Poker is an incredibly enjoyable game to play. Its intricate strategies and complex problem solving make it a great game for professionals and poker lovers alike, and its amount of gamble and the chance to “hit it big” make it enjoyable for amateurs. That being said, almost every poker player at one time or another has experienced something else while sitting at a poker table: boredom.
Whether it’s early in a tournament and you’re just doing a lot of folding or you’re at a cash game table and it’s a particularly dull group of players, many people tend to get bored after they’ve folded and are waiting for their next hand.
This leads players to bring things with them to occupy themselves at the table. I’ve seen people do all kinds of crazy things while allegedly playing poker, everything from normal activities such as listening to music or playing on their phone to crazier things like having a laptop and a bunch of paperwork out, clearly doing some sort of office work.
I even saw one guy pull out a full sized guitar and start strumming in between hands. He was quickly told he was not allowed to play guitar at the table, only to later pull out a harmonica, which wasn’t allowed either.
Anyway, while some of these activities may keep you focused on the task at hand, others can quickly cause you to become distracted. Then, poker becomes a secondary activity to your primary task of playing with your phone or watching a movie. When you are in the casino to play poker, make it your goal to just play poker. There is a wealth of information available to you, and focusing on other players and their actions can come in handy much more than you may realize.
This past weekend, I played in a WSOP Circuit Event in Atlantic City and two hands came up where I had tough decisions. It was pretty early in the Main Event and instead of spending the first two hours playing on my phone, I had been watching the other players at my table.
It was the usual mix of younger and older players and in the hand in question, a young player opened from the cutoff to 500. I called from the button with Q-J offsuit, as did the big blind. The big blind this hand was a middle-aged gentleman who seemed like he’d played a few tournaments in the past, but definitely was still an amateur. Anyway, he called and the three of us saw a flop of Td-7c-7h.
It checked to me and I thought about betting. However, I noticed something about the big blind that made me think back. The entire time I was at the table with him, whenever he was in a hand post-flop, he would kind of play with his cards, sit back in his chair, and not seem very interested in the hand. Every time I’d seen him do this, he would fold to a bet. This time, he was sitting very upright in his chair and seemed very interested in the action.
I checked and the turn came the 8c, giving me a gutshot. It once again checked to me and now I thought, “Maybe my read was wrong,” so I bet 800 chips. The big blind instantly called and the other player folded. The river came the 9h, completing the board as Td-7c-7h-8c-9h, giving me the nut straight, and this time the big blind bet 2,000. I thought for a bit and raised to 6,100, as I thought he could have a lot of Jx hands like J-9 or J-T. Without much hesitation, he moved all-in for about 13,000 more.
Thinking back to my reads on the player and how interested in the flop he was, I knew my initial read was correct and I had to be beat here. I flashed the Jc to him before tossing my hand into the muck. Later after our table had broken, he came up to me and told me how amazing of a fold I made, and that he had quad sevens and couldn’t believe I didn’t double him up. Little did he know that I actually had an even better straight than I showed.
A second hand from this Main Event came almost as soon as I got moved to a new table. I raised in late position with 9-8 of spades and was called by the button. He was a middle-aged man who is an Atlantic City regular. The flop came Qc-5h-5s and I bet about 600. He quickly called. The turn was the 6s, giving me a straight flush draw, and I once again bet, this time 1,300. He again quickly called.
The river was my gin card, the 7c, completing the board of Q-5-5-6-7. With about 5,700 in the pot, I decided that if he had a queen, he was going to pay off any bet amount, so I over-bet the pot and bet 7,300. The Atlantic City regular instantly shoved all-in. He had me covered and I had around 15,000 remaining after my bet.
I would expect many players to never show up with less than a full house here. However, I had been paying attention earlier and witnessed him several times over-valuing hands. One hand that stands out is when he put in three huge bets on a board of J-4-3-7-4 with only J-9 and was called by A-J.
I began to think about possible hands he could have in this situation – 5-5, 6-6, 7-7 maybe – and then thought, “You know, I wonder if he just thinks a five is good here” and then quickly committed the rest of my chips. Sure enough, he turned over 5-4 of clubs, which was no good to my straight, and I raked in the huge pot.
In either one of these hands, if I had not been paying attention while other hands were taking place, I would have not been sure what to do and could have very easily made the wrong decision. But, since I had been paying attention to my opponents, my decisions became easy.
With the World Series of Poker right around the corner, now is a great time to start honing your game. So, the next time you’re sitting at the poker table, put your phone away, leave your iPad at home, and focus on the true reason you drove to the casino that day: to play poker.