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The importance of being aware at the tables

By Jack Clayton


After a long cold winter for a lot of folks, the weather has finally turned and Mr. Sunshine is beaming. You’ll be beaming, too, if you can improve your poker skills this summer with the endless string of tournaments around the world. The spring sunshine can warm your heart, along with the extra coin you can pocket if you play your cards right.

In springtime, the flowers are in bloom and birds are chirping, a few of the sights and sounds you haven’t noticed since late last year. You notice the sun striking your arm while wearing tee-shirts, something that didn’t happen during the winter months when you walked outdoors. Your senses are suddenly activated to these changes. If you want to improve your poker playing you need to activate your senses at the tables, too.

Many poker players only pay attention to their cards. Some even ignore their chips, not realizing they’re broke until, well, until they go bust. Taking a seat at a poker table is not just about the cards; it’s about taking in the surroundings where far more of your senses need to be honed – if you want to improve. Pay attention to…

The Cards on the Table: Not just your cards, but everybody’s. Start by focusing on your cards and figure your percentages each hand. However, once you’ve mastered that it’s essential to look at what’s going next to you and all around the table. In Texas hold ‘em, for instance, strategize what the best hand will be to fit the flop. Pay attention to straight and flush possibilities. In 7- card stud keep up on what is showing and what has been folded when you consider calling opponents. Information is key – but only if you know how and when to use it properly.

Other Players: I don’t mean check out the best dressed guy or the hottest looking chick. I’m talking about careful observation of the people around you. Try to pick up their tendencies and, like a psychologist, get inside their head. Try and figure out why they are doing certain things so you won’t be fooled by a tactic, or you can even turn the trick back on them.

If you notice that one player consistently raises in certain positions, you can anticipate when that will happen. Another player might bluff too often, while another will fold on every re-raise, so you can utilize those patterns against them. When you are aware that Player X often folds to a re-raise on a river it creates an opportunity for you to bluff and steal a pot, for instance.

Culling information from observing means looking for patterns, body language and reactions, plus systematically remembering or filing it away in your head. That’s not always easy, either. It can take time and practice to hone your knowledge, skills and memory.

When you fold it doesn’t mean you’re out of the game, either. Use that time not to rest or daydream but to focus on others at the table. File this information away in your head and use it when you need it.

Giving Up: I don’t mean giving up playing poker, or getting frustrated. I’m talking about folding. It’s not an admission of failure. Folding is a practical way of cutting your losses to fight the next hand with more weapons (i.e., money). Don’t feel like you have to play every hand or you will only throw away more chips. If you’re dealt a lousy hand, don’t stay with it while hoping the gambling gods will break your way. Don’t be afraid to fold up shop when things look bad. Because getting out when it’s bad is a lot better than putting more money in and plowing into a situation with a bad hand and too many of your chips in the pot.

Weak Sheep: Though they’re not all wearing woolen coats, there are weak sheep all around the poker table. These are the novice poker players, or the ones who are in it for fun. Like many of you, I’m in it to win-it. And you win at poker not by luck but by learning and playing, over and over again. The best way to enrich your poker bank account is by taking advantage of players who don’t know what they’re doing. Good players know the percentages and the right moves that follow, lesser players don’t. The way to identify them is through observation with those finally tuned springtime senses of yours locked it to the game… and your opponents.

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