The previous installment covered the difficulties in obtaining and the reasons why you should try to get intelligence on your opponents at a live multi-table tournament.
This week’s column will look at some actions you can take pre-flop to give yourself a chance to get some data and also to try to deny your opponents any insight into your play.
A player’s reaction when they check their pocket is the first chance for you to get any intelligence on the strength of their hand. The things to look for are how long a player stares at the cards, and how quickly he makes a decision to call or bet (you really don’t care how long it takes him to decide to fold).
In general, if a player looks at his cards quickly (no more than two seconds) and then bets quickly, it’s a sign he’s got a strong hand – in other words, it didn’t take him long to decide on a course of action, and he implemented his plan boldly.
If a player looks at his cards for more than several seconds, then contemplates for a while before making a decision, and then maybe even rechecks his cards, it could be an indication that he is not real strong. If he follows this up by simply calling the existing bet and not raising, he has just given you more evidence. This is the kind of player who is vulnerable to a pre-flop re-raise – if your read is correct.
Most players will tell you that you should not look at your pocket cards until it is your time to act, but I disagree with that. I think you should look at them as soon as you get them, especially if you can sneak a peek before the dealer has stopped dealing the other cards and especially if you are in a late position.
Looking at your cards quickly can deny your opponents any pre-flop intel on you because they are most likely going to be watching whoever’s “turn” it is. Instead, you can now send out a false signal by looking at your cards again and deliberating for several seconds when you have a monster or by acting quickly when you are playing hands at the bottom of your range. You can do this because you’ve already looked at your cards and decided upon your course of action before the action moves to you.
When you’re in a hand, you should be using the intelligence you have already gathered. You should be thinking about your cards, the board texture, your next move and analyzing the actions of the other players in the hand while also recalling whatever bits of information you have on the other players.
Poker is a game of decisions, and any information you gather about your opponents can help you make better decisions.