Sunday, July 08, 2007

Feeling the pulse

Happy to report that yesterday I got in a good few hours of play, and that they were a few hours of good play. I was fortunate enough to be rewarded for my sound decision making as the bad beats were few and far between.

I'm beginning to develop what I think of as an ability to feel the 'pulse' of a given game. Now this is something that is probably instinctively recognised by most pros, but it has occurred to me that the collective behaviour of the players at a given table should influence your decision making, so I thought I would make some observations about it.
First thing I think you should note is that you can't really study the behaviour of players at lower limits. No offence to anyone who plays under $1/2 NLH (that's where I built the core of my bankroll!) but the play at that limit ranges from weak to ABC poker. This kind of study I think only applies at the bigger limits.
When sitting down at such a table you should normally be taking notes of all the obvious variables: who is big/short stacked, who is playing aggressively/tight, and who has been winning the last few pots. If someone just suffered a bad beat, you should pay attention to that fact also. However, there is more information to be gleaned about the play at this particular table. This information is what each player is thinking and feeling: you are looking to understand their current psychological temperament. If you know this on top of knowing the individual playing style and image of each opponent, you will have a wealth of information to apply to each play you encounter.
Determining a players state of mind goes beyond looking out for bad-beat tilt and short-stacks willing to raise allin any flop with top-pair. Those things are usually the end result of a bad session or an allin gone wrong. I think you need to focus on the interim hands within a playing session. Has a player just been the victim of a bluff? Did they just have a big bluff called? Has the board conspired to force them to fold what looked like a monster hand? Have they just been beaten out of a big pot by a moron 2 pair? All of these things will have an impact on that player's mindset, and also on that of the other player involved. By keeping track of the results of each hand, and predicting the associated psychological impact these hands are having, you can usually derive an edge by understanding the reason a player is playing a particular hand.

For example, lets say an aggressive player in seat 5 has just been bluffed off a big pot by a player in seat 2. For the next few rounds, player 5 is much more likely to enter a pot where player 2 is also involved. Why? Because he likely feels cheated and as such will probably not be playing stronger hands, but will instead be playing weaker hands stronger, either in an attempt to prove that he can't always be bluffed or simply to get 'revenge'.
If you were player 2, this would be very useful information, and you could expect to have your value bets called much more often.
What about if you were player 6 and recognised the above? Then, after a raise from player 2, and a call from player 5, you would feel much more confident about re-raising both players, as if player 2 folds then player 5 will probably not feel the need to be in the pot any longer, and will also fold.

This type of analysis can be viewed as an extension of note taking, but I think it goes deeper than observing instances of cause and effect (ie after getting bluffed a player will call more often). If you have an idea of what a player is thinking or feeling (especially if it's "I can't catch a break...") then will be better able to adjust your own play to effectively exploit any flaws their current mindset may afford.

By bearing in mind the psychological elements of poker table warfare, you will have another layer of data to use in your interpretation of a players actions. If you can see how they respond to a situation against another opponent, you can gain insight into how they might likely respond to that situation with you as their opponent. The more information you have about a player, the less you will have to examine any action they take in a vacuum, and at the higher limits, this may make the difference between winning or losing.

Wow, didn't know if I'd get through that, but there you go. This is a bit more original, and I hope some of it is relevant or useful. Maybe it will prompt you to think a little differently about the players you play against. Just remember that all players are people, and people are all( to one extent or another) emotional creatures. Maybe you can use that to your advantage.

Best of luck.

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