Considering the Players in a Hand

After you’ve figured out what hand to play and where, you’re only beginning to get a true, deeper feel of the game. You have to keep track of a whole bunch of other things, too. We cover some of them in the following sections.

Keeping track of the number of players

The number of players in a hand is critical for your chances of success. Keeping track of the people in front of you is pretty easy because you’re always hearing them yap it up about checking, betting, or raising.

The danger is it’s sometimes easy to lose track of the players playing behind you because the pressure and excitement of your declaring your action has passed and you can easily drop into a low form of stupor waiting for your next turn to act.

You don’t have to be a math wizard to know that the more people you see staying in a hand, the more likely you are to lose. Also, if people are staying in against multiple raises, either they’re suicidal or, more likely, they have great hands.

Watching the types of players

The players in a hand make a huge difference as to whether you should be raising, checking, or folding. The madman who will play any two cards under the gun is to be treated in a very different way from the woman who will only play A-A in the same position.

If you have a choice at a Poker table, you always want the most aggressive player sitting to your right. Although it’s true that if this person is a bit of a monster you’ll see a whole lot of raising (much of it probably causing you to fold), it’s much better to know that action is coming along than to have it happen behind you. Because when the Hell Raiser is behind you, you bet, and he raises, and then you may have to fold and just give a bet away.

Also, it’s pointless to raise another player if he’s continually going to call you when you don’t think you have a better hand (or at least, are trying to convince him that you do). True, it sweetens the pot, but if it’s not clear in your mind that you have a good shot at winning said pot, that extra money you’re betting could just as easily walk away from you.

The harder a person is to bluff, the less you should try to bluff him. Keep an eye on those players and, when they are in, their position relative to you.

In general you want to get a good classification of the players sitting around a table. Just be careful that you don’t become prejudicial about it.

For example, if you’re playing and you notice that a person raises with pocket threes under-the-gun, that’s a good indication that either she overvalues pocket pairs, or she doesn’t fully understand the importance of position. As long as there aren’t extenuating circumstances (like being a significant chip leader in a short-handed tournament), keep track of that in your mind — and your position of that person relative to your play. Remember: As the dealer button orbits the table, sometimes that person will be behind you in turn, and other times in front of you.

We go into more detail on playing and classifying players, but here are some general things to watch for when it comes to the starting hole cards:

Loose players: These are players who either play too many hands or bet too much on the hands they do play.

Tight players: These players play only the very best starting hands — very possibly a smaller subset of the list I’ve described by position in Table 2-1.

Aggressive players: These are people who raise, raise, raise. Bluffers: You should try to establish, very roughly, every player’s likelihood to bluff at a table.

Timid players: These players are the ones who are likely to fold.


Imagine you’re playing at a table and everyone has folded to a person just in front of you in middle position and that person raises. You look at your hand and you’re holding an off-suit A- Q. A good hand and you can definitely call, but you may be able to get a better feel for what the other guy has by raising. If he’s playing something close to the hands that we outline in this chapter, that hand could be anything ranging from A-A to J-Q off-suit (or even worse depending on his current mind-set and how much he values a hand like 4-4).

Now, it’s true that your reraise helps indicate to the table that you have a very high-quality hand, but that’s kind of the point. A lot of people behind you (maybe even all of them at a tight table) will fold. When the action comes back down on the original raising player, his action will tell you something.

If he does not reraise, that indicates he has a very good, but not great hand. If he comes right back at you with a raise, it may mean he has something very hot, or just doesn’t want to be pushed around.

It’s certainly not a foolproof method, but you’ll be surprised how well it works — especially over time and at lower-limit tables.

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