What do you do when you arrive at a new game? Do you jump into the fray and try to establish strength or do you just sit and wait? We all know players out there who use both styles and use them well. After all, it’s all a matter of what suits someone’s personality. One thing that is for certain is that when you are at a new table, it is obviously very important that you pay close attention to the game and to the individual players right away.
Most players get so caught up in themselves and their own heads that they don’t even make it to this first step. They are so preoccupied with themselves that they miss out on other’s clues. What should you do? You should pay attention. Period. Don’t start running your mouth, don’t zone out and don’t try to look overconfident. The first few minutes you’re at the table is the most important time in the game and the sooner you realize this, the better off you’ll be.
Once you’ve sat down, be sure not to rush into any hands. To be honest, I recommend not getting involved in any hands at first.
Any experienced tournament player will tell you that most players are eliminated from tournaments when they are in “shuffle times” (when they are moving from table to table). At these times, players’ minds are not completely focused on the game and this is where mistakes are made.
Here’s an example. Let’s say that you sit down a new table and the table you’ve been playing previously was extremely tight so you play aggressively and steal more than you’re your share of pots. You sit at this new table and fall right back into your previously successful aggressive betting pattern. You make an ill-advised move and bust out because you didn’t take the time to realize that this table is much looser than the last one.
When I move to a new table or play at a game where I don’t know the players, I ordinarily wait a few rounds of betting before I get involved in a hand and often times I wait even longer. Why? Well, this gives me a chance to get to know my opponents before risking any chips. It’s a type of evaluation time where you can learn information about your opponents. Poker is by its nature a game where you need to evaluate constantly but these first few hands is 100% devoted towards just watching my opponents. I’m not saying you should become a folding station and fold your monster pairs. But you should avoid playing those marginal hands that everyone likes to tangle with early on, the ones that can become more profitable later on once you develop some feel for your opponents.
Do you know what else is happening during this time? By taking your time and learning about your opponents, they are getting zero information about you. In fact, the only thing they can really figure out is that they assume you’re a tight player.
Within 10 minutes, even if you haven’t won a pot or played a hand you’re opponents are already developing a sense that you don’t play garbage hands and will have more respect for you.
What should you be evaluating during this time. Many players believe you should be looking at the face and eyes. That’s fine but it shouldn’t be the only thing. Poker tells are the combination of an entire set of movements and behavior so there are many things you should look out for. Tells, by nature can be complex.
In fact, you should be looking at all of the following things: 1. Past Play – Think about how this player has acted in the past. Is he usually strong or weak? Aggressive or timid? Smart or dumb? Does this person slowplay strong hands and bet weak draws? You should be trying to answer as many of these questions as possible.
2. Timing – If your instinct tells you that a player thought for a long time trying to make a choice, chances are that his hand isn’t too strong. However, you should also note how long he has taken to play in the past, to make sure that the move wasn’t just a regular timing move.
3. Posture – Especially with bad players, the posture of a player is a key tell that will reveal a lot about a hand. If the person leans back, they usually have a strong hand. If he leans forward, the hand is usually weak.
4. Bet Amount – If a player tends to make small bets, but then places an unusually large bet, he could be holding a strong hand or could be bluffing. Always watch for irregularities in betting patterns, since most amateurs don’t mix up their bets enough, which gives you an easy edge if you pay attention.
5. Your Gut Feeling – Depending on your poker experience, your gut will often be your best guide. Over time, it just comes naturally and it will come naturally to you once you gain experience.
Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, don’t reveal the way you think. For some reason, it’s a natural tendency in all of us to share our thoughts at the poker table especially when we aren’t involved in hands. When you reveal your thinking process, you’re giving away information. Don’t do it. Don’t mention how you noticed that when player A bets big, he’s bluffing or when player B starts talking, he has a monster. You’re letting other players know information you’ve gathered while showing them how observant you are. Don’t say anything about your observations. This isn’t a team sport.
Until next time, may the chips fall your way.