch opponents, you pick up certain tells, you draw conclusions and then you double check your results, come showdown-time. This way you'll catch on to the actual process of reading an opponent. Even when you manage to draw correct conclusions, you're still quite a distance from being efficient.

The true goal here, is to be able to anticipate what a certain opponent is going to do. Like in professional sports, ( take NBA basketball for instance) the ability to anticipate the opposition makes the difference between good or bad players. Some say you have to know what the guy will do, even before he knows it. Sounds a bit far out, but it is ultimately achievable.

Being aware of what everyone does around the table is the key element here. There are a plethora of tells in live poker, players can use to draw conclusions, and there are quite a few such tells in online poker too, no matter what some people say.

Betting patterns make up the most important poker tell there is, both online and offline. Watching whether your opponent uses the check/fold button can again offer you precious clues regarding the strength of his hand.

The time he takes to act, is again an indicator that he's in a dilemma concerning the decision he's about to make. Sure, some players will deliberately use these tells to mislead you, but if you're a really good mind-reader, you should catch on to that too.

Once you have his "code" figured out, you'll probably be able to anticipate his actions and thus dominate him at the table

About the author:

Steve Larson is an online poker player from Canada. Visit his rakeback site for more useful tips.

[Article submitted June 2007]

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