by Diane McHaffie
You can’t win at poker for very long without an advantage. And your advantage has many ingredients.
Position, for example, plays a large part in having an advantage. If other players are acting prior to you, this allows you an opportunity to view how things are developing and determine what your strategy should be. Your hands may give the illusion of being stronger, when you have the luxury of acting last. You see, the later you act the more dominant your cards will be.
Last - In fact, if you're last to act, it isn't always necessary to have a great hand to take advantage. Say, in hold ’em, you hold two top cards of the same suit and the flop gives you an opportunity for a flush, straight or pair. Then many times it's advisable to raise, since you could easily connect on the turn or river, could win the pot right now without being called, or could intimidate opponents into checking on the next round and leaving you in control. So, being aggressive when last to act can add to your advantage.
Tells also are a factor in your advantage. Observing your opponents for potentially valuable tells can make your cards and decisions easier and more profitable. If you detect your opponent studying his cards in a serious manner, this alerts you to the fact that he's not pleased with his cards, even though he’s acting in an attempt to convince you otherwise. You can make a move, even if your cards aren't the most desirable.
Tells - Furthermore, you can provoke tells on your own. If you feel that one of your opponents is trying to bluff you, casually reach for your chips, at the same time sneaking a look to see his reaction. If he was chatting with his neighbor and abruptly ceases, that's an indication he doesn't want you in the pot, but he's afraid to proceed with the conversation as it might make you suspicious enough to call. The pot is now yours for the taking. However, if he continues talking, then he's holding a strong hand and isn't concerned. You're going to need an impressive hand to challenge him.
I warn you though, if the player ceased talking and there are more betting rounds to come, you need to be raising, not calling with medium strength. He could actually make something of his sorry hand.
Observe - So, the next time you take a seat at a table, keep in mind that you need all the edges you can acquire to take home a larger bankroll than what you hold now. Together, all those edges equal the main advantage you have against your opponents. Remember that (a) you need to observe your opponents, (b) become acquainted with their eccentricities, (c) use psychology at every opportunity, (d) be alert for tells, (e) take into consideration the possible cards your opponents may be holding and how they may relate to yours. And, of course, (f) remember that your position matters and exploit it.
Occasionally, opponents’ tells indicating a fold in advance can move your position up a seat or two, which can be very beneficial to you. You can now profit from weaker hands than would normally be required. And, whenever possible attempt to prompt a tell by your own movements or words. It's amazing what you can learn by musing about what you should do, or asking an opponent for advice about a decision.
Whether it's life or poker, we need all the advantage we can acquire. Success is built from advantage. So, use yours whenever possible.
Diane McHaffie is Director of Operations at Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy. She has traveled the world, coordinating events and seminars in the interest of honest poker. You can write her online at firstname.lastname@example.org.