Improving Performance: Get In Their Heads

I believe that every poker writer would agree that knowing your opponent’s playing tendencies is a top criteria for successful play. When you feel comfortable about your assessment of an adversary, you can use that information to your advantage. Recently I found myself heads up in a sit n go tournament with someone I have played against many times. I had him slightly out chipped and I’d like to share with you the final hand of that encounter.

I was dealt K-9 off-suit and decided to limp. The flop was 9-2-9 rainbow and the action was on me. It was my strong belief that my opponent, who goes by the moniker Queso, if he held a nine, would attempt to trap me by checking. With that in mind, I bet out with my trip nines.

I believed he would read me for having a deuce or two over-cards. Queso then raised and I just called. The turn was a blank and I checked. As I had anticipated, Queso shoved all-in and I insta-called. The cards were turned over and my trip nines prevailed against his pocket sixes. Not a spectacular hand but one that underscores a key concept.

Many players who have a strong understanding of the game make one key error which is assigning their own playing tendencies to their opponents. They reason that if this is the way I would play a situation, my opponent would play it the same way too. It’s a reasonable line of logic, but flawed, because their opponent may be thinking on the next level.

In this case, I believed that if Queso were in my shoes he would definitely attempt to trap me if he held trips with a big kicker. So I played in a way that would not represent trip nines to him. Knowing your opponent’s modus operandi can guide you to outwitting him. Isn’t that what the game is all about?

This concept is the often quoted advice of… think about what they have, then think about what they think you have, and ultimately think about what they think you think they have. Oh, what an intricate web we weave when at first we deceive. In this particular case, my play was very satisfying as it closed out the tourney and I booked a win. However, as in all of poker, an effort to confuse your opponent is not foolproof. But then, what is? There are no money back guarantees in poker but the more you know about your foe’s tendencies the better your decisions will be. For about the bazillionth time I’ve written this… pay attention, it’s the key to winning!

Our goal for today’s time together is to study your opponents and when you believe you know how they play use that information against them. The flip side of this is to consider if whether your opponent is savvy enough to be playing just like you in an attempt to set a trap. Sure, it gets complicated, but that is a good part of the reason we all find poker to be so cerebral and challenging.

Queso and I did trade comments after the tourney and he was man enough to admit that my betting out convinced him that there was no way I held trip nines. I’m sure the next time we wind up at a final table he’ll be evaluating my moves in a different light. Remember, just because you would play a particular situation one way does not guarantee that an opponent would as well.

See you next time.