One way to learn the answer to these questions would be to play HU for a couple of hours. This, however, is not optimal – poker is a game of adjustments and the faster you adjust the better. Most peo‐ ple adjust quite slowly, so this is a good way to gain a big edge over your opponents. Another way to figure out if a player is good is to play him and then see if you feel you can beat him. This is what most people do but again it is not optimal. The issue is that emotions are involved here – people have egos and don’t like to admit defeat. If he is better than you, it will take a fair amount of damage done to you for him to “prove it” and for your conscious mind to accept the fact.
The way to get a reliable answer on an emotional and tricky ques‐ tion like this is to ask yourself questions – indirect questions that will suggest an answer. Since they are indirect and straightforward questions the answers won’t be tainted by your ego. And since they are questions you are asking yourself, it forces you to consciously think about the situation and learn and adjust – a good strategy if your goal is to make money! Questions you might ask include: “Am I happy when I get into a pot with him?” The reason you should be happy is because you are comfortable and at ease. The opponent isn’t making plays that put you out of your comfort zone and put you to tough decisions where what you should do is unclear. The converse to being happy when you enter a pot with him is being afraid and intimidated. The reason you would feel those emotions is because based on your past experience together he has put you to tough decisions and outplayed you, and it is logical to assume this will continue into the future.
“Does it feel like he is always getting good hands?” Though it is pos‐ sible for people to get a good runs of cards, it is unlikely. Most of the time people don’t get lucky and don’t get particularly good cards. Thus there is a discrepancy between the cards you think he has been getting and reality, and the discrepancy has to be explained somehow. What is happening is the opponent is tricking you and outplaying you. You cannot satisfactorily hand read against him. If you think he has only been getting good hands that means he hasn’t shown you any of his bad hands, which means he is winning pots with his bad hands by bluffing you out of the pot or folding them early on and only incurring small losses.
“Can I read him or is it a guessing game?” If you cannot get into his head psychologically and are just playing an educated guessing game based off of the math you are in bad shape. He is out‐thinking you – so why play him?
“Is he making bad plays that I would never make?” You should be looking at all the hands after they are played in real time and asking “what would have happened if I had his hand and he had mine?” There should be clear times when he made big errors you would not have made. Clearly what you want are opponents who are just ob‐ viously worse than you, not an opponent you think might be mar‐ ginally worse but who may in fact be better.
“Is he a good hand reader?” If he is a good hand reader that will make things a lot tougher for you. The point is that most people don’t bother hand reading, they just go on how they feel, which isn’t very accurate. The difference between a hand reader and someone who doesn’t hand read can be seen when facing a pot‐sized bet on the river with a weak made hand. A person who doesn’t hand read will see a big bet and fold. However, a hand reader will think “okay he knows I am weak, so why is he betting into me so big? He must expect and want me to fold.” He will then take his weak hand and call. It’s still quite possible to beat this player – now you just need to think “okay I will bet a small amount since he knows I know he is weak, then he will think I’m expecting a call.”
Some people play weak poker and others play strong poker. A strong player is hard to push off of a hand and a weak player gets scared easily and folds hands too much. The difference is in hand reading skills – a strong player will hand read the opponent and then play the hand based on his read, whereas a weak player won’t bother hand reading. In HU and short‐handed poker, good hands come along very rarely, so when cards come on the turn and river they are generally not helping the opponent so much as putting scare cards out there. To a strong player who hand reads and puts the opponent on specific hands, just because a scary card comes doesn’t mean it hits the opponent, and someone hand reading well will realize that and play accordingly. A weak player will see a scare card and be scared instead of actually hand reading to see if he should be scared.