The early stages of learning about playing poker often centre on identifying patterns in the opponents you’ll face across the flop. When a player bluffs a draw on the river, how to combat the perils of a paired board and spotting squeeze play opportunities when they develop are all good examples of this. But the fine edges in poker take years. Eventually, noticing a player’s strengths and weaknesses can become second nature, until you see poker traits everywhere. When that happens, you know you’re onto a winner.
There is a famous scene in Glengarry Glen Ross where Alec Baldwin tells salespeople they should ‘Always Be Closing’. But in poker, what pays the bills is learning. Learn mathematics, physical tells, betting patterns and many more. Picking up on common traits used in everyday life is what will make you money quickly, whether at a cash table or the #sundaymajors. How can you do that when you’re not even playing poker? Let’s get the lesson on…
Poker is often about momentum. Have you noticed how a player who is cashing well in the World Series keeps making the money in subsequent events, while some well-known players who have struggled keep hitting the wall? Confidence is paramount in poker, just like in many sports. So how can you incorporate this trait into your game when you’re not in action? Positive assumption is one way to influence your mental state. Confirming your intentions can help make them happen, Daniel Negreanu has famously advocated. He’s been both applauded and derided for this ethic, but there can be no doubt that positivity can really benefit your game. Stay optimistic, break down how you spend your time and how it influences your mood. Notice which players at your table exude confidence and which don’t – it’ll put you in a great position to second-guess their behaviour, especially during those all-important marginal decisions.
There have been many great books written on body language that will allow you to grasp the basics in a very short space of time. But in researching of what to look for in your opponents, we must also look at ourselves. Analyse your own behaviour in social situations. How do you sit when you are happy or sad? If you meet someone for the first time, they can give away how they feel in no time. How often have you been on a first date and known within the first ten seconds if you have any chemistry or not? Well its the same for the other person too! We project our personalities at the poker table, whether we like to or not. And if we do, so do others. Disguising our own signals takes time, but you can short-cut to understanding your enemies at the table by observing people you know in every walk of life. Start today.
When you sit down at a poker table, you want to be in command of the numbers. Yes, it can be fun to know what’s ‘up top’, but the only digits that matter are the odds in each hand. Pot odds, implied value and just basic percentages are all huge weapons with which to hit your opponents with in the latter stages. John Gale won Britain’s first WSOP bracelet at this year’s World Series of Poker and relies on his mathematical knowledge to give himself an edge over his opponents. Phil Hellmuth was said to know the odds of any card appearing down to two decimal points during his early years, and he’s not exactly slowed his rate of success, winning a record fourteenth bracelet in this year’s series. You don’t have to transform yourself from a decimal dunce to A Beautiful Mind in order to succeed, but grasping the basics and being able to call on that information quickly can not only put you in a strong position odds-wise, but ramp up the pressure on your opponents too.
When you’re making an all-in move with fresh air on the river, you want to be looking into your opponents’ eyes safe in the knowledge that he or she are viewing you exactly as you want them to. You don’t want them to see how you feel – that much is obvious. But creating your table image can often benefit from taking a walk away from the felt. Look at how you perceive others according to how they dress. From work colleagues to friends, family to strangers, everyone appraises someone according to how they look. And you never know when your gut reaction after ten seconds will help you make the right decision about someone else. How you look, from the tip of your hoody to the shoes on your feet is up to you – but rather than thinking solely of how good you feel in your clothes (which is important), consider what others will see when they look at you.
There are many edges that poker players exploit at every level of the game. But perhaps the least exploited is the advantage of physical fitness. Many problems that players encounter towards the end of a long session can be partially explained by poor physique, irregular sleeping patterns or other weaknesses that stem from poor fitness. Staying fit, eating well and being hydrated are crucial preparations to any long stint at the live poker tables but just as much online. The brain needs to focus to win at poker. To do so, it relies heavily on the body sustaining it in peak condition. The physical regimens of Antonio Esfandiari, Sam Trickett, Jeff Gross and many others may seem unattainable to anyone working a 40-hour week, but start small and keep going. It takes 16 days to form a habit, so they say, so whether that is running more, eating better or keeping fit in a multitude of ways, investing in your body will pay off in more ways than one.