Know Your Foe: Piecing Together Information

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Having solid, reliable information about an opponent at your poker table can help you to win more pots against them and, possibly more important, save chips during confrontations with them.

Having bum information is much worse than having no information at all.

The biggest hurdle faced by players wanting to get their hands on this valuable information is that poker is a game played with incomplete information in that we only see our opponents' holdings if they are required by the laws of the game to show their hand or if they choose to give away vital information by revealing their hand voluntarily. 

These two facts mean you should be paying attention to every showdown that occurs at your table. It is easy to switch off when you see someone has won a pot with pocket aces because it seems rather trivial, but knowing how your opponent played those aces could be crucial.

Think back to how the hand played out and ask yourself questions such as:

  • How much did villain raise to?
  • Or if the pot was re-raised, how large or small was the three-bet?
  • How quickly did villain raise or re-raise?
  • If your playing in a casino, how did villain raise? Was there anything usual about it?
  • How much did villain bet or raise on each street?
  • How did he react to straight or flush draws coming into play?

Once you have replayed the hand in your head, be sure to watch out for the next time he gets to showdown and compare your notes. One or two hands are not enough to be reliable, but they do give some indication to how an opponent may play big pairs, small pairs, draws etc.

If you are playing in a tournament, you may find yourself sat with the same group of players for hours on end and this gives you ample opportunity to gather notes on your opponent - sometimes quite literally.

A couple of years ago I reported on the World Poker Tour Venice Grand Prix tournament and noticed that one player, the dangerous and talented Danish pro Simon Ravnsbaek, was regularly tapping notes into his mobile phone. He was even doing this up until the point he busted in fourth place, netting himself €52,565 in prize money.

Ravnsbaek was asked what he was writing and, if my memory serves me correctly, he admitted to taking notes on his opponents but also about he played his own hands so that he could piece together a more detailed picture.

Online poker sites, Betfair Poker included, have inbuilt note taking software that allows you to quickly enter information about a player and even colour code them for quick navigation. Personally, when I first make a note on someone I will have them coloured yellow, if I know they are a complete donkey I will mark them green (for go go go obviously) and if they are a strong player they will be changed to red.

I'll take notes on how they played draws, their bet sizing, and if they have seen me act strangely in a hand or have ever sucked out on them. Possibly more important, I ensure I have the date of the note somewhere and the game and buy-in the notable event took place in.

This is so that my information is up-to-date because having bum information is much worse than having no information at all.

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